“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” Nancy Wynne Newhall
Carol writes: Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina lies the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in the National Park system, and the prime reason for our visit to eastern Tennessee. Al selected a campground in Sevierville along the shoreline of the French Broad River, practically at the doorstep of the national park.
Our campsite in peaceful Two Rivers Landing RV Resort ranked right at the top of our most beautiful camping venues to date.
One of the most dominant geographic features in the state of Tennessee is the mighty Tennessee River. In 1933 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created by Congress, in part for flood control, irrigation, and production of hydroelectric power along the Tennessee River. Today, the TVA is the largest public power producer and caretaker of the Tennessee River.
Six miles upstream of our campsite was the TVA Douglas Dam, a hydroelectric power generating facility. The view outside our RV windshield served up a daily stream of entertainment. When the dam upstream suspended release of water, the resultant flow of the river became so negligible that it looked more like a lake with a mirror-like reflective surface,
with just a hint of mud flats at the shoreline.
It was a delight to watch deer come down the hill across the river for their morning and evening grazing and drinks of water. At other times of the day we watched wild turkey grazing for food.
Our main reason for coming to this part of Tennessee was for the opportunity to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To the best of our memories, neither Al nor I had ever seen much of the park. Over the years we had heard stories about Dollywood and the heavy tourist draw of nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. None of what we heard or read about the area sounded like anything that would interest us, but as we headed out to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we were curious about what we would see on the way in…
As we moved ever so slowly in the traffic grind through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, we had lots of time to look around. I was reminded of one of my favorite lines spoken by the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey fame: [We] “had low expectations and came away disappointed.”
Touristy in the extreme would be the kindest description. A Ripley museum and aquarium, an upside down fun house, carney rides, hillbilly theater… well, you get the idea. Every point of interest seemed to be marketed to families with young children… so, just not our cup of tea.
We hoped for a better experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it would have been if the traffic had been more manageable. We would have loved to stop at more overlooks, but the volume of traffic made that impossible; however, heavy park traffic couldn’t spoil the incredible vistas, brilliant in fall colors with a mild dose of the blue haze in the distance that gives the Smokies their name.
We were thankful we had started out early enough in the day to get a parking spot near our destination at the high point of the park (6644 ft) where we wanted to climb to Clingman’s Dome. The half-mile trail to the top was very steep, and we had lost much of our high-altitude conditioning since we left Colorado, so slow and steady was the way to go…
We passed a couple of entrances to the Appalachian Trail just before we made it to the top.
At Clingman’s dome the 360-degree view at the observation tower revealed the best of the Great Smoky Mountains, although it was sad to learn that a large part of the haze in the distance was due to man-made pollution.
All in all, we were pleased to have had the opportunity to visit the most biodiverse park in the National Park system. Now, if only “The Powers That Be” can find some way to get the traffic under control… We wouldn’t mind coming back some day for more hiking so that we can experience a bit more of that precious wilderness.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” John Muir