Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The Great Smoky Mountains national park is home to more than 2 black bears per square mile and they are still very active, especially now that winter is right around the corner.
Black bear in the GSMNP don't hibernate all winter long but they do become less active and now is the time they need to fatten up for the winter.
While most times I spend a full day in back country I see black bear during their active season, more often than not other than Cades Cove you don't see them by the roadways within the Great Smoky Mountains national park.
Right now other than Cades Cove your best chance of see a bear alongside the road in the national park is in the Roaring Fork section of the park just outside the City of Gatlinburg Tennessee. You will find bear often just as you enter on Cherokee Orchard Road and just after the second Rainbow fall parking area where I took this picture of the huge fat bear below.
Bear are sill active throughout the Great Smoky mountains national park and will be until sometime in December. They are still backcountry campsites closed due to agressive bear activities and warning on many hiking trails.
Though they may seem more interested in food than anything else do not approach a bear and keep at least 150 feet between you and them.
If you see wildlife you wish to observe or photograph pull off the road in a designated pull off and shut off your engine.
Do not expect this major artery connecting Cherokee North Carolina with Gatlinburg Tennessee to open early on the morning as more snowfall is expected as it will take a while for the national park service to get the ice and snow under control.
Based on the current weather this road may close again as it will ice as the temperature drops in the afternoon.
If it warms up and we are lucky Newfound Gap Road may reopen to drivers trying to get back and forth from Gatlinburg Tennessee and Cherokee North Carolina.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The 100 year old buildings at the Oconaluftee farm museum will serve as the perfect backdrop this Halloween to learn about how the people of historic Appalachia far back before the park was even formed celebrated All-Hallows-Eve with scary stories that were meant to entertain and frighten.
Starting a 5:00pm and running for about an hour park employees and volunteers will add to the chills and thrills with some scary old time stories, warm apple cider and homemade molasses taffy.
The Oconaluftee Farm Museum is right by the Cherokee North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains national park on Newfound Gap road (US 441).
It's time again for hundreds of classic cars to rumble through the Smoky Mountains and end up at the Cherokee North Carolina fairgrounds for the annual Cruise the Smokies Fall Cherokee Rod Run.
From this Friday to Sunday afternoon you can check out classic cars and heavily customized modern cars at the fairground where you can enjoy fun, food and entertainment for only $5 a day per person.
There are still spaces if you wish to enter you car in the Cruise the Smokies Fall Cherokee Rod Run for $40 which will give you the opportunity to possible win some of the $15,000 in prizes to be awarded!
For those of you looking to see the Cruise the Smokies Fall Cherokee Rod Run show with your kids on Friday, you can bring them over to the Oconaluftee farm museum from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm to check out the free Halloween program at the Great Smoky Mountains national park.
It is predicted that the higher elevations such as on Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans dome road may see some snow tonight that may even stick for a gentle dusting.
Drivers should use cation in the early morning as we may even see patches of ice in the lower elevations.
This year we have not even hit peak leaf season in the lower elevations and we are already seeing the possibility of snow in the Smoky Mountains in October.
Break out he cameras this could be beautiful!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Today marks the second day of light rain in the Great Smoky Mountains, just in time for one of the heaviest weekends of peak leaf season visitation and damping the spirits of some leaf peepers, but not enough to put a dent in the water shortage caused by 2 years of drought.
The rain though light, is knocking many leaves that turned in the trees onto the ground making hiking and driving on the wet slippery leaves a little more hazardous than normal.
As more and more leaves fall to the ground the threat of wildfires increases especially given the huge numbers of trees that have died in the past 2 years due to the stresses of drought, last years late freeze and the massive hemlock kill off caused by the invasive exotic pest the Hemlock woolly adelgid which is decimating the hemlock trees throughout the Great Smoky Mountains.
All of this excess fuel is creating the potential for a huge wildfire situation and we need to make sure that we clear as much brush as possible from around our homes and make firebreaks.
Last week a cabin rental company America Mountains Rentals had just cleared brush from the sides and behind a cabin for rent on Bluff Mountain in Wears Valley just days before a brush fire broke out threatening the entire mountainside.
A total of 5 local fire departments fought the wildfire day and night and were able to put it out that to the fact that there was a firebreak that slowed the fire down.
That entire section of Bluff Mountain was evacuated and fortunately American Mountain Rentals had a large enough inventory of cabins that they were able to give the evacuees alternate accommodations for the rest of their vacations.
Another cabin fire a few days ago burnt a large 4 bedroom luxury rental unit to the ground and luckily everyone was able to escape without injuries.
It is also crucial that we don't treat fire carelessly in the backcountry only making a fire when absolutely necessary in within a safe campfire containment area in designated campsites. More than once, I have come across a deserted campsite in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and found a fire still smoldering in a fire pit or ring.
It is also important that if you have been driving for a while that you do not park on top of a pile of leaves as your hot exhaust system can actually cause the leaves to ignite setting the leaves and your car on fire.
Light rain is expected to fall on and off throughout much of the Smokies today, and the weather should return to bright sunny skies by tomorrow.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Cades Cove is not on the most loved section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park, it is also the most congested and crowded especially on weekends and holidays and leaf season when there is peak visitation.
To help alleviate some of the traffic congestion as well as being able to offer a professional guided tour of Cades Coves history, natural resources and spin some yarns about some local stories Cades Cove Heritage Tours is now officially offering mini bus tours of the Cove.
The 19 passenger white Cades Cove Heritage Tours shuttle busses have already been touring Cades Cove but the official shuttle service stared today after a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The ticket prices for this 3 hour tour is $13 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for kids from 6-17 and children under 6 are free. Members of the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center get reduced rates and you can get a combo ticket for both the entrance to the heritage center tour and the Cades Cove shuttle.
While some are touting the shuttle tour as an environmental friendly option which will reduce pollution, Cades Cove Heritage Tours which is a non profit organization should have made a far wiser choice in the purchase of their vehicles to reduce their carbon output and reduce engine noise.
While this is a small step that that could slightly help reduce traffic which exceeds 800,000 vehicles a year on the Cades Cove 11 mile loop it is a small half step.
It is a shame this opportunity to make a huge difference in the air pollution output created and the use of resources used by touring the Cove was not tackled in a modern and environmentally friendly manor.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Let me start off to say I have wanted to ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in the fall season for almost 3 years now. I only wish I had still waited to take this train tour out of Bryson City North Carolina than be a victim of the not so great train robbery perpetrated against me.
Watching the local Smoky Mountains weather and the progress of the leaves changing color for fall, I picked this past Wednesday to take the train ride from Bryson City to the Nantahala and back, a 4.5 hour round trip journey including the 1 hour stop off in the Nantahala area.
Based upon the chilly weather expected in the morning we booked tickets on the phone for the coach car with indoor seating - the cheapest indoor seats at $53 a person and parking is $4 extra.
Even though the departure of the Great Smoky Mountains Train was at 9 am I was told that I must be there by 8 am and that tickets were non refundable. Since I live about 2 hours away this meant I had to leave at 6 am to get there by the time I was told to be there by.
Parking for the railroad was a block away and getting the ticket was relatively smooth but I ended up having at least 50 minutes to kill - so much for having to be there that early which was a huge inconvenience.
I decided to go to the railroad museum by the end of the railroad tracks which I was told my train ticket would allow me free entrance. The museum consisted of a retail store in the front and in the back thousands of model trains in cases mounted to the walls and 2 full model train setups.
The first model railroad set up was meant for children with a Christmas tree, but the 3 level set up in the back of the museum was actually quite impressive in size. I was told this huge model train set up was built in another facility, disassembled and reassembled here and it carried a $300,000 price tag.
There was a knowledgeable member of staff or volunteer that described some general items of interest but without speaking to this gentlemen one would walk out of the museum learning virtually nothing as none of the displays really educated you on the items but most had price tags.
The whole train museum was worth the ½ hour I spent there but not much longer. Adults without train tickets would normally pay a $9 entrance ticket fee a price at least $5 more than it was worth.
Another 15 minute wait and now it was time to board the coach car on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train. The interior of the train was reasonably well maintained with plenty of ceiling fans inside so I assume it may not be air-conditioned in the summer. My group and I were able to get seats together and within a reasonable time the train departed.
We sat on the right hand side of the train in anticipation of getting the best views so we could take some photographs. The idea of taking this train ride in the peak of the fall season was to be able to see the spectacular vistas promised.
A few short prerecorded history lessons were given out on the area over the trains loudspeakers. Unfortunately the group on the train was very load as well as the train "conductor" in our car who talked over every lecture rendering them worthless to us.
A lady walked through the train hawking a book with descriptions that synchronizes with the mileage markers along the way and a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad DVD. I would have bought the set but she didn't take credit cards and didn't bother to make accommodations - fine with me as they are available on EBay.
Simple hamburgers along with potato wedges, hot dogs with slaw on other such foods were available along with drinks for about $10 a person. All edible and priced within the realm of reality but certainly not a great meal or bargain.
We all waited anxiously for the great views about to unfold with the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains in the peak of fall season that was going to take our breath away.
We saw maybe 2 minutes of nice views as we went over the bridge by Fontana and again a few minutes later for around 45 seconds. We passed at total of maybe 4 to 5 minutes of nice views on the entire ride to Nantahala! The rest of what we saw was the inside of ravines covered in kudzo and rundown houses and industrial areas near the tracks.
At Nantahala we were able to disembark where we were able to grab the last picnic table available to kill about an hour. The picnic table was on a bridge 40 or 50 feet from a main road and by the parking lot - far from being secluded or an exceptional natural setting.
We were told before disembarking that everyone riding the train was supposed to switch sides on the train so everyone would have an opportunity to see the views on both sides of the tracks. Upon getting back into the train no one wished to switch sides and we pressed the point and were finally able to.
The ride back was slightly more scenic with river views lasting a little more than 15 minutes but far from the wall of colorful fall foliage we were told to expect.
On the return trip the conductor was so loud when speaking to a few people in the group we were unable to discern anything coming over the loud speakers in the train describing the area. We were also hot up for some cancer donation by sending a lady through the train.
While the bathrooms on the trains generally had lines, they were in acceptable condition.
Loading the train in Bryson City the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad had a golf cart to move people who had minor mobility issues. There were no golf carts available in Nantahala and there were no wheelchair ramps in either train platform. The isles were very narrow and there were no accessible bathrooms.
It is suggested that if you are handicapped you avoid the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad unless you wish to sue them for not being ADA compliant. I have to say shame on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for not at least having ramps.
I would strongly suggest that you do not bring young children along on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad as they would be bored and miserable as this is a very long ride with virtually no pay off.
Of all of the attractions I have visited in the Smokies the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was the worst and offers the least value for the money. I would say in my worldwide travels this is the largest disappointment I have ever had and the most overpriced attraction ever.
One could ride along any interstate in the area or major local road such as 19, 276, 129 or 441 and get spectacular views. This railroad trip in the Smokies was a waste.
Save your money, save your day, do anything in the area other then the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and you will be happy.
Your Smokies is looking for hiking groups with severely visually impaired hikers in the Smoky Mountains.
At Your Smokies we have been working for years to raise awareness by better understanding the needs of persons with disabilities in the Smoky Mountains.
We have educating business owners and the management of public places to special needs and applicable laws in order to make the Smokies a more enjoyable and safe environment for those traveling to or living in the Smoky Mountains.
We have posted information for persons with specials needs on Your Smokes which have been built using a web architecture that does not block access as other sites do to those who are visually impaired and plan to build additional web sites dedicated to improving access to everyone who lives in or visits the Smokies.
If you are a member of a group that has severely visually impaired hikers or are visually impaired and are an experienced hiker please be so kind as to comment to this post. If you wish for your comment to remain anonymous and to not be posted publicly please say so in your comment and we will respect your wish.
Please help us make the Great Smoky Mountains accessible to everyone who wishes to come to this wonderful place.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The 11th annual On Cosby festival is being held from October 17th to the 19th in the Moonshine capital of the world: Cosby in Tennessee's Cocke County.
The temperature is perfect and the leaves in the trees are bursting forth with showy fall colors and the best value in family friendly Smoky Mountain entertainment is going to take place against beautiful backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains at the Cosby visitor's center on 321.
With so much to see and do all for the price of parking - which goes to the local fire department the On Cosby Festival is a must for anyone in the Smokies this weekend.
Exhibitors and vendors were setting up today and hopefully the weather will hold out tomorrow as the school kids will flood the festival playing games, watching demonstration and musical entertainment.
Friday October 17th 2008 On Cosby festival schedule
- 11:00 Pottery with Sandy learn the basics
- 11:30 Native American musical instruments with Karen Lancaster
- 11:00 Native American resources (stage)
- 12:00 Walking sticks with the wood wizard Learn to carve one using a spoon and choreboy
- 12:00 Cosby show choir (stage)
- 12:30 Native American musical instruments with Karen Lancaster
- 12:30 Corn meal grinding - farm machinery
- 1:00 pottery with Sandy
- 1:00 David Salyers presents Uncle Sam
- 1:30 Spinning with Jan Harris
- 1:30 Meth lab demonstration (stage)
- 2:00 Walking sticks with the wood wizard
- 2:30 Rug hooking with Jan Harris How to make your own design
- 3:00 Pottery with sandy
- 3:00 Lap looms with Jan Harris
- 4:00 Walking sticks with the wood wizard
- 5:00 Cinnamon girls (stage)
- 5:00-5:30 talent show registration $5
- 6:00 talent show
Saturday October 18th 2008 On Cosby festival schedule
- 10:00-10:30 Jane Smith
- 10:30-11:00 Dietra Green
- 11:00-11:30 Stoney Creek cloggers
- 11:30-12:00 Roy Poore and Penny Grooms
- 12:00-1:00 Steve Brown and Hurricane Ridge
- 1:00-1:30 Tennessee pride cloggers
- 1:30-2:00 Macedonia Baptist church choir
- 2:00-2:30 Dean Haney and Big Creek Gospel Bluegrass
- 2:30-3:00 Wanda Todd
- 3:00-3:30 Wild West dance club
- 3:30-4:00 Crystal Lee
- 4:00-4:30 Marcie Wilds McMahan
- 4:30-5:00 Candice Keller
- 5:00-6:00 Mountain Edge
- 6:00 sharing stories of the past
Sunday October 19th 2008 On Cosby festival schedule
- 11:00-12:00 Feed my sheep church service
- 12:00-12:30 Sheree Ramsey
- 12:30-1:00 Laurel Dunn
- 1:00-2:00 Longshot - A new brand of country "Southern Rock"
- 2:00-2:30 Margie Lee
- 2:30-3:00 Randall Reece
- 3:30-4:00 Missy Ellis
- 4:00-4:30 Hannah Rowland
- 4:30-5:00 Acoustigals - Tracie Howerton and Mary Beale
See you there at the On Cosby Festival!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
An incomplete section of the Foothills Parkway will be temporarily opened to drivers this weekend so that motorists can tour this road and leaf peep. Drivers can appreciate the fall colors thanks to the people in the park service based out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, volunteers of the Blount County Experience Your Smokies and the Blount County Sheriff's Office.
The road will be open to motorist on October 18th and 19th only from 9 am to 3 pm. While this incomplete section of the Foothills Parkway is safe to drive on, it is not paved and only has a gravel surface, has no guardrails or traffic control stripes and signs.
This section of the Foothills Parkway is accessed via the Foothills Parkway interchange off US 321 about 11 miles south of Maryville and 12 miles from the Townsend National park entrance.
This section of the foothills parkway dead ends at the Missing Link and drivers that reach the end can not stop as they were able to on other open houses and they must turn around a drive back to the US 321 interchange.
Last time the national park service opened this section of the Foothills Parkway to motorists this spring more than 8,000 people showed up to enjoy the views.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The Great Smoky Mountains national park moves millions of visitors a year who come here. I can only imagine what it did for the thousands who lived here before it was a national park.
Though I am as close to living in the Great Smoky Mountains national park that anyone could be based upon how much time I spend in this amazing biosphere, trails that I have hiked on dozens of times continue to move me. The same goes for roads I have driven on in the park hundreds of times.
Sometimes inspiration or enlightenment can come from a wisp of a cloud blowing over a mountain top or being trapped in a valley, the sparkle of sunlight reflecting through a dewdrop on a blade of grass or the various symphonies of sounds in the woods.
The picture above was taken today along the Middle Prong River in the Tremont section of the GSMNP. No enhancements or Photoshop tricks were done to the photo. It is just a living Monet - beauty in the park that is all around us.
Here in the Smoky Mountains the prelude to fall starts with the random sounds of green acorns falling into the leaves on the ground or striking and bouncing off logs from long fallen trees on the forest floor.
Gradually the green acorns falling from the oaks become yellower and then brown as the frequency of the sound increases as more acorns find their way to forest floor.
Squirrels start to spend more time more jumping around of the branches of trees chattering loudly as they stake out their territory and then rustling through the leaves as they are gathering their fill of acorns.
The trees in the Great Smoky Mountains national park deep green leaves - more than 100 species of trees live here - start to gradually lighten and start to randomly turn to red, light green and yellow.
The air here in the Smokies is no longer as humid as it is during the summer and as the day time temperatures become cooler into the 70s and then the 60s and the visibility keeps on improving.
The cicadas are no longer making a racket and the hummingbirds with their loud aerial acrobatics that were here all summer long are all gone.
Even the deer look different as bucks budding antlers with summer velvet give way to larger more fierce rack. Their golden brown coats have now tuned grayish to better blend in with the trunks of the trees in the park and the fawns are much larger now and will soon lose the spots on their coats.
The days are starting to get shorter and the birds that used to start a racket far before the break of dawn can no longer be heard, although the birds that welcome the day are now kind enough to wait until the day has started before they start singing.
At night the air is crisp and cool and the crickets still chatter calling out to one another but the sound is no longer coming in waves of white noise is it did through out the night in summer.
Day by day the pallet of the forest colors is changing. A random red or yellow leaf gives way to branches of wild colors. The leaves colors ever widen in range and increase in brilliance and luminosity as the leaf season continues through mid November.
When walking along the paths or hiking trails in the park you notice the smells in the park are also gradually changing. Just as the best of the blackberries are ending, some of the ferns in the higher elevations are start to turn yellow and then brown perfuming the air along the trail with a sweet smell.
Along some of the old homesteads a few apple trees have managed to survive all these years. Even though they won't win a county fair prize they can be quite delicious when ripe. Especially at the break of dawn the smell of the apples from these trees hangs in the air.
It will still be a few weeks before the first frost here in the Smoky Mountains and we probably won't see any snow in the lower elevations until at least December. The squirrels, fox and coyote that inhabit the Smokies are all getting fluffier and their tails bushier as their winter coats are growing in and the bears are getting outright fat as they gorge themselves in preparation for the winter.
Even along the higher elevations of the park such as at Clingmans Dome, the Appalachian Trail and the Newfound Gap Parking area we still have a few weeks before we can melt the first snowflakes of the year on the tips of our tongues.
Yes the Great Smoky Mountains national park can be quite inspirational to those who are lucky enough to spend time here. Just make a point to get away form the crowds and just take it all in. With 800 square miles of park it is easy to find a quiet spots even in the busiest of days here. Even the most ordinary place in the park is extraordinary if you just look, listen and observe with an open mind.
Fall brings lots of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains national park to enjoy the autumn colors and along with the increase of visitors there are also more programs that the national park offers to it guests. I strongly recommend taking advantage of as many of these programs you can while they are available.
Monday, October 13, 2008
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Plenty of Columbus Day weekend visitors to the Smokies just in time for the start of peak fall season
While regular visitation the Smoky Mountains has been down, the 2008 leaf season and the Columbus Day weekend has offered a real boost of visitors to Smokies.
It was quite apparent that visitation was way up this weekend with far more crowded roads such as the Parkway in Pigeon Forge, the Spur leading to Gatlinburg, Patton Ave and Tunnel Road in Asheville, the Biltmore, Cades Cove and of course the Tail of the Dragon in Deal Gap.
Hiking Trails in the Great Smoky Mountains national park were also very busy. Even quieter trails such as the midway points of the Old Settlers Trail such as Noisy Falls and the Creek along 321 had 2 or 3 cars throughout the day - very rare for this quiet trail.
Parking for Alum Cave was insane and I can not even imagine what it is like to have hiked up that trail to Le Conte with all those people. The at was also crowded as well even some quieter trails in Deep Creek.
Cades Cove at times was like a parking lot but the weather was so spectacular and the fall foliage is starting to come into beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red contrasting against the dark and light green leaves it was worth the slow drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway from mile marker 380 to the end at 469 was busy with photographers at most pull offs taking advantage of the stunning fall color coming in with perfect blue skies, then amazing cloud formations which the receded leaving perfect blue skies again.
Local businesses are happy to see the crowds here in the Smoky Mountains, most of which will be leaving today. The best time to come right now is midweek where you can still get lodging discounts and it becomes real quiet in spite of the perfect weather and beautiful fall scenery throughout the Smokies.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The Asheville youth program Teens Outside! run by the Asheville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department was just given a $5,000 grant which the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation accepted on behalf of the City by outdoor clothing and equipment supplier REI.com.
The Asheville Teens Outside! program is a fantastic opportunity for kids to be able to experience outdoor recreation activities in the Asheville N Carolina area. This program is presently limited to youth in the 6th to 9th grades and is very affordable.
REI is a well known name by outdoor sports enthusiasts and they have worked with other educational outreach programs to help encourage our youth to better appreciate and respect nature and enjoy outdoor activities.
Not only are their programs a great way of protecting and promoting local wilderness areas through education, they are building a legacy of future customers who will appreciate the great outdoors and the REI sporting goods company's environmental position.
Beside the grants that REI offers they also offer a line of Eco Sensitive clothing that utilize materials and manufacturing processes that are designed to lessen environmental impact.
REI is planning to open a store by October 17th at 31 Schenck Parkway in South Asheville.
Friday, October 10, 2008
To Commemorate the Triumphant Spirit of the Cherokee in remembrance of the 1,200 mile forced march in the winter of 1838 on which almost 17,000 Cherokee were made to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma and sadly almost 4,000 Cherokees needlessly died, the Cherokee Historical Association is sponsoring the Trail of Tears Memorial Walk Saturday, October 11th at the Oconaluftee Islands Park at 9:30 am.
So this needles tragedy is never forgotten and so we may honor to loss and suffering of these Native American men, women and children, the trail of tears memorial walk will follow the Cherokee River Trail Loop for approximately 2.5 miles which will end at the Eternal Flame at Mountainside Theater.
Registration is $12 and to register you must go to the Cherokee Historical Association main office located at 564 Tsali Blvd in Cherokee North Carolina or call (828)497-1111.
Registered memorial walkers will get a free breakfast; enjoy traditional Cherokee dancing on the Village Square Grounds and receive a special tour of the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
Starting at 8 am parking and shuttle services will be provided by Cherokee Transit.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
With less than 10 weeks left in the active black bear season in the Great Smoky Mountains National park (GSMNP), heavy black bear activities continues to force closings of backcountry campsites, shelters and the issuing of bear warnings for hikers on various hiking trails and now even parking areas.
Never can I remember such heavy black bear activity in the park, and fellow hikers and campers all agree, black bear activity in the Great Smoky Mountains national park is reaching epidemic proportions.
Mind you I am not complaining. The park is a biosphere and the black bear below here and should be here is numbers as great as possible as long as the park ecosystem is able to sustain their numbers and reasonable contain their population.
As for the numerous closings and warnings in the GSMNP issued by the national park service, they are to be commended by taking extra caution and warning visitors. I am sure they don't want any more repeats of this summers black bear attack in Roaing Fork area of Gatlinburg on a small child.
Sparks Lane the first gravel road bisecting Cades Cove in the north western Tennessee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is going to remain closed to all vehicles, cyclists and hikers until the construction is completed proected now as October 25th.
The construction project on Sparks Lane will improve drainage and allow fish to traverse up and down 2 of the streams which the road crosses. Unfortunately the delay in the delivery of these 2 large concrete culverts need for this project has delayed the whole project.
While Sparks Lanes closure does not make a major impact on traffic in the Cades Cove Loop it does limit a quick access through the lower section for people looking to exit the Cades Cove Loop early or to drive or ride again on the back end of the loop without leaving the Cove.
More information about the Sparks Lane constriction project in Cades Cove.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Higher gas prices and food prices along with other necessities, climbing unemployment, credit problems and now the fiasco in the stock market is making an already soft tourist season even softer here in the Smokies.
Luckily for businesses in the Smoky Mountains, the costs here are lower here than most other vacation destinations and since there is so much to do, tourists don't have to drive far to find something that fits everyone's taste and budget.
With air travel prices sky rocketing, economy class tickets are expected to increase even further with the heavy loss of the more profitable business class travelers (Lehman Brothers alone booked $115 million in air travel last year). Air travel for a family to a vacation destination here in the US may no longer be affordable for many more Americans.
Luckily for the Smokies, most of the population in the US is just a day's drive away so people looking to travel on a tighter budget can still do so by driving to the Smoky Mountains.
One of the most popular Smokies destinations is the Great Smoky Mountains national park which does not charge any entrance fees, exhibit fees, guided tour fees or for parking anywhere inside the 800 square mile large biosphere.
More families are finding out how exciting the national park is where they can picnic, hike, bike or take a guided tour for free. For those who have limited mobility or don't want to get that close to nature, there are hundreds of miles or spectacular roads in and around the park where you can see the beautiful scenery without every leaving your car.
While there are still cheap hotel rooms to be found in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Cherokee and the Asheville area, for families it is often far cheaper to spend your vacation in a cabin - it is certainly far more comfortable!
Not only can you prepare and serve your family home cooked meals in your cabin - it's a great way to save gas and avoid paying the high restaurant prices. Most rentals cabins now have amenities such as hot tubs, pool tables, DVD players and some even have media rooms, video game consoles and other ways to keep the clan entertained - for free!
Much of November and some of December is still considered "in season" and is not priced at peak rates so there are still bargains to be found.
Plenty of the outlet malls and stores here in the Smoky Mountains have been slashing prices to attract the tourists who come here to save some money on their Christmas and holiday shopping.
Just strolling down the street to people watch here in the Smokies or listen to live music is loads of fun. Shorty millions of lights will be sparkling and twinkling away through the night in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville for Winterfest 2008.
Close to Christmas there will also be carolers walking down the streets of Gatlinburg in period costumes from the 1800's entertaining all those that they pass with impromptu performances in local stores. The price? Free and tipping is not allowed!
The Smokies have seen a drop in visitation; but the drop that we have seen is far smaller than most popular tourist destinations in the US. We also see that many who live in and near the Smokies are coming back to explore the Great Smoky Mountains.
Are you changing your vacation and holiday travel plans? How do you save money while you are on vacation? We want to know!
So how long will this drop in visitation in the Smokies last? Crystal balls are for sale in some of the gift shops along the parkway and I bet they are on sale.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Stage gazers in Cades Cove got an eyeful last night at the 3rd annual stargazing even held in the Great Smoky Mountains national park by the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society and the National park service.
The weather was picture perfect; clear cool with low humidity - perfect for star gazing and Cades Cove was the perfect place to enjoy the night sky.
More people showed up than I would have ever expected and young and old alike had a great time in the first field on the right as you enter Cades Cove.
Here we all received a rudimentary education on some of the stars and constellations in the autumn sky along with Native American stories about the night skies.
Once the lecture was over we strolled up to the many high powered telescopes and binoculars the members of the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society brought into Cades Cove.
Cades Cove is like a giant bowl with the Smoky Mountains ringing the valley floor shielding all the lights from the cities and towns in the distance. In the deep darkness of Cades Cove when the last of the light from the sunset fell behind the mountains and we can no longer see the bats flying around catching their Saturday evening meal, the faint stars forever hidden by city lights, clearly shown above us.
Don't miss the opportunity next year to join us again on this adventure. Even without any fancy equipment, come into the Cove on a moonless night and look up and be amazed!
I have been systematically hiking the trails, manways and roadways in the Great Smoky Mountains National park for the past 12 years but last October I started to hike all of the trails again as day hikes in both directions in all 4 seasons and have completed them all this way within a year.
While first I thought this was going to be an easy task, as time went on I began to realize how difficult it would be to hike all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains national park (GSMNP) this way without car shuttles or overnight stays.
First of all the GSMNP is huge - 800 square miles and since there are about 1,000 miles of maintained hiking trails, paved roads, gravel roads and major manways and that's just in 1 direction!
Because of the sheer size of the park, some hiking trails took me 5 hours to get to and from the trailhead parking areas even though my home in the Smoky Mountains is less than 5 miles from the Greenbrier National Park entrance.
Hiking all the trails in the Smokies during different seasons presents hikers with different challenges and rewards. For me, hiking the entire Great Smoky Mountains national park in the summer and winter presented me with the most hiking challenges.
Summers heat meant the constant risk of dehydration or overheating on the more extreme hikes, the extra effort required to carry much larger quantities of water along with more insects, stinging nettles, poisonous snakes and very frequent bear encounters.
While hiking in the summer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park there are also more frequent thunderstorms which increase the risk of a hiker being struck by lightning and river, streams and creeks that previously had little or no water can become filled with swift running water and too dangerous to cross in minutes.
The summer heat can also create and issue where the air quality in the Smokies becomes poor or hazardous due to ozone created by coal burning power plants far away. Hiking when there is excessive ozone levels can be harmful or at least uncomfortable to hike in.
Hiking in winter also presented special challenges such as far shorter days making it impossible to complete some of the longer hikes without the aid of flashlights and headlamps, ice and snow on the trails and stream crossings increasing the chances of an injury from falling, and the risk of hypothermia from allowing my body core to get too cold.
To counter the risk of hypothermia my day pack had to include far more clothing that I could take on and off in layers as well as replacements in case I got wet. I also packed far more extensive overnight gear in case I was stranded for the night so I could survive safely in the GSMNP. All of this extra hiking gear added close to another 20 pounds to my backpack.
Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains national park in the winter I could trekking for a week or more in deep backcountry and never see another hiker. No chance for a swift rescue - especially since cell phones don't work through much of the park!
In the winter fresh snow can completely obliterate any sign of where a trail is making navigating the trails in the national park difficult. The same can happen with fresh fallen leaves in the fall. Some trails which are used rarely can also be difficult to navigate in the winter when leaf litter on the trail floor is not broken down so it may be hard to find your way.
In the Smokies especially in higher elevations in the winter and spring it can be overcast for days on end making the best GPS unit worthless. Being overcast means you may not get a fix on any stars, the moon or the sun for days. A compass when hiking on the Smokies is a must!
The 2 most common questions I get from people about hiking all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains is asking me what my favorite hiking trail in the park is and how they can get my job.
Since I have hiked all the trails in the GSMNP so many times you would think the first question about my favorite trail in the Great Smoky Mountains national park is easy. Well it isn't. Based upon the season, weather, time allotted to hike that day and even the day of the week the answer will change.
As for having my job, between running my business, gathering local information, studying and hiking I work harder than anyone can imagine 7 days a week but the rewards of this journey have been beyond my wildest dreams.
The past 3 years of intent concentration in the Great Smoky Mountains national park have taught me much. My next goal is to take the years of research and thousands upon thousands of photographs and make this available to everyone.
I see and read the hiking "experts" of the Great Smoky Mountains national park everyday. Few of the experts are in fact as really knowledgeable as they present themselves to be and often are just amateurs with an agenda to sell you what ever they can make the most money from.
If someone is trying to push you on a GPS unit to hike in the Smokies or other expensive electronic gadgets beware. The same for some hiking equipment as well. For example my $89 top end hiking boot inserts lasts only a month longer than the $8 inserts I got in Wal-Mart - though I am testing others.
For a casual hiker going up the Alum Cave Trail to Le Conte it might only be that you have wasted money on the wrong, inferior or overpriced equipment. For a camper or an extreme hiker in the real backcountry the wrong equipment or wrong advice can be disastrous - and deadly.
Rest assured that my information is thoroughly researched and accurate. Any personal recommendation of a product or service is because I am willing to trust my life with it. Hiking solo as I do for as much as 30 miles or more a day you better believe I have to trust my equipment - my life depends on it!
As the owner of the Your Smokies Information web site about the Great Smoky Mountains I will start adding more and more hiking and trails information as well as historical, biological and environmental information to this web site that already has 400 pages of Smokies Information.
My primary concerns are the protection of the Smoky Mountains and the education of those looking to experience the Smokies. Read my blogs and web sites and you will see what I mean. Join my adventure and please feel free to comment and contribute.
Nothing has ever been as difficult, gratifying, strengthening, exciting and informative to my mind, body and soul as hiking all of the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The Great Smoky Mountains national park could not have picked a better ambassador for their 75th anniversary than local celebrity and philanthropist Sevierville Tennessee's own Dolly Parton.
Most anyone who thinks about the Smoky Mountains thinks about Dolly Parton as the face of the Smokies and as the official Park's 75th Anniversary Ambassador, Dolly's name and her image will be used at a variety of GSM National Park events, activities and on informational media.
According to Dolly Parton "The Smokies are part of my DNA...I have always been an Ambassador, but I am particularly honored to become "official" for this special 75th Anniversary."
Getting Dolly Parton to be the Ambassador was an obvious choice and the announcement of Dolly Parton being the ambassador for the Great Smoky Mountains national park was made by the superintendent Dale Ditmanson who stated "When we first sat down with our park partners and began brainstorming about how the Park's anniversary could best gain national stature we asked ourselves: ’If we could pick one person who is the most recognized and personifies the love of the Smokies, who would it be?’ The answer was a resounding ’Dolly Parton!’ But she's so much in demand; do you think she'll do it?"
If Dolly's participation was not enough, Dolly Parton has graciously written an entire album entitled "Sha-Kon-O-Hey" and the rights of this album are being donated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through the Friends of the Smokies during the 75th anniversary year. Bravo!
"Sha-Kon-O-Hey" is the phonetic spelling for the Cherokee word, "Shaconage" which is how the Cherokee described the Great Smoky Mountains translated as "Land of the Blue Smoke". Shaconage is also the name of the Friends of the Smokies publication.
Another great organization which Your Smokies supports which helps the park: The Great Smoky Mountains Association will be offering a 125 page souvenir 75th Anniversary edition of Smokies Life magazine will find a personal message from Dolly Parton that reads "The Smoky Mountains have inspired me and my music since I was a little girl. They touch my soul and lift my spirits. Let's celebrate America's most popular national park, but most especially, join me in making sure its magnificent beauty thrives for generations to come."
Bravo on the choice Dale, bravo on bringing it together Friends of the Smokies, and Dolly - no one will ever be more Sweetheart of the Smokies than you are!
Ok I am admit I am a sucker for hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains national park of all of the guided hikes I had taken this historical hike through Little Cataloochee with National park Ranger Brad Free is tops and a do not miss Smokies experience.
Little Cataloochee and Big Cataloochee were both thriving communities when the park came into existence. Ranger Brad Free will take you on a moderate 5 mile hike with some small steep sections where you will step back in time with the help of a fantastic narrative and historical photographs along with some Smoky Mountains magic.
The hike will start along the old North Carolina Turnpike with a history lesson on this road onto a gravel trail where you will have the opportunity to experience the history of the park at the Hannah Cabin and the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church and cemetery (pictured below). You will walk by and see the site of other historical building and farms and where on of the mills was located where you can see historical artifacts and evidence of the Little Cataloochee Community.
The hike will then continue where you will stop where you can enjoy your lunch or snack that you have brought along at one of the most inspiring parts of the Great Smoky Mountains national park: the beautiful Dan and Rachel Cook Cabin on Coggins Branch.
The Dan and Rachel Cook Cabin pictured below was destroyed by vandals with a chainsaw. The loss of this beautiful structure was devastating but thanks to the help of the Friends of the Smokies, this outstanding example of Smoky Mountains architecture was restored to its original beauty. This is just one of many examples of why we should all support this incredible organization.
Cataloochee valley is right next to Maggie Valley and road to take you to the valley is near the intersection of 276 and I40. Meet just before 10 am at the first parking lot when you pull into the GSMNP Cataloochee Valley where you will see a bulletin board and literature. The hike starts at 10 am and the return time is approximately 3 pm but you can stay longer if you wish.
It can be very cool in the Cataloochee Valley in the mornings so dress warm in layers and pack a picnic lunch or snack along with any water you may need. While the trail is not particularly steep or rocky it is best to wear hiking shoes or at the least sneakers.
Not only will you be able to experience the best guided hike that Great Smoky Mountains national park has to offer with an excellent veteran Ranger, the elk are in rut right now so you should stick around until sunset to listen to and watch them.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
The Foothills Parkway construction project in the Great Smoky Mountains national park on the section knows as the Spur which connects Gatlinburg with Pigeon Forge Tennessee will be extended 2 more days to Friday, October 10th due to equipment issues created by Hurricane Ike.
Originally the Great Smoky Mountains national park was going to be be able to greatly improve the safety of the Spur portion of the Foothills Parkway by resurfacing the road with a special high-performance paving material that requires specialized skills and equipment to apply it.
Since the crew and the equipment needed for this special paving operation was delayed due to Hurricane Ike, the park service has decided to not wait until leaf season is over to finish resurfacing the Spur and will instead use the local Pigeon Forge construction contractor Charles Blalock and Sons to come up with an alternative paving mixture that the park service announced "will provide good winter and wet weather traction".
Is "good" good enough based upon how much better then other special surface was going to be? How much are we going to save now that we are using a local contractor using basically normally material rather than a specialized contractor using special materials, labor and equipment. let's hope that it is plenty based upon the inferior product we will end up with.
It is our opinion that the long term driver safety on this heavily used section of roadway which can be a dangerous in bad weather is far more important that a rush to complete this portion of the project on a road which is already is in a condition good enough for the rush of visitors expected in the next month.
Other construction on the Spur section of the Foothills Parkway will begin again after the peak visitation for the leaf season is over on November 3.