This is the most visited National Park in the country, it's quite spread out, although the Ranger commented on how small of a park it was! We bought the kids' Junior Ranger books and set out in search of answers. After a stop by Little Pigeon River for lunch and rock climbing, we continued on.
Our intended destination was Cades Cove but map reading skills weren't at the fore, and we ended up close to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park.
It actually could not have been more perfect, the day was glorious, clear and beautiful. The information pack stated that on a good day, 360 degree views were afforded but on a cloudy day, visibility was pretty much zero from the observation tower! We made the half mile trek up the extremely steep path, stopping frequently for water breaks - it sounds far easier than it was!
The views at the top were well worth it though, the Smoky's are so beautiful, just mountains for miles and miles. The Dome is actually in the state of North Carolina, so we crossed another border and checked off another state on our list of 48, I think we're up to about 20 that we've physically been in since the start of the trip in August.
On the way down the path, a black bear darted out from the reeds above us, crossed our path, directly in front of us and jumped into the tall, grassy reeds, heading down the mountain - it was certainly an exciting moment. The couple ahead of us, started running down the path, while our kids ran towards the point where the bear disappeared! I guess we need to go over bear safety with them a little more carefully! There was no time to grab the camera, it literally disappeared in the blink of an eye. We could hear it rustling around for another 5 minutes but then it must have headed off as we didn't get another glimpse, other than an ear in the distance - it was cool though, to have been so close to it.
The sun was beginning to set as we were leaving, so we got a few more great shots of the mountains - how many photos can you really take, we're not quite sure when to stop, there's always 'just one more' to try and preserve the moment.
We stopped at Newfound Gap on the way down, which houses the official border sign of TN and NC. It is also the location of the first observation tower, built by the CCC around 1930. The CCC was set up to employ men, by the government, to give them jobs and money in an attempt to rise out of the great depression. Evidently much of the brickwork, walls, roads etc around this National Park are in large part, thanks to the work of the CCC laborers.
We stopped in Gatlinburg for dinner. This is an extremely tourist-oriented town, so no problem at all finding somewhere to eat! The Christmas lights were all on already so the drive through town and back to the campground was very pretty. The campground is a good 15 minutes outside of Gatlinburg, which is just fine by us, no need to be in the midst of touristy-kitsch!
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
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Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)