Oh, Beautiful

Oh, Beautiful

Another day in one of our nation’s national parks, my #21, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. This park, like Shenandoah, feels more like home. Though spectacular they are, the geology of the western parks in their different biomes can be almost otherworldly. There is a slight uneasiness underneath my awe that changes my experience in the park. I will admit that after hours of driving in Utah, in its rocks, in its remoteness, I craved familiarity to the point of anxiety. Great Smoky Mountains is familiar: green, blue, rushing streams, waterfalls, and the tree-covered Appalachian Mountains–like peaceful lapping waves.

Before, I load up on fresh fruit from the free motel breakfast. I was delighted that they had peaces, bananas, apples, and grapes at the Mountaineer Inn breakfast. And the figs I plucked from the fig tree outside of my motel room. Do they know the street value of those things?!

Once I was in the park, I get overlook zealous. A soft blanket of cloud still hugged the mountaintops.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are the parent range to these Great Smoky Mountains… and they are both part of the Appalachian mountain system. 

A picture barely does justice to the deep and layered blue forming the horizon. 

My go-to is hiking to the highest elevation. So I headed to the Clingmans Dome observatory. The hike up was a bit brutal. The hike puts you up 332 feet to a concrete observatory, but it is only a half mile long. This means the climb gradient about 13%. That’s a lot. 

Beautiful views, but very crowded up there.

You can catch the Appalachian Trail from this trail too. 

Views on the way down. There are lots of wild flowers along the entire trail with tons of busy bees getting their drink on and lots of dragon flies doing their thing.  Stopping to smell the wildflowers can help your heart adjust to hiking the incline. 

The view of Newfound Gap

After what seemed to be the longest drive ever, I was at Cades Cove for their 13-mile scenic loop through the meadow and forest. It was a wonderful drive filled with wildlife and great views. Like this wild turkey. 

And horses

Then I saw this fox cross my path. I was able to snap this after he made his way across. So foxy.

This elk give me the stink eye. At least I think it is an elk?

Working up quite the appetite, “dunch” would be at Sluggo’s Vegetarian Cafe in Chattanooga. This all-vegan spot had so many delicious options I could have chosen. It’s a shame I’d only get to try only one meal. And they make everything in-house. I started with a cookie because I needed to munch on something immediately. 

I got the Berliner: grilled and marinated housemade seitan slices on a local marble rye with sauerkraut, grilled onion, Russian dressing, and their housemade soy cheez. It was supersaturated and soaked through but it was fantastic. 

Just what I needed after a long day in the park. I got a side of mashed potatoes with gravy and a side salad. I cleaned my plate.

Well, there is the sun going down across from tonight’s home. The motel owner in this tiny Tennessee town expects 7,500 people coming into town tomorrow to get ready for the The Eclipse. There are make-shift signs offering parking; there are flashing highway advisories about impending traffic. But for now, all’s quiet. Tomorrow I head towards Nashville, one of the largest cities in the line of Totality. I am hoping it is not too much of a poop show.