My Newest Love - The Great Smoky Mountains - Part 2

Driving through Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the first time, I stopped at New Found Gap to catch the final rays of sunlight and the park’s metamorphosis at dusk.  New Found Gap is at one of the higher points of elevation in the park at an elevation of 5,046 feet.  The drive is a challenge for those who are flatlanders like me. Starting from Cherokee, North Carolina, you climb approximately 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at Newfound Gap. This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada; not the South.  Here, the border between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee runs right threw the gap.  A view from the overlook is anchored by summer wildflowers (sunflowers), which lead you to the rolling hills and the serpentine road that runs through it.  The Appalachian Trail runs through there as well, which I ended up hiking for a half mile a few days later.

As I drifted further into the evening, I drove down to an overlook adjacent to Morton’s Overlook.  The fog started to roll in above me at New Found Gap and Clingmans Dome, as well as in the valley below.  It was chilly up there; a strange sensation in Mid July.  It was an amazing view.  And though there were the share of tourists; naturalists, photographers, and regular folks just passing through, by and by, the folks soaked it up.  There’s an amazing peace to be found in the Smokies. It did not suck, that’s for sure.  Exiting the last 15 miles out of the park towards Gatlinburg was nerve racking, especially in the pitch darkness.  But as I finally left the sanctuary of the park, I then entered a no man’s land; Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

It was nine o’clock on a Saturday night and all I could see was wall-to-wall people everywhere; bright lights; tourist traps and noise; and a traffic jam that took ½ hour to travel 3 blocks.  It was amazing how a mere 15 miles could separate Heaven from the third circle of Dante’s Inferno.  All I could say to myself was, “someone get me out of this place.”  I wanted to escape civilization; not become a prisoner of it again.

I finally made it to my hotel; a regular dive that looked nothing like it did on the Internet when I booked it. (Next time, I’m staying in Cherokee or anywhere outside of Gatlinburg). Why folks love that place, I have no clue. It reminds me of Highway 192 in Kissimmee, Florida when that was the only place to stay when you visited Walt Disney World.  Throngs of people in flip flops and biker outfits wandering about town in search of pancakes. Lord help me! But alas, I knew that the next day, I’d be up before dawn. All these folks would be sleeping until 9am and I would be enjoying the Smokies to myself (along with the other nature lovers and photographers).

It was Sunday morning and my plan was to possibly catch a nice sunrise and then to photograph the rivers and streams along Little River Road.  While I’ve always had the Atlantic Ocean and at time the Gulf of Mexico in my backyard, I’ve always had a fascination for rivers and streams.  We’ve got some nice ones in Florida, but nothing like what you experience in the Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains, especially the waterfalls. (There are salso ome amazing waterfalls and streams up in the Delaware River Gap NRA in Pennsylvania that I’ve photographed, but that’s for another blog entry).  I found an overlook with some amazing clouds and I took some sunrise shots with my Canon G10. My perfect companion when you don't feel like setting up all your other gear. A great way to start my adventure in the Smokies.

I think it was Mark Train perhaps that gave me my first fascination with rivers.  I wanted to be Huck Finn on that raft.  Being on a river for me means freedom.  Like Huck Finn, being on a river is the way out of all that is evil with the world. I’ve always dreamed of rafting the great rivers of the United States like the Mississippi or the Colorado. But that’s a future adventure.  The streams in the Smokies, at least on Little River Road, won’t get you too far in a raft, they aren’t too deep, but the stream is strong.  (I saw some great white water rafting opportunities there on the other side of the park, but that will be for another day as well).  I love the sound of the rushing water.  Out there, while I either waded in the cold river waters or set up my tripod along the banks in search of a composition, I just savored the sanctuary it brought me.  The sound of rushing waters is so calming.  The lush greens all around me. Simply spectacular.  The waters are clean as is the air.  They’ve not been soiled to the point that you fear for your life sticking your feet in the river or drinking its waters. Even getting rained on was great and refreshing there. I didn't mind it.

As I mentioned in my prior post which quoted Edward Abbey,  if we can’t drink from our own rivers,  then it’s time for us to leave this place or even better, get rid of those people and things that contaminate and poison our rivers. Better they leave than us, no?

Besides the great images one can get on this road of blurred waters along the lush and rocky cascades, there are two waterfalls on this route, the Sinks and Meigs Falls (image above).  You could easily pass them if you don’t have a map. This place is a treasure.  It has everything a human being could want. Mountains, forests, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, lack of civilization; it's my kind of place.

Along this route, the river runs fast at the Sinks (image below).  They have signs posted all around not to swim there as folks have been caught in the currents and drowned there. I guess people ignore the warnings. It was raining when I got there. Had it to myself for photography purposes.  It truly is one of the great pleasures for a photographer; to have  a national park all to yourself.  Now what did tick me off is that some moron decided to post a warning sign right in the falls itself thus ruining any attempt to photograph the waterfall. Sign cloned out thanks to Photoshop. But please Mr. Park Ranger, Sir,  keep the landscape pristine and don't post signs right next to the friggin falls. Thank you.
"The Sinks" 

It's advisable if you are going to spend your day in the Smokies to pack a cooler and bring your on grub and drinks. There are no Coke Machines in the Smokies. I like it that way.  Nothing better than to have lunch along the side of a rushing stream, under the canopy of lush green trees, away from the audible and visible pollution created by human kind.
Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.
On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.
--- Robert Lowry
All Images © 2010  Michael Pancier Photography


Please visit my website at www.michaelpancierphotography.com