Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Great Smoky Mountain National Park- Hello, Sunshine and Scenery

Enough cold rain!! I finally got fed up and just got in the car and headed east. Two days later I found myself at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and I’m glad I did. Today the sun was shining brightly and I enjoyed a couple of great hikes! Even though the hiking is great I was worried it might be a bit nippy at nights for backpacking, so I was pleased to find thousands of hotel rooms near the park going begging at rates from $15-30/night.

Since the weather was so nice I decided to head up to the higher elevations today. The road to Clingman’s Dome, a famous landmark here, was closed for the winter but I enjoyed the view from New Found Gap shown at the top of the page. Even the icy springs along the road made for some nice scenery.

While at New Found Gap I hiked a few miles on the Appalachian Trail toward Charlies Bunion. The AT is probably the best known trail in the United States, running about 2100 miles through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. My brief sampling from the AT reinforced my long held desire to spend time backpacking on the trail some day. One of the problems with the AT is that it is usually crowded in the peak months, but today I saw only a few people. I’ve included a picture of the view as well as ice on the trail that finally helped me decide to turn around. The Smoky Mountains have an abundance of water, which results in great waterfalls, as well as ice when the temperatures are below freezing.

From there I went back down the mountain to the Chimney Tops trail. This is a strenuous 4 mile roundtrip trail with a 1700’ climb. It is particularly difficult at the top, which requires you scale the rocks in a near rock-climbing mode. As indicated at the trailhead, the view is worth the effort. The top gives you spectacular 360 degree views of the Sugarlands valley. Along the way there are great views of several creeks and springs as well as vegetation ranging from pines, walnut and spruce to rhodedendrons and ferns.

All in all, a great day, although I’ll be sore tomorrow. The little hiking I’ve done in the last couple of months has been on flat trails. After having all-you-can-eat ribs at Corky’s it is time to settle down and watch the Rockets on ESPN and listen to the Ags play Tech over the internet. (Nice to see Dikembe's recognition in the State of the Union last night.)

I had a notion to stop at Corky’s when I went through Memphis, but I couldn’t get the old Cavalier to slow down long enough. So I was pleased to see a Corky’s here in Pigeon Forge.

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