September 14, 2015
We have a long list of things to do, and only so much time. We start the day with a late breakfast at Pigeonforge. To make the most of the day, we have decided to stay the night at Pigeonforge and drive back to Charlotte tomorrow morning. Even though I had read that Pigeonforge and Gatlinburg are unbelievably commercialized, I am not at all prepared for this. The husband is even more amazed. Gatlinburg is like a ski village on steroids, while Pigeonforge is a jamboree of roadside attractions and rides. As luck would have it, there is a car show in town too.
At the Smokies, we drop Mount Cammerer in favour of the easy Laurel Falls followed by a visit to the Cherokee Museum, the Cherokee village, Elk spotting and a view from the Clingman’s Dome. Laurel Falls hike is a very easy 4 mile round trip. This trail has markers all along that give you some sense of how much of the trail you have crossed and how much is left. When you cross marker eleven, you know you are close to the end. The day is the complete opposite of yesterday. It’s bright and sunny. Our path is dotted with wildflowers, beautiful blue tailed lizards and bees.
On our way to the Cherokee Museum, we stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center to ask for directions. Here we find out that the best place to spot elks is the grassy field next to the Visitor’s Center itself. We reach the museum an hour or so before it closes. The Cherokee village closes at the same time, so we know we cannot cover both. The museum provides very interesting insights into American and world history, as well as the culture of the Cherokees. I definitely recommend this place, as these pieces of history are seldom told. My only issue with the museum is that there are many voiceover exhibits and the sounds are not isolated. It is very confusing and distracting. If you try to read the plaques at the same time, it gives you a dull headache. The shopping district that surrounds the museum is just as colourful and exciting.
When we get back to the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center, the elks are waiting for us. There is not enough time to drive all the way back to Cades Cove, but we might still be able to do Clingman’s Dome. On the way, we spot a great big elk by the side of the road. We stop to take pictures. “Guys, guys! Look there” , the girl in the car behind called out. We turned to see another elk, walking towards us on the road.
We are seriously short on time now. As we race the sun, we reach a spectacular vista point halfway up the slope to the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome and stop here to savour the sunset. The splendor of the sun resting its head on the strong shoulders of the mountains is simply sublime. When the last of the red sun disappears beyond the mountains, we continue our drive to the parking lot. It is much too late to do even the half mile hike to the top. The light is receding rapidly and we don’t even have a torch to make our way down. Plus there are bears everywhere. The parking lot commands a wonderful view of the park and we enjoy what remains of the day from here.