The Great Smoky Mountains – Day 2

September 14, 2015

Pigeonforge

Pigeonforge

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.

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at the Laurel Falls; Photo Courtesy: Ganesh Sankaran

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.

Ostenaco, Cunneshote, and Woyi ready to sail to London

Ostenaco, Cunneshote, and Woyi ready to sail to London

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.

Elk SpottingWhen 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.

DSC_0824We 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.

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Smokies – Falling in Love can be Hard on your Knees!

September 13, 2015

The Great Smoky MountainsOur log-cabin turns out to be a chalet – complete with a pool table, deck, grill and hot tub.We are two, but it can sleep minimum five. Inviting as the hot tub is, it must wait till tomorrow.  We turn in almost as soon as we enter and are fast asleep even before our heads hit the pillows. When morning comes, we find out that few joys match waking up in a hot tub on a cool crisp day like this. We have a difficult choice to make. We can either do the 8 mile Charlie’s Bunion Trail and  the super short but steep Clingman’s Dome or we can do the epic 12 mile Mount Cammerer. Other items on our to-do list are Cades Cove, the Cherokee Museum and the Cherokee village. When we get to the Sugarlands Visitor Centre, everybody seems to be talking about bears. The ranger tells us, bears are everywhere but they are most easily spotted at Cades Cove. That seals it for us.

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Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran

The Charlie’s Bunion trail starts at the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian Trail. It’s not very difficult and is very beautiful. Up and down it goes, as it winds through the Great Smoky Mountains. As the fog rolls in, I get this feeling of having stepped through a portal and into *Lonavala or Matheran in the monsoon. Dark green canopies, gnarled trees, soft, cold, light wetness – it must be!  The trail is not perfectly marked, but it is easy to keep to. When we reach Charlie’s Bunion, we are rewarded with a view that took my heart away. The mountains are majestic beyond measure and beautiful beyond belief. On the way down, the realization grows stronger and stronger that up here in the Smokies, time and distance are inversely warped. The longer we walk, the less distance we seem to cover. Even at the husband’s punishing pace, we are always only halfway there. I tell you, there is magic in these mountains!

Charlie's Bunioin hikeWe finish the hike in a little more than four hours. Clingman’s Dome is a very close, but if we walk to the top and pause to take in the views, we will miss the bears. Not wanting to miss the bears, we drive across the park into Cades Cove. At the very entrance, the husband looks at the fuel gauge dismally. Having come so far, we don’t want to go back. We put our faith in that ranger who is supposed to follow the last car in and drive on. Very soon, we see a line of cars parked along the road. Clearly, something has been spotted. A bear with her cubs! The husband insists there are two (cubs). When momma and her babies decide the show is over, we drive on to spot a jackal and a few deer before we get stuck behind a long line of cars. We manage to make it out of the cove, but that just makes our hearts beat harder. There is no ranger who is supposed to follow us anymore. If we run out of gas…

Photo Courtesy - Ganesh Sankaran

at Charlie’s Bunion; Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran

Thankfully we make it back to Gatlinburg, and from there to our hot tub. There is so much to do tomorrow, but tomorrow is another day!

*complete the Lonavala experience by buying fudge at the fudge shop in Gatlinburg