May 26

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

aquaduct with mill watermark

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is probably the greatest American National Park east of the Mississippi.  Well, it is probably in a tie with the Everglades, and Karen and I have been to both.  But, as far as I can tell they still can not hold a candle to the parks in the West.  Every time Karen and I are planning to go on vacation I am always for rooting for going west, but this year Karen and I decided to go east.  We were not in the park during the peak season, which is either in the summer time to see their 1500+ black bears (the largest density of black bears in the country) or the fall to see the beautiful fall foliage.
Laurel Falls with watermark

The Great Smoky Mountains did have a lot to offer even in early spring.  There are many day hikes to waterfalls, plenty of wildlife, and many historical buildings from early settlement in the area.  However, the real beauty of the park is its dense wilderness areas.  Even though the trees were just starting to bud out when we were there, we could get a feel for how thick the old growth forest will be in the height of summer.  Just driving the parks road by the Little Pigeon River was well worth the trip.  I do not know what it is, but just seeing a pristine river flowing through a forest always gives me an immense feeling of joy.
Karen sitting near Laurel Falls

On a side note- no matter how pristine the park may feel, the drive to the park through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg left something to be desired.  Maybe it is the fact that it is Americas most visited park or it is east of the Mississippi, but the gateway towns felt very commercial.  I think that the few wild places in America should be left with a little bit more dignity and not have to bow down to the mighty dollar.  There is nothing wrong with those towns but it felt a lot like Branson, Missouri and maybe that is what made me biased because Branson is not one of my favorite places in the world.
Inside Church Cades Cove

The Smokies would not be the first park that I would want to visit on vacation.  However, the old growth forest is very special and unique.  The Great Smoky Mountain ecosystem has the highest level of biodiversity of any area between the Arctic Circle and the tropics.  The only problem with going during the pinnacle of the parks greatness is that is when everybody else goes.  We would probably go back again only if we were in the area, but all-in-all we are glad that we went.
Karen river and bridge closeup watermark

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