December 1, 2013: Cades Cove.
Absolutely my favorite place in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and definitely on my top ten favorite places to visit. I enjoy history, the mountains, waterfalls and wildlife. Cades Cove, a once thriving mountain settlement, has it all.
I took this a year or two ago in White County, Georgia.
December 1, 2013: Over the past 30 years I have been to the Smokey Mountains probably 7-8 times, in all seasons except winter or close to winter. If you have never been, it is worth the drive, however going at peak times can make it miserable. Being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it was almost deserted.
We headed off early Sunday morning from Maggie Valley for the trek over the mountain from Cherokee, North Carolina, through Newfound Gap, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is probably one of the most memorable scenic drives I have ever been on. It is a different experience each time and the experience changes depending on the direction you are driving. There are numerous pull offs, waterfalls and tunnels.
Heading from Cherokee to Newfound Gap is a much more direct and straighter route than going down the backside in to Gatlinburg. One of the drawbacks to this auto excursion is being the driver trying to take in all the views without driving off the side of the mountain. Fortunately there are plenty of places to pull off the road.
Just before Newfound Gap, there is a turn off for a 7 mile drive to Clingmans Dome. We were luck as this was the last day of the season this road would be open. This drive is along the mountain ridge parallel to the Appalachian Trail. This is an incredible drive with awesome views. There was snow and ice in many places, and most of the tree limbs were covered in ice. We came across one rock face that was a solid sheet of ice, amazing! The parking lot affords more spectacular views. During a previous visit years ago, this parking lot was above the clouds towards North Carolina, but it was clear towards Tennessee. Today it was clear for 360 degrees with clouds miles away that we were above. Reaching the parking lot was easy, now the hike to the observation tower.
The hike up to the dome is a half mile, very steep walk and it seemed that it lasted forever. It is nicely paved but you can certainly feel the reduced oxygen and the nicely spaced benches were very welcoming. I used each and every bench and the views were absolutely unbelievable and indescribable. The pictures do not do them justice. The trail finally leveled off and turned right where we joined the Appalachian Trail for a few hundred yards. There were a few spots that were completely covered in ice and required fancy footwork to cross.
The observation tower was finally in sight, a 54 foot high concrete tower built in the early 1960’s that has a curving ramp to the top. At the top of the tower it was very windy and cold, but after the trek we were sweating so it was not too bad. Being a clear day we had tremendous views. I think of all the times I have been here, this was the only time I had a complete 360 degree view.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet.. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647 feet), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher.
Apparently there have been several plane crashes into the mountain in this area. In the early morning hours of June 12, 1946, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress crashed near the summit of Clingmans Dome, killing all twelve aboard.
The walk back to the parking lot was much easier however it worked the “brake” muscles, so I could be sore all over. Walking back gave a different perspective on the scenery. I remember turning the corner and seeing the parking lot way down there. So that is what a half mile with a 300 foot descent looks like.
At the bottom, near the parking lot, is a gift shop and book store. Inside was a fireplace and several park rangers serving hot cider and cookies. Nice little cozy resting stop after the hike.
We left and made the 7 mile drive back to Newfound Gap and headed down the Mountain to Gatlinburg. The drive down seems much steeper and definitely requires a slower speed due to more curves and some areas of snow. This side has great views and a few tunnels. The times I have seen bears in the past were along this stretch.
Three hours after we left our hotel we arrived in Gatlinburg.
I like both of these. The B/W has a certain Ansel Adams feel to it.
I am not sure why I have not been here before this last weekend other than it is not something one would just go for the day unless you wanted to get a permit to hike to the bottom. It is 1000 feet deep and I just said “No!”
The falls and gorge are part of the Tallulah Gorge State Park in north east Georgia. The town of Tallulah Falls is a quaint little area with the obligatory gift shops where I bought myself a walking stick that even has a fancy leather strap with beads.
The State Park has a very nice visitors center with exhibits. The line to get permits to go into the gorge was empty although I was not doing that anyway. That paths are actually made from recycled tires and was a great idea. They provided great traction.
We went to the one overlook where you could see the falls and just was not able to get a good picture. There were 300 and some steps from that overlook to another one. The picture I have of the steps only shoe about 20 or 25 steps. I did the math and again said “No!” Going down was not the problem, coming back was.
It is a very beautiful place and the gorge is quite impressive although unless you are very adventurous and willing to trek to the bottom, it is not worth going out of your way for. If your in the area, definitely worth the stop.