You guessed right! Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Back in the mountains. There was even a lady in period costume playing a mountain dulcimer by a wood stove, with old wood industry memoriabilia. (The visitor center on the North Carolina side.) Katie and I had come down out of the moutains, (allegedly National Forest, but mostly bordered by private land. We ended up down a "special access" road for hunters. (seems it a road disabled hunters get to use? to get onto land during hunting season)
So at the visitor centre, we found out that there's lots of waterfalls in the smokys. And given that the weather was, well, smoky :) we decided that waterfalls were probably our best bet. We also had to have Katie at the airport in Nashville the next morning. So long walks in the woods, strolls under the spruce and firs, would not be on our agenda today.
First stop, Mingo Falls. Just outside the park, but with directions in the "Smoky mountain waterfall tours" brochure. This had a pretty solid set of stairs, leading up a few hundred metres to a quite pretty fall. Very high, apparently one of the longer ones in the area, with a nice steady trickle coming off it. Well setup view platform, and a good track. One down!
Up up and up, to the top of the ridge, and Clingmans Dome. This is not a sierra nevada granite dome, just a bulge on the top of the hill, but it's the highest point along the Appalachian Trail. This is apparently a bit of a zoo in summer, but certainly not today. Wind, drizzle, and fairly cool temps. (I can't remember exactly, but it was pretty cool)
We were here to go up to the viewing tower. Katie wisely chose to sit in the car and write postcards. I sucked it up, and headed off up the track. And I wasn't the only one, it might have been a fairly miserable day, but there was still plenty of people around. As a side note, the smoky's get over 9 million visitors a year. Yellowstone gets around 3 or so.
I'd finally managed to find the Audobon Society book on trees for the Eastern Region of the US, to complement my Western region book I'd been working from for a year or two, so I was all psyched to try and work out some of the spruces and pines I was seeing around here. Silly me. That was just a recipe for getting cold and wet.
I went back to walking up to the lookout. It might have been silly, but the view was still worthwhile. Good and proper thick mist, with trees sticking out of it like ghosts. I enjoyed it. And I had the place largely to myself. Most of the other people must have stayed milling around the carpark.
Returned to the car. Katie smirks at me with warm and dry satisfaction. Too cold for lunch, so it's brekky bars again. Head off down to the Tennessee side, via a great big monument on the border, and off to the Roaring Fork Road motor trail. This is a scenic drive, with guide book, on the Northern edge of the park. It's got old farm sites, cascades, trees, etc.
Well written guidebook, and certainly the biggest I'd seen. Very lovely drive. It's quite tight, one way almost the entire way, and I definitely wanted to be going a bit faster than a few of the other drivers. Yes yes, I know I should slow down and admire the scenery, but we were stopping pretty often anyway, and it wasn't that different between the stops. No matter.
This really was delightful. There was still a bit of colour in the trees, and combined with the leaves that had already fallen, it was a pretty magical fall scene. Perhaps some sun and blue skies above, but really, isn't grey one of the fall colours anyway? (Hey! look at that, using australian spellings and american season names in the same sentence!) The rain had stopped, so it was just wet everywhere instead, which actually worked out quite nicely, as everything was glistening nicely.
Stopped at some nice old farm sites, (in practise, they were rock farms as much as crop farms, but they tried) one beautifully coloured with blue and yellow. Covered with graffiti inside of course, and the usual national park policy. Graffiti pre-inclusion into the national park is historic and get's preserved, everything since is vandalism.
Rather quirky, but I can't think of any better way for them to do it. As long as the national park system keeps growing, (which is doubtful) it's ok, as they will continually freeze new parks at dates later and later through history, but if they don't make any new parks, then we lose it all. (Although graffiti can be artistic and historical, most of this stuff wasn't in the first place, but the principal holds true for all national park assets.)
Then it was back into town. It was Gatlinburg in early november, and we'd just hit town and our throats were dry, so we thought we'd stop and have ourselves a brew. We found an old saloon, but the street of mud was hard to come by, and we certainly didn't find any parents dealing stud, but it would have been cool. We stopped and got a beer and burger anyway. (after being beer snobs and walking out of a place up the street)
Then back down out of the mountains. Katie finally thought she had enough money to get some cowboy boots, which she'd wanted in Texas, but was feeling way to poor then. We stopped at a couple of places, but coudln't find any suitable. I found some with lovely designs, and some were even comfy, but there was just no way in hell I could see myself wearing them anywhere near enough to justify the price.
Then it was in to Nashville. Katie's flight was at 8am, so we had to have her at an airport at 6, and felt that a cheap motel room in town was going to be well worth it, rather than getting up at 4, and driving down out of the hills.
Found a set of cheap joints, and did the rounds, and went back to the first one we asked at. He had a sense of humour. Metallica was playing in town. We asked him a serious question about food, and he laughed and made some cheeky comment. He thought we were freshman college kids, getting a room together for the night of the Metallica concert. We had to show him out of state driver's licenses to get him to believe us. Didn't stop him from laughing at us again when we asked if there was brewpub in town.
Went downtown quickly to try and get a feed before everything closed. Didn't actually look like it would! Nashville looked like a pretty fun place. It was certainly the most hopping town we'd visited, since, oh. um, New Orleans? Key West maybe, but they were all older people, this place had younger people, clubs, bars, and more than one street.
Had a FANTASTIC meal at a place called Deno's. Small local chain. Extremely friendly service, delicious food, and great prices. Not as cheap as the Alpine Inn, in Hill City, SD, but then, it's not in Hill City, SD. (And the service was better anyway) One of the waiters got a hundred dollar tip from a group of ladies out for a girls night. He'd graciously and smilingly let them adore his "hot young body" and even posed in their photos with them.
And that was it. No more Katie :( She had to get on a plane and go back to the real world, where you can't just bum around the country with cute foreigners. Where you need money, where your family and friends live. All that bad stuff. It's good stuff too, but it still sucked. Katie was awesome, and made a great travelling partner. Didn't really feel like exploring Nashville on my own after she left, though it probably deserved it. Drove north.
View from Clingman's Dome
What you could normally see
Living and dead fir trees. (A beetle problem)
Cool old farmhouse
Idyllic autumn creek scene