Before that, though, a quick recap of my trip. While I've been almost effusive of my love of the scenery and wilderness areas of the American west and Southwest, the Rockies, the Colorado Plateau, the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades, in particular. But for this trip, I got to explore southern Appalachia, specifically the part of eastern Tennessee (and a little bit of western North Carolina) that make up the Great Smokies Mountains. Compared to the Rockies or the Sierras, the Appalachians are low, relatively rounded, and thickly overgrown with hardwood forests and thick, lush understory. They're also quite a bit warmer, and quite a bit more crowded; the Great Smokies National Park has 9 million visitors a year on average--more than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone combined. There are times when the winding road TN 73 feels like bumper to bumper traffic through the park. And the hikes that I did were some of the most popular, so I rarely felt like I got as much solitude as I would like.
I also wasn't there specifically to visit the park; in fact, I was there for a family reunion of my wife's family. So I really only got to spend two days doing things in the national park itself. That said, I'm not disappointed in what I got to do, and it whetted my appetite for more. Surely the Appalachians are an unappreciated (by me at least; clearly the visitation numbers don't support this as a general statement) gem in the scenic lexicon of the US. And while I do have some scenic analogs to the Appalachians in the DARK•HERITAGE setting, I've kinda underplayed their role up 'til now. That may change, as I have come to a better appreciation for the place after seeing it in person instead of just as photos.
That said, I have photos. May as well include them. These are off my phone; I don't have the camera handy. As such, they mostly focus on two hikes that I did with a limited group. One hike was just me, my ten year old son, and my ten year old nephew.
|Soaking feet in the ice-cold water of Alum Creek.|
|My son and my daughter from a high vantage point. The Smokies were unusually clear during our trip; in fact, they didn't even "smoke" at all.|
|The Alum "Cave" Bluffs|
|Two of my sons and my nephew posing on the Appalachian Trail.|
|View from the observation deck on top of Clingman's Dome; the highest point in the park and the third highest in the entire Appalachian system, and east of the Rockies.|
Then, on the way back home, while crossing Ohio north to south on I-75, we had more than our share of drama and tragedy. This accident happened literally just a minute or two before we reached the scene. There were already half a dozen vehicles stopped to assist when we passed it so we didn't contribute to the general chaos by rubbernecking or interfering when we had nothing to offer at that point, but there's nothing quite like seeing a dead and mangled body on the side of the road to put a disturbing twist on any road trip. Shortly after that--literally less than 15 minutes, I think, we were sidelined by some of the worst storms I've ever seen--we pulled off the Interstate at Tipp City and waited it out for a while, noticing that trees were down, power was out, and the wind and rain were almost unbelievably strong--or would be if I haven't lived in territory that isn't far from a hurricane prone coastline. Apparently, the impact of the storm was bigger than just local, and President Obama has even been prompted to declare a state of emergency in Ohio in the wake of it.
Not that inconveniencing my drive home is the point of any of those things, of course, but certainly they left me feeling a bit disassociated in the wake of this particular vacation. I didn't necessarily sleep very well last night, despite being exhausted.