Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Home to the Cherokee, the Smoky Mountains is also called Sha-co-na-qe, meaning "place of blue smoke." The trees, the local vegetation and the high humidity of the area together combine to create a blue smoke like effect that surrounds the mountains. Unfortunately, one has to get up really early in the morning these days to see it. Thanks to pollution and smog, the blue smoke effect is becoming increasingly rare. It is replaced by a smoggy haze. I am not sure if I captured mother nature in the photograph or man made pollution!
As always, hiking was the only thing on my mind. Smoky Mountain National Park is a treasure of trails and hence my eagerness to visit this park. To my shock however, the park roads this holiday weekend were an endless stream of oversized SUVs, pickup trucks and loud bikes. The loud bikes probably upset me the most. The hiking trails weren't any better either. The easy and popular hiking trails turned out to be crowd magnets. When you have to walk huddled among people with the sound of traffic in the background, it is no longer hiking, it is grocery shopping in suburbia! Solitude was slowly becoming a lost cause and a naive expectation!
Things would soon improve!
I was finally a happy happy person when I hit the Appalachian trail(aka The AT). This beauty of a trail,over 2100 mile long starts in Maine and goes all the way to Georgia. Almost entirely through wilderness.
I just hiked a small section of it. It is strenuous and crowd free and every bit worth it. At about 5000-6000 feet above sea level this is an experience not to be missed. Every once a while, the cool mountain breeze brushes you by. You instantly forget your aching feet. It lifts your spirits and makes you even think about walking the entire trail. Then again....There are over 4000 people who attempt to thru-hike the trail every year, just about 400 of them succeed and I am pretty sure there are millions of folks like me, who just dream about it!
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy bestows the title "2000 miler" upon the few who manage to complete the hike. Who knows...One day may be I will be a 2000 miler!
The national park is a protected biosphere reserve for several species of plants and animals. I didn't run into any of the famed black bears. But I did see a tiny little snake slither by, a few sparrows chirp away, one wild turkey hiding behind a bush and plenty of rosebay rhododendrons in full bloom.
At the edge of the national park is the beautiful little town of Gatlinburg. It reminded me of Santa Fe in many ways. Not to be missed is the Pancake Pantry in downtown Gatlinburg. Very friendly people. Great pancakes! A great way to start your day. In my case, a great way to end my trip.
I have a few more pictures here