Tuesday, May 24, 2005 | 4 commentsby
When you have a penchant for long drives and the need to get away from things every few months, you find yourself burning the tarmac in different directions ever so often. Yet there are places to which you are magically drawn again and again. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located at the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina is one such place in the eastern US.
Like most Indians, I had never seen fall foliage before coming to the US, so when I heard about it, the Smokies were the nearest place to head to. Luckily, I was able to pique the curiosity of four other guys and so we set out in a rented Dodge Caravan. After an overnight drive involving lots of adventure (taking a wrong turn on a mountain road, nodding off at the wheel...you get the idea). we reached our hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee which is at the edge of the national park. After a few hours sleep followed by breakfast we headed for the national park.
The national park gets its name from the overhanging fog you can see most of the time but we soon lost interest in the fog.
For someone who is seeing fall colors for the first time, the beauty can be overwhelming.
We found ourselves gaping at sweeping vistas of rolling hills covered with trees adorned in multicolored hues. On top of that, the mountain air at that time of the year is something else altogether. Rolling down the windows we were soon drawing in air by the lungful.
Since we only had two days, we decided to concentrate on the famous landmarks of the park. The first stop was Cades Cove. The best way to see around Cades Cove is to follow the cades Cove Loop -an 8 mile long circular road which takes you past old wood cabins, pioneer farms (now abandoned), natural deer habitat and trails which lead off to waterfalls. Two miles onto the loop and all traffic on the one lane road came to a halt. After waiting for 30 minutes we got impatient and leaving one guy in the car proceeded on foot to check what the problem was.
After walking another couple of miles we came upon throngs of people trying to lift up their kids and excitedly pointing at something across the road. A quick investigation revealed to us the meaning of the phrase "bear jam". There was a bear with two cubs foraging on the other side which had caused the jam. While I unsuccessfully tried to take a few photos (the bears had climbed a tree by this time) the other guys shook their heads in disbelief and cracked jokes about the bear crazy crowd.
Luckily the crowd dissipated soon and we parked our car near a trail. After trekking for 4 miles we came upon the beautiful Abrams falls. After doing a little rock climbing it was time to return to the hotel.
The next day we started with Ober Gatlinburg. A small ski resort situated high in the hills above the town of Gatlinburg. The two towns are connected by an aerial tramway that passes through some beautiful mountain scenery.
Though, there was no snow at that time of the year, we still took the chairlift up the mountain and were greeted by breathtaking 180 degree views of the Smokies. We had not anticipated the temperature drop at the altitude during fall season and were soon shivering. Fortunately, there is a shop at the top that sells hot cocoa...ahh life is good!!
Soon it was time to start back. As we had decided earlier, we took the scenic route on our return and headed into the Newfound Gap which snakes its way through the national park towards Cherokee, North Carolina which is an American Indian town with it's usual trinket shops and casino. There are a lot of tunnels en route and we dutifully honked our horn in each one of them.
Another two hours and we were out of the mountains heading home but each of us longed to go back.