Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Monday, August 15, 2005

Day 4 Summary

Note: there shouldn't be any problem viewing pictures and videos anymore, which is a good thing, because the pictures and videos from day 4 of my trip are the best. In fact, I think there are many pictures from this day of the trip that quite possibly might be the best ones I've ever taken.

Day 4 Summary – August 3, 2005
Knoxville, TN to Chattanooga, TN

This was the day I had been waiting for all along: it was the day I would finally get to see the Great Smoky Mountains!

We left our hotel rather early at 8 in the morning to go to a cache in the Knoxville area that I wanted to find. It was in a park atop a large hill offering what, in the words of the cache’s description, is “an unbelievable view of Knoxville.”

The view was pretty nice, even though it would have been much better if the air hadn’t been so hazy and clogged up with smog. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt the city to come by and pick up all of the trash scattered about or trim some of the weeds and bushes getting in the way of the view. But still, it was nice to look down and see pretty much the entire city of Knoxville. Plus, it was quite an adventure trying to navigate the narrow, hilly roads that make up the northern reaches of Knoxville.

After visiting the overlook, it was time to head straight into downtown Knoxville and get on U.S. Highway 441, which would take us into and through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Knoxville has a population of 173,890, but its downtown area was, compared to other similarly sized cities, a breeze to get through on a weekday.

After passing through downtown, the 4-lane highway 441 heads through miles and miles of suburban subdivisions, followed by miles and miles of hotels, resorts, gift shops, and tourist traps. It’s as if you never left a major metropolitan area once you get on Highway 441, thanks to the utter sprawl that has consumed what was undoubtedly once a very picturesque area.

And sprawl is only part of the problem that plagues the Great Smoky Mountains. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) continues year after year to label the national park endangered, because air pollution, especially from coal-fired power plants, has caused the quality of the air and visibility to get progressively worse. It is estimated that visibility in the park during the summer months is 80% less than what it should be, and, in addition to being exposed to oftentimes toxic air, the park also must deal with acid rain. Rainfall in the park is five to ten times more acidic than natural precipitation. According to the NPCA, “Clouds as acidic as vinegar blanket the red spruce and Frasier fir forests on the park's highest peaks [and] high elevation streams and soils receive more pollution than they can naturally process.”

Getting back to my vacation, however, I was very happy to be able to take the Gatlinburg by-pass to get into the park, since seeing the 10 stoplights along with the assortment of tourist traps and hotels that make up the city of Gatlinburg was not high on my list of things to do. The by-pass was also highly scenic, and afforded us what amounted to be nice previews of the larger mountains we would later encounter within the park.

Right after passing the welcome sign to the national park, we came up to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, just one of the three visitor centers placed within the park.

Besides offering visitor information, a multitude of maps, a display showing the current air quality in the park, and a gift store, the visitors’ center also had a small museum, which was my favorite part. The museum was a self-guided, walk-through room of exhibits describing – with actual examples – of all the flora and fauna visitors to the park have the opportunity to see. The displays were categorized into the separate forest regions they belong to and was overall a very good way to get started exploring the park.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, there is no admission charge to get into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When the park was established in the 1930s, deed restrictions were put into place to ensure that there would be no entrance fees. This unquestionably has lead to Great Smoky Mountains National Park being the most visited national park in the county, with about 10 million visits annually. The no entrance fee rule has also hindered the park, though, especially when funding from Washington D.C. gets tight. The visitor center we visited had a large donation box right at the front door, and there were many other places where anyone could chip in a little money here and there to help with the park’s preservation.

After visiting the visitors’ center, we took Tennessee Highway 73, also known as Little River Road. All the way at the end of this road is the ever-popular Cades Cove, the most heavily visited destination within the most heavily visited national park in the county. The area features an abundance of wildlife as well as numerous historical buildings that help to explain how the first settlers to the region managed to survive. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing any pictures from this area of the park, since we didn’t make it all the way down the windy, 30-mile long Little River Road. There simply wasn’t enough time to do so, but, I nevertheless still got to experience some pretty amazing scenery.

We did travel about 10 miles down the road, however, to see the Little Greenbrier School and cemetery. The school has been standing on the same site for many, many years, and, along with the cemetery, made for a highly interesting visit. Instead of having me describe the area to you, I’d just go right down to the pictures below this page to see what the school and cemetery looked like for yourself.

After leaving the school on the rugged, one-lane road leading up to it, we actually took a wrong turn and ended up leaving the park and entering the city of Wear Valley, TN. This was an interesting place, to say the lease, simply because it was so stereotypical of the towns you’d immediately think of when thinking of the Appalachian region.

Well, we soon found ourselves back in the park and on the correct road. After traveling back, along Little River Road, to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, we got back onto the main highway going through the park, U.S. Highway 441.

This road immediately took us up into the mountains, and, before long, we were at Newfound Gap, which, at 5,048 feet, is the lowest drivable pass through the park. The views from the gap, especially those of the 6,643 feet Clingmans Dome, which is not only the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but also the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest point in the Appalachian Mountain range, were simply amazing. What was also astonishing was the abrupt rise in elevation encountered between the Little River Road and the Newfound Gap; the road went up about 3,500 feet in a matter of only 10 miles.

After seeing Newfound Gap, which was also on the Tennessee/North Carolina border (now I can say that, in addition to walking across the Minnesota/South Dakota border and the Minnesota/North Dakota border, I’ve also walked across this border), we got back on highway 441 to begin the steep descent down the mountains.

The views of the mountains were still amazing, and, once again, I’d advise you to go down and look at the photos to see what I saw.

A couple miles down from Newfound Gap, a very classic mountain rainstorm erupted. It was basically one of those rain-filled clouds that release their moisture over the mountains before passing dryly on their way to lower elevations. The rainstorm probably lasted for a total of 15 minutes, during which time the entire area got extremely soaked.

After the storm passed over, a spectacular sight began to form: fog started forming over the valleys within the mountains and rising up to the road. Once we got to the lower elevations, however, the sky was once again partly cloudy, the sun was out, the ground was dry, and it was as if nothing had ever happened.

We finally exited the park, at which time we immediately came up to the Cherokee Indian Reservation, the largest, and one of the only, Indian reservations east of Wisconsin. The Cherokees living in this region are the sole remnants of a once large band of Cherokees who lived in the east before the infamous Trail of Tears forced them out of the area. It was pretty neat to see how well preserved the Cherokee culture was in the area; all of the road signs used, in addition to English, the native Cherokee language, and the Cherokees also operate a distinguished museum chronicling their tribe’s long, storied history.

After passing through the reservation, we continued to Bryson City, NC, where it was time to go and try to find a geocache and get some food. I wasn’t successful in my attempts to find the geocache, as it required walking around a very busy downtown area I was completely unfamiliar with and I also didn’t have too much time to look for it. It was fun walking around trying to look, however.

After stopped at Burger King, while passing up Bojangles’, we continued our journey through North Carolina and later Tennessee by following the 2-lane and 4-lane U.S. Highways 19, 129, 64, and 74.

Although this was a very scenic area of the county, and the small towns I saw along the way were nice, I don’t think I would ever want to live in an area like this. All of the communities in this area didn’t seem to have much of a unity to them, thanks to how uneven the terrain in the area is. Because of all the steep hills and valleys the landscape consisted of, city developers obviously used whatever level piece of land they could to build houses and businesses, creating communities that are somewhat of a mishmashed and jumbled mess of streets and structures. Another reason I wouldn’t want to live in the region is how confining living in the mountains’ valleys, in which all of the cities I passed through were located, would make me feel.

By the time we got to Tennessee, the terrain had gotten a little less rough, but not any less scenic. We took the highly beautiful U.S. Highway 64/74 into Cleveland, TN, passing through the Cherokee National Forest and gazing at the magnificent river that parallels the road in the almost entire 30 mile stretch between the border and Cleveland.

After Cleveland, it was just a short jaunt into the eastern part of Chattanooga, TN, where our hotel was located.

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This church, with a huge cross (it looks much larger in person and could be seen for quite a distance) was located next to our hotel in Knoxville

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The city of Knoxville

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Knoxville's antenna farm is right by the overlook we stopped at; here's the office for WBIR-TV's transmitter

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This is the 6-lane road going into the Great Smoky Mountains; blue signs on the stoplights pointed out how many miles left until the park's border

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The city of Gatlinburg is visible from the Gatlinburg by-pass

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Close-up of the spwaling Gatlinburg

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The first view of the mountains after entering the park's boundaries

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The raging waters of the Little River

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The Little River

This factitious sign was in front of the trail leading up to the Little Greenbrier School

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The Little Greenbrier School

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Inside the school

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There was a small footpath behind the school, as well as a little footbridge crossing a small creek

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A black & white shot of the creek behind the school

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The cemetery in front of the school

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A view of the school from the cemetery

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A sepia shot of the cemetery

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More of the Little River

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There were butterflies all over in the lower elevations of the park; here's a yellow one that managed to stay still enough for a good picture

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There are trees everywhere in the lower and middle elevations of the park

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More trees blanketing the landscape

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At some point along U.S. 441, we made it to the pine forrest part of the park

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There aren't as many trees in the pine forrest areas

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That's U.S. Highway 441 going uphill

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More conifers

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Nearing the top of the mountains now

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U.S. Highway 441 still going uphill (but down slightly in this shot) and around a sharp curve

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The mountains started to turn their natural blue near the top

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Looking east from Newfound gap

Looking west from Newfound gap

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Newfound gap was probably the busiest place I encoutered in the park

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Another shot of Newfound gap with the road underneath

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This is a part of the 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail

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The Tennesseee/North Carolina state line was also at Newfound Gap

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Another shot at Newfound Gap

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One more shot at Newfound Gap; the road leading up to this spot can be seen off in the distance

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Down the road from Newfound Gap, here's a shot with a helicopter circling around the mountains

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Down the road from Newfound Gap

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More mountains in the North Carolina portion of the park

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The mountains seemed like they got bluer after the brief downpour

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Also after the rain came, fog started rising from the mountain valleys

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I don't know what it's there for, but this cannon was along the roadside in Cherokee,

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All of the roadsigns in Cherokee were bilingual

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I don't know what they are, but these trees/bushes were in bloom all over North Carolina and Tennessee

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Everything in Bryson City looked like it was just haphazardly carved out of the mountainside, including the fast food places

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A street scene in Bryson City, NC

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I should have eaten at Bojangles'

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Going up some more in the mountains of far western North Carolina, we encoutered this extremely slow "mullet" bus

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The mountains near the Tennessee/North Carolina border

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One of my most favorite pictures I've ever taken, this was the scene in eastern Tennessee

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Downtown Knoxville

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Knoxville welcomes you

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On the windy highway to Chattanooga

Knoxville Scenic Overlook
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Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains
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Little Greenbrier School
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Scenery Along Little River Road
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Big Trees Along U.S. Highway 441
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Mount Kephart Overlook
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Smoky Mountains Rain Shower
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Rural North Carolina Pit Stop
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Empty Radio Dial in North Carolina
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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001