Despite the fact that Laurie and I have lived here in East Tennessee for almost 8 years now, we’d never driven up to Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Neither of Laurie’s sisters had been there before either. So…off we went!
We drove over Pigeon Forge via local roads and highways. We hadn’t been in the area since the deadly and destructive fire in Gatlinburg last fall. We don’t like crowds all that much and we’re not big shoppers either so we don’t get over this way very often. We’ve been to Dollywood, a few of the restaurants and shops and we’ve been to 3 theater presentations in the years since we moved to Tennessee.
It was a weekday about 2 weeks before the Memorial Day Holiday when we drove through Gatlinburg on our way to Clingman’s Dome. We’ve been to Gatlinburg enough to know that the streets and sidewalks were relatively empty…significantly fewer visitors than I expected even a couple of weeks before the holiday.
As we exited Gatlinburg headed east on US Hwy 441, we immediately spotted fire ravaged ridge lines and low peaks. This horrendous fire was a record breaker for this area of the USA. Over 17,000 acres were burned and 14 people lost their lives… (More on the fire later in this posting)
FYI…US Highway 441 runs for 939 miles, starting at from US Highway 41 in Miami Florida and ending at US Highway 25W in Rocky Top Tennessee. It crosses the Smoky Mountains from near Cherokee North Carolina following a winding route over to Gatlinburg Tennessee. Traffic on US Hwy 441 can be challenging during the summer and fall tourist seasons.
We exited US Hwy 441 and took the road up to Clingman’s Dome. The mountains had recently recorded several inches of snow which was still in evidence along the road and up near the Dome itself. The Clingmans Dome Road is open annually from April 1 through November 30.
Upon arrival near Clingman’s Dome, we all bundled up…it was windy and fairly cold…and started taking photos. I’m in the background with Bonnie next and Karole is closest to Laurie’s camera.
What the heck! Selfies are still in…right?! Laurie took this selfie of herself and her sisters with the mountain ranges stretching on behind them. They look pretty happy don't they!
Despite the chilly weather and fewer tourists than I’d expected we were hardly alone at Clingman’s Dome. The parking lots were almost full and the various languages being spoken were testimony to the fact that the visitors to the Smoky Mountains National Park were from all around the world!
This is one view from the edge of the parking area at Clingman’s Dome.
The Cherokee called the Dome “Kuwa'hi”, or "mulberry place." According to a Cherokee myth the mountain was the home of the White Bear, the great chief of all bears, and the location of one of the bears' council houses. The mountain was dubbed "Smoky Dome" by American settlers. In 1859, the mountain was renamed by geologist Arnold Guyot for compatriot Thomas Lanier Clingman, an American Civil War general who had explored the area extensively in the 1850s and then spent many years promoting it.
Note: Thomas Lanier Clingman was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from 1843 to 1845 and from 1847 to 1858, and a U.S. senator from the state of North Carolina between 1858 and 1861. During the Civil War he refused to resign his Senate seat and was one of ten senators expelled from the Senate in absentia. He then served as a general in the Confederate States Army. Clingman's Brigade fought at Goldsboro, Battery Wagner, Drewry's Bluff, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Globe Tavern, Fort Fisher, and Bentonville.
The views are pretty spectacular aren’t they! The beautiful blue skies and sunshine made the views pop!
At an elevation of 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies, the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and the highest point along the 2,174-mile (3,499 km) Appalachian Trail. It is also the third highest point in all of Eastern North America.
Note: In the early morning hours of June 12, 1946, an Army 3rd Air Force Boeing B-29 Superfortress crashed near the summit of Clingmans Dome, killing all twelve crew members. The plane was in route from Chicago to MacDill Field Florida and it had been last reported over Knoxville, about 45 miles away from the crash site.
This National Park Service information center and souvenir store is located just beyond the parking lot at the foot of the walkway or path up to the actual peak of Clingman’s Dome. The store was full of people buying memories and trying to escape the chilly wind.
I like this photo because of the contrast it shows. At Clingman’s Dome you do feel like you’re on top of the world!
The 2,200 mile long Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome at the top of the mountain. In addition, the western terminus of the 1,150 mile long Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which connects the Smokies to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is located atop Clingmans Dome.
This photo, which I ‘borrowed’ from the Internet, shows the Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower. It is accessible via a half mile trail or walkway that begins near the Forney Ridge Parking Area. This short steep trail is half a mile long and it takes visitors up another 300 feet to the 45-foot observation tower at the top of the mountain. We just weren’t dressed for this adventure and it will have to wait for another visit…
For more information about The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, go to: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm and/or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Smoky_Mountains_National_Park.
On the way back down through the mountains to Gatlinburg, we stopped so Laurie could take a photo from the Newfound Gap scenic viewing area right along Newfound Gap Highway, aka US Hwy. 441. This road is also known as The Great Smoky Mountains Parkway. Newfound Gap is 5,048 feet above sea level.
Prior to the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Newfound Gap was an undiscovered pass 2 miles east of what was long thought to be the lowest mountain pass over the Great Smoky Mountains…Indian Gap. Indian Gap Road, an unpaved, challenging trail frequented by traders, farmers, and even by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, was completed in 1839 and named after the old Cherokee Indian trail that the road paralleled. Newfound Gap itself was not recognized as the lowest gap in over the mountains until 1872, when Arnold Guyot measured many of the mountains in the area and determined the "Newfound Gap" to be a lower, more accessible mountain pass.
Laurie couldn’t resist feeding these panhandlers at Newfound Gap. These crows were very experienced beggars and cautiously ate directly from her hand.
Note: According to the National Weather Service, despite being located in the south, Newfound Gap has around 19 snowy days per year. That’s comparable to 18 days in Minneapolis Minnesota. Annual snowfall at the Gap generally ranges from 45 to 100 plus inches per year. Being in a national park, Newfound Gap Road is only treated by snowplows and a gravel-sand mix. No chemicals can be used for snow removal due to their harm to the environment. The road was closed for days after the Great Blizzard of 1993 when 5 feet of snow fell, and snowdrifts piled up to double that depth.
On the way back down the mountain from Newfound Gap, I pulled over and Laurie took a photo of this pretty little cataract flowing on toward the valley below.
Note: The Great Smokies are part of an International Biosphere Reserve. The range is home to an estimated 187,000 acres of old growth forest, constituting the largest such stand east of the Mississippi River. The cove hardwood forests in the range's lower elevations are among the most diverse ecosystems in North America, and the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest that coats the range's upper elevations is the largest of its kind. The Great Smokies are also home to the densest black bear population in the Eastern United States and the most diverse salamander population outside of the tropics. Along with being a Biosphere Reserve, the Great Smokies have also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For a list of other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_Heritage_Sites_in_the_United_States.
Returning to Gatlinburg Tennessee, we got out of the car and walked around a bit…and, as you’ll see in another posting yet to come, we did a little shopping too. Once I was on foot and could look around, I saw just how close that destructive fire had come to the main business district in town! Scary for sure!
The highly respected Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is located just behind where I stood to take this photo and they lost buildings in the fire. The distance between the fire on hill across the street and the school isn’t more than a quarter mile… To learn about this school, go to http://www.arrowmont.org/.
Over 14,000 people were evacuated during the fire storm that ravaged this area. Roughly 2,450 structures were damaged or destroyed in the greater Gatlinburg area. These included hotels, resorts, homes, cabins, businesses and churches… To view some fire related before and after photos, go to http://heavy.com/news/2016/11/gatlinburg-fire-damage-before-and-after-photos-businesses-homes-destroyed-sevier-tennessee-ski-mountain-westgate-smoky-resort-bolze-pictures/.
Make no mistake though… Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are definitely open for business! To learn about area attractions you can go to https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g55270-Activities-Pigeon_Forge_Tennessee.html.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by and joining us in this little adventure!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave