My Travel Memories: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

From where I sit right now, I think that this post finishes the 1977 and before parts of my travel memories (though I reserve the right to go back to some of these destinations if I find more photo albums that have more destinations in them). If all goes as planned, we will be back around October 28 for my travel memories of 1979, which I actually have both active memories and documentation of. It doesn’t look like we took a vacation in 1978. We moved that summer and I went to Girl Scout camp that year.  What with the move and everything, we might not have had time and energy to travel.


Within the Appalachian Mountains is an area called the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Within the Blue Ridge Mountains  is an area called the Great Smoky Mountains.  And within the Great Smoky Mountains is Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Great Smoky Mountains get their name from what amounts to clouds that hang around near the mountain.  There is a lot of water vapor already in the air, and as a result, transpiration, the evaporation of water from the leaves, tends to clump together in clouds that drape the mountains in gray fog. I really wish that we had used our cameras more during my childhood.  We stayed in a hotel in the Smokies once and the “smoke” around the mountain across the street the next morning was one of the most beautiful things I can remember from my childhood travels.

The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains, Clingman’s Dome, is 6,600 feet in elevation.  On Clingman’s Dome is an observation tower that can let the visitor see up to 100 miles.  The top of the tower is accessed by a ramp, but the half-mile path up to the tower is too steep to be used by wheelchair users.  Much of the park is accessible by car, and there is one path that was made especially to be wheelchair accessible.  That path is just south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road.

Unfortunately, the mountains are smokier than ever, due to smog. As the eastern United States increases in population, and the population of the United States remains car-dependent and the area remains powered by coal-fired power plants, the smog has increased. One statistic I found says that visibility in the mountains has decreased by 60% in the last 60 years (I think that’s a coincidence and not a linear progression.  At least I hope it’s not, otherwise, by 2060 there will be no visibility at all). In recent years, attempts have been made to improve air quality, and it is working, but it is working slowly and so if you have asthma, check the air quality before attempting strenuous climbs, and always keep your inhaler with you.

And smog is not the only threat that the mountains are facing.  The trees at higher elevations are being killed by pests called adelgids.  The park rangers are attempting to save the trees, but the intervention, which includes and includes spraying the trees with soap and using beetles that eat the adelgids, is slow going.   They have had some success in recent years, but over 90% of the Fraser fir have died in recent decades, which is devastating to the ecosystem (and probably doesn’t help with the smog problem).

Well, that was cheerful.  I do have wonderful memories of the Great Smoky Mountains, and that is probably why I worry so much about threats such as these.  Hopefully the forestry people (arborists and whatever else) can find solutions and someday the Great Smoky Mountains will once again resemble the mountains I remember from my childhood.

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