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Just returned from a trip to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park of Eastern Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest of Western North Carolina.  The trip has been planned for nearly 3 months and with Labor Day finally rolling in to thin out the crowds, it was time to hit the road.  Mike and I, with our cumulative 3 dogs in tow, headed out of Missouri the day before Labor Day.  East on 70 to St. Louis where we jumped on I-64 to pass through Illinois and Indiana.  In Indiana we stopped in a National Forest to hike a cliff area, hell I never even knew that Indiana had cliffs, but it was a beautiful hike.

The remnants of hurrican Lee was blowing into the Smokey Mountains and the weather was promising at least 3 days of continuing rain.  Since it was raining that night, we decided not to camp and ended up sleeping in the truck in Kentucky and finished our drive into the Smokey Mountains early the next morning.  To avoid camping in the rain we got a motel for two nights about 20 miles north of the park, since it was too early to check in we drove into the park to get orientated.  From I-40 South through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to the park (about 20 miles) is one long horrendous tourist trap unlike anything I have ever seen at that scale.  And being Labor Day, traffic was stifling.  It took maybe an hour to get to the park, we checked out the visitor center and did a 4 mile wet hike to see Laurel Falls…a beautiful 60 foot falls that was well worth the hike.  We also took a drive through Cades Cove where we saw numerous turkeys and deer as well as many historical sites from early settlement of the area.  There was a 10 mile long traffic jam to get back to our motel and it took 3 hours….not really the reason I go to check in with nature, but what do you do?

The next day we went back to the park and did another 4 mile hike/scramble up to Chimney Top, the rain was letting up and we didn’t match the 3 inches of the previous day.  We also drove a “motor nature trail” where we had an excellent and prolonged bear encounter.  The next morning we checked out of our motel and headed for the Nantahala National Forest to enjoy some down time.  We stopped in the park on our commute and hiked a few miles of the Appalachian Trail.  The rain and clouds allowed us to do a fair amount of hiking in the park as it was cool enough to leave the dogs in the car, but they were really looking forward to camping in the forest where they were anticipating free run.  We had to track down a forest service office so that we could obtain a map, and found we were near some old growth so we camped beside the road.  Broke camp the next morning and went to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Grove.  If you recall your American literature then you will recall that it was Kilmer who penned the poem Trees.

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
 
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Due to the beauty of the poem a memorial grove of old growth poplar and hemlock was set aside.  There is a nice two mile trail that encompasses it and it is well worth the hike.  After this we headed up into the Nantahala Mountains where we camped for 3 days in a nice area with a ton of wild flowers, flowing streams, waterfalls, and numerous hiking opportunities.  After we exhausted what this area had to offer we went further south into the Nantahala Mountains and found another piece of paradise upon which to pitch our tents.  The hiking opportunities were not as plentiful but the beauty of it was enough to just enjoy lounging in camp and driving out to take short hikes to waterfalls. All too soon it was time to head for home, we stopped and camped a night in the Pasqah National Forest near the Tennessee border and continued our journey back to Missouri with a stay in a motel in Paducah Kentucky near the Illinois border…finding our way back to Columbia this afternoon.I’ve posted a few pictures here, and if Mike writes something up I’ll edit this post with a link to it.

Edit: Mike did put up a post, but like mine it is skeletal.

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