Saturday, April 7, 2012

Springtime In The Smokies

Every season is special in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  Fall brings a blaze of color as the leaves change before falling to the ground.  New fallen snow in the Winter makes everything quiet and pure.  With all the different elevations in the mountains you can find wild flowers blooming in the summer and later in the summer you can find Elk and other wildlife out in force.

My favorite season is still Spring and Spring in the park brings an explosion of new growth.  The green of new growth on the trees is brilliant, the moss on the rocks and downed trees is almost electric, and wildflowers are everywhere you look.  Over 1,660 kinds of flowering plants can be found in the park, more than in any other North American national park!   Right now the park is changing almost daily as new varieties bloom and others fade away for another year.   Spring also brings rains that fill the creeks and waterfalls throughout the park.  

Last weekend June and I spent Friday afternoon, Saturday and part of Sunday hiking and enjoying the beauty of God's creation busting out everywhere we looked.  We went to some new areas of the park we had not visited before and a waterfall we had never seen because it's always  been too crowded (Laurel Falls - a little rain can drive people away).  As with most all our vacations, we got up at 4:30 AM Saturday morning to drive to one of the best spots for sunrise in the park.   When we got close the fog rolled in and we were creeping along at about 5 mph.  The fog cleared but the clouds blocked the sunrise.   The cars passing along the Newfound Gap Road allowed me to create some interesting long exposure photos.   I call this one "Close Encounters of the Smoky Mountain Kind".   If you are old enough to remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind you may remember the scene where the spaceships were flying through the mountains just above the road with nothing but their lights showing.  This reminds me of that scene.

If white is the color of winter, yellow/orange the color of fall, then green is the color of spring in the mountains.   The new growth on the brush and trees is that bright green that says Spring!  But it's not just leaves and grass that are green this time of year.  The moss on downed trees and rocks in the streams is beautiful.  It's a soft green blanket that covers the forest floor, banks of creeks, and rocks sticking up out of the creeks and rivers.   There are times that it looks like the moss is electric it's so bright. 

Because of the mild winter and the warmer that usual spring the wildflowers are blooming 2 - 3 weeks early this year.  Normally the third week of April is the peak wildflower time but this year we found an abundance of flowers blooming in the lower elevations of the park.   We saw multiple varieties of Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Phlox, Wild Geraniums, Wild Columbine, Bishops Caps, Fringed Phacelia , Bluets, Shooting Stars, Violets, Showy Orchis and even one Lady Slipper Orchid that had bloomed very early. 

My favorite wildflower spot of this trip was actually right on the Newfound Gap Road at a pull off.  We we heading back towards Townsend and it had started to rain.   We saw some Yellow Trillium on the side of the road and decided to pull off and check it out.  What a find!   There were beautiful large Yellow Trillium surrounded by Fringed Phacelia and Bishops Caps on a hillside.  It was raining enough that water was pooling in the large leaves of the Trillium and the overcast skies made the colors more intense.

We hope to get back to the park again before the end of the too short Spring wildflower season.  We'll hit some more places and hopefully see different varieties.

These three photos, plus 23 others are available in the Recent Outing Gallery on my website.  Check them out and let me know what you think.

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