Saturday, July 7, 2012

Calm Before The Storm

Last week I got an email from a small hotel in Townsend Tennessee inviting us to come for the July 4th holiday.   Townsend, known as the quiet side of the Smokies, is a small one traffic light town just outside the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Their fireworks were to be set off in the field next to the hotel.  That hotel didn't have any rooms left so we got a reservation at one of our other favorite hotels in Townsend - The Gateway Inn

Cosby Creek
You can click any of these photos for a larger version.  These and other recent photos are available online in my Recent Outing gallery.

With our reservation made we headed to the park on July 4th.  June and I tend to avoid Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and the massive crowds as much as possible.  This day we came in from the East and stopped at the Cosby Campground for our big hike of the day.   We had plans to hike to the Mount Cammerer Watch Tower, which is 6 miles away and 2,400 feet up from the campground.   The hike up the Low Gap Trail to the Appalachian Trail was hot and tiring but worth it.  We were surprised to find a small creek and this foot bridge at the very beginning of the trail.  Time to take the boots off and wade into the creek for some shots! 

We found dense gardens of Rosebay Rhododendrons, Bee Balm, Turks Cap Lilies and other wildflowers along the trail.   When we reached the top we found the stone watch tower to be a great place with fantastic 360 degree views.  We stayed for a while and watched this storm move up the valley before heading back down the mountain.   We hiked and took photos for almost 7 hours and only saw 5 other people!  No crowds here except two very large wild turkeys near the trail. 

After a fantastic fireworks show on Wednesday night we got up and headed into Cades Cove just after sunrise.   We expected to find smaller crowds and wildlife in the cove that early.   The weather had been very hot and the wildlife was already back in the woods by the time we got there.   We were able to get out to the John Oliver cabin before the crowds and enjoyed watching the sun come up through the trees.   By this time the traffic was picking up and it was time to leave the cove and do some more hiking.

We picked a trail we had not hiked before and headed up the mountain.   After a mile or so we decided it was way too hot and muggy to keep hiking and there must be cooler spots so we turned around and headed for the Tremont Road and the Middle Prong River.   We found a shady spot in the river and got out on some large boulders, laid down and took a nap with our feet in the cool mountain water.   When we looked up we were treated to a beautiful canopy of green leaves and a blue cloudless sky.  It may have been the most peaceful place in the park at that time.   We had successfully avoided the crowds again!

The temps continued to rise into the mid-90's and we decided it was time for a late lunch and to head home.   Little did we know that by leaving early we avoided one of the worst storms to ever hit the park.   Thunderstorms brought 70 mile an hour winds and torrential rain, knocking down trees, blocking many of the park roads and killing two people.   It had been so peaceful a few hours before while we were napping on boulders in the river.  We had no idea of the destruction that was to come.

There may be some life lessons in our short two day trip to The Great Smoky Mountains. First, following the popular path may not lead to the best things in life.  Second, sometimes we have to go down a difficult path before we see the blessings.  Finally, storms are going to come through our lives, often when there are clear blue skies and we least expect them.  The narrow path may be difficult and there will be storms but God has promised his blessings for us.

The Smoky Mountains is one of our favorite places to visit and we will be back and we'll hike up to Mount Cammerer and enjoy the views again.   It's now one of my favorite hikes!

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