Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Wow—looking back, we packed a lot into one month! And now we are all a little tired, just in time for our school lessons to start back up!! Here’s a little recap:

Exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An amazing place, full of history, abundant plant and wildlife (I saw 6 bears, many deer (and 1 fawn!), salamanders, butterflies everywhere, plants and trees I hadn’t seen before), waterfalls, hiking trails, bluegrass music, and so many charming old buildings:



A ranger teaching Sweet Pea how to clog before his presentation on The Names of the Smoky Mountains.


Another Ranger Program: Searching for Salamanders


Found one! We let him go again, right where we found him, after we tried to identify him. We were told that the total weight of all the salamanders in the park outweighs the total weight of all the bears in the park (and there are about 1600 bears; 2 per square mile)!


I never knew you could hold millipedes! Or how tickly they are! If he didn’t live in a National Park, he surely would have made a lovely motorhome pet. But being the good rangers we are, we put him back, too.



We learned that the tradition of building their structures on blocks at the corners stemmed from the German heritage of many of the settlers and the custom of assessing taxes based on how much of the building touched the ground. True? Who knows, but if so, it was a pretty clever way of minimizing those taxes!





What quickly became one of my favorite places, Cade’s Cove, has an 11-mile, one-lane loop going through it that is closed to vehicular traffic until 10am on Wednesday and Saturday. Cyclists galore take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and we did too, twice, the week we were there! It’s a very fun route, with winding, curvy hills walled in with thick forest, occasional open vistas where settlers farmed before this was a national park, and opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and peacefulness at one’s own pace. Imagine a cool morning mist, crickets and cicadas chirruping, no wind, fresh air, and a quiet stillness, except for the sounds of your sweet family or the occasional other bike. Aaaahhh….


The second day’s ride we got rained on and ended up absolutely DRENCHED! But it’s a warm rain and turned out to be more refreshing than bothersome.




I thought this bicycle-wheel-shaped spider web was rather creative and fitting! Thanks, Spider!


Cade’s Cove is a charming little stop on this 11-mile loop, if you can get there! The one-way, one-lane road gets quite backed up with cars at times, and can take 2+ hours to get to the visitor’s center halfway around! But it’s worth the ride. Spotting bears and other wildlife along the way is common, and once you get there, you’re rewarded with a tiny 1820s town, complete with a working mill, a house that used to be the post office and general store (run by a woman who never married but raised her brother’s children, ran the post office, the store, turned part of her home into a boarding house, grew her own food, sewed her own clothes, and she probably kept her blog updated, too), blacksmith shop, sorghum press, barns, and a log cabin that is now the visitor’s center.



This working grist mill and waterwheel were amazing to see and we were surprised to find the miller down underneath and inside, greasing the gears to get them ready for the day’s grinding. I asked how often the millstone needed to be replaced and the miller replied, “This one’s been in there for 145 years, so I hope I’m not the one who has to replace it!” He said they weigh about 1200 pounds.



We learned of a couple expressions that are related to mills: “Wait your turn” and “Keep your nose to the grindstone”. When area farmers would bring their grain into town to be milled, they would stay in a warming hut near the mill and wait while other farmers had their grain “turned”, thus “wait your turn”. “Keep your nose to the grindstone” has to do with the miller needing to diligently smell the grain he was grinding in order to tell whether the friction of the grinding was heating the grain too much, leaving the flour with a poor taste.



Of course, what would a trip to a National Park be without as many ranger programs as we can possibly get to, and  ***Ranger Badges***!!?



I even earned my “Not-So-Junior” Ranger Badge!



Our Cade’s Cove bear.


One of our last days in the Smokies, Sweet Pea and I visited Clingman’s Dome (6643 ft), right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. This is the highest spot not only in the Smokies, but in Tennessee AND along the Appalachian Trail, and nearly rivals the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft), which is in North Carolina. The story goes that an argument broke out between explorers Clingman and Mitchell in the 1800s about which mountain was higher, so Mitchell agreed to take Clingman’s men along to verify his measurements. When Mitchell tragically fell to his death on the journey, Clingman chose to still honor his name and allow the highest mountain to be named after his adversary.




We loved these turtlehead flowers—can you see the turtle? Took a very short side-hike on the Appalachian Trail, just to say we’ve been there!


A wild forget-me-not perhaps?


After a quite steep 1/2 mile hike, this ramped, 1950s stone structure gets you to the top, where the view is uh, fog, on most days, apparently.


I absolutely adored the Smokies and could have stayed much longer.


Love, love, love these three!


Is it us?? We could totally live in a house this size after living in the motorhome—it would feel huge!