Friday, October 24, 2008

Into The Blue Haze

Billy Cobham and his fusion friends, Alfonso Johnson, Tom Scott and Steve Khan, are seriously freaking out some Punk Funk in my ears while I am recalling last weekend to write this post. Their 1979 album of Alivemutherforya must be one of the best fusion albums ever produced.

For nearly ten years now, when ever we get the opportunity, we slip away to the Great Smoky Mountains, and specifically Gatlinburg, for a long weekend or so. The past weekend we did it again.

There’s something in the mountains that draws one back. We love to get a chalet up in Chalet Village (bit expensive but worth it, much better than a hotel room) and we try to stay out of town. We just want to rest, take in the surroundings, sleep late, lazy around, and totally unwind. We did kind of plan this trip because it’s fall and the Smokies is famous for it fall colors, and that means crowds. On top of that, they also had the yearly Fall Festival and a Craft Fair. More crowds. (Gatlinburg is famous for its many crafters that live in the area.) So planning ahead was very important in order to get a good chalet.

I expected more color, but we were just too early for the changes at lower altitude. But then, to experience great fall colors you have to get the timing just right and have luck on your side. Nature is not really famous for playing along with your plans. It’s got its own plans and will drop its leaves depending on his own circumstances. And if you work for a salary you don’t always have the freedom to drop everything to go and watch nature’s antics. Yes, the leaves started to change color, but only at higher altitudes. Our timing was out by about 2 weeks. But our circumstances were such that this was the only week we could get away by ourselves to the mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy for most of the time with a misty rain now and then. Nature’s own plans again. Off course when we had to leave on Sunday, the grey was gone; the sky was blue and clear with not a cloud in sight.

But coming home the traffic was a bitch! Bumper to bumper, stop-start from Dollywood Lane in Pigeon Forge to the I-40 and there must be 30 or 40 sets of lights until you get to the highway. And even the highway home was very busy and the the average speeds were slower than usual. In the end, the usual 3 and a half hour trip took longer than 5 hours. But the few days away from work, children and everyday rigmarole was priceless.

A near constant blue haze hangs over the mountains, hence the name Smoky Moutains. The haze is caused when the plants release water vapor and terpenes, natural oils produced by the plants, into the air. I took this photo from one of the many lookout points we stopped at along Newfound Gap Road.

Driving along Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park, half of it in the state of Tennessee and half in North Carolina, is a unique biosphere and have more than 10,000 plant and animal species documented.
On Saturday when the rain stayed away, although still cloudy from time to time, we drove from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap and then on to Clingman's Dome (2,025 m/6,643 ft), the park’s highest peak. The road goes up to about half a mile from the lookout point on the Dome.

Beautiful fall colors
The end of the road at Clingman's Dome, the 3rd highest peak in the Eastern United States. We decided against climbing the last 500 feet to the lookout point because of a cold wind that was blowing and from below we saw that the dome was constantly cover in a cloud (top left), which would have made decent viewing from there impossible.
A gently flowing stream now, but the Little Pigeon River can turn into a roaring beast in spring time as the snow melts.
The view from Newfound Gap. The original lowest gap through the moutains was at Indian Gap, but during the 19th century they found a lower path, hence the name Newfound Gap. The existing road through the mountains was built in the early part of the 20th century.

After we returned from the drive through the park we visited some stores in town and at Sleepy's we bought a wood carving of bears "Wipe Your Paws". The Black bear is the maskot of the National Park and there are about 1,500 bears in the park.
This is the view we had from the sofa in the sitting room or
from either of the 2 decks of the chalet.
Heaven on green cottonballs!

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