Inger and Jeff Latreille
2 Kinds of Weather
~Saturday, April 24, 2021~
Woke up to a persistent rain, which we’re in for most of today. But we won’t let that get us down. After fueling up with a big pancake/egg/bacon breakfast and vege sandwiches to go, we’re finally ready to explore.
First stop, Laurel Falls. We’ve been so curious what all the hype is about with this waterfall. Every day we’ve passed the parking lot for this stop, there are lots of people, lots of cars, and park rangers present to make sure nobody does anything stupid. But today was the day to be here since the rain has driven most of them away. Lucky us. There were a few other crazies like us though. The trail is a modest elevation gain, nothing too crazy and about 1.5 miles, though Jeff and I beg to differ. It seems more like 2 to get to the Falls. Beautiful scenery with occasional views of the colorful mountains.
To us, what makes the Great Smokies so unique is it’s multi-layered mountains. Though they aren’t as grand as the Sierras, it’s the 3-dimensionality of one mountain behind another mountain, and so on, and everything is lush and green. There is no granite or boulders in sight. Along the path, there was a taped off area (for the tempted souls), warning of black bears in the area. Maybe there is a den nearby, but we didn’t see one. People can be overly curious about them, especially if they’ve never seen one. So we can totally see how people would go down the hill to get a closer look, only to struggle getting back up hill if being chased.
Once we got to the Falls, we had views of cascading water on both sides of the trail.
There was quite a bit of water with the recent rains. Very peaceful and serene. Making our way back down to the car, I saw the perfect photo op that thought captured the essence of the Smokies. Hopefully the picture does it justice.
Even though we wouldn’t be in for spectacular views today, we decided to still check out Clingmans Dome. At 6,640 feet, the dome sits at the highest point in the entire park.
That would make sense, since as we drove higher and higher from our 2,000 foot elevation at our campground, we were driving up into the clouds, with very little visibility. Thankfully, we had multiple layers of clothing with us with the persistent, windy conditions. We even saw a few backpackers getting ready to launch (likely hiking the Appalachian Trail). It didn’t take long for those layers to come off as we hiked the steep .5 mile paved walkway to the dome. And it was steep. I definitely had to stop a few times to catch my breath, not being used to the altitude. When we got to the top, there were a few hikers having a really hard time catching their breath. Climbing even 4,000 feet in a day without acclimatizing can be dangerous, especially if you push it. You really have to listen to your body to avoid headaches or nausea. It was even windier at the top as you wind up the ramp to the top of the dome. The dome reminds us of Shark Valley in the Everglades. Though they look very similar, they are not designed by the same architect. There were no views to be had today, but we still had a great time at the top, with the wind in our faces and the completely crowd shrouded sky preventing our view. Knowing we were at the highest point in the park was pretty cool. Behind the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center, is an access point to the Appalachian Trail, which we had to at least put our feet on. As we got on the trail, we noticed a rock formed sign written……”200 miles, 2000 to go”. Someone had also left 12 cans of Coke and a batch of cookies.
In trail terms this is called “Trail Magic''. We saw a few of these too on the JMT that we hiked back in 2017. These little treats are usually left by non-hikers who just want to give those die-hard hikers a little something from “home”.
After a great day becoming one with nature, our mind was certainly focused on food. Hamburgers, homemade guacamole, and steak fries. Yum! The weather definitely had it in for us, as we started cooking outside, only to move inside, then back outside. The rain just couldn’t make up its mind.