Sunset on a Mountaintop

Sunset starts

Yesterday was an 85 degree sunny day in Gatlinburg.  I thought it would be a good day to view the sunset from the top of the Smoky Mountains – turns out I was right.  It was breathtaking!

We drove up to Newfound Gap, not sure which direction we’d be viewing, only to discover the primary view at Newfound Gap was east.  So we decided to go to Clingman’s Dome.  This was absolutely the right decision – the views were amazing.  We didn’t even walk up to the viewing tower, we stayed in the parking lot.

Panorama prior to sun setting

There were a few groups of people in the parking lot, mostly there for the photo opportunity.  As the sun dropped lower in the sky and the photographers focused (pun intended) on their shots the chatting and sounds became less and less.  The only sounds came from the young kids and teens in the groups that weren’t using this as a photo op.  It really struck me that most of us were all taking this in and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Sky gets darker as the sun sets

The change in sky color was just amazing!  I’ve seen many sunsets from beaches and yards and high on hills and this Mountaintop Sunset rates as one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.  To experience this from on top of a mountain and above clouds was fantastic.  And you could feel the temperature drop as the sun dropped.  The parking lot is 6200 feet in elevation, and you could sure notice the lower temperatures compared to the city of Gatlinburg.

This foray to the top of the mountain was well worth the trip.  We will do this again.  Now I will leave you with just the pictures I took as the night progressed – allowing you enjoy the view in your own silence.

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Cherokee

On one of our trips to the Smoky Mountains during the off season we had a rainy, overcast day but felt like getting out into the park to do something.  So we took a drive south on Hwy. 441, all the way through the park to Cherokee, NC.  It was nice to drive south through the park.  We usually go from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap, then turnaround and come back.

Cherokee, NC has a completely different feel than Gatlinburg, it doesn’t have quite as many shops or tourists.  The day we were there the town was not very busy at all, which was quite nice.  We ended up at Harrah’s Casino and gambled a bit – this might be a fun thing to do with a group of adult friends travelling together.

Cherokee, NC has a deep history.  The Cherokee people have been around for thousands of years and the town boasts a Cherokee museum.  We haven’t been there but I’m told the museum is very interesting.  The story of how the Cherokee people were forced off their land is one of the sadder stories of the Smoky Mountains.

You can also visit the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill near the Oconoluftee Visitor Center.  I do remember some old farm buildings on a drive I did through the park in the 1980’s.  Whew that takes me back!

I think a day in Cherokee when the sun is shining might be in order on our next visit.

Highest Peaks in the Park

What are the highest spots in Great Smoky Mountain National Park?  Clingman’s Dome is the highest mountain peak in the park at 6643 ft. Mount Guyot runs a close second at 6621 ft. If you’ve been to the park you have probably heard of Mount Le Conte aka High Top, third highest natural peak in the park.  Le Conte seems to be the best known natural high peak in the park.

Clingman’s Dome

Paved hike to Clingman’s Dome.

I’ve hiked to the observation tower at Clingman’s Dome three times, and the views are really great!  You can only get to the dome via the road in good weather, you can hike to it from the trails anytime of year.  The road to Clingman’s dome is near Newfound Gap and is closed in the winter (December to March).  We took the road the day it opened  this year.  We started the hike but when the hail started we turned around and didn’t finish the hike.  If you are in the park in good weather it is worth the trip.

View from the Dome.     Serving up Clingman's Dome for you!

Mount Le Conte
Although not the highest peak in the park it is definitely the most discussed.  I hear about Le Conte from all kinds of places, in Gatlinburg and elsewhere.  Many people have climbed it.  Many folks I meet have this as a destination or have already climbed Le Conte. There is a lodge and restaurant of sorts at the summit, but the only way to get there is on foot.  And make sure you have reservations well ahead of time.

Mount Guyot
From what I’ve read Mount Guyot is difficult to climb and not easily accessible.  I’ve never heard the locals talk about this mountain.  However it seems the Appalachain Trail runs across the south slope, so I suppose if you were on the trail you could climb to the peak if you had proper equipment.  I’ve never done it, and haven’t met anyone who has.  Do not consider this an endorsement or encouragement to hike Mount Guyot – only trained  hikers should research and prepare for such a strenuous and dangerous undertaking.  Contact the park service before attempting any climbs.