Thursday July 12th 2018
The temperature peaked around 90 degrees today. The added high humidity made it feel more like the high 90s, but it was full sunshine with no rain.
I drove through the Pigeon Forge tourist attractions to get to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this morning. The traffic was heavy and I had to stop at every traffic light. It’s about twenty miles to the Sugarlands Visitors Center. The last part of the drive was in the National Park along a parkway and the Gatlinburg bypass.
The Sugarlands Visitors Center has all of the typical visitor center components. I wandered through the museum looking at the exhibits of the plants and wildlife in the park while I waited for the movie start time. The museum has pictures and plastic replicas of many of the plant species that grow in the park. Surrounding the plant life are replicas of the birds, reptiles and mammals that live in the park. Unlike other park visitors centers I’ve been in these exhibits were not in dioramas. They were just on display boards and cases.
The movie is shown every half hour through the day and lasts about twenty minutes. It presents how the park land was formed and the history of the area, before focusing on the unique ecosystem within the park boundaries. I found this movie informative and well balanced. I’ve seen a few movies at other National Parks that have a bias or an agenda.
Behind the visitors center is a trail labeled “Nature Trail”. At other parks similarly named trails at visitors centers are usually well manicured and accessible trails that are easy to hike. Under that assumption, I didn’t read the trail information board until after I finished the trail. It turned out to be labeled “moderate” difficulty. I was only half prepared for the hike. I was wearing the right shoes and clothes, but didn’t have water. It was about a two mile trip out and back including a side trip to a waterfall. About half of the trail was narrow with exposed roots as you climbed up and down the side of a hill. Some of the stream crossings were on full scale bridges and other crossings were on split log foot paths. While not what I expected, it was an enjoyable and informative hike. Many of the trees and plants had identification signs to read.
There were a lot of people at the visitors center, on the trails and on the roads leading to the park. It is not surprising that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the country.