Holy cow! The past few days have been a jam-packed whirlwind and we have a lot of catching up to do on here.
On April 3, after blogging about Asheville for hours at a little coffee shop on the edge of town, we loaded into the car and set out with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park as our final destination. We hadn't given too much thought to this park or this drive but after consulting the roadtrip binder we decided to head straight for Clingman's Dome and then on to Elkmont camp ground to stay the night.
The road heading to the park was initially populated by various motels, activities and souvenir shops for families who take their summer vacations down there. It was a little odd to see welcoming signs and bright flowers with empty lots until we saw a sign that said "season start: April 5" and realized that we were driving through two days too early. Shucks!
Realizing we were in "local tourist" country, I told Sam to keep an eye out for signs for boiled peanuts. Not thirty seconds after I said that, we saw The Peanut King and the parking lot was full! We were going to get a chance to try boiled peanuts!
After we parked we hopped out and asked the people at the stand for some boiled peanuts only to discover they too wouldn't be open until Saturday.
We got back on the road and what a road it was. We had entered a Cherokee reservation and I was driving blind switchbacks down a narrow road on a mountain for twenty minutes with two cars tailgating (I'm sure they were just interested in seeing the twitter handle on our wheel cover...) because I was mostly observing the 30mph speed limit signs.
My only solace was a little wooden canoe-shaped sign that appeared every quarter mile or so, listing such lovely things as "homemade pork rinds", "jam", " Indian crafts", and most importantly "boiled peanuts". I knew once we got to Bearmeats Indian Den I would have my boiled peanuts and Sam would have the wheel back in his hands.
Sam drove the rest of the way to Clingman's Dome because I think my brain would have melted if I attempted to drive on the winding hairpin turns for so long. He stopped once to take some gorgeous pictures of a creek that ran along the road as well as the street signs in both English and Cherokee.
Once we entered the actual park we stopped by the visitor's center to get a stamp for our national park passport as well as a park map.
Clingman's Dome was about an hour into the park with increasingly amazing views around every curve. At some point the radio lost all signal and we switched to AM which worked out just fine. We got to the parking lot and hiked the steep but easy sidewalk to the lookout tower. I am so glad it was a clear day. It felt like we could see nearly 100 miles in every direction and it definitely felt very far from anything I knew on the east coast.
We snagged postcards on the way back down, I managed to lose my sunglasses, and we hightailed it to Elkmont so we could make camp and a fire before dark.
After an easy tent pitch, a flaky fire, and a not very tasty dinner thrown together by yours truly we debated going straight to bed. We knew we would need to wake up and take the tent down before morning light in order to get to Nashville in time on Friday. But then we started stargazing and I said, "we're going to have to get some really good long exposures done on this trip." Sam, being the man of action that he is, stood up and dug the tripod out of the trunk and started messing with settings.
After a bunch of shots where the silhouettes of the trees were soft because of the gentle breeze I thought out loud, "wouldn't it be cool to do live-action dodging and burning with a flashlight?" And as I tried to explain I got carried away with excitement and showed Sam what I meant. I completely forgot that the shutter was open!
Luckily, the result was really neat and we started a whole series of photos where we played with our flashlights.
Although it was a long day there were lots of nice creative moments which always help both of us to re-energize. And this time they lead to a good night's sleep with the wind moving through the trees in the Smokies.