To the Great Smokey Mountains

April 19 – 22, 2018

Black Rock Mountain State Park, GA

Up we climbed on a narrow two lane road, following signs, not knowing what to expect. This may seem an innocuous statement, but climbing a thin strip of blacktop in a 28’ motorhome while pulling a car is no laughing matter. One, we can’t back up while the car is attached to the coach. Two, the coach is eight feet wide. And three, tight blind curves are disconcerting! Honk-honk!

At the top we found a gentle dome about 500’ wide. Barb backed the RV in to a spot on the West side of the dome. We had inadvertently put ourselves right on the crest of the Continental Divide!

When we turned off SR23, we had no idea we were climbing the highest mountain in Georgia – 3640’. The park offers 1700 steep acres that include the Continental Divide and part of the Appalachian Trail. We hiked for a couple of hours around the side of the mountain, over the divide and back, and on the ridge line, part of the Continental Divide.

I remember the first time I was on one of these geographic delineations. My dad, sister, Barb and three of our children made an extended fishing trip across the Northwest and into Canada near Banff. My dad talked about the Divide and how the waters flowing from mountains there went to one side or the other – east or west.

While we were at Black Rock, a water leak up hill from our site had water running down to our spot on the dome. It didn’t make it far enough to have to choose which side to go down. It, like the glass of water I poured out to test the divide, simply soaked in and disappeared.

This is a great park but not for the faint of heart towing or Coaching. There are only 38 mixed use campsites and some aren’t very level at all. Still, the hiking was wonderful, photo views plentiful and the black rocks at the summit of the trail are pretty.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park

The drive to Cosby Campground in the GSMNP took us around the park to the Northeast side. From Black Rock Mountain State Park in Georgia we followed SR 23-441 over to I-40 and north. The trip became interesting after taking Exit 447.

From this campsite in Cosby Campground inside the National Park, I advise anyone towing or driving an RV, do not look at GPS or Maps to get you over to CR 32. In fact I’d venture, don’t take exit 447. We admit, we do like to use Maps (iPhone) and Google Maps.

Our GPS took us down a wide one lane road which we finally, shared with a school bus. We stopped and asked the driver about the road. She shared that the way we were heading led to a more narrow road but that it would indeed get us up to 32. She advised taking it slow because we’d be going past folks houses and she’d been depositing children along the way.

We did exactly as she said and arrived at 32, by then the GPS had abandoned all hope. The voice wanted to re-route in a circle, every few feet we rolled forward ‘she’ freaked out. You know when that happens?

Cosby campground sounded pretty good, when we saw the sign. Phew!

The campground itself is graveled, RV sites are paved and vary as to their flatness. We tried one site, gave up when we couldn’t level and moved to another. There isn’t any cover between sites at all and the RV sites, at least, are packed pretty tightly – the play-doh the kids at the next site use is brand x, for instance. This is a good place from which to hike or drive out to explore the park.

I made Andouille Sausage and shrimp with veggies and quinoa for a spicy good Gulf style dinner. The recipe is from Cooking Light magazine, always reliable for simple, tasty meals. During the night it got cold enough that Rudy (the handsome silver-gray old meow of our tribe) climbed under the covers!

We woke to a bit of a calamity. Dasher (the young, destructive, butter-gold newest meowster of the tribe) amused himself during the night by chewing up one of my new hearing aid ear molds. Luckily, he didn’t damage the BTE part the mold plugs into.

I always take my old HAs along when traveling, so I can use them and I am grateful for that. The new HAs are so technologically advanced that to compare the old with the new is to compare an iPhone 8 with a 20# black rotary dial phone. They make 150 decisions a second to adjust to my hearing environment, the experience is gorgeous.

Gatlinburg is thirty minutes away from Cosby Campground and there are lots and lots of RV parks, RV Resorts and cabins for rent as you head through to the GSMNP Visitor’s Center. Those choosing to stay in them pay a premium for hook-ups and summer time amenities like swimming pools.

We drove to the Visitor’s Center and enjoyed the ubiquitous movie and displays of preserved plants and creatures that once lived wild. We also called Candace, my audiologist. In about two weeks, I should have a new ear mold. We’ll figure out where to have it sent as we get closer to the date. What a relief!

After exploring the Visitors Center and identifying a this flower we saw at Black Rock Mountain SP, we headed up to Chimney Rocks picnic area for lunch. Running beside the picnic areas is a gorgeous trout stream. After lunch we walked along the water – staying to trails and being conscious of not stepping on any uniquely biodiverse plant life.

The park has 2,115 miles of streams in it’s boundaries and is one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern US. Though acid rain from nearby coal and manufacturing plants damaged the waterways and affected the health of trout the park has seen steady improvement since the Clean Air Act went into effect. Note: the administration has recently seen fit to repeal the Clean Air and Water Act so expect continuing damage from human short sightedness.

The thousands of streams, brooks and trickles that contribute to the rich diversity of plant and animal life here in the park:

Five separate riparian zones host 1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, over 200 species of birds and 60 of mammals.

The park is Salamander Central with more species of salamanders concentrated in one area than anywhere else on earth. Thirty species live in the park and 24 of them are lungless. Some exist only in GSMNP.

The smoke in the Smokies is a misty fog that rises from all the moisture in the mountains.

Lastly, elevations in the park climb from 660’ to 6500’ and the Appalachian Trail wends it’s way through the parks length. We did a cameo appearance, walk on walk off, on AT just to say we did it, but I think it might be fun to take on a section here in the park someday. Turns out that most of the flowing water in the park originates up on the crest of the Smokies along the Trail.

Some of the people who have used the 848 miles of trails in the park have paused to deface trail signs and shelters with graffiti and leaving behind their trash. 1,500 lbs of trash were hauled out of backcountry campsites and shelters in 2017. Is there a lack of awareness and education or are some people simply mean and destructive?

Today, Saturday, is a writing, meditating and cleaning day for your travelers. We walked a nice one mile trail, leaving behind nothing but footprints and taking lots of photos of flower carpeted glades and streams. We’ve seen a few new (to the trip) birds here in the park – the American Turkey, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Black Throated Green Warbler and the Blue Headed Vireo were standouts.

Both of us were enamored of the streams and trickles that appeared around every bend. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is a wonder and worthy of a visit.

Here’s food for thought. The folks in the space next to us ran their generator, which sat in the back of a pickup truck, from 9 am to 7 pm on Saturday. They seemed to stay inside their pop-up camper and watched a huge screen tv. We went hiking to escape.
A few other campers thought it was our generator and had to be disabused of that thought. When the generator people turned the thing off, they hopped into their trucks and left the pop-up. I never did that type of camping and just don’t understand what the appeal would be. Surely, it’s much easier to stay home?

I just opened Pandora’s Box. The type of travel camping we do really isn’t camping, either. I’ve heard it called “Glamping” which makes me think of forty-five foot rigs that must be plugged to a fifty amp nipple or their residential refrigerators won’t run. That’s not what we do either.

In motorhome and towable land, we’re small. We hold a high standard of Camping Etiquette – footprints left behind, campsite cleaner than we found it, maintain quiet, be respectful of other folks, pets leashed etc.. We don’t run our generator longer than necessary and even then we wait for folks around us to leave when possible.

We sure aren’t ‘roughing it’ tenting or tear dropping though. Our RV is filled with luxuries – it even has an in house vacuum, for crying out loud. I don’t know what to call our style. Ideas anyone?

For now enough about defining our type of travel. Barb and I started RVing together in 1994 and purchased our first Safari Trek in 1995. I don’t guess we’ll change how we go after all this time.