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How the plans change on a trip like this. Lately, I have started to look at the calendar with a bit of nervousnes. You are probably thinking to yourself, why? Well we only have another six weeks to make it back to Las Vegas and we haven’t even hit Washington D.C. yet. We have to be back from Guatemala and Mexico by October 21st for my dad’s wedding, so that means leaving for our three months in those countries sometime around the end of July. Adding to the complication is the fact that we have to sell our car between the time we get back in Las Vegas and our flight to Mexico. We also don’t want to lose some of our planned time in the western United States’ national parks, so we decided that we need to move a little faster this week. The point of all this jibber jabber is that we decided not to camp in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tonight. We did spend the whole day there before heading over to the Raleigh/Durham area in North Carolina for the night.
The day started out in Pigeon Forge, TN just seven miles outside of the national park. After getting ready for the day, we took advantage of the pancake breakfast that was included with our hotel. It was delicious and a great way to start the day. Pigeon Forge must be the capital of pancake houses. In the four mile stretch of highway through Pigeon Forge we must’ve seen at least ten to fifteen “pancake houses”. It is wierd how every place has it’s own little differences, like Gallup, New Mexico and their laundromats!
With our bellies full of pancakes, we got in the car and drove to the national park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country with 10 million visitors annually. To put that in perspective, The Grand Canyon only gets about 5 million visitors a year. It helps, that the Smoky Mountains are within a days drive of 75% of the countries’ population. Coming from the hotel, we drove straight through the park on the scenic highway that connects Tennessee to North Carolina. Eventually we arrived at the visitor’s center on the North Carolina side of the park. I asked the ranger for some adivce on a good hiking trail and where we might find a waterfall. He provided me with answers to both questions and we set out on our hike.
The hiking trail started right next to the visitor’s center. The first part of the trail went through the Mountain Farm Museum. This working farm displays what life was like for farmers in this region 150 years ago. The scenery was authentic and topped off by a rooster crowing loudly in the background. The trail itself was about two miles long each way. For most of the hike, the trail paralleled the beautiful Oconaluftee River. The sounds of the water and nature itself were relaxing. It took us an hour and a half to walk the four miles roundtrip. We stopped several times to enjoy the many animals and wildflowers that we encountered along the way. It was a pleasant hike.
We were satisfied and relaxed from the hike and decided to further enjoy our day by going over to the waterfall area the ranger mentioned earlier. The Dingo Waterfall is 180 feet high. We had to climb what seemed like an endless amount of stairs spread out over about a quarter mile to reach it. At the top, we were treated to a beautiful gift from god. All three of us just sat there for a few minutes listening to the roaring of the water as it spilled over the cliff. We instantly had a new background wallpaper for our computer! After twenty minutes, twenty-five pictures and three videos, we started the descent back to the car.
Just a mile from the waterfall was the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs through western North Carolina. As you might have guessed, the road gets it’s name from the Blue Ridge Mountains it winds through. We decided to drive the portion that runs from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Asheville, North Carolina. On the interstate, the drive from the national park to Asheville takes about an hour, but on the Blue Ridge Parkway it takes about three. These three hours are full of stunning vistas and scenery that pleases the eye in every direction. Every half mile or so the road has a pullout allowing cars to stop and take in the scenery. The many peaks in the distance are barely visible behind the haze that rises from them. This is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever experienced in my life.
When we arrived in Asheville, I headed to the library and booked our hotel for the night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It took us an additonal three hours to drive from Asheville to Chapel Hill on the interstate, making it a long day. Tomorrow we are going to see the University of North Carolina and some parts of Raleigh before heading up to the eastern coast of North Carolina and into the Norfolk, Virginia area. If all goes well, we should be pulling into Washington D.C. on Friday. I feel like I must say that Tennessee and North Carolina have certainly been the prettiest states by far on this trip. The scenery here is like nothing else I have seen so far in the U.S. Thanks for being there!
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The Coomer Family
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