Magazine article National Parks

Sketching the Smokies

Magazine article National Parks

Sketching the Smokies

Article excerpt

Walt Taylor heads to the mountains with paper, pens, and paint.

"Why in the world would you want to visit the Smokies in March?"

I wasn't entirely sure how to answer this question, posed by some of my more practical-minded friends. But after a few days, the reasons became abundantly clear. The ability to walk a mountain trail and hear only birds, to contemplate a waterfall in solitude, and to drive the winding roads at your own pace without encountering traffic jams-these are priceless experiences. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most heavily visited of all the parks (at right around 9 million annually, as of last count), which means you should be prepared to rub shoulders with your fellow travelers in peak seasons.

Sure, you're not going to see the colorful spills of laurel and rhododendron or the riotous fall colors, but that just makes you appreciate the shoots and tiny flowers that peep out all the more. Everyone seems to move at a slower pace. And you can stop and talk to a fellow visitor or a ranger and get to know their stories.

And speaking of stories, there's plenty of time to absorb the histories of the mountain families who are no longer here-to stand in their cabins and imagine their lives, to see where they worked and worshipped, and to contemplate their final resting places. Walking through their lives in comparative solitude, you begin to understand the hard work it took just to survive, and also why it was worth it.

On the following pages, I've documented some of the reasons that I'd be happy to return to the Smokies well before the crowds arrive.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

The first thing you need to know, and never forget, is that there are no gas stations in the park. Second, the only accommodations are offered by a lodge on top of a mountain, one with no electricity and few amenities, which is accessed only by a rigorous hike. And it's usually booked way in advance, if you can believe that. For the less adventurous. the towns outside either main entrance provide more than enough of what we modern urbanites have come to expect. From the north and west, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the gateway town, and if your cultural tastes run to Moonshine Emporiums and Hillbilly Golf, this is the place for you. If the thought of sharks gliding overhead is your idea of fun, then Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is your El Dorado. …

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