Smoky Mountain Rain: Day 3

Lunch at The Farmhouse Mercantile & Coffee Bar and Cosmic Blast Off food truck, Jessica Cuevas

In the antique style strip mall in Sylva, North Carolina we walked into a warm and cozy coffee shop, The Farmhouse Mercantile & Coffee Bar. walking in was relaxing and aesthetically pleasing, as our eyes roamed over all the decor and furniture. Everything from the restrooms to the chairs were done in contemporary country style. Even on the counter, where we began to order, was displayed a Yama cold drip tower. Feeling a bit adventurous, Yvette, despite not liking coffee, tried the London Fog; Morgan ordered the White Chocolate Mocha, and I went with my usual order of a Mocha Frappuccino.

We then boarded a rocket and were blasted off to the Cosmic Blast Off food truck and ordered the heaviest food anyone could get prior to a hike. Nonetheless, I ordered the Bronco Burger, the local favorite Blast Off Burger for Yvette, the Sweet Potato Quesadilla for Morgan. Each burger was freshly grilled and had the proper amount of juiciness. As for the quesadilla, it had a southwest flavor and a dash of sweetness from the potatoes. We then topped it off with hand-cut French fries, which added a pleasing salty finish to our meal.

We ate all this during a “parking-lot picnic,” one with a view!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Morgan Robertson

Despite it being a rainy day, we did not let it get in the way of embarking on our journey through the Great Smoky Mountains. After a caffeine kick off from a trendy coffee house, and lunch from a local food truck, we made our way further into the mountains. The more we drove up the curvy mountainous roads, the wider my smile became. This being my first national park, it is now the my basis of comparison for other park visits. 

There are a total of six entrances to the GSMNP, a park that spans over a total of 800 square miles. 

We did not see the entire Park, but what we did see was truly amazing. Winding roads led us past flowing creeks, enormous mountains, countless trailheads, some random wildlife…

…and much more. The GSMNP straddles Tennessee and North Carolina, and we traversed this boundary from East (NC) to West (TN)…

… amazed by the size and beauty of the Park.

After spending some time testing our rock-climbing abilities…

…and of course snapping pictures, we faced the hike to the tallest point in the park: Clingmans Dome.

The girls begin the “hike” up Clingmann’s Dome

Embarking on mine and Jessica’s first National Park hike, I shifted my gaze upward at the steep incline of the paved trail. Seeing the variety of trees, quickly moving fog, and the crisp cool breeze of wind helped keep us motivated to make it to the top.

One of the most interesting parts to me was an entrance to the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail. Stepping foot past the sign, I can now say that I have walked on the famous Appalachian Trail.

Peaking around the corner, was a winding cement trail that led to the top of Clingmans Dome observatory platform.

The LEAP Ambassadors were rejoicing when we knew we had made it to the top!

Eventually (editor’s note: an hour later…), we made it down from the top of the dome…

…feeling a little exulted that we accomplished mile-long, round-trip hike.

We also stopped at the Rockefeller Monument, where FDR, in 1940, dedicated the Park.

…part of our ongoing learning about the Park System and its creation. Here, we also had a chance to take another few steps on the Appalachian Trail…

…although we certainly made no attempt to get to Maine, the trail’s end!

Alongside the road were what seemed like hundreds of different lookout points. Wanting to stop at each one, I was reminded by Professor Yawn, who is more familiar with the park, that there are a vast number of exceptional sights to see, and that we had to keep moving. My personal favorite part of the parks is not found high up in the tree line but lying low rushing through the various pebbles and boulders were the sparkling rivers and creeks of the GSMNP.

This immediately sparked a child-like freedom in me to want to run, splash, and slip on the rocks. Finding pure bliss amongst the time old smooth river rocks and swirling currents, I admired the great creation that is the GSMNP. Of course, proceeding with caution, Yvette, Jessica, and I were able to pursue our adventurous personalities, while listening to the babbling waters which brought relaxing mindsets.

As I felt the crisp cool waters rush through my toes, I stared at the pebbles and rocks under my feet thinking of how long they had resided there. 

Surrounding the rivers and adorned with green trees, the vast mountains stand on a scale all to their own. With the day’s weather we were able to see great depth to the fog-covered mountain tops, breathing in every aspect of the enormous Mountains, it was difficult to focus on just one part.

Yvette even described one particular lookout as “not even looking real” but more as something that had been hand painted.

The worst part was tearing my gaze away from the perfect sights and heading back towards the van. Although my spirits were immediately lifted when the next amazing sight was viewable. In its entirety the park and especially the mountains seem intimidating but taking in piece by piece allows for a deeper understanding of the park.

Concluding our journey, we finished with a riverside picnic of turkey and chicken sandwiches, fruits, and chips.

Eating as quickly as I could while still enjoying the fun dinner with Yvette and Jessica…

…I emptied my pockets once again to run into the river. This time I ventured farther into the cold water and slick stones and ungracefully made my way to a semi-dry rock in the middle to enjoy the view. After receiving a whistle and a wave signaling it was time to come back, I continued my trek across the river to the other side and ended up across the bridge.  

With just a little time left, we still had time for more adventure, though, and we made the most of it. First, we saw more wildlife…

…including, in what was a highlight of the trip, a fairly close encounter with a bear. This bear was lurking near a path that we were traversing, and it popped its head out several times to get a better look at us!

We were amazed, while also being grateful that the momma bear, wherever she was, felt no need to intrude.

This left us with a fairly peaceful enjoyment of a nearby waterfall.

Living up to every possible expectation, the GSMNP was and will always be one of my favorite places on Earth. Completely amazed by the wildlife, greenery, and rivers I left the park with a whole new mind set and appreciation for nature. 

Postscript: On the way out of the Park, and in the spirit of seeing more mountainous peaks, we had to stop at the Sevierville County Courthouse and get a photo with Dolly Parton.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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