Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Nashville
From the Rivermen Campground in West Virginia to Deep Creek Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains we travelled over 330 miles in the Trek America van. Travelling these vast distances and being in yet another American state was pretty tiring, but the group was always in good spirits and we always got to stop at regular intervals along the way. We arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains during the afternoon.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. It is renowned across the world for its diversity of plants and animal life and of course the beauty of its ancient mountains. It is America’s most visited national park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears can live in the wild. They live at all elevations in the park and there are roughly 1,500 of them living in the park. They are black in colour and can be six feet in length with an adult male weighing up to 250 pounds! Bears are omnivores and there are warnings throughout the park about leaving food around which could be accessed by a black bear. They have a keen sense of smell; can climb trees and they can run and swim. As we drove through the national park, we were able to see a black bear from the distance and this was an unforgettable experience.
As the Great Smoky Mountains straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee we seemed to hop between both States during our time there. However, Clingmans Dome is located on the Tennessee side and at 6,643 feet Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the highest point in the State of Tennessee. There is a steep hike to the observation tower but when you climb this the summit of the observation tower provides spectacular panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As it was warm and very sunny with deep blue skies the view was great although there was still a slight haze from air pollution. There was time to take in the vistas and take the opportunity to get a good group photograph. The cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome make the spruce-fir forest that grows there a coniferous rainforest. However, thankfully this cool, wet climate was warm and sunny the day we were there, and we were grateful!
After a traditional evening consuming marshmallow around the campfire and card games, as well as socialising with another Trek America Best of the East tour group, we enthusiastically boarded the bus to Cades Cove which was rich in beautiful scenery and history. For hundreds of years the Cherokee Indians hunted in Cades Cove but there have been no major discoveries by archaeologists of major settlements. The first Europeans arrived in the area between 1818 and 1821. Cade Cove has a wide variety of unique historic buildings including three churches, a working grist mill, barns, houses, and many other structures which were built around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After we enjoyed the loop road, we headed to Cades Cove Riding Stables. After my adventures in the desert with Romy the horse I was hoping I would have a horse that would not drag me between two cacti at least! Well, as there were no cacti this obviously didn’t happen however there were steep ravines with large trees and instead of following the path my horse decided to ride down the steep ravine which was pretty hair-raising and scary to be honest! Although I had yet another wild horse, I was still able to enjoy the surroundings. We were in a beautiful forest and the group was grateful for the entertainment I was providing!
After several days in the wilderness, the tour moved on to the bright lights of Nashville, Tennessee! I think that somehow Shawn had forgotten to book us accommodation in Nashville and so we ended up staying with a guy called Randy who was one of Shawn’s mates. He was a great guy to let 14 strangers descend on his house and stay over for the night. It was great to sleep in my sleeping bag on someone’s floor instead of the tent. However, there were no sounds of nature including the sounds of streams and birds so that was a shame, I guess. Randy was an awesome guy though and he knew a fantastic bar in Nashville to take us. We ended up in the Wildhorse Saloon which is located in downtown Nashville close to the Cumberland River. Gaylord Entertainment converted an historic warehouse into a country music entertainment and dining establishment. In 1994 a herd of cattle ran through the streets to the front doors of the Wildhorse Saloon welcoming in a new era and a true Nashville experience. Country music and line dancing are the lifeblood of Nashville and after demolishing a BBQ Burger and having a shot of whiskey it was time to dance to some of the live country music. There was an incredible friendly atmosphere, and the group had a fantastic time. Some of the group wanted to try the line dancing. Although it was enjoyable to watch other people do it, I was not too keen to do it myself, but I did give it a go. I’m kind of used to my own freestyle dancing moves and I find it hard to keep in step with organised dancing so I was not surprised that I found line dancing difficult and I was often facing the wrong way! Even so it was great fun, and the atmosphere was electric. We had the true Nashville experience. Unfortunately, we only had the evening in Nashville and the next morning we were on the bus again blazing forwards towards the next adventure.