Gas station options are slim in Gatlinburg, but there is one at stoplight one on the way out of town and it is conveniently located next to Old Dad's General Store which makes really good sandwiches. While I filled up on gas, Ann went next door and scored bacon biscuits for breakfast and one each roast beef and turkey sandwich for our lunch.
Heading south out of town and then working east on US 441, we saw a couple of tom turkeys on the side of the road feeding nonchalantly. Quickly, the day went from partly cloudy to overcast and chilly. The day before when we dropped into the Visitor's Center, the volunteer who told us about things in the park told us not to miss Newfound Gap on our way up to Clingman's Dome and over to the North Carolina side of the park, so Newfound Gap was our first destination.
|View East and South from Newfound Gap|
|The NC-TN Border Runs Through the Gap|
|White Fringed Phacelia|
As we were leaving the gap, it was clear that we were going to be socked in at Clingman's Dome some 1600 feet above us. From the gap, we took the side road, at times in North Carolina and at times in Tennessee as we flirted with the ridgeline separating the two states, on up to the Clingman's Dome parking lot below the summit of the highest mountain in Tennessee. By the time we exited the car, ragged shreds of clouds were sailing across the parking lot.
|Starting up the Clingman's Dome Trail, Bundled Up|
All the way up, we could see that we were in a unique northern microclimate, technically a spruce-fir rainforest, averaging 85 inches of rain per year. The vast numbers of dead fir trees on the way up was heartbreaking: they've been attacked by a little mite-like insect (an adelgid) from Europe against which they have no defenses. At the top, at 6644 feet, the third tallest peak in the east, we climbed the 45-foot observation tower with no hope that we'd be able to see anything, visibility being less than 50 yards. There was another batch of thru-hikers here climbing the tower to see what couldn't be seen; this little group was a day behind the group that we met coming through Newfound Gap, about 8 miles further north. The trip back down was a lot easier going but the steeper parts were tough on the quads. We noticed a lot of Rufous-Sided Towhees calling from all sides of the path and a bunch of Song Sparrows below the trail.
|It's a Different World, a Coniferous Rainforest, at Nearly 7000 Feet|
|The Top of Clingman's Dome. What a View!|
|Back Down From the Summit, Clouds Starting to Break|
|Along the Blue Ridge Parkway|
|A Successful Selfie!|
|Golden Ragwort in a Field of Larkspur|
|Larkspur Along the Parkway|
|The Sign Lies. The Longest 1/2-Mile I Have Ever Hiked|
|We Were on Mountains to Sea Trail|
|Cresting the Summit of Waterrock Knob|
|At the Summit of Waterrock Knob|
Just beyond Waterrock Knob we came up the highest point on the Parkway. As we pulled over to take in the view along with a half-dozen Harley bikers who quickly left, Ann spotted a Broad-Winged Hawk on the top of a small tree.
|For the East, That's Up There|
|Pieris floribunda, Mountain Andromeda|