The Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina were smokier than usual with all the fires burning in the area when we arrived but the beauty of fall in the mountains was abundant! Once you battle your way through the bumper to bumper tourist traffic in Gatlinburg, you burst into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a peaceful awe settles over you. It is worth all the traffic…..

The trees are ablaze with fall colors as we wind our way up higher and higher into the park. The trees form a golden tunnel of color and you feel surrounded by their beauty on all sides.

In one side and out the other. There’s something about driving through a tunnel that brings out the kid in you. Yes, we did honk as we passed through the tunnel on our way to Clingmans Dome! Laughs and giggles!

Mountain Ash Berries 2

When we arrived at the highest peak of the park, Clingmans Dome, it looked like the bare trees had been decorated for the holidays. Everywhere you looked bright red berries were hanging from bare white bark trees. They are fantastic! We kept asking each other, “What kind of trees are these?”

mountain-ash-berries

We found out they are American Mountain Ash, a small tree that can be found at elevations above 5,000 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains park. It is especially abundant in areas such as Clingmans Dome and on Mount Le Conte. In September, the berries ripen to a vivid, eye-catching crimson. Bears and birds are extremely fond of the fruit from these trees!

mountain-ash-berries-3

Lucky for us the Mountain Ash berries hang on well through winter! The birds depend upon them for cold-weather nutrition and we certainly would not have wanted to miss these gorgeous bursts of color across the landscape.  They are also called Showy Mountain Ash, which seems very appropriate, and the berries are called Dogberries. A local favorite is Dogberry jams and jellies made from mountain-ash fruit, a confection usually mixed with ginger and apples to add flavor to the rather bland fruit of these very pretty trees.

The hike to the top of Clingmans Dome is not long, only a mere 1/2 mile, but it is very steep! You will get a great workout as you hike the trail to the viewing ramp and observation tower. Clingmans Dome is the “top of the Smokies” and you have a panoramic view that goes on forever….on a clear day that is. And on that clear day, views expand to over a 100 miles!

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

We are on the top of the world looking down on this beautiful, and most visited National Park in the whole National Park system, with more than ten million visitors annually! Thank goodness I have a parking angel! 🙂

The Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest which covers Clingmans Dome occurs only at the highest elevations in the southeastern United States.

The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its journey from Georgia to Maine.

Lichen cling to the tree branches creating a lacy pattern and natural rock wall faces with the Mountain Ash berries growing out of them are just some of the wonders along the trail. The dome is a massive structure of sandstone with coarse-grained angular grains of quartz, feldspar, garnet, muscovite, and phyllite running through it.

As we drive back down the 7 mile road from the top of Clingmans Dome and head out of the park, trees of a different color and shape surround us. We feel fortunate to have seen this amazing park so late in the season for many reasons but mostly because of the spectacular colors and fewer people to share the road with. Clingmans Dome is only one of many places to see within the park but we can see why it is the most visited National Park of all!

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