GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: CADES COVE
We were glad to pull away from our campsite in Smokemont due to the rudeness of a dumb-ass Airstream couple who parked right next to us and ran their generator at all hours of the day and night. On to the next campground in Cades Cove on the Tennessee side of the Great Smokies we went with high hopes of peace and quiet, and bears.
We got at least one of those. On our way over we stopped at Newfound Gap to take in the view at the state line. Well, I knew I was justified in being cranky from the cold because the night before was 26 degrees where we were, and at the higher altitude it apparently was a much colder night. It was beautiful, but scary to think about the backpackers who were out on the trail the night before. Glad it wasn't us. The trees were plastered with a harsh looking layers of hoarfrost and the ground was slick with ice. I couldn't believe it was the end of April and we were still getting snow this far south. At the same time, I felt very lucky because we were able to see the Smokies exhibiting winter, and spring later in the week, thus completing all the seasons for the park.
Down the hill we exited the winter wonderland and entered a land that can best be described as Dolly Parton presents the Jersey Shore. Yes, this was Gatlinberg. Do you like malls? Do you like run down beach boardwalks without roller coasters? Do you like to look at a million shops with the same tourist trinkets? If you answered yes to those questions, then you will LOVE Gatlinberg. What a clusterfuck it was. I will say, however, the people watching is impeccable.
A quick detour through town to get food for the next week and then we quickly ran back into the safety of the woods. Cades Cove is a beautiful valley surrounded by rolling mountains and was filled with the budding life of spring. We found a nice campsite away from most RV'ers, and continued to give the stink eye to any RV's that looked like they wanted to camp near us. It is winter, there are plenty of spots, leave us alone please.
Through the week we had weather ranging from 78 and sunny, to 29 and snowing. This crap is getting old. We also had a lovely wind storm two nights in a row where the winds picked up to gusts of 45 miles an hour and we quickly learned how flexible our tent was. Even with our extra rain tarp covering our tent, we were terrified at two in the morning that a pine tree was going to crash right on us. It seems silly, but when you hear a freight train sound followed by your 'walls' folding down, it is a difficult thought to get out of your head.
Luckily we did have gorgeous views of the valley during sun and fog, and had time for some good hikes. We were also happy to have a sunny camp day complete with good beer and a hot fire. Most of the time we enjoyed all of this without neighbors (or close by generators.)
I apparently had been to Cades Cove when I was about 6 years old, but did not remember until we were walking around the visitor center and I saw the demonstrative grist mill. It sparked a heavy “hmmmm I think I have been here before” feeling, which a call to my parents later confirmed. No wonder why I love the Smokies, it includes the memories of childhood camping, which was always fun for me. Though from that same trip, I also remember crying about bears eating me. This time, no bear nightmares.
We did get the privilege to see a total of 14 bears during our time here. They were incredible. The people watching them were not. Most of the time, the road around Cades Cove was packed with pulled over cars well before we arrived around any bear sighting, but thats to be expected in a National Park. However, I will never forget the feeling of shame I felt for my species when we were about 40 feet away from a mama bear and three cubs, surrounded by the normal respecting masses, and two idiots got into a screaming match. A truck was slowed down by a car looking for a place to pull over, and then proceeded to lay on their horn and shout “go!” out the window, right in front of all the nature enthusiasts trying to observe a rare and beautiful sight. So then, the honking truck sped up and passed the other truck, which pissed off the other slow truck. Both drivers then got out of their car and had a trashy shouting match with threats of physical violence. I was very glad I was not a Ranger anymore, and did not have to deal with it. On the other had, I would have loved to been able to write both parties as many citations as possible for being disrespectful ass-hats.
After a Mountain Dew was thrown by one party into the other party's car, and they both sped off, the rest of the crowd murmured about how ridiculous that display was, and continued about their day a little sadder. The bears didn't care one bit. They just moved away from the road and kept being cute while looking for bugs to eat. They were incredible to see up close and it totally made up for any hardships we were going through at camp to experience these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
The hikes and trail runs we did were lush and secluded, as most people who come to this side of the park just do the scenic loop and move on. On these hikes we really started to consider options for a teardrop trailer, as the wind storm reminded us that we could be stuck in even worse conditions more than we anticipated, and 'just getting a hotel' is not really an option. We have a crank radio we use for no service areas and were able to get a weather report for our last night, sure enough, high winds up to 60 MPH with flash flood warnings. This prompted us to move sites and sleep in the back of the truck so we didn't have to spend the night worried about being crushed to death. A few trees did come down, but luckily not close to campers. However, we did wake up to snow, again, and we packed up wet, again. Needless to say our spirits were a bit low from the weather.
All and all it was a great trip, and even in these bad conditions, we had a great time over all in these hills. Great Smokey National Park will always be a highlight on the East coast, and we both agree this wont be the last time we visit.
8/10 I am cold, grumpy and tired, but will still visit again.
Song: Wild Rover – Dropkick Murphys