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Say What? Overheard in the Park...


The observation tower at Clingmans Dome offers some fine views--but don't drop your camera! Photo by Jim Burnett.

The late entertainer Art Linkletter was known for his "Kids Say the Darndest Things" interviews, but a recent trip to a park reminded me that grown-ups aren't immune from that tendency either—especially when they're on vacation.

My wife Velma and I made a stop at Clingmans Dome during a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and in the brief span of less than five minutes were involved in one conversation and overheard a second that fell into the "Did I really hear that?" category.

At 6,643 feet above sea level, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park and in the State of Tennessee. A half-mile paved walkway from the parking area leads to an observation tower near the summit. The tower rises about fifty vertical feet above the ground, but is easily "climbed" via a wide, sloping ramp.

During our visit, Velma overheard a shouted conversation between a woman standing on the concrete walk beneath the tower and a man who was leaning over the waist-high wall and waving from the top of the observation deck to his friends on the ground.

Woman: "Hey, do you want me to take your picture?"

Man (about five stories above her): "Yeah!"

Woman: "Okay, just drop your camera down to me!"


(The good news is he concluded he really didn't need a photo after all.)

Shortly after this near-miss, my wife overheard another conversation between a group of four twenty-something gals who had started to stroll off the paved walkway onto a gravel path. They stopped and looked a bit confused, and one of them asked her companions, "Is this the Appalachian Trail?"

During our own trek up to the summit a few minutes earlier we'd spotted a sign marking the spot where that famous trail crossed the paved walkway, so Velma knew the answer, and decided to help out.

"No," she volunteered. "The connection to the Appalachian Trail is back down the paved path, between here and the parking lot."

The would-be hikers pondered that information briefly, and then one of them asked, "Is it a very long trail?"

Velma managed to hide a smile, and replied, "Well, it runs from Georgia to Maine."


Just more confirmation that real life offers a lot more entertainment than television!


Another version I heard was, "At what elevation do the moose turn into elk?"
I was tempted to say, "It depends upon which side of the Continental Divide you're on," ... but I resisted :-)

Back in 1988, when working for the AP in Wyoming and covering the Yellowstone fires, someone asked why they couldn't use the water from Old Faithful to battle the flames!

And then, of course, the old standby that likely has been heard in more than a few parks: "When do the deer turn into elk?"

Some great stories here folks, thanks for the smiles!  I too have heard visitors ask where the elk were kept at night and 'Is there anything to do here?', but my favorite interaction was the couple who were chastised for trampling flowers in the Paradise meadows. The gentleman looked surprised, then answered with a heavy accent: 'It is OK; we are French!'   At a crowded VC counter long ago, I heard the lady in front of me ask the patient elderly Volunteer 'Have you lived here all your life?'  Without missing a beat, he replied with the ancient vaudeville line: 'Not yet!'

Back in July 1985, our tour bus packed with University of South Carolina alums, faculty, and friends was buzzing with excitement as we approached Yellowstone's eastern entrance. Most of us had never been to the park, and we were primed to make the most of our visit. Our driver, a good ol' boy named James, got on the P.A. and announced "You are now entering Yellowstone National Park, so ya'll need to keep your eyes peeled. Any minute now you are likely to see a bear, a possum or a go-rilla." 

Some of us saw bears, but no possums were spotted, and the only go-rilla we saw was the little plastic one that we passengers bought for James. It dangled it from the bus' rear view mirror for the rest of the coast-to-coast trip.

From the lips of a teenager who really wasn't enjoying his family vacation in Sequoia NP "Hey, I really didn't know we were going to have to hike there, can't we just see it from the road?"

Many strange comments are heard on the road. I remember a family vacation where we drove across Canada from our home in Vancouver to the Maritimes.

When we were in Kingston, Ontario, an retirement-age couple with NY plates on their car were staying in the next room at the Motel. The man looked at our license plates and mused, asking us, "Huh, 'British Columbia,' where's that be?"
We told him it was on the Pacific Ocean. In Canada, we added when he looked blank.
His expression cleared and he exclaimed, "Jeez, yuh must've drove over a hun'red mile !!"

As a 23-year VIP (Volunteer-in-Parks for you "outsiders") with about 1600 volunteer hours in several NP's, I have heard similar remarks! One question I believe must have been made to me with 'tounge-in-cheek'  happened at The Great Sand Dunes when an elderly man asked "Where did they get all this must have taken months to haul here".

The wife and I are avid photographers with some serious equipment. A couple of years ago in Yellowstone parked along side the road the wife was trying to take a picture of a grizzly and her cub from across a valley. The wife was using a huge 600mm lens on a DSLR with tripod, the works. She was having a hard time getting a good picture due to the bears in tall grass and being a LONG ways away. As I and the kids are watching everything, a car pulls up and a guy jumps out, holds up his cell phone and snap a picture, states "I got the picture", jumps back into the car, and drives away.
I took a picture of the wife and the guy at the right moment and we proudly have that on our wall of fame. It is great and we still laughable that. We never did get a good picture of the bears due to the distance.

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