Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Pioneer cabin copyright by QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks
I celebrate the splendor and variety of the natural and human heritage with my photography. For the past twenty-five years, I have been privileged to travel, trek, and climb in some of the most remote and beautiful corners of the earth. Laying down in a colorful meadow dense with wildflowers, clinging precariously to a vertical icy mountain face, listening to the silence of desert sand dunes or to the calls of a bustling floating market might seem like very different experiences, however, I feel that they share the same life-affirming benefits. In a society where too many artificial sensory inputs are available, these simple experiences can make us feel more connected to the world. They give us a sense of beauty, chaotic order, and liveliness that enrich our lives. Through my photography, I have tried to convey these feelings of wonder and passion to the viewers.
For more of Tuan's work, visit www.terragalleria.com/parks
Proof of landscape resiliency -- and incredible diversity -- are on display in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many stories are told within the park’s roughly 800 square miles that cover the Tennessee-North Carolina border like a rumpled blanket.
Though the Smokies run only about 50 miles, within that stretch is the wildest terrain the Southern Appalachian region can claim, and some of the wildest to be found in the eastern United States. At their heart is the national park, which sprawls across 815 square miles, a swath of land just a little over half the size of Rhode Island – probably bigger than the state if you rolled the mountains flat -- on which nature has gone wild.
The Smokies were settled by whites in the 18th century, logged well into the 20th century, and have been flourishing almost as wilderness again since 1934 when this landscape was destined to become a national park. Despite the roughly 9 million visitors who traipse through the park each year, it continues to be a wellspring of biological diversity.
Venture into this park draped over the ridgeline of the Appalachian Range and you’ll discover five different forest types; both grassy balds and heath balds that poke holes in the woods near the mountains’ summits; and vegetative tangles produced by the vigorous growth of catawba and rosebay rhododendrons, magnolia, ferns, holly, and mountain laurel abound.
There are even caves that worm into the karst formations underlying the Smokies’ extreme western portions. Spend time roaming from the park’s 870-feet-above-sea-level basement to its 6,643-foot-high Clingmans Dome and you will, in essence, have negotiated diverse vegetative topography akin to what you would find hiking the Appalachian Trail 2,181 miles, from Georgia to Maine.
Even without its heavily populated surroundings, Great Smoky would be wildly popular with visitors. Its rumpled mountains provide great hiking and course with 2,100 miles of leaping streams popular with anglers and which, lower down where they spread out and flow more serenely, delight young and old alike seeking to escape the high heat and humidity of summer by taking a dip in a river.
Cultural history is rich in the park, with 19th-century homesteads that are well-preserved in places such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee.
Traveler's Choice For: Hiking, backpacking, cultural history, wildlife, wildflowers, fall colors.
Unlike most national parks that have more than a few lodges within their borders, most of which you can drive right up to, Great Smoky lays claim to just one lodge. And you have to walk more than a few miles to reach it. But then, that's part of the charm of staying at LeConte Lodge.
Shared by Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches for more than 521,000 acres in the rumples of the Southern Appalachians. The park is easily one of the National Park Service's largest properties east of the Mississippi, so it is no wonder that many first-time visitors are overwhelmed. Here's the Traveler's Checklist to help make your trip planning easier.
Great Smoky is rich in wildlife, ranging from humongous “hellbenders” (a type of salamander) and wild hogs to 500-pound black bears and heavily anterled elk that resulted from a recovery program launched in 2001. The park also is home to wild turkeys and a highly unusual firefly with a unique ability.
Different seasons bring different colors to the Smokies, with daubs of white, yellow, red, blue, and crimson sprinkled among the park's green meadows and forests, depending on the season. With more than 1,600 varieties of flowering plants, you're bound to see some color on your visit.
Straddling the North Carolina/Tennessee border in the Southern Appalachians, Great Smoky boasts the largest stands of old-growth forest in the eastern United States and the greatest biodiversity of any U.S. park. This yields a fall outburst of reds, yellows, purples, browns, and golds rivaling those of the New England countryside.
The roof of the Smokies owes its character to time. Erosion is a great equalizer, one that can humble and beat down a landscape. Before wind, rain, ice and snow seriously began gnawing away at the Appalachian Mountains, the range possibly towered to more than 27,000 feet and claimed peaks that could honestly be viewed as such.