Monday, May 5th – John took Big Red up to Buford Ford early this morning for maintenance, and after spending $650 and a couple hours in the waiting room, he drove Big Red back home. We spent a a good while doing laundry, and packing clothes and food in the RV. With everything ready for a mid-morning start tomorrow, we figure we will have breakfast in the RV, hitch up and go. I was kind of chomping at the bit to get going so we locked up the house and stayed in the RV… Yeah, we spent the evening out back and slept in the backyard. It was soo good to be back in the camper!
Tuesday, May 6th – We pulled out of the driveway at 10:30 am (we’re retired… we don’t have to get up early) and arrived at our destination in the Smokies late afternoon on a sparkling, sunny, spring day and found a mostly empty RV park… Where are all the retired RVers? There should be more folks out enjoying the delightful weather… It doesn’t get much better than springtime in the Smokies.
The drive up Newfound Gap Road and the Oconaluftee River in the park was welcoming and very peaceful. Everything is lush and green with that color leaves have in early spring… There are leaves are on the trees at lower elevations but approaching higher elevations, the leaves were small, or non-existent. There is a good bit of road construction going on in the park, in a few places along Newfoundgap Road, which can cause traffic to back up a bit. We mostly experienced smooth sailing up the road, and sadly, there was not a single bear jam in sight… After skirting Gatlinburg completely on the Foothills Parkway and back roads, we found our RV Park on Hwy 321, bordering the park.
Wednesday, May 7th – We stopped by Sugarlands Visitor Center, for a National Park Passport Stamp, postcards for the grandkids, and a walk through the museum. We headed to Chimney Tops for a picnic lunch and walked the half mile Sugarlands Nature Trail. We saw lots of wildflowers, lush growth, and a couple old fireplace/chimneys left from some of the 100 families who inhabited this area before the National Park was established. There are a lot of songbirds in the park this trip. I have heard the usual backyard suspects and several bird songs I can’t identify.
Thursday, May 8th – We headed out early to Balsam Mountain with a picnic lunch. When this area of the park is open in spring, there are a lot of different wildflowers to be found along the roadsides and trails. We have also been lucky to see elk here several times in the past. On the drive there, John parked Big Red a few times on the shoulder for me so I could get out and photograph some wildflowers along Newfoundgap Road… I have to be careful not to ask him to stop too often or he gets a bit… annoyed. And, rightly so, I guess. It’s probably an activity best done alone but I don’t drive our big truck. I’m much more comfortable driving my Plymouth Voyager mini-van… We also stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (Blue Ridge Parkway) for National Park Passport Stamps.
Continuing our drive, we found the road to Balsam Mountain closed at the Masonic Marker (we since heard it won’t open till May 23). This is our third visit to this remote spot only to find it closed (last year due to sequestration, this area didn’t open at all.) Very sad as it is such a beautiful area, especially in the spring. Thankfully, there were quite a few flowers on the roadsides before the gate.
We had our picnic lunch and decided to head over to Clingman’s Dome. I had heard from my friend Kristina Plaas (she volunteers at the visitor center weekly) on facebook, that there were a lot of bluets and fringed phacelia along the approach road. We weren’t disappointed! I have never seen such white carpets of fringed phacelia stretching up the hillsides, into the woods. And, thyme-leaved Bluets are one of my favorite wildflowers. We found a lot of hillsides with bluets in great profusion. We also saw quite a few White Trillium and Phlox.
Friday, May 9th – We headed back to Clingman’s Dome to meet Kristina, who was working that afternoon at the visitor center. Oh, what different weather we encountered than yesterday! As we drove to the higher elevations, it started to mist and the temperature dropped to the mid 50s. Needless to say, we had our picnic lunch in a pullover in Big Red! The weather was quite blustery out and the Dome parking area was near empty of cars. Not many park visitors venturing out today… I found Kristina working park store. I have admired and enjoyed her nature photographs for several years on FaceBooks and it was fun to finally meet her in person and speak with her about flowers and the park. After a good but short visit, we headed back down the mountain with threatening skies and rain coming. We saw no elk today but plenty of flowers, and enjoyed the relative quiet of the park roads. And, we did see three turkeys on the way back to camp…
We had a steady evening rain back at the campground. The rain sounded terrific on the RV awning, as we sat outside enjoying the weather and the woods. Tomorrow is supposed to be a rainy day, and I’m planning on getting caught up with photos and my blog. And, writing postcards to my grandkids! Happy Mother’s Day to all Sunday…