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Camping in the Smokies

September 25, 2011

For some reason, when I was growing up, my family did not go camping. It may have been because when we moved from Ohio to Florida in the late 1940’s, the family car pulled a trailer, which was to be our home until Dad could build us a house. So for a couple of years we were sort of camping all the time! My mother swore that some of the first words I spoke were, “Oh, let’s have a picnic!” every time I saw a picnic table. When I grew up, I became the owner of several VW Campers over the years, and had some great adventures in them, and of course lots of picnics.
One April spring break, my son, Randy, then in high school, and I decided to go camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Driving north at that time of year always yields patches of bluish and yellow wildflowers blooming in the roadside swales, and I always want to pull over and find out what they are. My vehicle usually carries a mini-nature library that includes field guides on trees, wildflowers, reptiles, and birds, of course. My supplies also include binoculars, a magnifying glass, a small notebook, and a camera, which is digital nowadays. Most of the bluish flowers turned out to be Blue-eyed Grass and the yellow ones were Tickseed.
Driving through Georgia, we crossed the Altamaha River, where the botanist/naturalist William Bartram explored in the 1700’s. If you’re interested in early natural history, there are several fascinating books available about “The Travels of William Bartram”. We picnicked in a churchyard and took time to look at the old gravestones, another interest “inherited” from the same grandmother who showed me my first robin. Since I grew up in South Florida, I was especially excited to see my first blooming dogwood trees, and the air was fragrant with the aroma of wisteria and azaleas. We added Great-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker, and Summer Tanager to the Georgia Life List.
We stopped at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen with huge trees and nature trails. Since I hadn’t brought my recording of a Screech Owl that I used to lure small birds closer, I had to depend on Randy, who had mastered reproducing the call perfectly. He made the low wavering sound and several Ruby-crowned Kinglets zipped right over to see what the noise was – one even had a blazing ruby crown that is normally hard to see. We had a picnic at the George W. Park Seed Company near Greenwood, S.C., and enjoyed seeing all the gorgeous tulips and daffodils in bloom.

Eventually, after a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, we arrived at Smokemont Campground near Cherokee, on the south side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The campground wasn’t very crowded – it was rainy and in the 40’s, but there were still springtime birds around that had recently returned from their winter in Central and South America. We saw Black-throated Green Warblers, Black and White Warblers, Parula Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Solitary Vireos – all very busy staking out territories and singing their songs to attract mates. What a great time of year that is in the mountains! For one thing, the trees haven’t leafed out yet and you can see the birds better.

The next day after driving over the mountains through fog and a light rain to the north side, we had lunch at the Pancake House in Gatlinburg – a family tradition, and then made our way to another campground in the park at Elkmont. We scrounged firewood from unoccupied campsites and Randy soon had a roaring fire going, which probably warmed us more psychologically than physically. The temperatures lowered into the 30’s that night and our down sleeping bags felt good. Next morning ham and eggs also helped warm us up, and soon we were on our way to our next campground at Cade’s Cove in the western part of the park.
To be continued.

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3 Comments
  1. Marge permalink

    Can hardly wait “til the next chapter!

  2. Randy permalink

    Ok, I don’t know how you remember all those fine details, but I do remember the trip in general. That may have been the trip I got a pipe and insisted on the more expensive (sorry…) variety four pack of tobacco. And also my hand hurt because I couldn’t keep it warm. What I do remember is years later Leslie and I drove up to the cabin to spend some time with you and Phil. It was probably spring break because it was still pretty cold. Then you let me take the camper to Smokemont Campground where Leslie and I camped. We went tubing until our lips were blue (only two or three runs) and then got warm and cozy in the camper and had a nice warm bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew. And I remember telling her this is exactly what my mom and I had when we camped here.

  3. Diane permalink

    Great adventures with your boys. How lucky they are to have such a great mom.

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