Our time in The Great Smokey Mountains was indeed, very smokey. A huge amount of the park was on fire when we arrived. Some of the road had been closed off in order to help protect visitors and allow wildland firefighter crews easy access to fight the flames.
We had heard before hand that driving through Cade’s Cove was a must. Since that part of the park was still open and available to visit, we went that direction!
We read in our guidebook that GSMNP is a “motorist’s park”. The roads that were built with the idea of getting people out in their cars to experience the beautiful pieces of nature. And apparently, in the peak summer season, the roads are bumper to bumper with cars trying to spot their favorite slice of wild. There were quite a few people touring the cove when we were there, but definitely not gridlocked like our guidebook warned. For this, we were grateful!
After stopping at a few of the churches and old settler’s cabins, we drove back out to the main road of the park and stopped to play at one of the little falls with The Kitty. He was dying to get out.
He had a blast watching the leaves get blown into the water. He would pick one and track it all the way down the banks of the river. It was pretty entertaining to watch.
I carried him out to one of the rocks in the middle of the river and he had a hard time figuring out how to get back. You could just see the risk evaluation running though his little feline mind. Is it worth it to try and jump the water? Should I just wait for my human to take be back? He ran the numbers and then decided to go for it! He cleared it no problem and shot off with his tail straight up, obviously pleased with himself.
Please can I go and chase leaves now???
For some reason, these signs cracked me up. They were placed all around the park in places that were apparently too steep and too twisty to ride.
We did our best to get to the parts that weren’t shut down, but by the end of the day, the skies were thick with smoke.
That night, we had planned to sleep just outside of the park in Gatlinburg. When we got to town, it was almost impossible to breathe the smoke was so thick. We knew we weren’t going to make the whole night, so we kept driving north. After about an hour the air became “tolerable” and we pulled over in a parking lot and went to sleep.
Here are the Instagram excerpts from the day:
End of Days part 1 of 2:🔥🔥🔥Great Smoky Mountains NP is literally smoky… like on fire. The good news is we got about half a day in the park before the roads shut down and everyone was cleared out. I don’t know if you all have seen it on National News, but this is one of the worst wildfires this region has ever seen. As we were trying to get out of the park, the skies were black with thick smoke and ash and smoke just filled the whole RV instantly. It’s pretty convenient that our home is on wheels so that we could roll out of there asap. Honestly, we are grateful that we were able to get out and the 3 of us are okay. 🙏🏼 Thinking of everyone still there. Stay safe!
The next morning we heard that more roads were closed and that our plans weren’t going to work out. We changed gears and headed to Starbucks to work for the day.
What comes next in our journey was one of the most intense nights of my life:
End of Days part 2 of 2: 🌪🌪🌪 If raging fires weren’t enough, how about swirling tornados of destruction?? This is how our night went last night… it started by waking up at 2:30am to alerts on my phone from the local news about extreme weather warnings and a tornado headed right through the area where we were parked for the night. 3 minutes later we had the kitty and our backpacks packed for the worst and hauled buns out of the path of the tornado. Meanwhile, golfballs of hail and the craziest rain we’ve ever seen assaulted the RV as Cees was white-knuckle driving and I was stress eating Muddy Buddies as fast as I could. (Vladimir Kitten gave no cares throughout it all #NothingCanPhaseARussian he was just snoozing in his crate 😹) We hunkered down west of Knoxville with some other road homies in a Walmart parking lot and watched the tornado radar and maybe a few Harry Potters all night long. We are feeling super blessed again for the second day in a row to have a house on wheels so we could flee from the disaster instead of just waiting and hoping it wouldn’t hit us. It did freak us out though that we were literally the only people out on the roads as the tempest raged. And, trying to drive a fiberglass sail in tornado weather was enough adrenaline rush for awhile. ✌🏼️out Tennessee thanks for the wild ride. P.s big thanks to @yakimaracks our skyboxes and bikes were totally secured, safe and sound!
Instant “Dad Headache”.
Neither of us had ever been in a natural disaster like this. I realized what it means when I read on my CNN news update “tornados touch down in such and such state”. I now know how terrifying it is to be in the middle of that! I’m grateful for experiences like that that give you a glimpse in other peoples reality
Our experience in Great Smokey Mountains National Park was much different than we had imagined. That being said, there was no shortage of lessons learned here. We learned that nature is a force to be reckoned with. We were reminded of how fragile our human existence really is. These beautiful buildings stood zero chance when faced with the raging fires or the fierce winds. Mother Nature demands respect.
We actually heard from a friend that this sign burned down in the fire the following day. So sad. It’s crazy to think that so much can change in such a short amount of time.