Smoky Mountain Vistas are amazing. We have had a wonderful visit. We spent the last twelve days camping off-grid in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our stay in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has made it easy to mix it up a little. At our current location, we get to enjoy both of these national parks.
More than half of our Smoky Mountain Vistas were from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The turn-off for the southernmost section of the Blue Ridge Parkway starts just after you enter the Smoky Mountains National Park from the North Carolina side northbound from Highway 441.
The Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway are separate parks, both are wonderful. We have only driven a small part of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Cherokee and Maggie Valley. We also drove another section south of Maggie Valley to Balsam. The Blue Ridge Parkway will be one of the recurring themes for most of our wandering this summer. It runs along most of the length of the Appalachian Mountains. I am sad that we won’t be following the Blue Ridge Parkway even more closely than we have planned. As we move east we will be crossing it in several areas and each time we do, you can expect to hear more about it. Or perhaps just to see more pictures.
Smoky Mountain Color
The Cherokees first named these mountain ranges describing the color of both the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains at a distance have a dull blue/grey color. In the spring the Smoky Mountain Vistas are so amazing. When you are in the mountains, not just looking at them from the distance, the tree color, at least this time of year, is a vibrant green. The blue color at a distance is due to the humidity. On a rare clear day, rumor has it, that you can see for a hundred miles from the viewpoints. On our visit, we didn’t get any hundred-mile views. All our Smoky Mountain vistas included plenty of haze and clouds. The clouds add to the drama at each vista, so far we have had clouds above us, and occasionally, when we are at high points, clouds in the valleys below us.
Smoky Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway have a similar back story that dates back to the first exploring of the country by our great-great-grandfathers. These explorations lead all the way back to before the Revolutionary War.
During the time of the foundation of the country, this area was all to the west of the Carolinas. Even though half of it is now inside North Carolina in the early days, it was all considered an uninhabited frontier. Everything was wild and untamed.
The area was occupied by the Cherokees and had abundant wildlife. Quickly the new nation changed the mountain range. In the new nation “harvested” all of the Appalachian Mountains. The land was eyed by the new nation as a gold mine.
At this time in the nation, especially in the frontier, rules and government was not anything like what we experience today. People (with money) maneuvered to create more wealth for themselves (this sounds just like today). A big part of this was old-fashioned land and resource grabbing. Resource grabbing was sanctioned by state governments who had no regard for the aftermath when the resources ran out. People (without much money) were the labor that made extracting the wealth possible.
The most obvious source of gold covered the mountains in the form of trees. There was gold too and gemstones and later plentiful amounts of coal. Both the Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway were the results of timber barons extracting as much wealth from the mountains as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
There are only a few patches of old-growth forest in the Appalachian Mountains. Nearly all of it was clear cut. The reason that there was some old-growth forest is that these areas were too hard to log. It is hard for me to comprehend that this dense forest, seemingly endless in all directions, was stripped of all the trees and left for waste. During that time, remnants of the logging were just left to rot in place. Replanting was not part of the process. The flatter areas were stripped of trees by farmers clearing the land to plant crops and the mountains were stripped of all the trees. Once trains were involved clear-cutting the forest became much easier and quicker.
The creeks, swollen by rain in the spring became the lumber transportation method of choice. The loggers dynamited and channeled the shallow areas to improve the flow.
The idea of a park happened even as the mountains were stripped of the trees by the loggers. It was left empty of value. New growth started and the idea of creating a motor-oriented day visit park was born. The infrastructure of logging became the access points for roads. Tourism was first started by the logging company on trains and then turned to automobile tours. The builders of the park used the roads and train tracks built for the timber removal as the starting point. From these roads, the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway were created. We think of the parks as created by our government for our enjoyment. The history is that the park was a conversion of wasteland after the most valuable resources were extracted.
Coves are rich farmland. The name cove is applied to sheltered bottomland that had rich soil and was ideal for farming. Eons of erosion left deep rich soil deposits in these areas and once the trees were removed crops grew quickly. Entire communities occupied the coves growing up around the farms. The roads to and from the coves are the same paths used now for our drives through the park. The coves were occupied and productive until the foundation of the park. When the park was created for all to enjoy, the previous occupants (the farmers) were removed.
The rain made the difference between stripped land and this splendid park that we now enjoy. If the same clear-cutting method was applied without abundant rain, the land would have never recovered. The moisture converted the land into a spectacular mix of tree-covered forest and deep wooded valleys that we enjoy today.
There are four campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The only one we fit in is the Smokemont Campground and then only in loop F. There are a few scattered sites in the other loops and campgrounds that we may have fit in but none of any of these other sites are as good as the one we occupy. One of the reasons that this location, out of the entire park, is so good is that we have the combination of enough sunshine for a full battery charge (on sunny days) and enough shade to be comfortable. If we come back to Smokemont in the future, we know where we want to stay.
So far during our twelve-day stay (so far), we have had one rainy day. The rain started falling last night and is expected to last at least until tomorrow. This also is the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It rained hard enough last night to soak everything. It also rained hard enough to almost completely empty the tent section of the campground.
Our solar array has provided all our electricity needs. We only started the generator one time, in the rain, and only because we needed to run it for its monthly “exercise”. Ever since we installed the solar array we haven’t been running the generator very much. In so far as energy production, we have maxed out our system. As far as numbers go I have seen the amps going into our batteries at the 95+ amps per hour range. We did not align the panels. They were their normal travel position. I didn’t clean them but rather the sun was nearly straight overhead and I picked the only camping area in the entire park with good exposure for solar.
For solar geeks (like me) I have seen the charge controllers at 50 amps each (max output = 50) but not very often. Fifty amps mean that my controllers reached cut-off. I knew in the design stage that this was a compromised. Some (very little) electricity is wasted that could have been captured. This is so infrequent that it does not matter. For further discussion refer to my article at this link. Too many solar panels!
We have been able to replace normal overnight energy used by around noon the next day.
One afternoon we even ran the air conditioning, sourcing the electricity from the batteries and solar panels. The solar doesn’t quite keep up with the air conditioner. We have a little more roof space; even then, it would be marginal to make enough electricity to run our air conditioners – our air conditioners are pretty big.
By the time we turned the air conditioner off, we had consumed an extra 200 amp hours from our more than 900 useable at about that time the sun was off the panels and we had no way to recover that day – and the next day it rained.
When we woke it we had a dark overcast sky. There was no problem the batteries were at about 66% full at the start of the day and by the end of that day, they were about 85% full. There was very little sunshine that day. The next day we woke to the rain at about 64% full. This means that we pulled down 180 amps plus all the energy we consumed during the day while it was cloudy and rainy. For a look at the raw data and analysis of our solar operations at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I included this in yesterday’s article. Dry Camping twelve days.
The passenger side array is pushing 52.1 amps per hour into the battery. This means that when this screenshot was taken the driver’s side array was producing 638 watts. I don’t have the ability to view both the driver’s side data and the passenger side data at the same time but the math says that the driver’s array was pushing 47 amps into the battery for a total network power of 99.1 amps per hour at the instant of this screenshot.
We had been putting off running the generator, for about six weeks (monthly is the recommended interval) so we ran it for nearly an hour putting back about 100 amp-hours.
The following day at 1 pm the battery was back to full. Honestly, this Zamp solar array is making camping off-grid so much easier than it ever has been. It has taken all the worry about electricity off the concern list and puts focus on battery monitoring squarely in the entertainment category. I get some kind of special thrill knowing that the sun is providing all the power we need.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
We crossed the Appalachian Trail yesterday — in the car. We also stopped long enough to hike part of “the trail”. Our hike on the Appalachian Trail was a mere few steps out of tens of thousands possible. The Appalachian Trail is known as “the trail” as if no other trails exist. The Appalachian Trail is also known as the AT. As the title of the book says it is indeed “A walk in the woods.” For most of the trail, it is a steeply inclined walk in the woods.
After reading the book (A Walk in the Woods, Bryson) many years ago, one of the things I remember was an emphasis that when hiking the trail, one of the things you never do is depart from the trail — into the woods. Now after seeing the woods I now understand. The woods are so thick that departing the trail would be difficult because the woods along the edge are nearly solid. Finding your way back to the trail, through these woods would be daunting. Besides the woods are full of things, mostly Poison Ivy, that could hurt you. We have some Poison Ivy, at the base of a tree, right behind our RV.
When hiking the trail, you are not hiking it to see the Smoky Mountain vistas. There are way too many trees in the way for vistas. When you finally see one, the effect of breaking out into the open would be wonderful. It really is a walk in the woods.
Many “trail-angels” are legendary. As thru-hikers (as multiday hikers — starting at one location and ending in another are called), pass through an area of the trail, these trail-angels (non-hikers) show up at the trail and meet the thru-hikers and give them gifts. They are trying to help the hikers along the way. Sometimes trail angels will give candy bars to hikers; others give the hikers meals or places to stay.
We barely met the absolute minimum requirements to be trail-angels to a much younger couple who were thru-hiking a portion of the trail. We met them at the very top of their hike at Clingman’s Dome. Clingmans is the highest elevation along the A.T. in the Smokies.
I overheard this couple debating on how hard it would be to take their trash down to the dumpsters in the parking lot. They were on a thirteen-mile day, heading north and they wanted to get rid of their trash. The total distance was less than a mile (round trip). So I offered to take it for them. After all, we were going that way, it was downhill and how much trash could they have?
Certified beginner trial-angels
So here is the picture as our certification as trail-angels for hauling about 4 ounces of trash, neatly packed in a zip-lock bag downhill to the trash can. I told you it was the very minimum we could do. They were so thankful.
Note for the young couple, from a veteran hiker of high peaks (me)… Without a doubt, the very best plastic bags to take hiking are found in the produce section of the grocery store, just ask, they are free. They can be used for anything including using them as waterproof socks. Zip-lock bags are too heavy, especially to store trash.
As you can tell from the pictures in this post, this post is all about the spectacular views that we got when driving around the park. The next post will be about all the wonderful things we saw close-up while in the park. It will be called Smoky Mountain Treasures. Hopefully, the pictures will equal the pictures in this post.