The Great Smokies National Park
is a smushed oval, about three times as wide (E-W) as high (N-S),
half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee.

Also the oldest and most visited of all the parks,
and the largest one, east of the Mississippi.
There’s no charge to enter.

Highway 441 cuts up the middle,
running 35 miles from Cherokee, North Carolina to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Newfound Gap is the high point of Highway 441
and also the lowest mountain pass through the Smokies (5046 feet).
A goodly part of the upper section of 441 is a ridge road
that switches back and forth from views to the west and views to the east
just as the Blue Ridge Parkway does (from north to south).

It snowed in the park last week, between one foot and two,
judging from what’s left on the ground.


It’s only 40 minutes driving time from my house to Cherokee,
we discovered yesterday
(about the same from Asheville).
And about that much again to get up to Newfound Gap,
after lunch in Cherokee.


We knew this, and it’s always been true,


but one forgets, with the business of the days
how near this wonder is to us.


The vistas stun, 50 miles across half a dozen rippling ridges.


As you get higher you reach the deciduous tree line;


after a transitional zone of both coniferous and deciduous,
it turns all coniferous.


Some of the parking areas had room for more cars,
some were packed out into the highway,
especially at the popular trail-heads.
Many hundred hikers climbed to the chimneys.


After a couple hours of wallowing
in the weird wondrous streetscape of Gatlinburg,
and all the people passing,


back up to the gap, as night’s shade begins
pulling shadow blankets over the slumbering mountains


and the traffic descends single file back to Cherokee,
going south, or going north to Gatlinburg.


I grabbed a keystoned capture of the patinated plaque whereon


the people of North Carolina, South Carolina, the United States
and the memory of John D. Rockefeller’s wife, Laura, share credit for the park.


The ice and packed snow softened in the sun, and the 55­° temperature.


but firmed up as dusky dark settled.


Where the big trees (still) are,
a trip for another day.