Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fire in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg, TN

Having lived in Chattanooga for almost ten years, we've experienced various hazardous weather, from snow to flood and tornadoes. And now fire! Although that occured in the Great Smoky National Park area, which is about a three hours drive away from the marina. Still, the smoke and haze had been felt as far south as Chattanooga and Atlanta. This past Monday, hurricane-forced winds spreaded the wildfires into the town of Gatlinburg, forcing thousands of residents and tourists to evacuate. The fire raged through the mountains burning more than 17,000 acres, killing 13 people and damaging almost a thousand structures. Read more here.

Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet, is the highest mountain in the Smokies
View from Clingmans Dome
Since we're in Florida, we hadn't paid attention to the weather in the southeast region. Until we saw pictures of the devastation on Facebook. Of a dock destroyed in our previous marina - Midway Marina on the Tenn-Tom Waterway in Fulton, Mississippi, a favorite stop of the Great Loopers. (Thank you Margaret for posting the pictures!) Apparently, tornadoes had raged across the southeast region that night. Fortunately, no one was hurt or injured.  Of the burned West Gate Resort in Gatlinburg, entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We had enjoyed a week's stay at the property in September last year, so we knew exactly the location of the fire. Per their website, only the cabins at the top of the mountain were scorched; many buildings in the lower elevation were left intact.
View from our suite balcony
Resort grounds
Our stay in Gatlinburg was filled with adventures and fabulous southern food. We were thrilled to see bears on at least two occasions.


Our day trip to arty Asheville, N. Carolina was quite memorable. Somewhere along the way, we must have taken a wrong turn, and the GPS redirected us down this narrow serpentine mountain road. We thought nothing of it because we saw a car every so often. Until the asphalt ended and turned into a gravel road. It brought us to the Big Creek Trailhead. We were not planning to hike, let alone the Appalachian Trail.


Were we elated when we saw a sign to the Big Creek Country Store! We hurriedly made our way there to ask for directions so we can get back to civilization pronto!

Big Creek Country Store
Back on Interstate 40, we stopped at the visitor center for recommendation for good southern food. Moose Cafe is the ultimate farm-to-table restaurant (a farmer's market is at the back of the restaurant). We devoured everything on our plates. It was finger licking good.
Delicious chicken and dumplings, excellent cornbread

Some of the best fried chicken we've tasted
The next day we managed to get lost (again! Or perhaps we underestimated the distance?) as the trail seemed to go on forever; we were totally exhausted when we finally got to our car. 

Our adventure culminated at Clingmans Dome. We had enjoyed a short hike to the Observation Tower to see the spectacular views, and returned to the parking area for a picnic lunch. While munching, we looked over to our car and stared in disbelief at a flat tire. How lucky are we to experience this at the highest elevation (6,643 feet) in the Smokies? The next couple of hours found us asking around to borrow the right tool and changing the tire. Needless to say, driving a donut spare tire down the winding mountain road was downright nerve-racking.


As for the fire, we are sad to hear news of disaster, even more so when it happens right around the holiday season. We pray for the victims and hope they will get their lives back in order soon.

Update:
Read in USA Today that 'The National Park Service said the fire that began on the Chimney Tops trail  before spreading to  Gatlinburg appeared to have been "human-caused."'

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