The Great Smoky Mountains and Laurel Falls
In my previous blog post I never did mention how long it took to drive up that mountain, did I? Before going up late at night, Ron informed me that I should take any bathroom breaks before the ride. The reason? It takes 20 minutes to drive up to the spot. Another 20 to drive to descend down to Gatlinburg. The only thing that was between us and our destination was the winding roads and places to stop the car and get that view. I didn't see it going up due to how dark it gets and the large amount of cloud cover. On the way down however, the clouds gave way to a gorgeous scenic mountain range that was in full view. It was a landscape photographer's dream come true. Autumn was in full swing in Tennessee!
Of course, we had to make at least one stop in order to take in the environment around us and take some photos. A great way to wake up in the morning! With nothing but the mostly silent view (occasionally a car passed by), I stared out into the endless colorful trees that blanket the mountainside. A wide variety of leaves glimmered in the morning sun in a stunning vibrant display, with the exception of some patches of trees that were brown. No doubt from the raging wildfires that plagued the area a while back, still showing its effect. Each whiff of fresh air going into my lungs made my muscles much less tense and felt a sense of ease within. Being back in Northwest Indiana, I can definitely say the air quality between the two locations is like night and day. Felt more energized and alive here in the mountains with each breath. Always felt more tired back home to say the least.
It was during that period of bliss that a new sound came. My stomach growling like a grizzly, indicating that it was time to eat. Finishing the trip back down to the city below, Ron and I discussed our options for where to eat. There were quite a number of pancake houses, with one of them having a gigantic waiting line that snaked around the building. Instead, we visited another little place nearby called the Log Cabin Pancake House. Not nearly as long of a line and had a rather cozy look to it, with the front porch area extending across the front of the restaurant. Of course I was craving for pancakes that day and they were absolutely wonderful! Nice fluffiness to them and perfect to go along with my much needed cup of coffee. Afterwards Ron gave me a quick tour of Gatlinburg, showing me all the attractions we could visit. It was certainly tourist-y with the activity going around. All kinds of stores, a sky lift to take you on top of that distant mountain in view, inns, a Hollywood Star Cars museum, and a Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium to name a few.
One notable stop Ron wanted to take me on is on one of the many trails in the area. Before that, we have to take photos of us posing in front of the entrance sign. I assume everyone does it as part of tradition.
The location? Laurel Falls. The trail itself climbed the hillside and snaked its way along the edges of steep drops. The scope of this height was hidden by the wilderness through the endless trees that cover the mountain range. The day itself was rather warm for this time of year even with the shade provided by the trees. Occasionally rocks were exposed alongside the trail with a few tourists taking seat on a few rocky edges for a brief relaxing moment in nature's wonder and simplicity. We kept marching forward. I don't exercise as much as I should so was getting a little tired at times. I kept going however as some of the trees cleared away to reveal a wondrous landscape view of the Smoky Mountains with not a cloud in sight. With the height of the trees my mind was already imagining how small someone would look standing all the way on the other side of the range, making me realize he scope of how huge this area is. All of it covered in autumn colors of the trees in full splendor.
A noise from the passing tourists on the same trail knocked me out of this state of mind as I continued past the narrow trail. Every now and then Ron and I would say our hellos to people passing and most of the time received a greeting back. Rather friendly for the most part. The hills became a sharp drop by it that already had me focusing my gaze away. I was not a fan of heights to say the least. The tall trees gave a bigger emphasis on how steep it was. Eventually my eyes turned towards the sound of running water in the distance. Finally!
When I think of waterfalls, I usually think of the typical one giant stream of water falling off a cliff. Something akin to Niagara Falls or Angel Falls. In this case, it was multiple paths that the water was taking, flowing between slick rocks and debris from tree limbs. Each flowing into one large pool of water after another. Both Ron and I were standing at the very top along with others. Ron decided to be more adventurous by trying to find a way down to where a couple of others were and I followed behind out of this sense of curiosity. Guess that is my own adventurous side trying to come out as well, though I never thought about it at the time. It was a small trail path that went off along the other side of the Falls. When I mean small, I mean SMALL. It felt it was doing the opposite of where we wanted to go and was heading upwards. At the corner of our eyes however we found a family climbing back up a rugged path down a small cliff. The father didn't think there was a way. Ron and I decided to try ourselves. If memory serves correct, Ron wasn't sure at first either. I however was hopping over logs and boulders and eventually saw a way there. Ron could see it as well and we eventually were greeted by a large pool with a few groups of people hanging around the edge. Perfect time for photos.
Eventually Ron decided to take his shoes and socks off and rolled his jeans up as he decided to walk into the large pool in order to get closer shots of the Falls. I was unsure about doing this, but eventually followed suit. Oh no, wet feet. Scary, right? I was taking small hops as I had my telephoto lens equipped on my camera out of convenience. Later however it was clear that I was going to get my feet wet. Ron asked if he could borrow the tripod I had with me to take some stills. Didn't see the problem as eventually I had to step into the water in order to reach him. I rolled up my jeans just as he did and took a step into the flowing water. The cold immediately struck my nerves like a sledgehammer as I flinched. With how hot the day was, I never expected the water to be THAT cold! Quite surprising. My feet slowly adapted to the sudden cold rush as I delivered my tripod for him to use.
I already knew what kind of shots he was aiming for. Adjusting the shutter speed of you camera can result in great effects. Raising it would help for those freeze frame shots where you could see individual water drops look like they are frozen mid-air in time. Doing the reverse however blurs that movement, but when done right can look very artistic and beautiful. Doing the latter is common for a lot of photographers taking photos of flowing water, but that depends on the scene and what exactly they want to capture. It also results in adjusting other settings, because raising the shutter speed causes the camera sensor to capture less light and thus get a darker picture. The opposite captures more light and makes the photo brighter. This is only a hint of what photographers have to keep in mind for every shot they take. The problem with lowering the shutter speed really low is that you will need to be VERY still or else the entire photo is blurred, hence Ron's need for a tripod to keep the camera still instead of holding it in his hands.
I decided to risk doing the slower shutter speed while waiting to use my tripod to try myself. Quite a lot of patience was needed for this, as my hands were not the most steady, especially with that chill from the water continuously sending a shock to my nerves. The feeling of the water brushing my feet however was rather soothing on the other hand. While I eventually did get my tripod back to try a few shots myself, Ron then wanted to explore further and climb further down. Guess what I did? Yep, followed him. The funny thing is, I was reminded of when I explored a patch of woods that bordered my neighborhood as a child. Walking through long grass, brushing away the branches of the trees to open a path, and jumping across small mounds were among a few of the activities that I recall doing. Usually traveled with one of my best friends, as his home was right by the woods. That fun child-like experience came back full swing as I climbed and jumped across boulders and over fallen trees.
We both took a few photos, but Ron's focus was more on something else as seen in these photos. That re-connection with nature. I could understand this completely as I sat down and observed my surroundings. Listened to the water stream pass us towards an unknown destination hidden from view. The atmosphere felt so...light. Like a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders. No where near as tensed up as before. I watched as Ron dipped his hand into the stream and decided, why not? I dipped my hand into the cold water, feeling it maneuver around this new obstacle that was put in place. While I didn't really experience much in terms of flowing water like Ron seemed to have, I did notice a feeling of a standstill. An area where there was no sense of pressure like it did at home. No sense of stress. No anxiety. Simply a sense of relief. Part of that could be from being away from the crowd I guess considering that sensory overload build up was climbing, but it never got to the point of where it was full blown in effect. It felt as if my overactive senses helped me in this regard of reconnecting with nature, even more so during this trip and especially in the mountain wilderness. If I were to look back, I would say that going on the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains was the best part of the trip. That and one other event while I was in the Charleston area.
I was still a little rattled by being surrounded by tourists so didn't fully understand what Ron was experiencing at that time. Later on this trip I eventually came to that realization, but that will be for another day. Eventually we did head out around the time of the approaching twilight. We did drive up the mountain again to gain one more gorgeous view of the mountain range in it's full splendor. I will leave those photos below. That sense of relief came over me once again as viewing the landscape made me and the problems in my mind feel so insignificantly small in comparison to this world and this universe that we occupy. How we're a tiny spec in the grand scheme of things. My original purpose for traveling was to rediscover myself and to see my capabilities. To see where I belong in this lonely universe. Maybe I was never alone to begin with, as the view and taking this journey with a friend gives me a little solace. I've never felt that sense of calm or peace in what felt like an eternity. Seemingly insignificant events such as this became my reason on why I should keep going. Moments such as this that made me feel whole again.
Next time, finally arriving in Charleston! Where did I end up? Wait and see!