Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina, USA by Michael Thomas

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It probably would surprise many that the most visited national park in the US is not the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite. It is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with twice as many visitors as the Grand Canyon and nearly three times as many as the others. Native American Cherokee named the land Shaconage, which translates to “place of the blue smoke.” The almost ever-present white blue mist that hovers over the mountains and valleys comes from aerosols emitted by the trees in this half million acre park. Water vapor condenses on these aerosols producing the mist. In the higher elevations, 85 inches (212 cm) of rain falls annually, so there is plenty of mist even in cooler months.

Both spring (wildflowers, rhododendrons) and fall are great times to visit this park, but I would avoid summer’s crush of tourists. Gatlinburg, with the most amenities, is where most visitors stay. It is convenient to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Tiny Townsend makes a great jumping off point if you wish to visit Cades Cove at the crack of dawn. On the opposite of the park from Gatlinburg is Cherokee. Half way in between is Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the park at 6643 feet (2025 m). Not Rocky Mountain or Alps size but still providing impressive views of the landscape.

The southern Appalachian mountains’ oak and hickory forests mostly turn yellow and orange in autumn compared to the more reddish maple rich woodlands of New England. So I was pleasantly surprised to see this grouping of trees including several reds of differing shapes while driving the main road, US 441, through the park. Of course, the ever present mist hangs between them and the next mountain. I like the fact that the trees ascend from left to right, while the hillside behind does the opposite. Minimal processing in Lightroom was applied, primarily a gradient filter to bring the mist and background brightness into balance with the land.

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