They call them the Great Smoky Mountains because of the perpetual fog that hangs above the ranges. The Cherokee called them Chaconage, or place of the blue smoke, and considered the hills to be sacred. Scientists believe the fog to be a mixture of water and hydrocarbons. On this day there was no mystery behind the haze, as it was cloudy and raining. Once I got past the visitor center, I tried to escape the horde of other tourists, and sped up the side of the mountain through the rain. There was a great song by Ronnie Milsap that came out in 1980 called Smoky Mountain Rain. Like the narrator of the song, I was looking for someone to make these big wheels burn.
I didn’t even get out of the car until I got to the other side of the park. There was a campground called the Smokemont right by the exit. I decided to see if they had anything available, even though the rain was coming down pretty hard by now. There was an RV ahead of me with Canadian license plates. They appeared to be holding a summit at the window. It was taking forever. There were spots available. As soon as I drove in, the rain let up. I found a site beneath some trees that was only semi-boggy. As soon as I got my tent set up, I decided to drive into Cherokee and take a look around.
Cherokee, in North Carolina, is the capital for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Around fifteen thousand tribe members live on the land. There are many things for tourists to see and do there. I parked the car and took a footbridge over the Oconaluftee River to visit Chief Saunooke’s Trading Post. There it was possible to see a gem mine and pan for gold in the pits. I passed The Leather Place and saw a poster for a powwow that had happened over the summer. Outside of one shop stood an old wooden Indian. Outside of another sat a fat grizzly bear. There were mechanical bull rides and Native Cloud CBD.
I walked across the street, past a painted black bear, and up to the Little Princess Restaurant. There was a mini-golf across the street with a giant red chief extending his hand in greeting. Getting back in the car, I drove a little further. Two totem poles stood sentry outside a gift shop. In the corner was another statue of a black bear, this one snarling, up on its hindlegs. There was a mural of a medicine wheel, then the Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine. One place offered Indian shows and face painting, and a free gift with the purchase of a pair of moccasins. There was Bill the Buffalo.
Driving back, I came across many cars that were stopped beside the road, the tourists out with their cameras, as a herd of nearly fifty elk grazed in a nearby pasture. I was exhausted when I got back. Jenny had sent a Tupperware with some salmon in it, along with a few pieces of fruit. I ate those and got into the tent, wet on the outside, mostly dry within. There was still a group of Daddy Long Leg spiders from Lake Norman, scrambling towards the corners. I didn’t wish them ill, but did there need to be so many of them?
It rained pretty hard for a while, but then stopped around two. I couldn’t sleep anyway, and decided to just break down my camp before it started pouring again. The spiders all came scrambling out like sailors fleeing a sinking ship. The ones that didn’t get out, got folded up in the tent and stashed back in the trunk. It was nice and cool in the car. I could’ve easily fallen asleep sitting there. Instead, I tried to meditate.
I put the window down a little and could hear the constant rushing of the stream that ran through the camp. There was also a breeze running through the trees, shaking raindrops loose that fell on the roof of the car with a ping. A harder breeze came through and some soggy yellow leaves landed on the hood. There was a bathroom with a light on, about fifty feet away. The light it was casting seemed to be reflecting off the low-hanging clouds. There were no visible stars. A few times it started to sprinkle, but then stopped again. It was still pitch-black but time to get moving. Where I’d end up next, I could hardly wait to see.