So, back to the trip we took in April/May 2014. Near the tail end of our adventure we went through parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee (in the opposite order, I think). We stayed a couple of nights in Pigeon Forge and hit the Gatlinburg aquarium as well, which was beautiful. The pinnacle of this leg of the trip, however, was our trek through the Great Smoky Mountains. I have to say, I wasn't truly prepared for the vastness and the enormity of this place. I figured we'd see all there was to see in the span of an hour or two. Not so. Not by a long shot. You would need several days to drive through the entire range and even then, I don't know if you would see it all. If you've been there before, you know exactly what I mean. If not, you need to know this mountain range just goes on and on and on. It goes on further than my imagination. Further than my farthest dreams.
We spent hours and hours on these winding roads and rose to elevations that made my stomach do flip-flops. I, at times, couldn't bear to even look out the window of the car, let alone actually get out to observe these heights first hand. I have a fear of heights and I experience vertigo if I push it too far. This place challenged these personal weaknesses of mine to the point where I became anxious to leave the area, to be honest. So, that means it was an experience I will never forget because I had to really challenge myself to remain calm. Because of my trepidation, I will never forget the experience. It changed me. The Great Smoky Mountains are beyond doubt a very spiritual place. I often feel an affinity to the land, but here I knew I was out of place. I knew there was history and heritage here that I could not take ownership of like most tourists do when they visit a new place. I knew this place didn't need me, didn't know me, and would carry on long long after I become dust in the ground. The credit goes to the brave souls and their generations of families that speckled the peaks and valleys since time out of mind. The credit goes to the Great Creator above. The credit goes to Teddy Roosevelt. I was merely passing through, humbled to perceive with my own senses what Mother Nature is actually capable of. A wake-up call to the immensity of planet Earth.
My place is at sea level, near the crashing waves or the winding river. My place is not in the mountains. I felt the entire time I was there that neither I nor my family belonged here. I don't think I know anyone who actually would. It was so beyond anything I know. Even so, it was a comfort to realize that there are still things in this world that can leave me speechless and these mountains definitely did that. To realize how small I actually am in the midst of these natural formations? Well, it is an experience that re-calibrates the ego, that is for sure. This place was alien to me. It was not my home, but I am grateful to have seen it with my own two eyes just the same. My photographs do not do the place justice at all.