I drove up to the park Monday for another day trip. This time I wasn't hunting wildflowers, but there's still a few late spring/early summer blooms around, including the rhododendron up high above 5000 ft.
Boy, the recent rains have done the trick for the waterfalls. My first stop of the early morning was at Sugarlands and the short walk over to Cataract Falls. It was as full as I've ever seen from the rains the night before. This is normally a "small" waterfall in volume, but not right now.
Next, I headed over Newfound Gap Road to the Oconaluftee area in a downpour of rain. The rain and fog was so heavy above about 3500 ft., I had a hard time driving, especially when I got up near the top. The rain subsided momentarily once I got down near Cherokee, so I decided to head over to Mingo Falls off Big Cove Rd.
Mingo Falls was simply unbelievable. It's always a beautiful falls, but normally it's "graceful" with water flow. This time, it looked like something you'd see in Yosemite in volume of water, with water roaring and crashing down and creating a pretty decent "draft" of air. The rain had started up again and I had difficulty keeping water spots off my camera lens as I tried to take some photos, but it was very impressive.
After leaving Mingo Falls, I headed back to take a tour around the "new" Oconaluftee Visitor Center, which I'd not yet had the chance to see. It's far better and nicer than the old smaller building was, and I love the porch area and fireplace. The history and science exhibits are very educational as well.
The rain had now finally cleared out, and I next headed over to the Collins Creek picnic area for my late picnic lunch. On the way, I pulled off at the Smokemont turnoff to see the current condition of the old Lufty church building right where the turn is located. They now have a sign up that calls the church Smokemont Baptist or something similar, but I've always known this church as Lufty Baptist. It's so hard to see this old church this time of year as the foliage almost completely obscures any view of it from the road. It also makes it difficult to photograph, so perhaps a winter or early spring visit before the leaves pop out would be best for this. The building is sadly in need of some repair and paint (like so many locations in the park), but it's still amazing to see such an old building with such a rich history.
After lunch, I headed back over Newfound Gap Road toward Sugarlands. Now that the rain had finally cleared out, I could stop and see a view from the top and I had plenty of company to share it with.
My next destination was Little Greenbrier school near the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area. I decided to take the hike back to the Walker sister's cabin since it was such a nice afternoon. The hike is a little over a mile from the Little Greenbrier school parking lot, but it is uphill nearly all the way going. However, the "trail" is an old road bed and easy walking for the most part.
After returning from the Walker's, I headed for Cades Cove to end the day. I'd not been there in more than a year, so I'd not see the storm damage along Laurel Creek Road that occurred last July 6th when a severe thunderstorm blew through with 70+ mph winds. It was sad to see so many trees now destroyed, but I guess nature has a way of renewing itself in time.
Anyway, once I arrived at the entrance to the cove and saw the number of cars lined up to go through, I cut my trip very short by choosing to cross over at Sharp's Lane, but at least I saw some of the valley and the beautiful mountains above. Thus ended another great day in the Great Smoky Mountains.