30 May A Little About Great Smoky
A little about great smoky mountain national park
My host site this summer is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I am specifically working with the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. While I have only been working here for a week, I’ve already learned so much! I’m excited to share a snippet of what my site offers in this post.
To begin, Great Smoky Mountain National Park is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. The park is pretty much split between North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is considered one of the most diverse parks in the National Park System. Containing over 19,000 plant and animal species, and estimated 100,000 species yet to be discovered, Great Smoky is sure to have something for everyone. One fun fact about the park is that it’s considered the Salamander Capital of the world! The park has around 30 species of salamanders, with more to be discovered!
Additionally, the park is rich in history. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center maintains an open air Mountain Farm Museum. This museum showcases many structures from the early 1900s to educate the public on homesteads. Most of the structures in the museum were actually dismantled and relocated to the site. It’s crazy to see the structures in person, imagining how they were dismantled and set up using the same exact materials.
While the Mountain Farm Museum is located at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, there is also a mill and church close by that were also built in the 1900s. The image on the left is a photo I took of Smokemont Church, which was built around 1912. On the right is Mingus Mill, which was built in 1886.
Since my arrival, I have been increasingly interested in the bird species within the park. Through reading local guides and using the Merlin Bird ID, I’ve found that there are over 130 species of birds currently located in the park. While exploring, I have had the pleasure to observe many of these. A few of my favorite observations so far have been the Louisiana Waterthrush, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Dark-eyed Junco. Unfortunately I had to pull photos from online to show these birds. I need to remember to take photos when I spot new birds!
The White-breasted Nuthatch was a crazy experience! I was hiking along the Forney Ridge Ramble trail near Kuwohi (Clingman’s Dome). My supervisor and I thought we heard a woodpecker, so we stopped in our tracks to figure out where it was coming from. We quickly noticed tiny bits of sawdust coming out of the holes in a stag nearby. Upon further inspection, we saw the Nuthatch pop out! The nuthatch would pop out, spit out saw dust (it actually hit our faces a couple of times lol), and go back and peck inside of the tree. We think it was working on a nest or something. It was so cool! While I’ve been here, I’ve realized that birding isn’t just about IDing, it’s also the thrill of witnessing cool habits and behaviors from birds. I wish I had gotten a picture! The little bird was just too quick.
Since I couldn’t get a photo, here is a picture that shows a section of the trail I was on that day. The forest this trail runs through is called a “spruce-fir” forest, which is different from the usual forests you will see in the park. Because of the elevation near Kuwohi, you see species that you wouldn’t normally find in North Carolina. I plan to write a blog post about Kuwohi and the surrounding area soon 🙂
The last thing I wanted to talk about is how spectacular the views are. Newfound Gap is the main road that runs through the park. It connects Oconaluftee Visitor Center to Sugarlands Visitor Center on the Tennessee side. All along the road you’ll find tons of little hikes and overlooks. They provide some of the best views in the park. I think the best way to end this post is by showing some pictures I took while driving around on an overcast day. While sunny days provide more visibility, I love the mystical, ancient look the clouds provided.