National Geographic : 1968 Oct
Solitude for Millions Great Smokies National Park By GORDON YOUNG National Geographic Staff Photographs by JAMES L. AMOS 522 THINK FOR A MOMENT. Which United States national park ranks first in number of visitors? If you have just muttered "Yellowstone" or "Yosemite" or "Grand Canyon," look east to the vacationland that straddles the Tennessee North Carolina border. Great Smoky Moun tains National Park played host last year to six and a half million people-more than twice the number that visited any other na tional park in the country. That means as many as 50,000 visitors on a summer day. Some of the people, of course, are just passing through, since a national highway bisects the park. But most of the visitors are seeking at least brief escape from their fellow men. Can anyone find solitude in a park so in tensively visited? The answer is yes. Last summer I strolled a Smokies trail for half a day and encountered not a soul. But the story starts a few weeks earlier, when my family and I headed south from Virginia to discover for ourselves what at tracts such multitudes to these mountains. Driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, we approached the park from the south-through the Cherokee Indian Reser vation. First stop: the town of Cherokee, just outside the boundary (map, page 531). It helps to take a ten-year-old Indian buff along when you visit Cherokee. Watch his eyes and you'll understand why those Chero kee "chiefs" dancing in front of the souvenir shops wear elaborate Sioux war bonnets. Cher okee headdresses are not spectacular enough. Early next morning we drove our camping truck north on the park's transmountain high way-U. S. Route 441-weaving our way be tween slopes covered with vegetation so dense it seemed almost overwhelming. Indian beauty, 18-year-old Faren Sanders, played a leading role in Unto These Hills, long-running drama of the Cherokees, per formed each summer at their reservation on the southeastern slopes of the Smokies. Crumpled skyland, the Great Smokies wear winter robes burnished gold on the sunny side and electric blue on the other. The late-afternoon portrait, looking east, delineates the time- and weather-wrinkled profile of the venerable mountain range in the Appalachians. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an 800-square-mile preserve in the heart of this wilderness, last year at tracted 6,500,000 visitors.