I don't have a print dictionary anymore. My copy fell victim to the downsizing we did before we moved from Tucson, AZ to Washington, D.C. four years ago. So when I re-read the brochures that told me Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was isolated, I turned to my trusted The Free Dictionary on the Internet for a clearer definition of that word.
Isolation (ī′sə-lā′shən) 4. (social) a lack of contact between persons, groups or whole societies, separation, solitude, loneliness
Hmmm! That definition doesn't quite describe Cades Cove, a 19th-century settlement we toured in a supposedly isolated valley in the western portion of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. No doubt the geographical location of Cades Cove with its historic homes, churches and a working grist mill could be described that way. After all, it is remote from any city.
But the number of vehicles we joined on the eleven-mile one-way loop through the valley jumped the contact with people from zero to critical mass. We found the congestion surprising on the late November weekday we visited.
Still, I guess we shouldn't have been astounded. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940, "for the permanent enjoyment of the people." And what a crowd of people have come! The park with over ten million visitors in 2014 tops the list of the most-visited national parks. Even the Grand Canyon runs a distant second.
The animals like it, too.
Most of them were hiding the day we visited, although we did see quite a few deer, including this 10-point buck who played peek-a-boo with us from the brush.
That was enough to convince us that someday we need to return to this United Nations-designated International Biosphere Reserve and spend much more than a day within its confines. We'd like to hike its backcountry away from any of the park's roads. Perhaps we could even climb the park's rugged segment of the Appalachian Trail that straggles along the North Carolina and Tennessee border.
The total knee replacement Tim had in August still limits his exercise, but not so much that we couldn't enjoy a 5-mile hike to Abrams Falls, a picturesque waterfall with a 20-foot drop to the stream below.
The trail was slightly more isolated than the road's loop; we only passed a dozen families as we made our way to the falls and back. Several children I saw practically skipped across the bridges. Not me!
The effort we expended was more than paid back by the beauty we encountered along the trail as it closely followed Abrams Creek.
Establishing this park was not as simple as setting aside the government-owned areas like Yellowstone in western United States.
Instead, over 6,000 small farms and a handful of large timber and paper companies had to be bought out.
Many of their deserted cabins and churches still stand as reminders of the mountain people who once called this home. Perhaps it was their isolation that the brochures recalled.