I recently visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park between North Carolina and Tennessee for the first time, catching the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in all its glory. In the lower elevations, starting at Oconaluftee River Trail, many varieties of wildflowers dotted the terrain including Crested Iris, Thyme-leaved Bluets, Foamflower, and Blue Phlox, while elk meandered across the pathways and trotted out to a stream to have a long cool drink with their comrades.
Fearing the car ride up the mountains would be like so many other white-knuckle trips I’d taken to lofty peaks in the past, I mulled over whether to trek to the other side or play it safe in the low-lying area around the waterfalls. The well thought-out decision to make the journey did not go unrewarded, as surprises greeted us around every twist and turn—clusters of red and yellow Columbine, as in the featured photograph “Fiery Columbine“, and Bleeding Heart sprouted from craggy cliffs; Bishop’s Cap lined up along the slope in perfect unison; White Trillium peeked through bunches of Fire Pink; and whole cliff sides sprayed in purple looked like wildflower waterfalls.
A fellow seeker of flora and fauna that day boasted about the unique ecosystem of the park, a part of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, referring to its extraordinarily diverse population of plant and animal life. According to the National Park Service, “over 17,000 species have been documented in the park, and scientists believe an additional 30,000 – 80,000 species may live in the area.” Considering this, a one-day visit only whetted my eagerness to see more of this spectacle, and I’m already daydreaming of a Summer or Fall sojourn to take in a little bit more.