Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Smoky Mountain Assortment

After our drive up to Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome on November 5th, we were ready for a little walk. We chose one of the Quiet Walkways that can be found throughout the park, offering an opportunity for a pleasant walk.

The signs at these Quiet Walkways usually say something to the effect that no backpacks or hiking boots are required. I think Doug and I must have gotten off the path, though, because I was definitely wishing for my hiking boots. We found our way down to a beautiful river, enhanced by some remaining colorful fall leaves.

River on Quiet Walkway

After our hike, we drove to the Elkmont area of the national park, to visit the site of the Old Wonderland Hotel, where our love affair with the Smokies began in 1990. The old hotel is gone now. Only the steps leading up the hillside from the roadway, the remnant of the old fountain, and the crumbling ruins of the chimney still remain.

This picture was taken from what would have been the dining room of the old hotel. The desk for check-in would have been to the right. A comfortable and inviting lobby was to the left, where guests gathered to visit, play table games, or just read in front of the fireplace. There was a long porch, lined with rockers, between the chimney and those two trees. Those trees framed a beautiful view of the lawn and fountain, with Blanket Mountain in the distance. Ah, the memories. We surely do miss that place.

Across the road from the site of the old hotel, we saw several wild turkeys foraging for food.

Wild Turkeys

Then we visited the Old Elkmont Cemetery.

The Old Elkmont Cemetery

There are a lot of these old cemeteries scattered throughout the national park since this area was once home to a number of families before it was purchased for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cemeteries are interesting to visit and give mute testimony to the hardship of life for the inhabitants of this land.

Most of the original grave markers in these cemeteries were nothing more than stones with crude carvings of names and dates, many almost totally illegible after so many years. Some of these have been replaced in recent years by more modern tombstones, probably by surviving members of the extended family who still tend the graves.

The majority of the graves in The Old Elkmont Cemetery seem to be of children, many of them bearing dates of death on the same day, or within the same year, as the date of birth.

This one marks the grave of a man who lived to age 71. It has a verse that I particularly liked:

A precious one from us has gone.
A voice we loved is stilled.
A place is vacant in our home, which never can be filled.
God, in His wisdom, has recalled the boon His love had given;
and, though the body slumbers here,
the soul is safe in Heaven.

This one marks the grave of a seven-year-old boy. I couldn't quite make out the entire inscription.

As we returned to our lodging in Pigeon Forge that evening, I took this photo of Gatlinburg snuggled among the mountains.


  1. Great pictures!! I would love to get back there with my wife and see all the history.

  2. I found a beter lodging in Knoxville since I went traveling anyway around the park for about a week my last time.Close is always nicer, and I have spent a few times close when spending less days.

  3. really beautiful area. the cemetery is touching. the hotel in the woods must have been something.

  4. Such beauty, even in the cemetery. The last shot of the fall colors on the mountains (or hills) is spectacular. Thanks for sharing your trips through words and photos. I always enjoy taking the tour with you.

  5. Lovely pictures. Oh how I wish I was able to visit that area.
    I too like that verse from the tombstone.

  6. Great pictures of a lovely landscape, but those cemetery pictures serve as reminders that life was once hard here.

  7. Jake - It is certainly a change from Wyoming scenery! Both are beautiful, but they're very different. :)

    Steve - Knoxville is further away than we like to stay. The Old Wonderland was inside the national park, so it was perfect. Since its demise, we have found a hotel in Pigeon Forge that works for us.

    Thanks, Theresa. There was just a special feeling at the Old Wonderland and a camaradarie between those who came there, whether for a meal, an overnight stay, or just to sit on the porch and rock and chat with each other.

    Thanks, Gail. There was still a good deal of fall color visible when we were there, especially at the lower elevations; but it would have been glorious a week or two earlier.

    Thanks, Ruth. I'm glad that verse struck a chord with you, too.

    Thank you, Stephen. Yes, those folks had great views but a hard life.

  8. Hi Friend, I have a photo just like your last one --taken from the bypass.... Isn't Elkmont just wonderful? We love the hike behind Elkmont (where you used to be able to drive) to Huskey Branch Falls... I'll never forget the last time we were up there --and hiked in TONS of rain. Remember that blog?

    I remember going to Elkmont in the 60's when people were still living up there. They were allowed to stay until the last one in the family living there died I think... NOW---all of those old houses are either gone or just rotting... Kinda sad--for the people who lived there.

    I also remember that old hotel....

    1. Yes, Betsy, I do remember your post about hiking in the rain on the Little River Trail. We hiked there on our last day on this trip, just kind of meandering and taking pictures, not intent on covering distance. I think we were within striking distance of the falls when we turned around.

      I believe the Park Service is in the process of restoring some of the old homes...just for the sake of history...they won’t be occupied. I think only one is being restored on Little River Trail. The others are on a street leading away from the parking lot at the trailhead.

      There was some sort of agreement with the families, but in 1992, the Park Service kicked everyone out, including the Wonderland Hotel. It was a special place. There’s hardly a time that we’re there that we don’t see someone else who loved the old hotel also making a “pilgrimage.”

  9. It's a shame about the hotel. Clearly it packed a lot of good memories for you and it sounds like it was lovely. Beautiful image of the wooded stream and very touching cemetery shots.

    1. Hilary - The old hotel was pretty run down by the time we discovered it in 1990. They knew the Park Service was probably going to close them down in a few years, so they weren't really keeping up with maintenance. But it was very clean, and there was just a special feeling about the place. I don't think we've ever experienced that same feel anywhere else.

  10. I enjoyed your Smokies assortment -- all of the photos are very good. We've visited a number of cemeteries in the park, including some we found while searching for waterfalls. We've been to Elkmont many times, but I have never been to the original Wonderland hotel. We did spend a couple of days at the new Wonderland Hotel, however. It was pretty nice.

    1. George - Wouldn’t it be funny if we had been at the New Wonderland at the same time you were? We stayed there the first few years it was open. It never had the same “personality” as the old one. Folks from the nearby campground used to come to the old hotel for meals or to just hang out on the porch or in the lobby. They contributed to that camaraderie that I mentioned. Since the New Wonderland was built outside the park, they lost the campers. I think they lost a lot of the folks who used to drive down from Knoxville for a meal and some porch time, too.

  11. It's sort of strange to stand in a place where a building used to be, isn't it? The building which you visited and liked...

    I like cemeteries, they hide so many stories. However sad and touching it is, the boy's tombstone looks beautiful.

    1. It is strange, Petra. And, oddly, the space seems too small to have held that building. I, too, enjoy browsing through old cemeteries. There's sadness there, of course; but, as you said, so much history, too.


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