Friday, July 29, 2011
LeConte Lodge: Sleeping Above the Smokies
We checked into the main cabin and were assigned to one of the sleeping lodges. Our lodge consisted of a central common area with a large stone fireplace, chairs and a table. Four separate private sleeping rooms faced this central area. We unpacked in our room and found it simple but comfortable, sparsely furnished with a double bunk bed covered with fleecy virgin wool blankets, a small side table and a chair. Modern flush toilets are nearby but there are no showers and bathing consists of cold water sponge baths over a basin. But this high up in the mountains where the temperature has never reached 80 degrees even in the summer, we are not too anxious to get wet anyway. Before the night is over, we will be glad for the wool blankets on the beds.
We had barely had time to check out our room when some hikers spied a black bear wandering near the cabins. The camp was immediately abuzz with bear sightings. We decided to head out and see if we could find the intruder. What we found instead was that we were in the middle of one of the most remote and scenic areas of the Smokies. Panoramic views of gentle valleys, sweeping vistas of broad mountains, and encroaching emerald forests met us at every turn.
We were hot on the trail of the bear, spotted snacking in the middle of a large blackberry patch, when the clanging of the dinner bell summoned us to the dining lodge. The staff had prepared a sumptuous meal of roast beef and gravy, fried apples, mashed potatoes, and veggies all served family-style, with hot chocolate to warm us up. A dessert of hot peach cobbler topped the dining. In the middle of the feast, we glanced out the dining room windows and saw two whitetail deer staring back in at us.
After a full day of hiking, a delicious meal, and a stunning sunset, we close out the day rocking on the porch, gloating over those poor unfortunate souls caught in the traffic jams and whirl of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge down below.
Tough to leave? You know it, but we have reservations for only one night so we load our backpacks and head down the mountains, six miles back into civilization and the modern world.
(This article originally appeared in The Nashville Tennessean)