HomeOutdoorsIn the Smokey Mountains, I Found a Wonderland of Colors

In the Smokey Mountains, I Found a Wonderland of Colors

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Matthew Wilson/Outsider

I always loved the mountains. I grew up on the Gulf Coast where the land felt flat and plain. Seeing the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee felt like stumbling across sleeping gods. The way the rain clouds drifted across their peaks made the mountains feel ancient. They were a cut of untamed wilderness we were only borrowing.

I saw the Smokies three times in my life, really. The first happened when I was 11 shortly before my grandmother died. The second was on my 22nd birthday before I left for grad school in New York City. And the third happened this past weekend. Autumn is in bloom now. The once green leaves have changed to a tapestry of gold, orange, and red.

I found myself driving through a wonderland of color. If Bob Ross was alive, he might have broken out the canvas and painted the scene. Instead, I took pictures.

Photo credit: Matthew Wilson

I visited the Smokey Mountains for a weekend vacation

I went to the mountains to find peace in nature. Perhaps I was looking for that 11-year-old self, so carefree. This year has been a stressful one especially with a global pandemic and also just being 25. Everyone tells you about puberty, but no one tells you about the mental and life changes in your 20’s. A weekend in nature seemed the perfect remedy.

Apparently, others had the same idea. All the cabins and most of the hotels were booked. Towns like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, nestled in the mountains, were as packed as ever. Dolly Parton is probably making a killing if the Dollywood amusement park parking lot was anything to go by.

I mostly tried to avoid people because of the pandemic for one and also because of the allure of the mountains. Sure, gift shops and tourist attractions are fun. (My 11-year-old self had a blast at Ripley’s and Dollywood). But the Smokies were the real attraction for the area. Nothing beats the great outdoors.

Photo credit: Matthew Wilson/Outsider

For instance, I traveled through Cherokee, North Carolina hunting for waterfalls. After a short hike up steep steps, I viewed Mingo Falls for the first time. The falls towered over me churning gallons of water down over rocks and fallen trees stumps. Along the way, I stopped at a clearing on the side of the road and watched elk as they grazed contently on grass.

The trees had turned various colors of autumn

During this time, the trees are blooming or the opposite of what that word means. Technically, the leaves are dying as their chlorophyll breaks down and the tree goes dormant for winter. But they’re doing so in a brilliant fashion, shedding even the twilight of summer.

I drove down the winding trail to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokey Mountains. I waved goodbye to my phone signal, stopping at lookout points along the way. As I neared the top of the mountain, a fog wiped the colorful landscape from view. Weather in the mountains can be temperamental at times.

Photo credit: Matthew Wilson/Outsider

At the peak, I found myself staring into a blank whiteness. The clouds had wiped the mountains from view. But as I was about to leave, there was a momentary break in the clouds. The mountains cut through the fog like ghostly silhouettes, and I was reminded of how I felt when I was 11-years old.

The mountains remind me how beautiful this world can be.