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Outdoors | Smoky Mountain National Park is immense — but intimately beautiful

There is an immenseness about Smoky Mountain National Park that is palpable.

The park itself is massive, more than 522,000 acres of massive hardwoods, pines, rolling rivers waterfalls and breathtaking vistas. There are the critters, the black bear and elk that roam the forests and meadows.

And, there is the natural history. The Smokies are considered to be one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet, somewhere between 200-300 million years old – give or take a millennium.

But, there is also an intimacy about the place.

Laurel Falls, a 30-40 foot waterfall, seems to have carved out a perfect spot among the towering hardwoods. Despite, the crowd of tourists snapping pictures, there is a feeling of serenity, as if nature is comfortable in its own skin.

The road through Cade’s Cove, once a settlement of nearly 700 people, is 11 miles long, but between exhibits at old cabin sights, views of black bear roaming in the pastures, it feels like a short walk.

But, comfortable though it seems, there is no escaping the grandeur.

The park roads yield sweeping mountain vistas, filtered through pines and clouds, at nearly every turn. And, despite heavy visitation, it’s possible to steal moments quiet enough to hear the breeze rustling through the trees or hear the streams tumbling down the mountains.

Yet, it’s an unpretentious beauty. The mountains are tall, but not craggy like the Rockies. The rivers are cool and clear, but aren’t so fast as to dash the kayaks or canoes of the more intrepid tourists.

If anything, the Smoky Mountains resemble Southern Illinois on steroids – the scenery is quite familiar, just on a larger scale. Perhaps that’s why it feels so much like home.

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