I drove us to Newfound Gap, elevation 5,046 feet, to watch the sun rise. It would take us 2.5 hours to get there and give Caleb the opportunity for a nap. I drooled a bit myself and then stepped outside to feel the cold air; it was 45 degrees. There was running and frozen water on the same river. We forgot our gloves but felt frozen fingers while photographing one deer and lots of turkey. The most exciting part was seeing bear poop; that’s the closest I’ve come so far to seeing a bear in the wild; and it was still soft.
We hike the steep-edged cliff to Laurel Falls. There are signs warning you not to let your kids fall over the edge; good thing we left the dogs. There is running water over parts of the trail and iced patches in the shade; Caleb slipped once. Halfway we could hear the falls and it was worth the walk. Caleb walked on the dangerous edge for some different views. We take the dogs on the next trail and there are frozen leaves stuck together making our path. It is amazingly green on this trek and Piggy refuses to go over a single-board bridge when she can hear the water underneath it.
We head into Pigeon Forge for breakfast at Reagan’s Broken Egg Pancake House. There were plenty of local pancake places to choose from; this one had a buffet. We grabbed some lunch to-go while in town and were back off to the Great Smoky Mountains for more hills, trees, and waterfalls. We stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We would have to take the more southern route and meet back up with the Parkway at Soco Gap. Both roads are on a Cherokee Indian Reservation and I’m guessing they choose to keep the more scenic route to themselves during the off-season.
The Parkway was more beautiful, even during winter, than I could’ve expected. I wanted to come up here earlier and watch the leaves fall from the trees. There were plenty of colors still on some trees and others were bald. The water supplied other areas with colors of orange, yellow, brown, and red. There seemed to be a pull-out every ten feet. This gave us varying angles as we watched the sun shift over the countryside near and far. Our highest point today would be 6,053 feet. Later that night would be the race to get the most photos before the sun set.
A local hiker, seeing our cameras, told us of a great view. When we got to where we thought we should be there were two paths; one a road closed for the winter and another a walking trail. Passed a man with his kid wrapped in sleeping bags; dad with a beer and son with a chocolate milk. Walked over puddles covered in ice and didn’t fall through. We will finish tonight’s drive to Asheville in the dark. We will have covered roughly 70 miles of the 469-mile Parkway.