What do you do when your tent has been pitched at Elkmont campground and you’ve got a couple of hours of daylight left? You drive to Clingmans Dome! This entire weekend was about spontaneous plan adjustments and Clingmans was no different. We originally intended on driving up and hiking around midnight to stargaze (I had seen some pretty milky way pictures from here). However, according to my weather app it was going to be a cloudy night, and therefore little to no stars to see.
When we arrived at the parking lot around 6:30pm there were only a handful of spots left. The sun was still peaking through the clouds and it was way colder up there than I anticipated. Thank God for parkas! There were plenty of tripods and cameras set up at the lot and for a moment I wondered if it was even worth going up to the top. Maybe these photographers knew something I didn’t.
This is where my FOMO kicked in and I started taking some pictures of the sky. It was nothing to be impressed by though. I also had no idea what the sky was about to do. So we stopped at the restrooms real quick and headed to the trailhead.
At the base of the trail there are signs leading you in the right direction. I quickly found out why they do not allow strollers, wheelchairs or bikes on this paved trail. It’s only half a mile long, but it’s a steep 13% gradient! You’ll gain 332 ft. and break a sweat immediately. They have benches along the way and if you prepare with enough time you can get to the top at your own pace. The hike is a straight shot up. You’ll make a slight right near the end and the entire tower and walkway open up in front of you.
We did not have the luxury of taking our time and did it in one shot without stopping. Tony’s legs are way longer than mine and I tried keeping up with him. When I tell you my lungs were on fire. I mean, seriously. ON FIRE! It took us 16 minutes to get to the base of the tower.
The tower at Clingmans Dome provides panoramic views of the mountains below. You can see Tony (furthest right) at the top of the observation tower. It was really cold up there. About 20 degrees colder than lower laying areas. But the views are unlike any other we’d seen in the park so far.
Now, let’s talk about sunset. HOLY CRAP am I happy we did that instead of trying to stargaze with a poor chance of being able to see anything. The sky was so beautiful that it made me forget that we broke into a sweat climbing that steep incline. I completely forgot my lungs were on fire. I have to get the words out of my brain to describe what I saw this weekend! The best way to do it is to dig deep into my past undergrad memories and pull out every descriptor I’ve ever used in a college essay as follows:
The sky began its show by turning into soft shades of blue and barely-there pink. They were the kinds of shades found in freshly made cotton candy. So fluffy and perfect. As the shades deepened I could almost taste the sweetness of the colors moving through the sky. While at the top of the trail the sky decided rather haphazardly to turn parts of it’s cotton candy colored clouds into flames with help from the sun. It displayed bright reds and oranges burning through the clouds. The display of balanced colors between soft and sweet and brilliantly ferocious was the show of a lifetime. The sky gave us so much to see, so much to feel and demanded nothing in return…
Excuse my brain, it can be cheesy sometimes. But it’s as genuine a telling of what we saw as told by me. I’m sure the sensation of bliss and happiness was also amplified by the fact that I was with my husband and we were enjoying each others’ company. But look at these pictures!!! How could I not be?
I promise you these are not filtered in any way shape or form. No photoshop, no special lenses, no filters, just sheer beauty captured by a lucky amateur photographer dangling a Nikon from my neck.
My legs are still super sore by the way. My shins hurt real bad too lol, but it was totally worth it and I would 1000% do it again.
Here’s a video of us recorded on my iPhone 8 Plus on our way down to show you real time sky colors. Don’t mind us, we were rushing back to the car because it was getting colder by the minute.
“She knew she loved him when home went from being a place to being a person.”E. Leventhal