Ode to Clingman’s Dome

The Smokies are a very old mountain range on a geologic timescale. They’ve been around for a hundred million years and more. When they first formed long before the existence of humans, they towered as tall and raw as other mountain ranges like the Rockies in the western US. Although they seem timeless and permanent today, a lot can happen on geologic timescales and, over the eons, the mountains eroded with the distribution of the resulting sediments all across the southeast portion of the US. Over such long periods of time, the forces of wind and water win out over the permanence of rock.

Today, the character of the Smokies is literally shaped by forces of erosion and time. These mountains look old. They feel old. Compared to the sharp, craggy peaks of other popular mountain ranges, you can tell that the rounded, dome-like peaks of the Smokies have been around for a very long time.

At a touch over 6600 feet in elevation, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Smokies. I don’t know who Clingman was or why this place bears the name. However, being part of the most visited national park in the US (the Smokies receive more visitors each year than Yosemite and Yellowstone combined!), Clingman’s Dome is heavily trafficked. Notwithstanding the challenges associated with all the people, a visit to Clingman’s can be akin to visual sorcery.

My favorite Clingman’s experience is to drive there for sunset, then sleep in my 4Runner and catch sunrise the next morning. That gives me a two for one chance to catch a glimpse of the magic that can happen there. On the other hand, over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “I should go to Clingman’s for a shoot,” and then bail because of the effort. How sad. Nothing is more depressing than opportunity lost. Shame on me!

This spring, thanks to the recent comet and the ongoing impact of the pandemic, I’ve been to Clingman’s more times than I have in many years. I’m never sorry about a trip to Clingman’s. Here is a collection of images from this spring to illustrate why. Enjoy!

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