Expecting to wake up to rain showers and cloudy skies, much to my dismay, I found blue and sunny skies outside my window. On this day I had plans of heading across the gap and into North Carolina for the morning. When I arrived at the visitor center, I was amazed at all the construction work happening. Year 76 of the Smokies should be themed "under construction" or "extreme makeover" with all of the park's closures and renovations. Despite being early in the day, it was considerably warm around the Mountain Farm Museum. The forest was green at these elevations and the dogwoods in the area were in full bloom. Around the homestead there were apple blossoms, forsythia, and lilacs adding some character to the long wooden fences and barns. Bees and butterfiles were in their glory around the lilacs. In my exploring of the farm, I was startled from behind by the call of a rooster. At least he didn't mind posing for a picture.
Up to this point, the number of hikes I've ever done on this side of the park are few...two to be exact. Andrews Bald and Kephart Prong, otherwise it's strictly been the AT and Tennessee, which has a lot to do with location since I have always stayed in Gatlinburg. What better place to begin hiking in NC than along the Oconaluftee River Trail, popular for its well graded and easy walking path lined with spring wildflowers and paralleling the river. Both types of phlox were in peak bloom and in abundance, reminding me of White Oak Sink days before. Occasionally one would stumble across crested dwarf iris, golden ragwort, may apples, wood betony, wild geraniums, toothwort, and again, a surprising patch of thyme leaved bluets. Fly fishermen were active up and down the river.
After reaching Cherokee and turning back to the visitor center, I decided I wouldn't hike any more that day, but rather enjoy the drive back across the park while the skies were so clear and sunny. Every so often one would pass these stretches of wildflowers that lined roadsides. As the road went up in elevation, one would move from green woodlands, to budding trees midway, and mostly bare canopies up high. Views from Webb, Deep Creek, Luftee Gap, and Newfound Gap Overlooks were inspiring as always. The lighting and changing of the seasons at Campbell Overlook were just right. Certainly not a bad day to roll the windows down and soak in the views across the park.