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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Home of the most extensive virgin hardwood and red spruce forests in the United States, the "smoke" for which both the mountains and the park are named is created by the huge amounts of water vapor exhaled by the thick forests draping the slopes. Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the park covers an area of 516,626 acres (approximately 807 square miles).

the mist which gives the Great Smoky Mountains their name
the mist which gives the Great Smoky Mountains their name

map showing location of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
map showing location of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Smoky Mountains are part of the southern Appalachian Mountains, which were uplifted for the first time some 300 million years ago (making them some of the oldest mountains on Earth). Many geologists believe the Appalachians were created by the collision of two of the earth's great crustal plates -- the North Atlantic and the Atlantic. The compression that resulted from this massive pileup brought to the surface deeply buried rock, some at least a billion years old. Once the mountains were raised, at one time perhaps as high as 20,000 feet (almost as high as the Himalayas), extensive faulting turned them heels over head until their true history became extremely difficult to determine. Water then went to work on the mountains, sending building-sized boulders down hillsides and carving narrow valleys between tall, steep slopes. Despite undergoing hundreds of millions of years worth of weathering, the Smoky Mountains still boast some impressive heights. In fact, sixteen peaks within the borders of the national park rise more than 6,000 feet; the highest peak in the park is Clingmans Dome, which towers 6,643 feet.

In 1926, Congress passed a bill to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Donations from Tennessee and North Carolina and the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Fund, as well as pennies collected by school children, purchased the thousands of private land parcels from which the national park was created. The park was established in 1930, but was not officially dedicated until September 1940.

There are about 1,570 species of trees, shrubs and flowering plants growing in the park area -- including almost 130 native trees -- 2,000 different fungi, more than 200 bird species, 48 freshwater fishes, 60 mammals, and 78 kinds of reptiles and amphibians. There are about 600 miles of clear, spring-fed streams, many of which end in roaring falls.

Roaring Fork Creek
Roaring Fork Creek

There are approximately 800 miles of hiking and horse tails in the park, including about 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail (a 2,158-mile-long hiking trail that links a chain of states from Maine to Georgia). There are also some beautiful motor routes, including the Newfound Gap Road. In 26 miles, this road climbs from 1,436 feet elevation at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Tennessee to 5,048 feet at Newfound Gap, then down to about 2,000 feet at Oconaluftee near Cherokee, North Carolina. A spur off this road leads to the summit of Clingmans Dome.

In addition to natural history, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rich in human history, represented by one of the country's best collections of reconstructed historic buildings.

a 19th-century grist mill
a 19th-century grist mill

OFFICIAL WEBSITE
National Park Service www.nps.gov/grsm/

SEE ALSO
Tennessee
North Carolina
Himalaya Mountains
Maine
Georgia

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Old Southwest > General History and Description

This page was last updated on July 06, 2017.