Down Home in the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.  Its 800 square miles of natural and cultural treasures in the Southern Appalachians are just too magnificent and majestic to be contained in one state.  It is the most visited National Park in the US and one of America’s 20 World Heritage Sites.

In addition to exploring the Smokies diverse plant and animal life and dramatic vistas, I set forth camera-in-hand to record modern Americana and discover the history of Southern Appalachian mountain culture in this unique region.

For those flying in from other parts of the US or from around the globe, the Tennessee Smokies gateway communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Townsend, and Cosby are best reached via Knoxville.

Blackberry Farm

Blackberry Farm, one of America’s greatest getaways

To totally immerse myself in Americana, I used Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, created by country megastar songwriter, singer and actress Dolly Parton, as my home-away-from-home base. Other highly recommended accommodations in the area include The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, offering breathtaking views of Smoky Mountains National Park, the French Broad River Outpost Ranch, an all-inclusive dude ranch set on 346 wooded acres in the Smokies, and refined lodging at its best, the 4,200-acre Blackberry Farm, five miles from Walland and 15 miles from the national park.

The most visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove, accessible via a one-way, narrow paved loop. In addition to magnificent scenery, early pioneer farms and churches dot the landscape.

Outside the park, modern man-and-woman-made activity centers include Tennessee’s number one attraction, Dollywood, and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, recipient of “America’s #1 Aquarium” recognition by TripAdvisor patrons.

Local Life

A cowgirl at French Broad River Outpost Ranch (top) and Tony Gore (bottom)

After burning off calories hiking in the Smokies then ziplining through 150 acres of wilderness at the Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park, I overindulged on fried pickles, ribs, and mountains of cake at Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ & Grill. The seemingly endless finger-licking servings were simply too good to resist.

My visit to eastern Tennessee was timed to witness the fall foliage in the Smokies and attend the first annual Townsend Grains and Grits Festival. The regional celebration showcases restaurants and distilleries, the latter creating the now legal “moonshine,” the fabled high proof spirit that had government “revenooers” searching the mountains for the illegal white lightening, especially during the Prohibition years.  

The year 2016 concludes the centennial of the establishment of the national park service. The NPS, what documentary filmmaker Ken Burns refers to as “America’s Best Idea,” preserves life-affirming areas such as the Great Smoky Mountains for future generations.

Lumberjack Show

Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure in Pigeon Forge

Photo Credits

All Photographs Are © Mark Edward Harris

Mark Edward Harris Photographer Bio Harris_Nepal_Himalayas_Tengboche-Monastary_2437_web_2

Mark Edward Harris’ editorial work has appeared in publications such as Vanity Fair, Life, GEO, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ Thailand, Tatler Russia, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and The London Sunday Times Travel Magazine as well as all the major photography and in-flight magazines. His commercial clients range from The Gap to Coca-Cola to Mexicana Airlines. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a CLIO, ACE, Aurora Gold, and Photographer of the Year at the Black & White Spider Awards. His books include Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work, The Way of the Japanese Bath, Wanderlust, North Korea, South Korea, and Inside Iran. North Korea was named Photography Book of the Year at the 2013 International Photography Awards.

Website: Mark Edward Harris

Follow Mark Edward Harris on: Instagram – @MarkEdwardHarrisPhoto


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