nXnw 2018 Smoky Mountain Memories

On top of Old Smokey, All covered with snow, I lost my true lover, For courting too slow. For courting's a pleasure, But parting is grief, And a false-hearted lover, Is worse than a thief.

"The name "Smoky" comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is caused by the vegetation exhaling volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a high vapor pressure and easily form vapors at normal temperature and pressure." Wikipedia

nXnw – A group of photographers, explorers, bloggers and friends who first gathered in 2012 on the coast of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. We have a flag, and a mythical mascot, and a favorite Amazon product. There were 5 members present at the first meet. Since then, annual attendance has risen as high as 13. This year 9 of us made it, including the last remaining “perfect attendance” member and a twinned pair of first-timers. Many were missed, including again Justin, who started this all with a single email in May 2012, and who also began the tradition of these trip reports.

  • Raw Data
  • Explorers - 9
  • Total cameras – 26, including mobile phones
  • Cameras people said they should have left at home – 3
  • Shutter count – 7,940
  • Lenses on location – 38
  • Lenses people said they should have left at home –3
  • Gear people wish they brought –instant camera
  • Memory Cards Used – 28
  • Miles traveled – 12,352 total: 8,724 by air, 3,628 by car
  • Instagram/Twitter/Facebook posts made – 76
  • Hashtags - #nxnw #nxnw2018 #gsmnp #imwiththemayor #tenessee #daisytown #smokymountains #smokymountainnationalpark #greatsmokymountains #greatsmokymountainsnationalpark #cadescove #knoxville #waterfall

Smoky Mountain Base of Operations - Talley Ho Inn

Wish that I was on ole rocky top, Down in the Tennessee hills.

House at Alfred Reagen Place

Day 0 - Knoxville, TN: The first official day of the trip was Wednesday November 7, but several of the gang -- not including me -- arrived on Tuesday, and spent the night in Knoxville. Thanks to Jimmy for these shots of the guys shooting around town that afternoon and evening. If you want to see what they were shooting, well, check out their sites linked above.

photos courtesy of and credit to - Jimmy Denham

Day 1 - Townsend, Tremont: Shooting locations, Little Greenbrier School, Tremont - Middle Prong, Little River.

Even among the arrivals this day, I was the last to show up on Wednesday afternoon. Our rally point was our hotel, the previously mentioned Talley-Ho Inn. The early arrivals did some morning shoots, including at an abandoned schoolhouse -- the Little Greenbrier School -- where there was a run in with a rare needlessly bossy park guide. Once we were all assembled, we split ourselves and our gear into a pair of trucks (thanks John and Mike M for handling all the local transport) and rode up into the park in a light drizzle.

I had partly disassembled my tripod for travel, and forgot to re-attach the ballhead before heading out. Fortunately, a "long-exposure" for water shots can be as short as 1/8 to 1/2 of a second, and you can manage those with image stabilization or a leaf shutter, and I had both. Then, I was even luckier because Jerry for let me borrow his tripod for a bit and John lent me a ballhead.

That school teacher is a bitch. Mike Criswell

No worries. It's just water mixed with electronics. John Deas

Wednesday Dinner Spot: Smokin' Joe's Bar-B-Que

Day Two: Thursday. Shooting Locations -- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Noah "Bud" Ogle homestead, Jim Bales Place, Alfred Reagen Place, Greenbrier Cove, Middle Prong Trail

This turned out to be our most active day of shooting, with a very nice variety of locations and subjects. Most of the morning was spent on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail circuit, where the first stop was an old farmstead belonging to one Noah Ogle. This was the first of a few such locations this day, and together they acted as a reminder that the Western frontier of this country was once in the Eastern Time Zone.

"You have to learn how to park that, son." - unknown guest at Tally Ho Inn

Another notable feature of the farms we visit this day is how small they are, and how uneven and rock-strewn the ground is. It creates an impression of a rather difficult life, even more-so than one would already expect from 19th century frontier living.

Jim Bales Place

There’s somebody who wants to pretend to be John Deas? - Jerry Denham

Bob at Work.
Mill at Reagen Place

We were a bit late for prime fall color by a week or two by most accounts, but were by no means completely shut out, as shown by this view.

On the flip side, we benefited by visiting during a time of heavy water running. This made photographing the streams and rivers more enjoyable.

I'm a much more productive photographer when I’m not hungover.  Bob Lussier

Out last stop in the morning was a confluence of multiple streams known as Greenbrier Cove. We spent a long time there, as it offered a wealth of subjects, including multiple watercourses, a bridge, a trail, and more.

Oh you got music [in this truck]. All we had was John and Bob bitching about everyone. - Name Withheld for his protection.

We closed the afternoon with a hike up roughly half of the Middle Prong Trail. By this time the skies were overcast, with intermittent and sometimes moderately heavy rain. One virtue of Great Smoky Mountain National park is that it offers a range of subjects, many of which photograph very well in poor light and cloudy skies.

Smokey Mountain memories, About my home in Tennessee, Yesterday keeps calling me, Calling me home, Mountains rising in my soul, Higher than the dreams I've known, Misty eyed, they cling to me, my Smokey Mountain memories - Earl Thomas Conley

Meals and Provisions: Breakfast and Fuel IGA, Lunch JOE and Pop's Sub Shoppe, Dinner Smoky Mountain Brewery

Gatlinburg - This is an odd town, to be sure. I wish I had more images. The one on the left is courtesy of Bob Lussier, and captures something of the town's essence, but nowhere near the entirety of it. Nestled among the mountains in the middle of the park, it is a resort town, filled with hotels, high end retail, low end cheesy souvenir shops, restaurants, oddball attractions, and an unusual affectation of faux-alpine architecture.

It was exactly what I did not expect from the town featured in Johnny Cash's semi-novely country hit A Boy Named Sue, where as the town where the afore-named Sue meets his Dad, years later.

"Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July/ And I just hit town and my throat was dry/ I thought I'd stop and have myself a brew. At an old saloon on a street of mud/ There at a table, dealing stud/ Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me 'Sue.'"

The song was a hit in 1969, and written roughly a decade earlier. Gatlinburg today is unrecognizable from the picture painted by the lyrics.

Day 3 - Friday Shooting Locations: Cade's Cove, including Primitive Baptist Church, Hyatt Lane, Mill at Cade's Cove

When the world gives you rain, take moody pictures (and drive Cade's Cove).

In other circumstances, a day with weather like this one could be a total washout for a photo trip. It turned out rather well for us. We decided to drive through the Cade's Cove loop. This is possibly the most popular area of the park (and GSMNP is the country's most-visited National Park). On a nice day, the 11-mile loop will most likely feature a conga line of bumper to bumper traffic as thousands of visitors slowly pass through, moving slowly to catch all the scenes, spot the occasional wildlife, and take photos. We very nearly had the place to ourselves.

Primitive Baptist Church

When do they let the bears out? - John Deas

Not a bear
There's something about a fence.

There is a mill in Cade's Cove, part of the largest former settlement we visited, and this was the most heavily trafficked part of the loop we encountered.

Do you do that standing up or on your knees I mean how do you do that? - Robert Lussier

Smoky Mountain rain keeps on falling, I'll keep on calling her name, Smoky Mountain rain, I'll keep on searching, I can't go on hurting this way, She's somewhere in this Smoky Mountain rain. - Ronnie Milsap

About half of the expedition team took the afternoon off, to review and work on images taken so far, or just to nap. The remainder went out for a short drive to shoot in the afternoon rain. I was not among them, and I recommend you again to visit their sites for more images.

Daily Repasts: Breakfast Country Steak'N'Eggs, Lunch Apple Valley Cafe, Dinner Calhouns

Credit and thanks to Jimmy Denham (and the wait staff at Smoky Mountain Brewery) for these shots of the team.

Day 4 Saturday Shooting Locations: River Road, Daisytown (Elkmont), Foothills Parkway

This was to be our final full day on location, and unfortunately it was the one time that the weather truly let us down. This also was the only day we chose to awake in time to arrive at a shooting location before dawn. Our original destination was Oconaluftee Overlook, but we discovered that the road heading up was closed due to cold, ice and snow. So we diverted to a location we visited the previous day on River Road. We arrived in plenty of time for sunrise, but then that turned up a bust as well.

Which really does not matter. Last year the group spent both a sunset and a sunrise at the same location, and both disappointed in terms of photographic sky wonders. But they are some of our most treasured moments from that trip. Similarly, when I surveyed the group for help with this trip report, some mentioned that morning as a favorite memory. Photography is usually a solitary endeavor, even on group photowalks and trips. Folks arrive at a location, and split up, find subjects, wander, cluster, disperse, and reconvene. Sunsets and sunrises are different. You tend to pick a location, and everyone lines up in an uneven row waiting for the light magic. The 20-30 minutes spent together can be the most time a group is gathered in one spot apart from meals. Even silent, shared waiting -- with everyone a bit sleepy still -- can be a special communal experience. And though the sun never appeared and the sky remained a rather deep blue, the view was still grand.

  • That wasn't me. He read something.
  • No, that was you.
  • Bob Lussier and Dave Wilson

Real men have mirrors. - Armando Martinez

This can't be real. This can't be real! Jimmy Denham

After the sunrise, the balance of our morning was spent at the remnants of Daisytown resort in the former town of Elkmont.

I tend not to study up on our nXnw locations before our visit. I prefer to discover it as freshly as possible, and rely upon those who plan the trip. It also leads to memorable experiences like this. So Daisytown was a surprise to me, and completely unexpected. it ties into the history of the park itself.

Unlike the best known National Parks out west, this park was not created out of a large chunk of federally-owned land. The bulk of it was already privately owned. Some was used by logging companies, and other industrial concerns, but much of it also was owned by small, private landowners, including many of the farmsteads we visited. The land was purchased via eminent domain. They were, in effect, paid, but forced to sell against their will. The US government contributed a bit of seed money, and much of it was raised by local residents in Tennessee and North Carolina, together with a substantial donation from John D. Rockefeller. It is an inspiring story, yet not without its dark side. Mountain homesteaders, miners, and loggers were evicted.

Daisytown was a private resort developed by a logging company for use both by its employees and weekend and summer visitors from Knoxville, who arrived via a dedicated train. After the park was officially dedicated in 1940, the owners of the small vacation homes in Daisytown were granted a series of leases to continue enjoying their getaway. In 1992, however, the Park Service refused to enter into any additional lease extensions and everyone was evicted. It is a lovely place to visit and photograph, and I understand the decision of the Park Service, yet also find it rather cruel.

In the afternoon we took advantage of a true bit of good fortune. While we were on our trip, a completely new section of the Foothills Parkway opened to the public. We were treated to views at various overlooks that were unseen by anyone without privileged access just a few days earlier.

Meals: Breakfast The Carriage House, Lunch Smokin' Joe's BarBeQue, Dinner Trailhead Steakhouse

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free, Raised in the woods so's he knew ev'ry tree, kilt him a b'ar when he was only three - Ballad of Davey Crockett

Day 5 Sunday, Departure Day: Shooting Location Foothills Parkway

We enjoyed the Foothills Parkway location so much that we decided to revisit it. Sadly, a few of the gang had to leave early and missed this outing, but those of us who made it were treated to the best example of why these are the "Smoky" mountains.

Don't let Smokey mountain smoke get in your eyes, If you do I'm tellin' you, You'll want to live there the rest of your life, If Smokey mountain smoke gets in your eyes. - Osborne Brothers

We had dinner at sunset at a great spot and it stopped raining. - me

In my Tennessee mountain home, Life is as peaceful as a baby's sigh, In my Tennessee mountain home, Crickets sing in the fields near by - Dolly Parton

Brunch: The Misty Morning Cafe

Only 4 of us were left for brunch that morning. Departure day on any vacation is bittersweet. The added factor in these trips is that it is generally the last time we will see each other for at least a year, and sometimes more, as participants vary year-to-year. For many of us, this trip is an annual highlight, surpassing all but time with family.

I need to give special mention and thanks to John Deas, who acted as our guide this trip. John offers photography workshops in the Smokies and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We were fortunate to have him gift us his knowledge and effort on this trip. Thanks also to Jerry Denham, who is local to the area, well known by almost everyone as "Mayor D," who consulted with John on many decisions. Finally, as previously mentioned, thanks to John again, and Michael McLean, who did all the local driving for the entire trip.

John's hotel room also acted as our late-afternoon, early evening shared space, where we spent time after shooting and before dinner. One highlight which must be mentioned though it cannot be adequately explained was a dramatic/comedic reading of an Amazon product review by Jimmy Denham that we will all remember forever.

Photos of the crew courtesy Dave Wilson

When you search for quotes about the Great Smoky Mountains, or even Tennessee, it is hard to find anything other than song lyrics. I guess that's fitting. It is a place of ballads, wistfulness, and tall tales of frontier living. The titular peak of "On Top of Old Smoky" is unknown. The song has its origins somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, of which the Great Smoky Mountains are a subrange. Many versions of the song were collected in this area, and some believe that "Old Smoky" is Climgmans Dome, the highest point in the park, and sometimes called Smoky Dome, but the actual location is lost to time.

Photo courtesy of and credit to Jerry Denham
Created By
Mark Garbowski

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