July 8 after hearing the purpose of my visit, my taxi driver took the long road from the airport to include many scenic stops, resulting in this: my official first photo in the park from the car window.
July 9/ cataract falls my tennessee mountain home/a proper celebration/just your average backyard cemetery/just your average neighborhood waterfall. 🏔🌲❤️🙋♀️ (i couldn’t love it more.)
July 10/ fighting creek nature trail, roaring fork motor trail, the place of a thousand drips, elkmont historic district- jake’s creek trail that light!/those trees!/that house!/this gluten free chocolate chip ice cream sandwich with a robot!
July 11/ old sugarlands trail, cove mountain trail first day on my own and it turned into building my confidence hiking alone, photographing plants, and lots of naps.
July 12/ old sugarlands trail, gatlinburg trail sketching on squares thursday and my first adventure into gatlinburg!
July 13/ fontana lake, hazel creek trail, the long driveway to soak ash (!!!) boat ride across fontana lake/THOSE MOUNTAINS/trees from water/hazel creek/proctor town settlement/the kituwah mound, the mother town of the cherokee nation
July 14/ APPALACHIAN TRAIL (!!) at Lemon Gap, NC there’s nothing better than a day spent with a chloe friend (especially when it includes trail maintenance with power tools)
July 15/ gatlinburg trail first trail run in the park/accidental sign dancing.
July 16/ cove mountain trail, gatlinburg trail a quiet place to read/so many mushrooms/yesterday, i hiked two miles in two hours on the cove mountain trail filling my accordion sketchbook/today’s walk to the grocery store.
July 16/ morton’s overlook this is real life! (and my feather is here!)
July 17/ fighting creek nature trail, chimney tops trail what does 1500 ft of elevation gain in 1.5 miles look like? MOUNTAIN DANCE PARTY. and a margarita the size of my face.
July 18/ laurel falls trail, elkmont historic district- little river trail, gatlinburg trail cove holler/tree ring love/the woman standing next to me and i were talking about how the smokies are so much more beautiful in real life than photos, and we both started crying at the same time/laurel falls/the appalachian club at elkmont/my lunch with bambi.
July 19/ fighting creek nature trail, gatlinburg trail fighting creek nature trail in progress, and at home.
July 19/ gatlinburg trail my name on the lecture schedule at the arrowmont college of art, bathroom self portrait in a nps volunteer uniform giving a thumbs up like a giant nerd, arrowmont.
July 20/ elkmont historic district- little river trail, gatlinburg trail broken windows and creaking doors in now abandoned elkmont, a former logging town turned home of the social elite (and the synchronous fireflies!)/this glamorous life.
July 21/ sugarlands visitor engagement absolutely nothing better than spending the morning teaching park visitors how to make their own “smokies sketchbooks”! such love for endless creativity and engagement.
July 21-22/ elkmont historic district after the engagement ended, i packed up and headed out to my campsite at elkmont for the evening! drawing, exploring, trail pizza cooked on the fire, and a suprise hailstorm ended the day, and an early morning hike to the wonderland hotel began the next.
July 23/ old sugarlands trail, trillium gap trail, grotto falls trail (and back!) hiked fifteen miles, ten in an incomprehensibly torrential downpour, to stand behind a waterfall. and guys, it was really pretty great.
July 24/ workshop at job corps, cherokee nc this was possibly the most special morning i’ve had so far on this incredible adventure. sheridan and i drove to the north carolina side of the park, near cherokee, to the job corps work center. located inside the park, job corps is a vocational high school for students all over the country who, for a variety of reasons, found traditional high school to not be a path for success. i had the honor of spending the morning with an unbelievable group of teens, all so unlike each other and yet all sharing the same sense of enthusiasm and pride in their unique skills. we made sketchbooks, hiked to their horse stables, took so many polaroids, and spoke about college applications and art and the hardness and edges of life as a teenager. i’ll always treasure my time with these incredible humans.
July 24/ occunaluftee visitor center and homestead museum, and the emilia pfannl adventure officially begins!!! after job corps, i left sheridan and gleefully sat outside waiting for emilia (!!!!!!) at the occunaluftee visitor center. no cell, no internet, time passes and it turns out emilia was caught, safely, behind a huge car crash shutting down the entire singular mountain road. as she drove three hours into two states to come find me, i openly panicked for a great while, then pulled myself together and was able to explore occunaluftee, the farm homestead, and watched the elks bugle and invade the park! needless to say, i burst into relief tears the second she pulled up, and in a great gift from the universe, the road had opened just 5 minutes earlier and we could drive home through the mountains, which led us to...
STILL July 24/ newfound gap, THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL, morton’s overlook now we’re in north carolina! now we’re in tennessee!/THOSE WHITE BLAZES❤️/newfound gap/it rained and rained and then the sun fell and it looked like nothing we’ve ever seen.
July 25/ alum cave trail, mt. le conte trail, MT. LE CONTE LODGE!!, cliff tops, gatlinburg! following our tradition of choosing our activities based on the best postcards/mt le conte (the third highest peak in the park)/southern living at its finest/llama bffs obviously. 👯♀️🌲🏔❤️
STILL July 25/ morton’s overlook, clingman’s dome trail pretty much the best person ever to scale mountains (the gran sasso, italy 2011/mt leconte, tn 2018), splash in waterfalls, spy on bears, and take great drives with. we watched the sun set on an overlook, and then made the smart choice: to chase it! we drove all the way to clingman’s dome, the highest point in the smokies (and on the entire appalachian trail!). it was pitch dark, but stars, so we night hiked up the trail, and (secretly...) ran up the dome tower, as a thick, huge cloud rolled in on top of us. instead of mountains, we took pictures as our shadows magically appeared on the fog (how is that even possible?!). in the light beams on the way home, half a dozen red-faced salamanders, ground birds, giant toads, and even a baby fox hiked alongside us.
July 26/ laurel falls trail, elkmont historic district on her last day, emilia wanted to see waterfalls and bears! so we headed to laurel falls. after that, we drove out to elkmont to explore daisy town, and to show off one of my favorite places in the park (and the topic of my residency).
STILL July 26/ elkmont historic district- jake’s creek trail another night camped out at elkmont, but this time sheridan came to join for the evening! she hiked me out to the recently demolished section, and gave incredible history and background on the structures and homes. we also walked through daisy town in the dark, leading to some spooky adventures in the abandoned homes!
July 27/ elkmont historic district, jake’s creek trail the next morning, i woke up set on finishing my hand drawn map of the entire elkmont area. afterwards, i hopped on the trolley home, and to my surprise marge, my favorite trolley driver, took us back to sugarlands! we talked all about my evening and she recommended some excellent books on elkmont to read!
July 28/ old sugarlands trail, cove mountain trail, gatlinburg trail it’s one of my last days in the park and i woke up extra jenny: i’m going to hike 18 miles to a giant waterfall before dark!! one mile in and it felt so wrong. i headed home, grabbed my drawing bag, and went out on a nearby trail. best decision made. -meet quinn (“i’m quinn. it’s spelled q-u-i-n-n. i’m five. i’m a professional hiker.”) we hiked my favorite quarter mile ever (with grandpa) and by the end she proclaimed she was going to be the next artist in residence. no doubt./cove mountain trail sunshine/still got my pizza by a waterfall/whoever gets this postcard should feel very lucky because i’m 99% sure a bear was right next to me off trail (you’re welcome)/a storm on the mountains/this place. 🙋♀️❤️🏔
July 30/ gatlinburg trail, old sugarlands trail my last morning here started almost exactly like the very first: coffee with a breeze blowing through the open doors, a 3 mile run on the gatlinburg trail (my headphones broke and i apologize to everyone who had to listen to the ‘pocahontas’ soundtrack with me), then the old sugarlands trail, where i sat and watched the light change by my favorite creek.it’s amazing how not sad i feel. the park will be here. there’s still approximately 865 miles of trail left for me to explore. my only thoughts this morning have been of gratitude. gratitude for the friends and family who edited my project proposal and application for months and months- who said “yes! of course!” when i first mentioned this farfetched idea, for the community of interns, staff, rangers, and visitors who welcomed me without hesitation, for the book recommendations sent to read in my tent at night to think of my friends (and not of the twig-snappers and rock-shufflers outside...), for this program that celebrates so many beautiful things, and mostly: gratitude to be given the time and space to do all of my favorite things in the world, with some of my favorite people, in one of the places i love the very most. i can’t ever repay these past weeks, their scope too deep and monumental, but i will do everything i can to pass it on.