Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cade's Cove Camping Remembered


In light of recent events in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I find myself reminiscing about my earliest memories of camping in Cade's Cove, recently hit so hard and possibly forever scarred by devastating windstorms. I didn't realize at the time, but my camping days began not very long after this lovely campground was established. Most of my camping days and nights centered around a 1966 Cox Camper very much like the one pictured here, but I was camping in Cade's Cove long before we made that grand purchase which cost us a whopping $600--a lot of money in those days. I would have been 7-years old when we decided to trade up out of huge, heavy, and cumbersome canvas tents to this extravagant piece of camping equipment.

I remember how excited we were with our new purchase and the amenities that it provided. No longer would we have to carry buckets of water to drink or with which to wash dishes after dinner. This camper had a water tank that we filled up out of our water hose before leaving home. Then we simply had to pump the handle on the faucet in the sink inside to get water for whatever we needed. It also had four inch mattresses inside which promised to be luxurious after having slept on the ground all that time.

But most of what I remember about camping in Cade's Cove was the serenity and peace of this magical place! Even as a child I knew there was something very special about this Park. Something spoke to my soul here although I was too young to understand why. I wasn't too young to appreciate the way even my childish spirit could breath and relax here. There was nothing better than spending days playing in the dirt, hiding behind the rocks, frolicking in the creek until come nighttime we were so tired that sitting around the campfire was a welcome, restful respite.

Most exciting of my memories of Cade's Cove Campground involve the black bears. I don't remember if this was before the park installed bear-proof garbage containers, but seeing bear in the campground was not an unusual occurrence. In fact, one summer we knew the bears by name! My memory tells me there were two bear that visited the campground on a regular basis that year. The name of one I cannot recall, but one I remember vividly--in fact, I can still see him in my mind's eye. His name was Scarface, and he had earned that name with some unknown run-in with whatever creature might do battle with a bear. Scarface sauntered down the paved paths of the campground, but we were not afraid of him. Maybe we were too young to know that we should be afraid of him, but I remember waiting and excitedly watching for him to show up. I do know though that inside that Cox Camper sitting in my garage today there are two plastic washbasins that sport claw marks from a Cade's Cove bear. I don't know if those marks could have been made by Scarface or if that was a different trip and a different bear, but one of them no longer holds water.

On one other campfire night, I remember sitting in my mother's lap. We had popped popcorn on the fire and the adults were talking and telling stories. I remember an instantaneous silence and my mother squeezing me and warning me to be quiet and still. It took me a moment to see what everyone else saw and even then I didn't realize the danger, but a black, squirrel-like animal with a large white stripe on its back was creeping through our campsite, nonchalantly helping himself to the kernels of popcorn that we kids had carelessly dropped as we ate. No one spoke; no one moved. Everyone else knew what might happen at any second, but I just remember thinking how pretty it was. Luckily, the skunk enjoyed the popcorn and never felt threatened by any of us, moving on to someone else's site to see if others were as careless as we had been.

Memories like these are part of what drive me back to the Smokies as often as possible. We still camp in that 1966 Cox Camper sometimes, but not often enough and not usually in Cade's Cove Campground. Our campground of choice is now Elkmont because of the larger size of its sites and slightly fewer number of visitors. However, the serenity and peace that I found there as a child are so much more needed and appreciated today than back then. I think that's why I hike. It's hard to coordinate schedules today to carve out time for a camping trip, but my soul longs for the respite I find in my mountains. Through hiking I can snatch bits and pieces of that solitude and peace in just a few hours, hours that I relish more and more as the stresses of life build and threaten to overwhelm. So, for now at least, I spend hours at a time instead of days at a time in these mountains. But these times continue to be some of my most cherished memories, even the newest ones.

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