Go West, part 3: The Wild, Wild, Mid-West

great smokiesThe drive south to Great Smokey Mountains National Park reminded me of Jennifer Percy?s exploration of the South in Demon?Camp.

I wanted to know how this National Park was more popular than the Grand Canyon.

I soon found out: no entrance fees. Also, located near the worst kind of urban whirlpools in America. Everyone wanted out. Even if there was nothing to see but trees and mist, it was nature.

Chance and I, after sitting in traffic for hours, conjectured that the north end of the park would be harder to get to and therefore likely to be less populated than the bigger, central campgrounds. We were right. We drifted through the aging campground called ?Cosby? with delight. Several campsites were still available.

I chose a likely spot, Chance approved and we dismounted our white Suby steed.

Across the road a man in an Aloha shirt and a tri-cornered hat fussed with the tarp that was covering the load on his listing pickup truck.

When he walked back toward his campfire his gait suggested advanced Multiple Sclerosis. Or advanced intoxication.

?Seems a little crowded here,? I said, ?let?s see what else avails.?

Chance seemed relieved. Five sites later we found a spot within view of the toilets, but uphill from them.

Chance removed my tent, which has been down the grand canyon with me four times, not to mention 15 years of other service, and expertly created a bug-free space in the time it took me to find and open a beer.

Taking a road trip was the right decision.

In the morning, we hiked two and a half miles to find out why ?Hen Wallow Falls? was so named.

Best I could guess, it was because the place seemed to attract mothers fussing over their children.

I, I reflected, among them.

Then it was on toward Nachez Trace. But first, I wanted to give the Great Smokies a chance to show me their allure. We drove clockwise around the park then through the middle of it.

Breathtakingly beautiful.

But mostly just about the trees. This was an East Coast type of park.

You?ll see what I mean in a few days.


That night I was eager to rest and did not resist a campground that was clearly built for fisherpeople and their big boats.

The website quoted precise pricing ($9.18 for a walk-in tent site,) and recommended reservations. We pulled up to the camp host?s trailer and enquired. Although we had passed only one occupied site, among the 40-odd spaces we?d seen, the host said no sites were available. ?Unless you?re on vacation . . . or on business.?

The guy was trying to be funny. I hoped.

The musclebound shaved-headed man delivered his humor with a dead pan so dead I felt I?d been stabbed.

I said I was both. On vacation, but on a business trip.

We chatted briefly, learning the man was an Iraq veteran, on disability. A woman behind a thin screen, a woman with an English accent, laughed at the right times. I guessed the Christmas lights were her idea.

As thunder boomed and it started to sprinkle, I asked about the cabins, which were advertised online at $63.47 per night. He said he?d radio his boss to find out if any were available. We listened as his boss said he?d have to check his calendar which was not handy. We said we?d check out the tent sites while the man waited for his boss to get back to him.

When we returned, having noticed that the tent sites were shady, unused and spacious, we were glad to learn, as it was now really raining, that a cabin was indeed available. But, the man reported, the price was actually $105.38.

?We?ll stick with the tent site,? I said and recalcitrantly gave him a check.

As we prepared to unload our gear, I noticed that the sites had no tables and were not very flat. I wondered if he had planned to pocket the $40 or if it had been his boss?s idea.

I asked Chance to find out the distance to the nearest hotel.

As I backed out of the parking space, Chance commented that the man seemed athletic and fit . . . ?so his disability was probably not physical.?

?Best $9.18 I ever spent,? I said, as we left the place.

By Maile

Maile Field is a writer living in Northern California. Born in Hawaii and raised in Montana, she earned her master of fine arts in nonfiction at George Mason University in Virginia. She encourages constructive criticism.