I spent a few adventurous yet relaxing days in the Smoky Mountains for a Christmas vacation with family.
The scenes were quite memorable: the damage from the intense fires that killed 14 and damaged or destroyed 2,400-plus buildings, but also the spectacular wildlife, including a mama bear and her two cubs, the elk in the Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side, a white turkey and a northern harrier.
We also spent two days at the popular Pigeon Forge theme park Dollywood, named after owner Dolly Parton.
Here are those sights and more. Enjoy!
“Gatlinburg strong,” shown on a business sign along the city’s main drag on Monday, Dec. 26, has emerged as a rallying cry after the recent fires that killed 14 and damaged or destroyed 2,400-plus buildings.
Fire damage to a hillside home visible from the heart of Gatlinburg.
Fire devoured this building along Gatlinburg’s main strip. Its destruction directly behind untouched structures shows how wind spottily carried embers to buildings and areas in a seemingly random fashion.
Gatlinburg at sunset and (below) remnants of fire on a hillside outside the city.
A wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday, Dec. 27.
Another wild turkey with the uncommon smoke-phase variation.
A small bird atop a dead tree in Cades Cove in the Smokies on Tuesday, Dec. 27.
A white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Cades Cove.
An American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) in Cades Cove.
A male northern harrier (Circus hudsonius), distinguishable because of dimorphic coloring, hunts over a field in Cades Cove.
Visitors to the Smokies gather at the edge of a ravine where a mother black bear and her two cubs (shown in video below) were spotted on Tuesday, Dec. 27.
A bull wapiti (Cervus canadensis) walks in the Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Wednesday, Dec. 28.
A herd of wapiti grazes in the Cataloochee Valley.
A female wapiti grazes.
A brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in the Cataloochee Valley.
Two people walk across a field in the Cataloochee Valley.
Perhaps the biggest draw to Dollywood is its live musicals and other performances. Pictured is a Friday, Dec. 30, performance of “Christmas in the Smokies.”
“Christmas in the Smokies” cast members perform.
A new addition to this holiday season’s musical rotation is Dollywood’s version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which includes numbers from other movies because the 1946 film isn’t a musical. Being performed here is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.”
The Southern gospel group Kingdom Heirs has performed at at Dollywood since 1976. Shown are members (from left) Arthur Rice, Loren Harris and Jeff Chapman.