Take a Scenic Drive on Moonshiner 28 near the Great Smoky Mountains!

Bridal Veil Falls on Moonshiner 28 NC Smoky Mountains

Bridal Veil Falls on Moonshiner 28 nears Highlands, NC (flickr/leslie looper)

Take a Scenic Drive on Moonshiner 28 near the Great Smoky Mountains! Perhaps no image is more stereotypical of the rural South than that of the moonshine still tucked way up in the holler, shaded by the mountain forest and guarded by a pack of dogs and the loyalty of kin and customer. “Moonshiner 28,” a route once used by moonshiners who perfected their craft under a cloak of secrecy in the still of the night, is better known nowadays for its thrilling twists and turns and breathtaking scenery, including cascading waterfalls and charming North Carolina towns that attract motorcyclists and car-riding tourists alike.

“Moonshiner 28” starts where that fabled section of Highway 129 known as the “Tail of the Dragon,” a ride that offers more than 300 curves in a scant eleven miles, intersects with North Carolina 28 one mile south of the Tennessee/North Carolina line. When riders and drivers make that turn, they’ve kicked off a 103-mile adventure for nature-lovers and mountain culture enthusiasts alike!

If you go in spring or summer, you’ll enjoy a lush, green canopy with occasional mountain views that embody verdant North Carolina at its best. Not far into what will be a great deal more than a lazy Sunday drive, the adventurer will cross Fontana Bridge, immediately after which they will have the opportunity to turn onto a road leading down to the viewing area for the Fontana Dam, the largest TVA project of its kind. The dam juts 500 feet above the viewer, an awe-inspiring feat of engineering.

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Smoky Mountain Elk Rut

Love is in the air for Smoky Mountain Elk.

Smoky Mountain Elk Rut is on. The call of the wild echoes in the Smokies as Bull Elks seek mates.

Early autumn sends the powerful mating call of bull elks across many areas of the Smokies during the fall breeding season. This loud bugling sends a challenge to other males in the area, and attempts to attract cows for the bull’s harem. Known as the rut, this annual fascinating ritual, which occurs during mid September through October, is played out each day during the elk mating season. 

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10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. Packing the 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains is like your insurance policy for a back country emergency. Ninety-nine percent of the time you will not need them but when you do, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The 10 Essentials were originally conceived in the 1930’s by The Mountaineers club based in Seattle, WA. For over eighty years the 10 Essentials were the standard until 2003 when the group updated the list to a “systems” approach instead of an individual items list. This systems approach categorizes necessities allowing a more thorough level of preparedness.

10 Essential Systems for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains:

1    Navigation (map/compass/GPS)
2    Sun Protection (sunscreen/sunglasses)
3    Insulation (extra dry clothing)
4    Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5    First-aid Kit/Supplies
6    Fire (waterproof matches/lighter)
7    Repair Kit and Tools
8   Nutrition (extra food)
9   Hydration (extra water/water purification system)
10 Emergency Shelter (Mylar blanket)

Here are the many advantages to the systems approach to the 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Navigation – Map and compass are viewed as a single necessity. Know how to use them. Unless you plan to walk an impossible to miss footpath, invest in a quality topographic map for the area you plan to explore. A GPS is great as long as the batteries last and you know how to operate it.

Sun Protection – Especially at the higher elevations in the National Park, this can be critical. There is nothing worse than a nasty sun burn after a great hike. Even on a hazy day, your skin is at risk for overexposure.

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All You Need to Know About Snakes in the Smoky Mountains

Yes, there are 23 species of snakes found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but only 2 of them are poisonous; so don’t let that keep you from getting out and enjoying a walk in the woods this summer. Here’s all you need to know about snakes in the Smoky Mountains and how to stay safe in the great outdoors!

Snakes in Great Smoky Mountains

Timber Rattlesnake found by AT thru-hiker “Bobwhite”

HeySmokies’ recent video on Facebook (see below) of a timber rattlesnake at Gregory Bald created quite a reaction from fans, so we thought some helpful tips were in order so that both snakes and humans can enjoy soaking up the summer sun without fear.

It’s true that one of us at HeySmokies has the unfounded fear that all snakes just lie waiting in the forest to ambush the passerby. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! Generally, snakes are reclusive and elusive creatures rarely seen by park visitors; however, one of us at HeySmokies is still always asked to go first and be on “snake patrol.” All of this leads us to our first tip: Just use common sense. Be mindful of your surroundings and where you are placing your feet and your hands (and your bum if you have the calling!)

The Timber Rattlesnake, which has the most toxic venom of the two poisonous species, will often give you a loud warning with his rattle if you get too close. You may not hear this if you are hiking with your earbuds blasting out your favorite song. Keep children close and be mindful where they are stepping. When walking through the high grass on a mountain bald it can be hard to see where you are putting your feet; there may be other critters you can’t see enjoying the view too. Wear the proper footwear, it should be obvious that a bite on the foot while wearing flip-flops could be trouble so sturdy hiking boots are a plus. Snakes often lie in the warm leaf litter against fallen trees on the trail so be careful when stepping on and over downed trees.

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Giant Hogweed Invades Smoky Mountain Region

Giant Hogweed invades the Smoky Mountain region.

Giant Hogweed invades the Smoky Mountain region and it can be a real pain! Photo credit – Daily Mirror

Giant Hogweed Invades Smoky Mountain Region. Giant Hogweed looms large on it’s march toward the Smokies. Giant Hogweed can reach up to 20-feet in height and is considered extremely dangerous. It can cause 3rd degree burns and blindness. Typically found in multiple places along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and now near the Smoky Mountains. Recently Virginia Tech researchers have identified Giant Hogweed in Clarke County Virginia and Wautauga County, North Carolina near the Tennessee line. According to Diane Watwick, Urban Watershed Forester for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Forestry, there have been no reported or confirmed sightings of the infamous plant in East Tennessee to date.

Hogweed bears a striking resemblance to Queen Anne’s lace on steroids and is sometimes mistaken for elderberry or cow parsnips-both of which look similar and grow readily in the Smoky Mountain region but rarely exceed 6-feet in height.

Hogweed, whose growth period last from mid May thru July, features huge spiky leaves, which can measure 5-feet in width, and a umbrella-shaped cluster of white flower heads that may exceed 2-5 feet in diameter. According to the USDA Forest Services, USDA and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Giant Hogweed can also be identified by unusual 2-4 inch diameter hollow stems that feature hairy bristles and maroon spots.

Contact with the plant’s clear watery sap can prove disastrous. Symptoms, which can take from 3-5 days to appear, include painful fluid-filled blisters resembling burns, and phytophotodermatitis, which can make skin sensitive to ultraviolet light for years following exposure to Hogweed’s broken stems, roots, flowers, seeds or leaves.

Native to the Caucasus Mountain range in Asia, Hogweed was introduced to other parts of the world through collections in botanical gardens where its escape into other areas proved easy.

The Great Smoky Mountain region, with its miles of wild areas and abundant varieties of vegetation, just might prove the perfect incubator for the monstrous plant which produces some 100,000 seeds annually that are then spread by the wind or running water and can remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years.

Best advice is do not come into contact with any part of this plant and if you think you have identified a Giant Hogweed contact the UT Agriculture extension office at 865-974-7114