It's four in the afternoon. Your work is done. A quick glance at the sky and you see the light breaking through the clouds. A trip to the mountains seems in order. It's time to connect with nature, and get the hell out of the city.
An easy drive down Highway 441, brave the traffic in Pigeon Forge, then either stop for fun in Gatlinburg, Tenn., or keep going through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park toward Cherokee, N.C. Make time to catch the Smokies at dusk or at sunset if you're lucky.
Get on the Blue Ridge Parkway right past the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and drive to Asheville, N.C. If your timing is right, you could catch fireworks on Pack Square.
The action downtown and the climate are hard to abandon, but the drive calls. Jump back on the Parkway and pick a spot from one of nine campgrounds. It takes a little bit of time to set camp, but it's worth it when you're about to crash now's not the time. The best part's yet to come, so make sure you have good company.
Few people drive the Parkway at 4 a.m., but occasionally a flood of lights will come around the bend before that driver realizes he's not alone and blinks down.
Pull off at the daylight tourist trap; the "scenic view." At this time, there's little to see in an ocean of darkness. If you're lucky, a full moon will at least light the area enough to illuminate the immediate surroundings. Otherwise, be sure to bring a flashlight.
Across the road, a small dirt trail leads through the fenceline and up the hill where the cattle graze. Be careful where you step steam usually rises from the new cow patties, making them visible in the twilight. After scouting the area, it's usually possible to find a clear plot of ground to place a blanket over (and ward off the coming dew).
Otherwise, silence creeps in your ear asking what you're doing here.
And then it happens. Azure tops a strata of green, red, orange and yellow. Fog banks disperse at the touch of the sun. Ridges tower like waves set to break on the shore. Slowly Appalachia awakes to God's awe-inspiring scene. And though tired, cold and a little damp, you can't help but be warmed a little.
On the way back to the car, you can try to catch the silence again it's gone. Nature wakes, preparing for another day. Yes, it's here anytime, but I say we keep dawn's "secret vista" between us.
For an introduction to our Secret Vistas, please consult the inaugural issue.
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