Snatches from Billy Joel’s song “The Piano Man” came to mind as we fell in line behind the other cars queueing up at the Cades Cove Loop Road gate. The “crowd shuffling in” song lyrics didn’t fit the happy story of our day, but Billy Joel is what played in my mind when I reflected on the line of cars waiting in the dark for the ranger to arrive for the dawn opening. I figured that many were photographers like us – loaded down with tripods and camera gear with an itch to get in and stake out the best spot. That thought proved true because by the time we entered the Cove, people were already out in the fields with their cameras. In varying degrees, this automobile queueing ritual repeats each and every dawn in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Fall leaf season brings more visitors and today there were maybe 50 cars ahead of us.
By now, the 53-mile trek from our house to Cades Cove had become a well-worn path. We just visited the week before, but at least for me, this was a do-over trip. My pictures last week were poor and I hoped to redeem myself. Marcy’s pictures are always great, but this is one of her happiest places, so she is always up for the trip. We packed the night before and our gear was sitting near the door as we came downstairs for breakfast, so we were able to make a quick exit. With thermos in hand and the promise of good conversation and a pleasant trip, we made our way across The new Fort Loudon bridge, through Maryville and Townsend then along Laurel Creek Road to the Cove entrance.
This particular Saturday morning suggested that a change in weather was in the air. Hurricane Nate was approaching the Gulf Coast and Tennessee was promised some rain from it. The weather forecast indicated clear at sunrise with clouds moving in, so we didn’t know what to expect.