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I´ve been in the Smoky Mountains with some friends for a long weekend. There are a lot things to do, like canoining, hiking, etc. It´s a beutiful place to spend some time. We had camping.

The Great Smoky Mountains are a major mountain range in the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains, the second ridge line forming a north-south running mountain chain from the Eastern United States and bordering the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Also called the Smoky Mountains or the Smokies, they straddle the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, and are entirely west of the Eastern Continental Divide.

The name of the area comes from the natural haze that often hangs over it. As in the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, hydrocarbons produced by trees and other local vegetation produce a bluish cast to the sky, even over short distances. Visibility now is dramatically reduced by smog from both the Southeastern United States and the Midwest, and smog forecasts are prepared daily by the Environmental Protection Agency for both nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the prominent feature of the mountains. It was established as a national park in the 1930s, and with over 9 million visits per year, it is the most-visited national park in the United States. Much of the range is also protected as the Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and Cherokee National Forest outside of the park.

The highest point in the Smokies is Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet or 2,025 m), which is located within the national park. A paved road leads to within 300 vertical feet (90 m) of the summit, and from there visitors can walk a paved trail to the top. A handicap-accessible tower is located at the summit, and on clear days visitors can see five states (Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky). Clingmans Dome is also the highest point in Tennessee.

Most of the major peaks of the Great Smokies are situated along a 75-mile (120 km) crest stretching roughly from the Little Tennessee River in the west to the Pigeon River in the east. Notable exceptions are Mount Le Conte, located in the central Smokies, and the high peaks of the Balsam Mountain crest, which intersects the crest of the Smokies at Tricorner Knob.

Biological diversity is the hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains. Over 10,000 species have been documented; scientists believe an additional 90,000 species may be present.

Many wildflowers grow in the mountains and valleys, including bee balm, Solomon's seal, Dutchman's breeches, various trilliums, the Dragon's Advocate and even hardy orchids.

The ecosystem is not as healthy as it could be. Atmospheric pollution may be contributing to increased Red Spruce tree mortality at higher elevations and oak decline at lower elevations, while the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid attacks the hemlocks, and the balsam woolly adelgid attacks the firs. Pseudoscymnus tsugae has been introduced in an attempt to control the pests.

September 2008

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