Snow and ice strand travelers in their Smoky Mountain cabins

Snow and ice left many stranded in their Smoky Mountain cabinsDozens of travelers to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee were left stranded in their rental cabins earlier this week thanks to snow and ice covered roads. Most had a minimal supply of food and were unsure when they could resupply thanks to the treacherous conditions.

Winter storms dumped several inches of snow on the region, but it was the ice that posed the real danger. The narrow and winding mountain roads became impassable thanks to a thick coat of ice which caused many vehicles to slide off the pavement and become stuck in ditches. Without ice chains on their tires, most vehicles were useless on the slick surface, which meant that visitors to the Majestic Mountain Lodges near Gatlinburg were forced to stay in their cabins and wait for assistance.

Some couldn’t wait however. Running low on food, many of people set out on foot for the nearby town, pulling sleds behind them as they went. Once they made the walk into Gatlinburg, they would purchase their needed supplies and then hike back up the mountain to their cabin. That round-trip trek would take several hours to complete.

Slowly the conditions have begun to improve over the past few days, but even salt trucks and plows have had problems getting up the steep mountain roads. For now, most of the visitors have had to stay in their cabins and wait for the ice to clear.

Would this kind of ice storm be a fun winter adventure or leave you with severe cabin fever? It seems that if you were well stocked on food and supplies, it would be fine just relaxing by the fire. But if you were running low on those things, it wouldn’t be much fun at all. I’d hate to be the guy that drew the short straw to make the beer run.


U.S. national parks were popular destinations in 2009

2009 was a banner year for America’s National Park System, which remained popular with travelers, both foreign and domestic, despite the sluggish economy. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced that the parks experienced 10 million more visitors last year than they did in 2008, which represented a 3.9 percent increase.

The Park Service says that more 285 million people payed a visit to one of the parks or monuments that are under their care in 2009, which made it the fifth busiest year in the history of the system. The record for most visits ever was set back in 1987 when 287.2 million people spent time in the national parks.

The news of the upswing in visitors is seen as a good thing on a number of different levels. It meant that Americans and foreign visitors were still viewing the national parks as quality destinations despite challenging economic conditions around the globe. It was also seen as a good sign for Americans becoming more active, with many travelers hiking the trails and enjoying other outdoor activities.

The list of the top ten most visited parks remains generally the same year in and year out. In 2009 that list, along with the number of visitors, was as follows:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 9,491,437 visitors
Grand Canyon National Park, 4,348,068
Yosemite National Park, 3,737,472
Yellowstone National Park, 3,295,187
Olympic National Park, 3,276,459
Rocky Mountain National Park, 2,822,325
Zion National Park, 2,735,402
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2,589,288
Grand Teton National Park, 2,580,081
Acadia National Park, 2,227,698

Hopefully this is a trend that will continue. The parks have been called “America’s best idea”, and visiting any one of the top destinations will only reinforce that. So? What is your favorite national park, and which ones are you planning on visiting this year?