Fireflies in the Smokies

We left Shenanadoah early in the morning and made our way out of Virginia to a state I had never visited, Tennessee. We were on our way to our next national park, Smokey Mountains. The first night we didn’t have a lot of time to do much more than set up camp and cook some delicious food and s’mores since the drive over was so long. But we were able to drive around the park and see different lookouts over the mountains. At one we were able to stand on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. I saw an Indigo Bunting that I was able to identify with the help of some other tourists who are much more experienced birders than I am.
During our stay at Smokey Mountains we went on a hike to Abrham’s Falls. This time we were trying to find a hike that would be a little less strenuous than the Shenandoah experience. This hike was labeled “moderate” and came with a great recommendation from our campground neighbors. The hike ended at a waterfall that was close enough to touch and the map didn’t appear to have extremely difficult changes in altitude. To drive to the start of the trail we had to drive through part of an 11 mile senic loop called the Cade’s Cove loop. At the park store just before the loop they have bike rentals that we took advantage of later in our stay.
The hike was much more “moderate” than we were expecting and we completed it with little difficulty. The falls, however, were amazingly close and beautiful. The water was just the right temperature for a quick wade up to my shorts and I caught a tadpole in my hands. Speaking of tadpoles, my point and shoot camera also got to take a quick dip with the tadpoles. Accidently missing the side pocket of my day pack, I dropped my camera about four feet onto solid rock where it hit, bounced once, and landed in a puddle filled with tadpoles. I am happy to report that there were no baby frog casualties in the incident.
I snatched the camera from the water immediatly and took outthe batteries and the SD card in hopes it would dry. About 20 minutes later it was working perfectly with all features still intact. An additional 45 minutes later the zoom button quit working. And an additional 10 minutes after that it wouldn’t turn on. Depressed at the death of my camera, I left it on the dashboard in the sunlight, optimistic that it might come back to life. After all, I had nothing to lose.
Miraculously, my optimism paid off and the camera came back to life. The only thing not operating to the fullest is the screen. And the only thing amiss with that are tiny foggy spots behind the glass that don’t affect the use of the camera overall.
While driving around the park we noticed people that appeared to setting up to wait a long time in line for something. We didn’t know what they were waiting for. Later, at the campsite, we noticed groups of people walking past carrying camp chairs. We had noticed a few fireflies the night before and thought that people must be going to a field somewhere nearby to watch the fireflies. I haven’t seen fireflies since I was about five years old and living in Virginia so I was very tempted to follow them and watch too. Eventually, I convinced Miranda and Jared to come with me (it wasn’t hard) and by this time Keith had shown up at the site so we joined a group of people and walked to the fireflies.
When we arrived we weren’t in a field but in the forest near an almost dry stream bed. The rangers gave us red plastic covers and rubberbands to cover our headlamps and a brochure on fireflies. Reading the brochure, we learned just how lucky we were. I don’t want to get too religious on you here, but I know that there have been times during our trip when God has stepped in and said “here you go” and provided us with something that we could not have done ourselves. This was one of those moments.
These fireflies are only around for about two weeks in June. They are within walking distance of our campground.
And they are synchronous fireflies.
This type of firefly only occurs a few places in the world. None of us had any idea that there were fireflies like this in America and here we were watching them. Now we knew why people had waited out since two in the afternoon.
The “light show” began slowly but then quickly picked up speed after dark. One firefly would flash, then all the others would flash as well for about four or five seconds. Then they would all be dark. Then they would do it again.
It was beautiful and we were all mesmerized by the wonder. Scientists do not fully understand why the fireflies synch the way they do. They hypothesize that it could be to try to be the first to flash when attracting a mate or becase if all the males flash together they will appear like a bigger firefly to the females.
I remember thinking how amazing it is that humans with all our buildings and technology amd busy lives will go out of our way to crowd into the forest to watch little bugs fly around.
I guess it is moments like these that really show our true human spirit. Despite the impracticality and inefficiency of trekking out to the woods in the dark, beauty has a special place in our hearts and souls. Wonder catches us and brings us back to ourselves in ways we haven’t experienced since we were children who still see magic in everything.
I am so thankful for this opportunity to take this trip.
Our final day, we woke early and rented cruiser bikes to ride in Cade’s Cove loop. The whole trip took us one hour and 45 minutes including stopping at the gift store and a few breaks and time to take pictures. The main event was watching a mama bear and her three cubs in the field. This time she was a safe distance away and we were able to take some decent photos instead of getting out our water bottles or looking for shortcuts to avoid bear attacks. After the photos and watching the rough and tumbly cubs through the binoculars, we continued on our ride. The rest of the ride consisted of four more bear sightings, some turkeys, and some interesting landmarks.
For lunch we met Jared’s friend at a Southern Baptist Bar B Q in the park. The rest of the afternoon we spent in Knoxville kicking around in some of Jared’s old haunts from undergrad.

More later on Mammoth Caves National Park, RC Cola, Moon Pies, Nashville, and white water rafting.

Until soon,
Maggie B.

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