“The Traveler sees what he sees. The Tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterson
I am not a fan of the tourist. They arrive in their mini vans with their cameras and backpacks in tow. They crowd up the streets, fill up the shops, and typically are in a rush. They thrive on gaudy souvenirs, cheap buffets, and t-shirts that say they were there.
Oddly enough I live near one of the largest tourist destinations in the United States…The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is never NOT tourist season here. In Spring and Summer visitors flock here to frolic in the streams and see the wildflowers, in the Fall they come for the colors, and the Winter for the snow. Make any attempt to go up into the mountains on any given day and this will be what you see.
Growing up I could not understand why people flocked here ALL year round. I took for granted that everyone lived in the beauty I did. It amazed me at the long lines where people waited to have their picture taken in front of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign each and EVERY day.
It wasn’t until I moved away for several years and returned to the beauty of these mountains that I understood, however, I found myself even more troubled that so many that visited were merely tourists…. and not travelers.
A tourist merely comes, sees what is to be seen, and moves on, but the traveler, now the traveler is one who has a curious spirit and they go seeking what is not always easily seen.
This past weekend, I was in the very depths of tourist hell. A couple friends and myself set off to explore the popular Cades Cove. Cades Cove was a flourishing community long before the park service took it over. Today you can drive the 11 mile loop and get a good sense of what mountain life in the Smokies was truly like.
It is a popular destination for those who like to bike or run, and hidden within the confines of the 11 mile loop are many miles of gorgeous hiking trails. My friends and I decided to walk the loop, something we had done before, and do a little off road exploring as well.
Immediately after starting the journey we came upon our first treasure…the horses.
These beauties have the run of the open field and will spend hours grazing out in vast and luxurious valley. Tourist drive right by them….but the traveler stops and makes their acquaintance.
As we walked along, breathing in the intoxicating smells of the mountains, bikers breezed by us, to busy to stop and notice the gorgeous morning that was dawning.
Before I knew it, we had found a side trail and went off to see what we could find. Our curiosity was not disappointed when we came upon an old cave!
Barely a half mile easy walk from the main loop, and no one else made the trek to see what was just up the hill. Passers by had no clue what they were missing.
About 5 miles in we veered off into an open field where we saw the most amazing display of yellowish orange flowers. With the vibrant blue sky as a back drop….I was in total and complete awe of their beauty.
Once again, we were the only ones who ventured off the loop to walk the field. Everyone else stayed on the loop and passed this amazing beauty right up.
Across from the field, up on a hill is the Pearl Harbor tree. Back when Cades Cove was a community, Golman Myers was a resident. On December 7, 1941 after hearing on his battery powered radio about the attacks happening on Pearl Harbor he went out and pulled up a young sapling, and planted it in his front yard. He placed an old tire rim around it to protect it from the mower. He knew that the day would be one to always be remembered, and this was his way to always have a reminder.
The tree is now massive and serves as a reminder of that fateful day when so many lives were lost. But no one else made the trek up the hill….we may have been the only visitors that day.
As we made our way on around the loop, those on bikes and cars jetted past us. Many had their van doors open, or were standing out windows or sun roofs, but few pulled over, and got out to explore. They took in the scenic beauty and snapped pictures of the churches and cabins that remain, but they failed to venture past what was behind those scenic spots.
I started feeling very sorry for the tourist that were driving around that day. They were seeing a very small portion of the treasures that lie within the Cove. Many sped through, barley even noticing the most noticeable gifts that were right before them. There were pools to be swam in, candy apples, funnel cakes, and moonshine to be consumed down in Gatlinburg. There wasn’t enough time to explore.
Seeing the sights is delightful, and of course we want to capture the essence of where we are, but dear friend, don’t be so consumed with seeing what everyone is seeing. Don’t be a tourist…be a traveler. Go seeking to see what you can see…not what you’ve come to see. I promise….you’ll be glad you did.