Visiting the aftermath of the
Great Smoky Mountains wild fires
Among the charred forest in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Among the charred wood and black mountains, a spark lives, and it has nothing to do with fire.
It's an open flame, but it's built of hope instead of heat.
This is my experience in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4 months after the Forest Fire of 2016 hit.
Concept, styling, photographic direction, and editing done by Autumn Carufel (AJBC Photography.) Images shot by my husband- Jake Carufel.
A deeper look
I remember standing on the top of Chimney Tops after scrambling to the summit. The whole hike was uphill. I was tired, pissy, and in awe of what I had just done. It was 2007 and my husband and I had been married for less than 2 months before he had convinced me to do a 4 mile, strenuous hike in The Great Smoky Mountains.
What he didn't tell me was we would reach the half way point, the tiny top, at sunset. I know what you're thinking- how romantic, being at the top of a mountain while the sun slowly sinks below the horizon. But what you need to think about, and what my husband should have thought about, was what happens after sunset. Well. Let me tell you- it gets dark. Really dark.
We then had to hike 2 miles, down hill, toes smashing the front of our boots the whole way down, in the dark. With one headlamp. And bears. And no water.
And then. I twisted my ankle. And then I twisted it again. And again. And Jake told me I had to stop crying because he couldn't carry me down the mountain so I put my game face on and made it down.
The next day we went back to the look out area where you could see where we had hiked, and that's when I instantly I fell in love with hiking- the battle, the pain, and the feeling of conquering something larger than myself, something not everyone has done, seeing things some will only see in photos.
We've been back to the mountains every year since then. We've hiked to many peaks, fished a lot of rivers, and have made a deep connection to the area
After the forest fires hit we wanted to go back, not to be nosey, but to see the place on Earth we loved so much in it's current situation, as it sat, as a part of history.
In 2017, ten years later, Chimney Tops is now charred, crumbling, and closed. It's black, sad, and dead. I don't know if anyone will know the feeling of standing on the top of that peak ever again. All because 2 kids with matches decided to play with fire.
Looking at it honestly felt like someone had hurt someone I loved, and took away all their beloved memories of us, and left me with this skeleton. The very first place where my husband and I, my best friend, had started our path of adventure, bad ideas, and passion for the outdoors together was no longer.
But. The mountains refuse to give up. At first glance, pulling into the park everything looked amazingly alive. It was plush, green. Then we realized, the green was filling in where everything had burnt. Nature was taking it back again. And it looked more beautiful then ever. That just proves to you- Nature will always win, so be nice to it.
These are just a couple of photos taken with my phone of the homes affected by the fires, and this doesn't even begin to tell of the whole story, all the damage, and the sadness that has covered the area for the time being.
Something to consider- becoming Friends of the Smokies.
The Great Smoky Mountains is a National park with FREE entry. They live off of purchases made at the park and donations. We've been members of the park for over 5 years now, maybe longer, and I hope to continue to do it every year so it's still around for future generations to enjoy. The joy, the stories, the adventure, the calm that the park has brought us is something I will be forever grateful for.