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Whether I like it or not, some songs have the power to transport me to a specific place in my life. When I hear Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” I’m sitting in the wheel seat, again, of a stinky school bus on my way to a cross country meet, trying to summon the adrenaline needed to compete. The opening swell of “The Simpsons” theme song (a childhood staple show) brings me to my spot at my parent’s kitchen table, with a microwaved Marie Callender’s frozen chicken pot pie (another childhood staple, the only thing I could gnaw on after getting my braces tightened). Also, when I hear Lukas Nelson and Promise Of The Real’s song “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” I think of the time my friends and I went to Kuwahi (formerly known as Clingmans Dome), the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and instead of a gorgeous view of one of the most popular national parks in the country, cloud cover surrounded us entirely. It was eerily beautiful, and a favorite memory of the trip.
As we enter the fourth season, consider a trip to the Smokies. In the winter, crowds are way smaller and temperatures are much more mild than peak season levels. For most of winter, this park on Cherokee land offers temperature highs of 50 degrees or more, sometimes reaching the 70s. Lows at night can reach freezing (or even get colder). Snow is possible in low elevations, but you’ll find it more frequently up in the mountains. Still, you can easily hike the Smokies, as long as you’re ready for variable conditions. Sometimes the frozen wonders are worth the trip, though: the summertime waterfall wonders turn into dazzling ice sculptures each winter, especially in higher elevations.
Obviously, taste is subjective. But to me, these songs embody the experience of visiting the Smokies. Listening to them is like gazing out onto panoramic views of misty Blue Ridge Mountains, encountering a black bear (from a safe distance), hiking along the mountain spring-fed streams and waterfalls, and section- or thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.