Had I connected the pinpoints of light the flash from my camera captured in that moment of luminescence last June, I’m convinced the essence of all the magic of my childhood, all the joy that had sparkled from one day to the next would have emerged like a constellation to give form and substance to the memories scattered across those years of innocence.
Yes; I’m a dreamer. It’s a big reason Jimmy and I flew to Nashville, Tennessee and then drove
two hours to Gatlinburg (okay, I do have a little extra time on my hands now that I'm retired) to see a synchronized light show that occurs in only two places in the world – Southeast Asia and the Great Smoky Mountains of North America; although my research for today’s post indicated the little buggers may have recently found a home in the Allegheny National Forest of Pennsylvania. And then there was mention of Congaree National Park in South Carolina. WHATEVER!
My BIG sister Lynda gets all the credit for our wonderful weekend in Gatlinburg, down to the quaint inn we (Lynda and her husband Rod, their son Michael and his wife Teresa, Jimmy and me) called home for three days.
Lynda doesn’t have quite as much time as I do to travel (nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!) given she and her husband are still gainfully employed, but she nonetheless manages to give me a run for my money. Given the employment thing, I guess you could say she currently has more money to play with than I do; so, IF one were keeping score (never entered my mind), one might say she’d ultimately come in first, AGAIN! Damn birth order!
Actually, these bioluminescent bugs are not really bugs; they’re winged beetles. Who knew? Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera, commonly called fireflies or lightening bugs for their conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Funny how those two options are so closely related.
Oops! More information than you needed to know, again. It’s the teacher in me; lecture mode is automatic after all these years.
Considering Gatlinburg was crawling with as many people as lightening bugs (the synchronized show presented by the Photinus carolinus species of adult beetles only occurs once a year, usually in early June, based on environmental conditions), we were unsuccessful in securing tickets to the party in nearby Elkmont Campground, where historically the fireflies congregate in huge numbers to strut their stuff in unison like Radio City Rockettes on opening night.
Of course, if I had only 21 days to find a mate and make whoopee before it was lights out, permanently, I could see frenzy mode being part of the picture by day two or three; seven max. No long courtships for this ladybug.
Frenzy mode just about covered our efforts Saturday evening to find an alternative venue given our lack of a formal invitation. Crashing the party was out of the question given there was only one road into the show’s venue and that road was heavily guarded.
With suggestions from the locals at the inn for possible alternate venues, we headed out into the fading light in search of our own private show.
Thirty minutes later we were trekking along the far southern edge of the Inn property. Here and there a single firefly would step out from obscurity to offer us hope.
The Bottom Line on the Smoky Mountains Synchronized Fireflies
Verdict: I'd go again, but only with tickets to the main stage securely in hand.
Insider Information: Don't expect to secure a ticket to the main stage the first time around. I'd never heard of this fascinating anomaly of nature, synchronized fireflies, before our visit. This species of fireflies has an internal “sensor” that let’s them know when a nearby firefly has lit. They respond with their own light as quickly as possible. It may take a minute for them to get in sync, but all of a sudden that start performing together with flashes that last as long as six seconds. This, in turn, presents an amazing wave of blinking lights that is I'm told is truly astonishing. Based on our futile efforts to secure tickets, I guess we were the last to discover this gem. Next time around, I'd go in with an RV and enough food and water to last at least two weeks. Shows occur nightly for a two week period during the peak firefly mating season. We reduced considerably our chances of getting in with only one night to work with.
In 2012, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park began restricting access to the Elkmont Campground based on the traffic congestion and concern for the park grounds; hence the current reservation system. The online system for securing tickets is through www.Recreation.gov.
How to Get There: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has three entrances. The closest entrance to the Elkmont Campground area is via Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg offers trolley service to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which feeds into the Elkmont Campground area.
Directions to the Gatlinburg entrance: From interstate highway I-40 take Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN-66 South. At the Sevierville intersection, continue straight onto US-441 South. Follow US-441 through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge into park.
Nearby Food: There were limited options when it came to available food and beverages inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and no restaurants. The idea is to get away from civilization inside the park. The nearby city of Gatlinburg has a banquet of options when it comes to food and beverages.