Riding Our National Park Systems: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Riding Our National Park Systems
by Lenice Basham
PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to pairadicemules@hotmail.com.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was chartered in 1934 and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. It is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. It was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid with federal funds. Previous parks were funded with state or private funds. John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated $5 million dollars toward the park. The United States government added $2 million to the cost with private donations for the remaining $5 million for a total cost of $12 million. 

More than 1,200 landowners had to leave their land when it was created a National Park. Half of the National Park is in Tennessee and half of the park is in North Carolina. It earned its name from the smoke like haze that clings to the ridge. Cherokee called it Shaconage or “place of the blue smoke”. The park sets along the Cherokee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest and the Pisgah National Forest. The National Forests each have horse camping sites available within their boundaries as well as about 600 miles of trails per each National Forest site for additional trails.

The park has a moderate climate with mild winters and hot humid summers. There are elevations from 875 feet to 6,675 feet. There are variations in the temperature of 10-20 degrees from the mountain base to the mountain tops. There are currently 550 of 800 miles of trails open to horse/mule riders. The park’s backcountry is managed as a natural area where the “forces of nature” determine trail conditions. The National Park Services cautions that there may be swollen streams, bridge washouts, downed trees and trail erosion. They do not recommend trail riding in this park from early December until May. The park had their highest number of visitors in 1993 with 10,300,000 visits being recorded. Current information indicates that camping is down as much as 6.8% this year from last. There is one commercial lodging site within the park, LeConte Lodge. It is located on the summit of Mount LeConte and is only accessible by hiking at 6,360 feet. There are multiple trails that lead to the lodge. The lodge offers overnight stays as well as lunch, dinner for those headed back down the trail.

The Clingman’s Dome is an additional site of interest that you may want to visit while in the park. It is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It is a one-half mile hike to a 54’ observation tower where you get a 360 degree view of the mountains. You can see for over 22 miles from the Dome. The observation tower was built in 1959. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in Tennessee.

There are more than 130 species of trees and 4,000 plant species within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are also about 600 black bears in the park. The National Park Service indicates, “Black bears in the Park are wild and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat all bear encounters with extreme caution and follow these guidelines.” They had the following guidelines for encounters with bears along the trails: Don’t approach a bear if you see it. Slowly back away from the bear. If the bear follows you or approaches you, try changing directions. If the bear gets closer, begin talking loudly or shouting at it. Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as big as possible. Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear. Don’t run and don’t turn away from a bear.

The park also contains elk that were experimentally released in February 2001. Two dozen elk were imported into the park. Elk once lived in the national park but were eliminated in over hunting and loss of habitat in the late 1700’s. In 1991, wolves were also reintroduced into the park. About 25 wolves remain in the park. The park also contains some snakes. Copperhead and timber rattler snakes can be found in the park. Copperhead’s can be found below 3,000 feet and Timber Rattler snakes can be found up to 6,000 ft.

There are five different drive-in horse camps within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, four in North Carolina and one in the Tennessee section:

Anthony Creek campgrounds in the north western section near Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an 11 mile one way loop. It is the most visited part of the park and is a valley surrounded by the mountains. It is a great spot for wildlife viewing. Cades Cove contains historic farm buildings from the 1820’s. The horse camp is open from late March until November.

Big Creek campgrounds in north eastern section in North Carolina near Cosby, TN

Catalooche campgrounds in south eastern section in North Carolina near Maggie Valley, N.C. This is similar to the Anthony Creek campground but is not as crowded and is away from busy traffic routes. It is located along the Catalooche River. There are several different trails that leave camp. The Boogerman Trail is restricted to hikers only so make sure you take a look at a map to make sure you are only on a trail that is able to be used for horse/mule riding. This campground has four horse stalls (tie stalls by looking at pictures) for each campsite.

“The road into the campground is 12 miles long and will take approximately an hour to drive into the camp,” said mule rider Teddy Royal. He and his wife camped with their mules. “It is very narrow with over 20 blind curves. Half of the road is paved and the rest is dirt. It is a pain to drive in and out but it is one of my favorite places to ride in the Smokies,” says Royal.

Round Bottom campgrounds in eastern section in North Carolina near Cherokee N.C. Round Bottom is the most remote of the campgrounds.

Tow String campgrounds in the southern section in North Carolina near the Cherokee, N.C. entrance.

“The trails are well marked, with a map of the park, you can preplan your day down to the miles to travel,” says Royal.

Drive-in horse camps have designated parking spots and most sites allow two vehicles and two trailers per site with a maximum occupancy of six people and 4 horses/mules. The horse camp amenities are different depending on the site, but most are equipped with barbeque grills, picnic tables, horse hitching racks and refuse containers. All of the horse camps have at least portable toilets and most do not have drinking water.

The National Park Service has the following recommendations for trail riding at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:

Avoid thawing or frozen trails – save them for dry times. Soil is easily damaged when it is soft. Stay on the trails and don’t use shortcuts. Ride single-file down the center of the trails. When crossing roads and paved areas, dismount and lead your horse/mule. Pack out what you pack in. Know which trails are open to horses/mules. Check the trail map before you head out for the day.

Keep horses/mules away from the springs. Carry and use a collapsible bucket to water your horse/mule. Use processed feed to eliminate introducing weed seeds into the park. Avoid disturbing wildlife by observing them from a distance. Bears are dangerous – do not feed them or other wildlife.

Pets are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry areas. Do not pick, dig or remove any plant, flower or natural object. This includes antlers and rocks. It is illegal to remove any of these items from the park.

Reservations must be made in advance by contacting 877-444-6777 between 10 am and 10 p.m. You may also make reservations online at www.recreation.gov. This site takes care of all reservations made at National Parks. Don’t expect them to be able to answer any of your questions concerning the site or area of interest. Fees are $20 per site, except for Big Creek, which is $25 per site. Fees cannot be paid at the park. A cancellation fee will be charged if you can (or change) your reservation.

You will want to take a look at the National Park website prior to making your reservations to look for news releases or alerts about the campground. Information about camp closures, weather closures and other necessary information is available at the parks website. An added bonus for all iPhone users is Hiking The Great Smoky Mountain National Park app that is available for $1.99 on iTunes. The app is meant for hikers – but I think it can easily be used by trail riders. This app provides information about trailhead information, hiking distances, elevation change, trail difficulty, trail rating, trail description and trail map. I believe the trail map (which is not internet bound) would be the best part of the app. (Not that my husband ever gets me lost on the trail…).

Riding Our National Park Systems: Devils Tower National Monument

Riding Our National Park Systems

By Lenice Basham

PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to pairadicemules@hotmail.com.

Devils Tower National Monument

This month’s National Park article is slightly different in that you cannot take your mules to this National Park. The Devils Tower National Monument is located in northeast Wyoming. It was the first national monument and some people feel it is the only natural monument. It is the core of a volcano exposed after millions of years of erosion brought on by the Belle Fourche River and the weather. The rocks and boulders around the base of the tower are actually broken pieces of columns having fallen from the sides. The tower stands 865 feet high.

We recently visited the Devils Tower Monument on our way to Jake Clark Mule Days. Because of this series of articles, I encouraged (OK, maybe forced) our entire group to go with me to see the National Park. It is quite impressive.

The Native American legend that has been passed down through time indicates that one day an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. They ran back toward their village but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped up on a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock. The rock heard their pleas and began to move upwards pushing them higher and higher out of the reach of the bear. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock and broke its claws and fell to the ground. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky where they are to this day in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades).

The National Park was established in 1906 by President Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act. It was the first monument established with the National Park service. Technical rock climbing is allowed on the monument. There is no climbing in June out of respect for Native American ceremonies held that month. It is not an equestrian site. However, it is a truly magnificent monument that you should visit on your travels to or from Jake Clark Mule Days. For more information about Devils Tower, you can visit www.nps.gov/deto. It is located 28 miles from Sundance, Wyo.

Riding Our National Park Systems: Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Riding Our National Park Systems

by Lenice Basham

PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to pairadicemules@hotmail.com.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Chinle, Ariz.

A few years ago, Loren and I had the opportunity to attend a camping trip to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. We spent several nights camping in the canyon and riding out among the various canyons. It was an amazing adventure. At that time, Ron-D-View had arranged an authorized guide to take us into the canyon. The first day we rode 12 miles into the canyon. We set up camp and slept in teepees while we were there. (See the July 2011 issue of Mules and More for more info on the Basham’s trip).

Canyon de Chelly offers auto tours, horseback riding tours and jeep tours, but I cannot imagine touring this magnificent canyon any other way than on the back of a mule. To ride through the Canyon, looking back at the covered wagon and mules, to have the only sounds you hear be the wind and the mules, is one of the most amazing adventures I have ever had the opportunity to experience. I don’t think Ron-D-View still offers this opportunity, but a Google search found several horseback riding options. ( I guess this would be the second best way.)

A National Monument is defined by the National Park Service as, “… a protected area that is similar to a National Park except that the President of the United States can declare an area of the United States to be a National Monument without approval of Congress. A National Monument receives less funding and have fewer wildlife protections,” (nps.gov). There are 100 National Monuments. The executive order process was authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906. The goal from the President’s point of view was to protect historic and prehistoric sites while waiting for Congress to take action. Canyon de Chelly National Monument was authorized in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover to preserve the important archeological resources that span more than 4,000 years of human occupation. The monument is approximately 84,000 acres of land located entirely on the Navajo Nation. It includes three major canyons: Canyon de Chelly, Canyon de Muerto and Monument Canyon, all located in northeastern Arizona. It is the only monument the park service does not own. “Canyon de Chelly sustains a living community of Navajo people who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance.” (National Park Service) Canyon de Chelly is unique among national park service units as it is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land. The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation are working to develop a cooperative management plan. Currently tours into the backcountry require a backcountry permit and hiring an authorized guide.

The elevation ranges from 5,500 at the visitor center to over 7,000 feet at the overlook. Spring is cool and windy with possibilities of dust storms. The highs range from 50-70 degrees with average lows of 35.

Canyon de Chelly contains numerous amazing ruins. The White House Ruins date from 1200. It is some of the oldest ruins in the Canyon. The sites exhibit more than 1,500 years of human occupation. The White House Ruins were built by the Anasazi people. The ruins are comprised of about 80 rooms and four kivas located on both the Canyon floor and in a cave 50 feet above the Canyon floor.

Mummy Cave Ruins were built by ancestral Puebloans in Canyon del Muerto. Ruins are located on a promontory in the middle of a cliff face with over 80 rooms and three kivas. The ruins were named after two mummies that were discovered by an archeological expedition in 1882 still wrapped in yucca plant fiber. It is said to be the last pueblo the Anasazi occupied before abandoning the Canyon around 1300 AD.

Massacre Cave Overlook. In 1805 Spanish military expedition fired on Navajos hiding in the alcove. 105 Navajos were killed in an all day battle to defend their land. It was said that a Navajo woman tried to save the others by flinging herself off the cave ledge and taking a Spanish soldier with her. According to legend, Spanish soldiers came to the Navajo dwellings while the men were away. The women, children and elders climbed into the cave to escape. Spanish soldiers fired into the cave killing everyone.

Spider Rock is a sandstone spire that rises 800 feet from the Canyon floor. It was formed by sand that blew and was compressed. It is considered sacred by the Navajo. According to legend, the Spider Woman lived on top of the spire and was the one to teach humans the art of weaving. It is truly an amazing site to see.

Canyon de Chelly is currently the home of 80 Navajo families who continue to live and farm in the Canyon.

Roads along the rim at the top of the Canyon, running northeast and southwest, are open to the public. There is a moderate 2.5 mile hike to the White House ruins trail. This is the only place you can go without an authorized guide. Maps are available at the visitor center for self guided tours and Canyon tours.

Canyon de Chelly holds many important clues to the past that need to be protected and preserved for future generations. The following rules are strictly enforced.

Pets are not allowed on hiking trails or on Canyon tours, even when using your own vehicle. Pets must be leashed at all times in the parking lots or campground. Owners are to pick up after pets.

Do not wander away from your group, especially in the backcountry. Guides must remain with group.

Do not touch, collect or remove natural features. Leave rocks, plants, animals, artifacts or rock art undisturbed.

Do not sit, lean, walk or climb on boulders or on walls. Rocks or walls may collapse or cause damage.

Do not enter, alter or deface archeological sites.

Do not enter private property without landowner’s permission.

Do not write, draw or carve on rock walls. Defacing the Canyon walls is prohibited.

Do not hunt, feed or disturb wild or domestic animals. Animals may charge or bite.

Do not take photographs from the rims or in the Canyon of Navajo people, their homes or animals without permission.

Leave no trace of your visit. Carry out and dispose of trash properly. Penalties for violations under Section 6 of the Archeological Resources Protection Act include up to $250,000 in fines and/or up to 5 years imprisonment.

Riding Our National Park Systems: Introduction

Riding Our National Park Systems

by Lenice Basham

PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to pairadicemules@hotmail.com


According to Wikipedia, a National Park is defined as “… a reserve of natural or semi-natural land, declared or owned by a government, set aside for human recreation and enjoyment, animal and environmental protection and restricted from most development.” I define National Parks as a fantastic place to take your next mule vacation. There are approximately 84 million acres in the United States that have been declared as a National Park. There are National Parks in every state as well as in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The first attempt to protect land was in 1832 when Andrew Jackson set aside land around Hot Springs, Ark., to protect the thermal springs. In 1864, President Lincoln signed an act of Congress ceding Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to California. This would later become Yosemite National Park. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first “real” National Park because there wasn’t a state government to cede the land to, like there was in California. The federal government took over the responsibility of care of the land. Theodore Roosevelt enacted the Antiquities Act in 1906 which allowed the federal government to take over ownership of historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest and proclaim them to be national monuments and under the supervision of the federal government. (President Carter and President Clinton have also used this act.) Roosevelt used the act to add Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Chaco Canyon National Monument in New Mexico, the Petrified Forest National Monument in Arizona and the Grand Canyon to the list of National Parks. There are currently 400 parks in the National Park System. Not all of these are sites for a mule vacation, of course. There are 100 National Parks that allow mule riding and mule camping. Each park has similar horse/mule camp regulations. Advanced reservations are required.

There are many internet sites that can help you with your vacation planning at the National Park System. There are reviews available, maps of the areas and photographs that you can view of the trails. Many of the National Park sites have GPS data available and trail information you can download to your GPS or Smartphone.

Our family has had the opportunity to camp in several National Parks. With gas/diesel prices soaring, you may want to look at campgrounds in your state for a mini vacation. I encourage everyone to look to your National Parks this summer for a fantastic experience.

Click on the "Riding Our National Park System" label to see the full series.

Riding Our National Park Systems: Horseshoe Canyon

Riding Our National Park Systems

by Lenice Basham

PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to pairadicemules@hotmail.com.

Horseshoe Canyon

Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah

Maze Overlook - Photo by National Park Service

Great Gallery - Photo by National Park Service

The Canyonlands National Pak is located within the Colorado Plateau which is a section of continental crust. It was established in September 1964 when President Johnson signed public law 88-590. Horseshoe Canyon is a detached unit of the Canyonlands National Park that was added in 1971. It is located in Southeast Utah near Moab. This southeast area is part of the high desert region that experiences wide temperature fluctuations. The spring and fall seasons have temperatures from daytime highs of 60-80 degrees and lows from 30-50 degrees. In the summer the temperatures reach over 100. The geology and climate of the Canyonlands have created unusual landscapes. One reviewer said she felt that she was driving onto another planet – maybe Mars. There are maze-like canyons, sheer cliff, faces, strange rock formations, crevices and alcoves.

The Canyonlands National Park is a 337,570 acre park and is separated into three different districts by the Green and Colorado Rivers. It has an average annual visitor total of around 376,000.

There is no overnight camping allowed in Horseshoe Canyon. However, the Bureau of Land Management has a trail head in which you can take your horse trailer and your stock. It is located on the west rim. Pack and saddle stock may be taken on all backcountry roads and in Horseshoe Canyon. Pack and saddle stock includes horses, burros and mules only. You must have a backcountry permit that you can get at the visitor center. Group size is limited to 10 animals and 10 people. Stock must be fed pelletized feed 48 hours in advance and during a trip in order to prevent the spread of exotic plant species. The trail is 6.5 miles round trip with a trail that has a 750 feet descent. The trails are well marked. Lack of water is a limiting factor – take plenty of water with you for the daytrip and take plenty of water with you in the trailer for your stock. There are no facilities and no potable water sources. There are also excellent trails in the Maze and Orange Cliff areas in the Canyonlands National Park.

Horseshoe Canyon has some of the most significant rock art in North America. Native American rock art in Horseshoe Canyon is painted in a styled known as Barrier Canyon believed to date to the late Archaic Period which was from 2000-1000 BC. The art includes pictographs (painted figures) and petroglyphs (figures etched in the rock with sharp stone). The Horseshoe Canyon houses the Great Gallery. There are almost two dozen huge figures of which most are life-sized. It contains the “Holy Ghost” which is a 7 foot tall figure.

Outlaws like Butch Cassidy made use of Horseshoe Canyon in the 1800’s. The final scene of Thelma and Louise was filed in this area and actor John Wayne shot Hollywood western’s in what is now the park.

This area of Utah is absolutely beautiful. As you are riding along the trails you feel like you are in those John Wayne westerns. It is an amazing area to ride in. Each turn in the crevices finds a more beautiful view than the one before. Permits are difficult to obtain as only a limited number are given during the spring and fall. Make plans now to see this beautiful area of the United States. For information about obtaining a permit, you can contact the National Park Service Ranger office at 435-259-4712.

Riding Our National Park Systems: The Ozark National Scenic Riverway

Riding Our National Park Systems

by Lenice Basham

PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to pairadicemules@hotmail.com.

Part One: The Ozark National Scenic Riverway

Photo by National Park Service

It is appropriate, as Loren’s family spent millions of hours running the Cross Country Trail Ride (before its move to the current location), to begin this series about our National Park System with the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. Loren’s grandparents, Ralph and Mildred Branson, purchased the Cross Country Trail Ride in 1961 and moved it to Leonard Bolin’s Circle B Campground, along the banks of the Jack’s Fork River. The trail ride moved again in 1963 to Montauk State Park on the Current River. In 1964, the ride was moved to Alley Springs, once again on the Jack’s Fork River. After staying there for five years, the late Danny Staples bought property down river from Alley Springs and the Branson’s, along with their daughter, Sue, operated the trail rides there until it was sold to the present owners in 1980. In 1981 owners, Jim and Jane Smith moved the location further downstream to its present location.

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways has approximately 80,000 acres along the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers in Missouri. In 1924 state parks were established at Round Spring, Alley Spring and Big Spring. In 1933, land was purchased for the Clark National Forest. This later became known as the Mark Twain National Forest. In 1964, the area became the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. The park was dedicated on June 10, 1972, when Tricia Nixon christened the river. There are more than 130 miles of rivers included in this riverways. The rivers are largely spring fed with seven major springs and an additional 51 smaller springs.

Primitive camping is available in multiple areas in the park. Generally these have rustic facilities such as pit type toilets and no electricity. The fee for these “backcountry” sites is $5.00. Do not bring firewood with you to the National Park. The National Park Service states, “Moving firewood around the country helps spread forest pests like the Emerald Ash Borer and Gypsy Moth.”

A map of the parks can be found at www.nps.gov. There is access to the Ozark Riverways via US 60 or Missouri state highway 19. Highway 19 is a narrow and windy two lane highway with beautiful scenery.

The National Park Service has the following guidelines for horse camping while at the Ozark National Scenic Riverway: 1. Stay on established roads and traces. 2. Please cross only at designated river crossings. This prevents erosion and deterioration of riverbanks which muddies the river and degrades fish habitat. 3. Please do not bathe your horse in the river. Thousands of horses and their riders visit the area each year. The cumulative effect can be diminished water quality. 4. Respect the land you've come to enjoy. Please do not litter, gather artifacts (including arrowheads) or damage natural or historical features. Leave it beautiful for the next rider. 5. Use hitching rails where available, rather than tying horses to trees. Horses may damage trees by gnawing on bark or pawing roots. 6. Springs and spring branches are unique and beautiful. Please keep them running clear and clean by not riding swimming or wading into them. 7. Please do not ride into campgrounds, picnic areas and other developed areas. (Except designated horse camps: Bay Creek and "Horse Camp" near Alley.) 8. Most of the riding trails pass through private lands. Please respect the landowners where you ride. It only takes a few unfortunate incidents to cause a private landowner to close his land.

Horse camping is available at Bay Creek and Horse Camp near Alley Springs.

This is a beautiful place to visit and take your mules. You will enjoy the spring and fall foliage. You will enjoy the cool river during the summer months. Take time now to plan a trip to this or any other National Park.