To get to Mount Le Conte Lodge – the establishment we recently spent the night at – one must first traverse somewhere between 5 and 8 miles of single-track trails through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As with all National Parks, the trails and area are remarkably separated from the rest of the world, to the point where you are much farther from civilization than the "as the crow flies" distances would indicate, and, as such, you have to prepare and pack accordingly.
A lot of those preparations are little things – bringing enough water, wearing the right kind of shoes, having the right backpack, etc. – but the honest truth is that if you get hurt back up in those trails, the only way you are getting back to someone who can really help you is probably under your own power, so, basically, do not get hurt. Even up at the Lodge itself, major injuries have to be taken down the path by horse, and even that is a multi-hour evolution; their supplies may come by heli-drop, but the bird does not actually land, so it cannot really take on an injured patient. Most causes of injuries are largely the product of hikers making mistakes in some particular fashion, but trail injuries are not always something you personally can control.
Sadly, the Smoky Mountains have the distinction of being the home of the first fatal bear attack in a southeastern National Park (Glenda Ann Bradley was killed by a black bear in 2000), and since then, the increasingly-acclimatized-to-humans black bears populating the park have racked up an unfortunate number of attacks on people. On the one hand, these attacks are a direct byproduct of people constantly trying to get closer to bears to get pictures, leaving garbage and food where bears can find and eat it and then get used to the smells of humans, and other long-term patterns that erode at the animals’ instincts to stay away from us whacky bipedal creatures; but, on the other hand, in some/most of the bear attack cases, the people specifically injured were not the ones causing issues.
By the same token, bobcats and/or cougars are not unheard-of in the Smokies, and as my time in San Diego taught me, they are not above picking off lone hikers/joggers for the occasional snack.
And despite being an invasive species and multiple attempts at eradicating them, wild boar also call the Smokies home, and if there is one creature I would not want to meet on a narrow, dark path…
Do not think I am trying to put you off visiting the Smokies (though damn they are getting crowded, and we visited during the "shoulder" season in the middle of the work week), but just as a single misstep on the trail can put you in the hospital (once you manage to drag yourself down the mountain), being unaware of other natural hazards can be just as dangerous to your health.
And this is all without even addressing the very real possibility of two-legged predators in National Parks, what with Park Rangers offering rewards for information on "drug activity" and the possibility of stumbling across a marijuana farm and… receiving a less than warm welcome. Even the FBI is getting involved in murders in National Parks, which is not surprising with apparent booby-traps being strung up on trails. (Note: not all those events transpired in the Smokies.)
While happily naive folks continue to believe that National Parks are the very picture of safe, secure communing with Nature, the honest truth is that criminals do not give an acorn for arbitrary, invisible lines on the ground, and some of them actually prefer privacy to perpetrate their illegal activities.
So all this said, you can bet your arse I was lawfully carrying a firearm in the Smoky Mountains, and openly at that*. I somehow managed not to poach any of the Ninja Red Squirrels at Alum Cave, and none of the hikers we passed probably so much as noticed it, so it was not really a problem… until we got to the top of Mount Le Conte and were confronted with these two signs:
I swear to God, I changed nothing before taking that picture; I did not even "I’m Feeling Lucky" it in Picasa – those two signs were, and still are, posted on the side of the Mount Le Conte Lodge Office, right next to one another.
If there were a desk nearby, I would have laid my head upon it. Forcefully.
Even better (?), the cabins (which, thankfully, were not posted) we stayed in had no means of securing the door without someone inside, but the dining hall also had an identical "gunbuster" sticker. So when it came time for dinner and breakfast, either one of us had to skip a meal, I had to leave my firearm in the cabin unsecured, or I had to break state law and carry my firearm – concealed – past that sign to eat. Apparently my family heirloom was A-ok by the staff, though, since there is not much "concealing" that once I got done peeling off my various coats, which just further goes to show the logical inconsistency inherent in
"gun-free zones" victim-disarmament zones – some potential weapons good, other potential weapons bad.
Yes, I most certainly will be writing the management of Mount Le Conte Lodge and politely expressing my displeasure with the fact that they would (1) prefer that their customers break state law, (b) leave an unsecured firearm loose in the presence of strangers, or (iii) abandon their means of self-defense for a 6-12 hour total hike (up and down, depending on how fast you go) through uncontrolled wilderness.
And let us abandon all the political and sociological pretenses wrapped up in the notion of "gun control" – if someone actually dragged themselves up the trail to the Lodge with the express intent of causing malicious harm to the Lodge patrons and/or employees, do you honestly believe that those stupid little signs will stop him? Really?
(* – In other news, I now completely understand the utility of drop-leg holsters. Backpack waist straps and outside-the-waistband holsters do not mix well.)
(** – It is worth noting that the signs do at least cite the correct chapter and verse of Tennessee State Code (which I would link to directly, but LexisNexis is being difficult), though I have no idea why they are citing North Carolina state law, when the Lodge is around five miles from the border.)