Memories of summer camp in the mountains of western North Carolina bring me back to a safe, sweet place. I can feel my face soften as I recall sitting with friends between two skinny trees, a breeze cooling our faces, canoeing in a lake and being lulled to sleep by sounds of a stream flowing over smooth rocks.
Added to my childhood memories now are a lifetime of vacations within a couple of hours of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which lures 9.5 million visitors a year to its 814 square miles that straddle Tennessee and North Carolina.
These aren't the towering, rugged peaks familiar to Westerners. These lower mountains have a gentle beauty. They are rounded, covered with evergreens that appear smoky blue from afar.
In summer, my mountains, as I think of them, are a relief from the South's stifling heat. And in mid-October, when red, yellow and orange leaves shimmer in sunlight, there isn't a more glorious area than that around Highlands, N.C.