The clouds of fog, mist and organic matter that named the Great Smoky Mountains seem to rise at will from the forest only to sit among the rolling peaks like soft fluff from a cosmic shredded pillow.

The clouds of fog, mist and organic matter that named the Great Smoky Mountains seem to rise at will from the forest only to sit among the rolling peaks like soft fluff from a cosmic shredded pillow.

These wisps rarely hurry.

They hang above the roadside vistas that dot the national park straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border. They hover, hiding the mountaintops, after a hard rain or cool evening. As the day warms, they drift slowly around the waists of the mountains as you crane your neck to the heavens.

On those misty days - or on days when air pollution holds among the valleys - the view from Clingmans Dome stretches no farther than 20 miles or so.

On a day like June 18, with clear blues skies, a view from the observation tower on top runs out to nearly 100 miles.

Named for Thomas Lanier Clingman, a general who took to measuring mountains after the Civil War, Clingmans Dome stands 6,643 feet above sea level. It's the highest point in the Smokies and along the Appalachian Trail.

Great views are common in the Smokies, yet this one about eight hours from Columbus is overwhelming - a panoramic, aerial view of the most biologically diverse landscape in the world's temperate zone. It's the best vantage you can get of the park without a helicopter.

From the edge of a sturdy observation tower atop the dome, folds of mountain ripple in all four directions, each a slightly lighter shade of bluish green. Firs, spruce and hardwood trees serrate ridges and form a close, loving community everywhere else.

If you're up for a rugged day trip, you can hike to the dome on a 7.7-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. For a far easier day, head to a designated parking lot about a half-mile from the peak. Both a paved half-mile path and an off-road route of similar length lead from there to the tower.

An invasive insect has devastated the region's Fraser firs, yet nothing is able to tarnish one of the world's most majestic and expansive overlooks.