I have taken several trips to the Smoky Mountains over the last 15 years, and I have always found the sunsets there to be spectacular. One of the best ways to view a sunset in the Smoky Mountains is to drive along U.S. Highway 441 between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. You can pull off the highway at several overlook areas that provide stunning views, or you can turn off the highway onto Clingmans Dome Road to view the sunset from the highest mountain in both the Smokies and the State of Tennessee. The trick is to be in the right place at the right time to see them. Because of the seemingly constant change in weather patterns at different elevations, finding the best spot to view the setting sun can vary from day to day, and you have to be able to quickly recognize whether conditions are favorable for sunset viewing at your current location. If not, you have to either move quickly to the next possible spot or take your chances on another day. And, sometimes, you just need a little luck.
Luck was certainly a factor in getting this picture. The sky was overcast at lower elevations, so I decided to go to Clingmans Dome. When I arrived, the sky had a light cloud layer that I thought would provide some dramatic lighting and color as the sun fell below the horizon. As I waited, the clouds continued to thicken until the sky became a generally gray mass that destroyed any chance of getting a decent sunset image. Disappointed with the way things turned out, I snapped a few pictures anyway and then loaded up to head back down the mountain.
As I drove down from Clingmans Dome and turned back onto Highway 441 toward Gatlinburg, I noticed the clouds had begun to disperse at the lower elevation. As I rounded a sharp curve, I noticed the sky had filled with the brilliant colors of sunset. I quickly stopped at the first overlook area I came to, grabbed my camera and tripod, and began taking pictures. The light show did not last long. Had I stayed at Clingmans Dome for another five minutes, I would have missed it. I was only able to get a few shots before the color faded and night settled in, but it was breathtaking while it lasted.
Settings: Canon 5D Mk II, 200mm, 1.6 sec, f/11