When we camped at Two Rivers State Recreation Area at Nebraska, we discovered something I had heard of ever since I was a little kid. At first, I thought there may be something wrong with my eyes; my optometrist always warned me about seeing a flash of light as it may an indicator of my retinas becoming detached. Therefore, anytime, if I see any flash of lights, I always have to look for the source (most of time were due to camera flashes) to alleviate my fear. What we saw was random blinks of lights around our campground. Although the lights were faint, they weren’t what seemed normal to us. Then it dawned on us: they were fireflies.
There was a story (映雪囊螢) meant to inspire children and most of us Chinese kids had read it when growing up: 囊螢指車胤借螢火亮光讀書的故事. It was about a kid who caught a lot of fireflies and put them in a bag to serve as a source of light so he can study late into the night. I always wondered how many he had to catch to do so. . Judging from what I saw there, I would question the verity of the story. The light from each firefly was so faint and brief that he would have to catch hundreds of them to have any remote chance. I tried to catch one but failed. Perhaps he was a better outdoors person than I was.
Two Rivers State Recreation Area had an interesting alternative to camping: cabooses. They turned some trains into a sleeping quarter. The cost was about 40 to 50 dollars I believe but they were out of them that night. Otherwise it would have been a memorable stay as would at a yurt or a teepee.
About 10 days later, we arrived at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the U.S. every year. It always intrigued me how it can claim such a distinguished honor. It soon became obvious as its location at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina can serve as a convenient scenic alternative to the nearby highway 40. As we arrived late, we decided to try our luck at Cades Coves campground which we were told a few months earlier when I called had a good chance to get a first-come-first-serve campsite. We always made sure that we arrived no later than Thursday night at a popular place and preferably on a Wednesday night. It was a Wednesday night, although choices were few, we were still able to select our campsite. We decided to stay at our Cades Coves campsite so we didn’t have to find a campsite for 3 days as it was getting close to the weekend.
Although we already had a place to stay the next day, as we drove by the Elkmont campground, we, as usual, wanted to scout the place for possible next visit. It seemed to be a better campsite than the Cades Coves but might have more mosquitoes as it was near a stream. We accidentally discovered a flyer about Synchronous Fireflies there and was befuddled by it: synchronous?. We went to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and asked about it. The ranger told us that a few days in June every year near Elkmont campground, there are a lot of fireflies that almost blinked simultaneously, therefore, the name synchronous fireflies. We berated ourselves for not staying at Elkmont.
The National Park service provided shuttles from the Visitor Center to there starting around 6PM. We hiked to Grottes Falls (see Left)and Laurels Falls (see right) that day before heading back to the Visitor Center to catch the shuttle at 7PM. It was still early but we were warned about it might get crowded later. It was about 20-25 minutes ride then we followed the direction to an area where fireflies were expected. We were also given some red filter papers to cover our flashlights to reduce light glares. It was quite a big area so everyone seemed to debate where to sit/stand. Most of people sat around a big meadow area but we decided to stay near the trail and sat down on our camping chairs. We had our dinner then waited. As the sky darkened, we started to hear people saying “here is one”, “another one”, etc. There weren’t many actually. We were quite disappointed as we saw just as much at Two Rivers. However, after another 30-45 minutes as we got closer to 10PM, they started to put on a light show.
Kadia stayed up and watched the spectacle with us. As our eyes grew used to the darkness, we saw more and more. They were everywhere and each section seemed to be controlled by a switch that caused fireflies to blink synchronously; it was as if they were putting on a Christmas show in June. We tried to videotape the fireflies but it was too dark. Many more people streamed in; I think it was smart for them to come late. We had to leave reluctantly so we can put Kadia to bed. Bryden was already sound asleep in front pouch Susan was carrying. As we took the shuttle back to the Visitor Center, we learned that it actually wasn’t good to stay at the Elkmont Campground, as people there still had to walk for, although relatively close, 20-30 minutes in dark. The shuttle although past by the Elkmont campground didn’t stop there. There were some upset campers, especially the ones with young kids. I could only sympathize with them and counted our lucky star.