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11 Clear Facts About Great Smoky Mountains National Park

America's most visited national park features about 520,000 acres that stretch across five counties in Tennessee and North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National Park's free admission, impressive variety of flora and fauna, and easy accessibility to one-third of the U.S. population—reachable by a little more than a day’s drive in most cases—make it a must-see destination for more than 9 million people each year. Here are 10 facts to know before you head for the Smokies.

1. THE MOUNTAINS’ SIGNATURE SMOKY HAZE IS CREATED BY EVAPORATION AND HIGH ELEVATION.

Over 80 inches of annual rainfall combined with the evaporation from the trees create the characteristic wispy clouds that weave through the mountains. That dreamy mist is the inspiration behind the smoky nickname that has lasted for centuries; the Cherokee called the region Shaconage, which translates to “mountains of the blue smoke.”

2. THE PARK'S CREATION WAS SPARKED, IN PART, BY A TRAVEL WRITER'S NEW LEASE ON LIFE ...

After he lost his job and his wife left with their six children, librarian and writer Horace Kephart opted for a clean start in the Smokies. Mountain life inspired him to write Camping and Woodcraft: A Guidebook for Those Who Travel in the Wilderness, still considered a must-read for serious outdoorsmen.

Eventually, concern over logging companies' decades-old practice of stripping the forests motivated him to protect his beloved Appalachian home. Along with likeminded people, including motorists involved with the American Automobile Association, Kephart worked to get the area designated as a park. Unfortunately, Kephart was killed in a 1931 car crash before he got a chance to see the results of his efforts. To recognize his contributions to the national treasure, a 6217-foot peak in the park was named Mount Kephart.

3. ... AND HELP FROM A JAPANESE PHOTOGRAPHER.

George Masa, born Masahara Iizuka, immigrated from Osaka, Japan to the U.S. to study mining. After working at an upscale hotel near the Smokies, he eventually opened his own photography studio. Masa photographed the Great Smoky Mountains, and his images (usually accompanied by text from his friend Kephart) were used in articles and other promotional materials to support the creation of the national park.

4. THE LAND WAS PURCHASED IN AN UNCONVENTIONAL WAY.

To create the national park, Congress required that only money from the states or private donations be used to buy the land. Residents of Tennessee and North Carolina pledged $5 million for the project; still, that was only half of the amount they needed. Fortunately, John D. Rockefeller donated the additional $5 million after seeing Kephart and Masa’s work, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt allocated the last $1.5 million needed to complete the project. This was the first time federal funds were used to buy land for a national park.

5. AN AMPLE AMOUNT OF AMPHIBIANS LIVE THERE.

Visitors make the trek to spot black bears, elk, and white-tailed deer, but the Smokies are also home to over 30 species of salamanders. In fact, the park is known as the Salamander Capital of the World. Although they are amphibians and not reptiles, the salamanders are sometimes referred to locally as “spring lizards.”

6. CATALOGING THE BIODIVERSITY IS A COMMUNITY EFFORT.

Discover Life in America’s All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory catalogs the staggering variety of wildlife in the park and estimates that there are over 100,000 different organisms in the Great Smokies. Citizen scientists help with other projects, such as replanting ginseng and collecting dragonflies for mercury testing.

7. IT HAS BEEN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FOR ITS PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE.


Because of its vast array of plant and animal life, the park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Over 100 types of native trees and shrubs have been identified in the park—more variety than all of northern Europe.

8. IT HAS BEEN USED AS A TV SET.

In the 1950s, Disney produced a television-series-turned-live-action film called Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Some scenes for the show about America’s favorite frontiersman were filmed at the park, specifically around the Mountain Farm Museum area.

9. DOLLY PARTON HAS SERVED AS AN OFFICIAL PARK AMBASSADOR.

U.S. senators and representatives, state governors, and the Secretary of the Interior all attended the re-dedication of the park on its 75th anniversary in 2009, but they might have been overshadowed by the presence of Tennessee’s own Dolly Parton, who performed at the event as an official park ambassador.

10. HISTORIC BUILDINGS ARE FEATURED THROUGHOUT THE PARK.

The legacy of 18th- and 19th-century Appalachian settlers lives in the more than 90 historic structures on park grounds, nine of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cades Cove Loop Road showcases some of the best examples of early Appalachian architecture, including the John Oliver Cabin (built in 1822 and the oldest structure in the park), Primitive Baptist Church (pictured above), and Methodist Church.

11. THE PARK'S ONLY HOTEL OFFERS A NO-FRILLS PLACE TO STAY.

The LeConte Lodge is the only indoor lodging available on park grounds but visitors shouldn’t expect a luxurious stay. Opened in 1926 and accessible only by hiking, there is no running water, electricity, or telephone at this location atop Mount Le Conte. The trek to LeConte is so steep that trained llamas are used to carry supplies to the lodge three days a week.

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Design
China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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Pol Viladoms
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architecture
One of Gaudí's Most Famous Homes Opens to the Public for the First Time
Pol Viladoms
Pol Viladoms

Visiting buildings designed by iconic Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí is on the to-do list of nearly every tourist passing through Barcelona, Spain, but there's always been one important design that visitors could only view from the outside. Constructed between 1883 and 1885, Casa Vicens was the first major work in Gaudí's influential career, but it has been under private ownership for its entire existence. Now, for the first time, visitors have the chance to see inside the colorful building. The house opened as a museum on November 16, as The Art Newspaper reports.

Gaudí helped spark the Catalan modernism movement with his opulent spaces and structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia. You can see plenty of his architecture around Barcelona, but the eccentric Casa Vicens is regarded as his first masterpiece, famous for its white-and-green tiles and cast-iron gate. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Casa Vicens is a treasured part of the city's landscape, yet it has never been open to the public.

Then, in 2014 the private Spanish bank MoraBanc bought the property with the intention of opening it up to visitors. The public is finally welcome to take a look inside following a $5.3 million renovation. To restore the 15 rooms to their 19th-century glory, designers referred to historical archives and testimonies from the descendants of former residents, making sure the house looked as much like Gaudí's original work as possible. As you can see in the photos below, the restored interiors are just as vibrant as the walls outside, with geometric designs and nature motifs incorporated throughout.

In addition to the stunning architecture, museum guests will find furniture designed by Gaudí, audio-visual materials tracing the history of the house and its architect, oil paintings by the 19th-century Catalan artist Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés, and a rotating exhibition. Casa Vicens is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission costs about $19 (€16).

An empty room in the interior of Casa Vicens

Interior of house with a fountain and arched ceilings

One of the house's blue-and-white tiled bathrooms

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

All images courtesy of Pol Viladoms.

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