Fireflies flash as part of their mating display. There is one species in the U.S. where the individuals have the ability to synchronize their flashing patterns. And this species exists in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In May/June of each year, the park coordinates viewing of this phenomenon for one week of the two-week mating period. It's quite something to see.
Tonight we headed out to go see the Synchronous Fireflies in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For one week of the two-week mating period of these special fireflies, the park closes the road into the Elkmont area and runs shuttles from the Sugarland Visitors Center for this event.
The numbers of people allowed in are limited to those that are camping in the Elkmont campround, those that have reserved a parking spot a month or so in advance. We got our reservation yesterday. At the time (but no longer), you could reserve a spot online the day before if you signed in and were lucky enough to get a pass before they sold out in about a minute.
We arrived at the Sugarland Visitors Center at 7:30, the time designated to arrive according to the parking pass we printed from our online confirmation. The parking pass was a whopping $1.50, and then it was a dollar per person for the shuttle ride on a trolley.
The line to catch the shuttles was a bit long, ....
and I wasn't crazy about the crowd. But there were plenty of shuttles and we boarded one around 7:50. Then, it was a 20-minute drive up to the drop-off at Elkmont.
Before we exited the trolley, someone got on and told us to stay on the trails, use red cellophane over our flashlights, and carry out our trash. They told us shuttles would run back to the Visitors Center starting at 10:00 p.m. We weren't given any other instructions or tips for viewing.
So, we started up the wide trail and people were just setting up chairs along the way.
We walked and walked and didn't really see any rhyme or reason to where people were setting up. Eventually, we just plopped down. Everyone was spread out, so it didn't seem nearly so crowded.
The Little River runs along the trail, so it was a pretty area with the sounds of rushing water. We plopped our chairs down facing into a dark area of woods.
We had no idea if it was a good spot or not, but we noticed fireflies flashing there before they started in other areas. We sat and watched and there were more fireflies, but there wasn't anything "synchronous" about them. It looked like any backyard in the country.
So we sat and we waited. And then it started raining. Fortunately, we brought rain gear and covered up. After waiting in the rain a bit longer, I think my quote was "What a colossal waste of time".
Fireflies were flashing deeper in the woods, but it was certainly nothing special. I started packing up my chair, and we made our way down the trail toward the trolley pick-up spot. And there it was.
The phenomenon we came to see appeared before our eyes. It was amazing! The forest floor on both sides of the trail looked like a carpet of blinking, green Christmas lights.
Not all the fireflies flashed at the same time. But large groups were synchronized. So there was a flash by a large group followed by a flash from another group and a flash from another group followed by total darkness. Then the sequence repeated over and over.
We tried to video, but it was just too dark. I found this video online that sort of shows what happens.
The video is really dark and it doesn't show how spectacular it is in person, but it gives an idea. Again, it looks like pre-programmed miniature Christmas lights flashing in a sequence and then nothing for a few seconds.
The fellow that did that video - Floris van Breugel - has some great photography of the fireflies on his website, Art In Nature. It shows what a professional can produce in less than ideal conditions.
So, we stood in the rain watching the spectacle. And then we would walk a little farther and stop again. It was certainly a unique experience, and we were so glad we went and stuck it out.
Thanks also to all those that suggested it. It might be something we do again in the future. Perhaps someday we'll tent camp at the Elkmont Campground and experience the event for several nights after most of the crowds are gone.