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Illustration: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia

Hello again, fellow Appalachians.

The Appalachian Mountains are home to some of the most serene views in the world and are the oldest mountains in the United States, aged over 480 million years. They are also filled with endless amounts of historical facts, but what also makes them unique is the mysterious stories and moments that hide within them – stories and moments that can come alive before your very eyes.

Above the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, right outside of Cherokee, North Carolina, are mysterious lights called the Thomas Divide Lights. These lights have remained a mystery to everyone who has seen them, and to this date, there is still no confirmed case as to what they really are. In Cherokee, they are called the “Little People,” carrying their torches throughout the ridgetops and within the mountains. 

Jerry Wolfe, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians prominent elder and Beloved Man, once described his encounter with the Thomas Divide Lights when he was 16 years old. He and his friend were walking home when they noticed the erratic behavior of the lights, and at first glance, they thought they were cars. Jerry and his friend later investigated the area where the Big Cove Community meets the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they determined that there was no way the lights were car headlights because there is no highway there. That area is the roughest terrain around. 

Mysterious red lights linger over the Great Smoky Mountains. Photo: Jeremy Wilson/Provided

Many theories about what creates these lights have accumulated over time, from car headlights, to methane gas, to the Little People, or even the fireballs being hurled by the legendary giant, Judaculla. The lights are a mystery that may never be solved, but when one gets the chance to witness them, they are certainly in for a Smoky Mountain Folklore treat. 

I myself have witnessed these lights over the years, and I have seen them behave erratically in abundance and very quietly by the few. My two best encounters caught on camera were capturing the light shooting straight up into the air, which completely debunks the notion of natural causes like humans or cars. During the same night, a set of red lights were flashing at each other with sonic wave-like motions. 

Another encounter was during a full moon as it was setting over the ridge top. The lights never moved until the moon touched the ridgetop to set, and then one light shot across and above the ridgeline, straight for the moon as if it were chasing it. As close as I have zoomed in on the lights, I still cannot say what they really are, but I can say they are not created by humans.

Mysterious red lights linger over the mountains as the moon sets. Photo: Jeremy Wilson/Provided

Aside from the Thomas Divide Lights, there are a plethora of stories of “ghosts” in our mountains, many of which are of oral tradition, but hard to prove in real life. Some are fortunate (or not) to be able to witness certain paranormal activities in real life. Aside from my encounters with the Thomas Divide Lights, I’ve had other perhaps paranormal experiences. 

It was a clear night at Waterrock Knob in the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I was photographing the Milky Way. My camera was set up next to the trail that leads up the mountain. While I was capturing the Milky Way, I heard what sounded like a little girl’s moan. There was a light breeze so I figured it was two trees rubbing together making the squeal. But the sound became more creepy.

While I could not see up the trail in the dark, I took three long-exposure shots of the area to see if anything was there. Later that night, I pulled the images up on my iMac, and in the second image, a small black anomaly appeared on the trail, with a transparent appearance. In the first and third shots, it was not there. Was it one of the victims from the historical nearby plane crash? Was it a little girl from long ago? Who knows.
One of three long-exposure images reveals a transparent anomaly on the trail. Photo: Jeremy Wilson/Provided

As a Cherokee citizen, I firmly believe the stories of our people and these mountains. While there may be plenty of stories that I’ll never witness in real life, I do believe they were real at one time. The moments like the ones I’ve witnessed and captured myself confirm that for me. While the Appalachian Mountains are a very serene and beautiful landscape, with hidden treasures within them, it is the mysteries of the unknown that make them unique as well. 

If you’re ever in the Cherokee area, ride up to Thomas Divide and see the legendary lights at night. Just be sure not to whistle. You may get more than you bargained for…

See you next week,


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