For years, I had heard stories of the native azaleas that inhabited Gregory Bald, and since I have been hybridizing deciduous azaleas for many years myself, it was one place I have always wanted to visit. In studying the history of the region, I also discovered that there were Hyatts who lived in the Smokies, and there was even a Hyatt family residing in Cades Cove. Perhaps they were distant relatives. I wanted to see the azaleas, but I also imagined I would be visiting the stomping grounds of my own roots. So, when I received an invitation to join members of the Species Studies Group of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society on a botanical excursion to the Smokies in June of 1995, I was on my way.
It was a remarkable first trip for me, and is well chronicled by George K. McLellan and Dr. Sandra McDonald in the Spring 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Rhododendron Society (Volume 50, Number 2). I especially appreciated the opportunity to tag along with these knowledgeable people who knew where to go and what to see. Many members of that same group had planned a return trip in 1997, and I returned with them once again. When we arrived in late June, however, we discovered that blooming season was very late down there because of an unusually cool spring. We heard that many of the choice spots in the upper elevations including Gregory Bald were not open yet, and since blossoms at lower altitudes were excellent we decided not to make the hike. From July 9 - 12, George McLellan, Frank Pelurie, and I returned to the Smokies with that compelling goal to see Gregory in bloom again.