Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, crowns the Great Smoky Mountains at an elevation of 6,643 feet. It is created from folded, fractured, and faulted Precambrian rocks. On the Smokies’ rugged shoulders one will find primarily the ancient Ocoee Supergroup exposed–four layers of moderately metamorphosed sedimentary rock overlaying the earlier one-billion-year-old Precambrian layers exposed in the Unakas to the north of the Smokies. Part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Clingman’s Dome is accessible by road and a one-half mile trail from the parking lot to an observation tower at the summit rising above the fir and spruce forests.
By some accounts, the Cherokees called the mountain Kuwahi, “the mulberry place.” Although the Tennessee-North Carolina line was surveyed through the mountains in 1821, the field notes contained few place names, and it was not until the 1858 explorations of naturalist S. B. Buckley that many of the peaks were specifically identified. In his report, Buckley called the peak Mount Buckley after himself, but this appellation, as with most of his names, did not survive.
In 1859 the Swiss-born geographer Arnold Guyot made the first comprehensive study of the interior of the Great Smoky Mountains and named Clingman’s Dome for his patron. His research had its roots in the dispute over the highest peak in the Appalachians, an argument begun in 1844 between Elisha Mitchell, a professor at the University of North Carolina, and U.S. Senator Thomas L. Clingman, who had been a soldier and mountain explorer. Mitchell advocated a peak called Black Dome near Asheville, North Carolina, while Clingman was convinced the peak sometimes called Smoky Dome was the highest. In June 1857 Mitchell began to run a series of altitude levels in the Black Mountains but drowned in a stream on the dome. Clingman supported Guyot’s survey, arranging for a six mile path to be cut up the favored mountain so that Guyot’s horse and equipment could ascend to the top. The argument was settled when Guyot found Clingman’s Dome was 6,643 feet, while Black Dome, now named Mt. Mitchell, was 6,684 feet.