When I first left Clingman's Dome I left my camera attached to the tripod and the tripod legs loose. This allowed me to be ready really fast in the event that something came along.
Regarding the first photo (which I think is my favorite from the trip) if I had been early the sun would have shown in the photo causing some major highlight issues. If the time of day had been later I would not have gotten the shadow lines of the sun through the trees. This scene only lasted a few minutes. Luck plays a big role in this as well... Just don't tell anyone I said that.
Thanks for reading!