Sunday, July 24, 2011

You know how I love the Park (Part 2)

The other excursion we did while in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was to hike the Laurel Falls Trail, a two-and-a-half mile trail (round-trip) that goes from the main road back into the woods to a series of waterfalls, so named because they are surrounded by hundreds of mountain laurel bushes.

 Now, I haven't seen a lot of mountain laurel since I left New York.  We had two or three bushes in our garden on Long Island, but it's not very common in Northern California.  So I went a bit crazy on the mountain laurel photos.

The trail was just gorgeous, with little streams and flowers everywhere

When we finally got to the Falls, there were people everywhere, but we still managed to find a quiet spot and let Pandora paddle in the water a little bit.

We were fortunate to get there early in the day because the parking area at the trailhead was absolutely jammed with people waiting for spaces.  There were still a lot of people on the trail and we heard maybe fifteen different languages as we made our way up and back.  Next time, I'll be in better shape, and I'll bring a tripod.

Friday, July 22, 2011

You know how I love the Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that is.  We spent three days in and around the park and the thing that made the greatest impression on me was the GREEN.  When you live in Northern California, you learn to appreciate things that are green, like trees, grass, bushes, and water (because it's reflecting the green from the trees, grass, and bushes). 

Our first excursion into the park was to drive the Cades Cove Loop road, an 11-mile one-way road back into history and into a place where, except for the massive numbers of motor vehicles, time seems to have stopped. 

There are three old churches along the Loop, at least one of which looks like it's still being used.

and several examples of 19th century log cabins and fences

The biggest attraction, though, is the animals.  We didn't see that many, maybe it was the time of day (around 6pm), but we did see these:

and this little guy created one heck of a "bear jam"

I would love to go back in the fall when the leaves are changing.  I hope we get the opportunity soon.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oh my Gatlinburg!!!

The main road through Gatlinburg comes through one of the three gates to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  One moment, you're in gorgeous, quiet, green parkland and the next, you run smack into pedestrians, backed-up traffic, Ripley's Believe It or Not, a Space Needle, the Hollywood Star Car Museum (in case you can't survive the day without seeing an original replica of the General Lee from "Dukes of Hazzard"), and more candy and fudge shops than you can shake a stick at.  If you're into this kind of stuff, it's a totally awesome place to be.  If you're not, and we weren't, we couldn't get through town fast enough!!

We stayed one night at the soon-to-be-legendary Buckhorn Inn, an oasis of elegance and quiet amidst the craziness that is Gatlinburg. 

It sits in the middle of the Arts and Crafts Loop, an 8-mile circle of (mostly) country roads, artisans, craftspeople, cafes, and studios.  We probably did way more shopping than we should have, but everything was just so pretty and well-made!  No, we didn't buy this, but wow, is it gorgeous!

The day we arrived was cloudy and we started hearing rumbles of thunder in the early afternoon.  The skies opened up a couple of hours later and it was like nothing I've seen since I moved away from New York. 

The flowers loved it, though, and we heard from some of the local merchants that they had been going through a drought (???), so they were really glad for the rain. 

While I have no desire to go back to the madness that is Gatlinburg, I hope we will return to the Buckhorn Inn soon and often.  It is so worth the trip!

The peaceful side of the Smokies

Townsend, Tennessee, is about an hour or so south of Knoxville.  It calls itself "the peaceful side of the Smokies" mainly because it's nowhere near the madness that is Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (where Dollywood is).  It's a collection of houses, businesses, galleries, and craft stores that lie along the Little River along US-321, also known as the Tuckaleechee Road after a band of Cherokees that used to live in the area.  It's a sleepy little place with no real "downtown" to speak of and we enjoyed its peacefulness tremendously.

We spent some time at the Little River Railroad Museum, although we mainly explored the outdoor exhibits because it was incredibly hot and the indoor part had no airconditioning.

but the main attraction was the quietness of it all.  Even Pandora understood.

While we were in Townsend, we visited Cades Cove and Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  That's next.

Our trip to the Smokies: Part 2

After we left The Hermitage (see previous post), we hopped on I-40 and headed for Knoxville.  I-40 is an amazing road if only because it has so many personality changes as it runs from Barstow, California to Wilmington, North Carolina.  On the way, it passes through Needles, CA, Winslow, AZ (all together now:  "I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..."), Albuquerque, NM, Amarillo, TX, North Little Rock, AR, and all the way down the center of Tennessee.  I've traveled almost all of it at one time or another, and I love it!

Our main reason for being in Knoxville was so that Robert could see some of the places he grew up in, that he hadn't seen in about twenty years.  He took me to the house he grew up in:

and the house his grandparents lived in:

We went to see the Tennessee River:

We also spent half a day at the Knoxville Zoo, which was co-founded by Robert's parents.  It was really neat to see the Patterson name in so many different places around the property and for Robert especially to see how the Zoo has grown and expanded since he had last been there.

We saw all kinds of animals there:

and we finished off the day with a fabulous meal at a French restaurant called the Northshore Brasserie.  Seriously one of the best meals we've had in a very long time.

Up next: Townsend, Tennessee "on the peaceful side of the Smokies".