Great Smoky Mountains

Posted By BrokenClaw on September 8, 2002

We spent a fun and relaxing vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. For the first few days we stayed in Gatlinburg at the Glenstone Lodge. Gatlinburg is situated on the edge of the National Park, squeezed in a tiny valley, and has been a tourist destination for many years. It was our first visit. The town itself is quite small, and businesses are packed onto the main Parkway and a few side streets. Walking is the expected mode of transportation, so pedestrian traffic always has the right of way.

Virtually all of the businesses are tourist related: hotels, restaurants, handcraft and souvenir shops, and other attractions. The Glenstone is located about two blocks above the main street, so walking back and forth always provided some exercise. We specifically had chosen the Glenstone because it boasts the “largest indoor pool” in the Smokies. Although the sun shone every day, there were also some brief showers, one of which chased us from the outdoor pool to the indoor pool. The indoor pool features a deep well, a shallow pool, a hot tub, and waterfalls.

Gatlinburg SkyLift

Downtown, we strolled along the Parkway and stopped in more shops than we can count. On one occasion, Broken Claw waited outside while Trailwalker shopped for tee shirts in a tiny shop no more than 25 feet wide. Thirty-two minutes later (not that anyone was watching the clock or anything), she emerged with her purchases.

One of the most prominent marquees on Gatlinburg’s Parkway is the Ripley’s (of Believe It or Not! fame) set of attractions. The only one we actually visited was the Aquarium of the Smokies, which features an impressive walk-through sea tank.

We also took the Skylift, which takes riders high up the mountain to another gift shop, but with a commanding view of the surrounding mountain tops and the town below. Broken Claw purchased a new hunting knife (that will probably never touch blood) with a cobra sheath. We also decided to purchase our souvenir photo shown here. There is a fascinating display at the gift shop: photos of people who have taken the Skylift year after year. It’s interesting to see how the people — and their fashions– change throughout the decades.

Pigeon Forge

Just a few miles from Gatlinburg is the town of Pigeon Forge, the adopted hometown of Dolly Parton. Pigeon Forge also has but one main Parkway, but the geography is much more open than Gatlinburg, so the highway is wide, and everything is spread out. The attractions here include more theatrical and musical productions related to the country music and mountain tapestry of the region. On one evening we went to the Black Bear Jamboree dinner theater. During dinner, we were entertained by a group of musicians playing high energy bluegrass favorites. The main show featured a song and dance ensemble doing classic favorites from Broadway, pop oldies, and country music, with a spectacular patriotic finale.

On another evening we went to the Dixie Stampede dinner show. The dinner is notable because they provide no utensils; everything is eaten with the fingers. They do, however, provide a moist towelette at the conclusion of the meal. The show is incredible, with horseback riding, races, comedy, dancing, and music. Both shows were excellent, and we thoroughly enjoyed them.

No visit to Pigeon Forge would be complete without a day at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain theme park. The park has a few amusement park rides, like a looping roller coaster and some water rides and family rides. But the one we enjoyed most was the Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure, which is a stationary virtual ride through the Smokies with Dolly. The real attractions at Dollywood are the shows and preservation projects. We attended a program on predatory birds, where owls and hawks flew so close over our heads we could feel the wind from their wings. Regardless of one’s interest in country music, a visit to Dollywood is sure to instill a greater appreciation for Dolly Parton’s commitment to preserving the crafts and values of her Smoky Mountain homeland.

Great Smoky Mountains

Oh, yeah, we did visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, too. Trailwalker likes to use the term hotel camping when we stay at modern lodging for outdoor adventures. So I guess we can say we did car hiking in the Smokies. This was a tourist vacation, so we had no intention of doing any hiking or other wilderness exploration. But we did drive through the mountains to see some of the more popular sites, including Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest peak. At one place along the way, the highway turns a complete spiral on itself, a bit of road design which I had never seen before.

The highlight of our trip was Cades Cove, an 11-mile loop road that has several specific historical sites in addition to the sheer beauty of the mountains (a mountain cove is a sheltered valley, not a body of water). Everywhere you travel are safety reminders of the American Black Bears which populate the region. As we were driving along the Cades Cove loop, Trailwalker spotted a bear in a tree. We parked the car, along with a bunch of other people, and got out for a closer look. The bear soon climbed out of the tree and began to make his way through the high grass. Every few yards he popped his head up. Broken Claw had the camera and was able to click a few shots, but it’s not like taking pictures in a zoo. Wild bears don’t sit and pose. Nevertheless, we felt like our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains was complete.

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