Paddle Faster! I Hear Banjos.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


We have returned from our trek to Appalachia!!

We had a great time in the Smoky Mountain National Park! We spent 4 nights tent camping at the Elkmont campground. This is a great spot because it's near to Gatlinburg, TN... a great spot for a day trip. We took two days to drive there (and 2 days coming home as well). It's about a 12+ hour drive from our neck of the woods, and with a toddler, it was imperative that it be broken up over 2 days. For She did quite well though. Of course, I think we ended up taking a twelve hour drive (straight) and making it a total of about a 20 hour drive with stops, lunches, breaks, etc. Still, not too bad. Sometimes it's nice to take your time and stop and smell the roses.
Since we were traveling on Father's Day, we stopped for lunch in Sikeston, MO at the original Lambert's Cafe... "The Only Home of the Throwed Rolls". It was good... a little bigger than the one in Ozark. We had a good time, and Grace filled her belly fairly efficiently.
We overnighted in Clarksville, TN and then headed on down the path threw Nashville, a few rest stops, Knoxville, and on through Gatlinburg... finally arriving at our new home for the next four nights in the Elkmont campground in the Smokies.
We set up camp right next to a trickling mountain stream. Down with dinner, and we hit the sack that night... waiting to see if we'd have our camp crashed by something large, black, and furry. Daybreak came and no damage... one night down... whew.
The next day we kind of did the "touristy" things at the park. We visited the Sugarland Visitors center (quite nice) to see all the displays and info brochures. Of course, we made the mistake of hitting the gift shop. Grace was clinging to every stuffed animal she could find. Finally, we settled on a small black bear... he's now good friends with Elmo.
We also decided to go to the highest point in the park... Clingman's Dome. At 6,643 feet, it's the 3rd highest point on the east coast. And let me tell you, it was quite a view! Oh, and a bit of a hike. Everything I'd read talked about how you could drive a road up to the mountain top and then just hike a paved trail to the top. Now, while this is techinically true, what they failed to mention was that the paved trail to the top was quite steep. Pushing a stroller up about a half mile of steep grade was not very fun.
That all made for a great day. Back to camp we went. Another night in our tent without anything growling outside the door. Whew. BUT, we did wake up to a deer in the campsite in the morning. Quite brazen she was. Just waltzed about like she owned the place.
The next day we decided to head back in to Gatlinburg, TN. It's a really neat place... kind of a cross between Eureka Springs, AR, Branson, MO, and Hot Springs, AR. Lots to do and see, and we couldn't possibly see it all in one day, so we chose a few things... The Ripley's Aquarium was absolutely fantastic!! It was really a neat thing... and Grace got in free! What a cool place for kids though. We had so much fun walking through the tropical rainforest exhibits, the stingray pools, petting the crabs, walking through underwater tunnels with sharks swirling around our heads, checking out coral reefs, and I could go on & on... we were there for around 2 hours or so. We probably could have stayed even longer if we weren't hungry and coming up on the Princess's nap time.
We ended up eating lunch and driving the Roaring Fork Scenic Drive for Grace's nap. That was just a really beautiful drive... and right outside Gatlinburg. This is one those drives where you can pull over and stop almost every tenth of a mile... that's how much there is to see... and mountain streams all along the way. We got lucky and had a bear come nearby the road while there. Of course, we had to jump out and do exactly what they tell you not to do... take a picture!!! I think I managed to see three bears in the wild while we were in the Smokies.
When Sleeping Beauty awoke, we headed back for Gatlinburg to ride the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway up to the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort and park. That was a real hoot! I have a slight fear of heights, and this really gets you up there... but what a view! We also checked out the municipal bear habitat they have up there. They teamed up with the University of Tennessee and created this area for bears... none have been in the wild, and I imagine are fairly tame. It was fun to get to be up so close to the bears. What was really funny was that we were there during bear mating season (June & July), and got a XXX show!
Our last full day in the park was a trail day. We decided to hit a trail that we could push Grace down in her stroller. We chose the Laurel Falls Trail which is actually not a very hard hike. Only 2.3 miles round trip... and not a horribly steep grade (unlike the Clingman's Dome grade). It was a nice trek... and there were bears although they'd shuffled away where we couldn't see them when we went through. But we could see the bushes rustling around. We also had a picnic along another mountain stream and checked out the Greenbrier Schoolhouse. It was a neat ol' place where they had school right up until around the 20's I believe. They also held church services there as was common in the day. I guess some of the students walked in from up to 9 miles away.
And that ended our day in the park. We went back to our tent that night... again, hoping not too hear the grunt of the local furry wildlife, but a midnight call to the bathroom sent me out the front door of the tent only to be greeted by... a coyote (whew)... right there in the middle of my campsite. He didn't really appreciate me interrupting him, but he wasn't exactly in a hurry to get out of there either. Well, at least it wasn't a bear.
Well, that was our trip, and it was a lot of fun. We managed to find our way in and out of the deepest of the Appalachia backwoods without duking it out with a bear or someone down in the hollers brewing something.
But wait a minute... was that a banjo I heard off in the distance???

1 comments:

KLM June 25, 2008 at 8:16 AM  

What an adventure! Loved the picture of Courtney and Grace up inside the "tube" at the aquarium. You guys are really something! Where to next? The African safari?

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