4-5 October: Returning to the Smoky Mountains

Author: Mrs A

Thursday location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

We worked out we could fit in one more national park before we head to Atlanta for the weekend. We farewelled our lovely lodge in Kentucky and headed south into Tennessee.The drive was winding and picturesque, and before long we were pulling into Gatlinburg.

Mark and I last visited here in December 2004 along with my dad, sisters and brother – then it was sleepy, cold and snowy and full of Christmas lights and slippery icy pathways.

This time everything was open (and it is somewhat of a circus of a town, full of amusements, novelties, sugary confectionary and fairground rides) and had 90% humidity and 30+degrees centigrade. A town of extreme seasonal contrasts! Although this is not our usual thing, we decided to embrace its garishness for just one afternoon, and took to the streets to explore.

Lunch was a southern affair, with a jambalaya (Creole rice pilaf served with chicken, smoked sausage, Creole dressing and sliced French bread) for Mark and beef and gravy roll for me, and then it was off to browse through a few shops.

There was no wine tasting in this location, instead we found ourselves in a moonshine tasting salon. Oh dear. Having been alcohol free since Sunday night, it was a small test to see how the body would react to shots…nothing like breaking us in gently, eh?It was an entertaining session of throwing back small shots of various flavours, accompanied by amusing banter from our bar man, but there was nothing ‘wow’ about anything we tasted, so we moved on. Mr A was feeling brave so tried the same with some whisky tasting over the road too. That proved enough alcohol for one day, and we stuck to the club sodas for the remainder of the evening!

Friday location: Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee and North Carolina, then Franklyn, North Carolina

Morning again dawned early for me, waking shortly after 5am, so we were up and away before the sun really rose. Before long we were in the Smoky Mountains Information Centre getting tips on some good but not too hilly hikes.

We selected a circuit which we were told would not be too severe a climb.It followed the very pretty ‘Little River’ for half the walk, before joining another walk which climbed a short way into the lower mountains before looping back to the beginning.A very respectable 11.5km all up. From there we jumped back in the car and headed across the mountains.

The roads were really busy, with plenty of tourists out in this little national park. Apparently it gets about 11 million visitors per year, while tacky tourist trap Gatlinburg gets 18 million visitors! That means 7 million people who visit the doorstep of this spectacular national park, but don’t come on in…I’m kind of pleased really!

We drove on up to Newfound Gap, a high point on the range where we cross from Tennessee into North Carolina, and get to admire some fabulous views.It is also a jumping on/off point for the Appalachian Trail. This trail traverses about 3,500km (2,200 miles) from Maine to Georgia. We thought we might give it a go…or some of it anyhow…and get away from the crowds at the lookout.There was no choice on this walk, we had to head up right away. Luckily my breathing is not ‘too’ awful just now, so I wheezed my way up. It took seconds to escape the crowds, with the occasional walkers coming back our way.

Most were like us, just doing a short taster of the track, but we saw one couple bounding towards us wearing compact backpacks and I asked them where they had come from. “Maine” the guy answered. Gee! That’s more than 3,200km (2,000 miles) away! I would have loved to have chatted to them longer, but before we knew it they were off down the path never to be seen again.

The views up here were all the more rewarding for the effort.We walked about 2.5km before turning back, deciding 16km of walking and about 50 flights of climbing was ok for one day!

As we drove down the other side of the mountains we recognised other locations from our 2004 trip – the location of a family photo and where we built a snowman. Does any of my family recognise this location? Slightly different without the low cloud and with leaves on the trees 🙂 From here we continued down, finally settling in a motel in a little settlement called Franklyn. A local Mexican restaurant provided a cheap and quick early dinner, and hopefully we’ll have a restful night after all this fresh air and exercise!

This is the end of our road trip. Tomorrow we head to Atlanta for the last few days of our USA tour.

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