Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Great Smoky Mountains

I was sitting on a conference call when I read an email from my husband. He forwarded a GroupOn deal for a hotel in Pigeon Forge, TN, with a note that said, "I've always wanted to go to the Smoky Mountains."

We just came back from the Great Smoky Mountains. I didn't have high expectations because people kept saying, "Oh, Pigeon Forge is just like the Wisconsin Dells." Those are not words of praise in my book.

Happily we discovered there were a lot of similarities along the tourist strip, but Pigeon Forge has the Great Smoky Mountains. There's nothing that compares to hiking up a trail to find a waterfall or watching a black bear stop traffic.

In no particular order, here are some highlights:

We hiked to Clingman's Dome on the first day. We actually ended up there by accident, but we were so happy to have made the wrong turn. It was breathtaking to be up so high.

We hiked to Grotto Falls to find a group of girls swimming in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Our girls joined them by taking off their shoes and wading. The water was so cold, but it was so fun for them.

We discovered several nice local restaurants. Our goal is to always eat local and never eat at a chain restaurant. We accomplished that for the most part. On the drive down we stopped at a Waffle House. Every time we saw a Waffle House sign on the road I'd say, "Hey, there's a Waffle House. Are you girls hungry?" The first ten or fifteen times I said it the girls reacted. By the time we drove home they just ignored me when I pointed out the next Waffle House.

Laurel Falls was listed in the guidebook as an easy hike, but then again no one mentioned the warning signs. As we started up the hike there was a sign saying, "Warning:  Steep drop offs. Fatalities have occurred. Watch Children Carefully." Let's just say the sign wasn't kidding. There were some very scary drop offs on the path. The hike might not have been as strenuous as Grotto Falls, but the warnings were scarier. The waterfall was beautiful.

We saw the most interesting wildlife on the way to and from Cade's Cove. At the first stop we saw a blue-tailed salamander. At the Visitor's Center the girls saw copperhead snakes peeking through the walls. Luckily the guide also saw it and pointed out that the snakes were poisonous, so everyone stepped away. The highlight was the drive out of Cade's Cove. We were just a few miles from the end of the loop when all the vehicles came to a stop. At first we didn't see anything but fingers pointing out windows. Suddenly cameras appeared. A few seconds later we saw people moving towards their vehicles in a nearby parking lot. It was then that we saw the black bear moving in the forest. The bear lumbered around and finally crossed the road. We were excited to see him so close -- and happy that he wasn't closer.

Between nature adventures, we visited the other local attraction:  Dollywood. It was a charming amusement park with rides that surprised us. Battle Station might have been our favorite. It doesn't look like much more than a water ride where you shoot water guns at different targets. It isn't until you move away from the station that you realize you are the target. People standing along the path have water guns they shoot at you. By the end of the ride everyone is soaking and laughing. We did it twice in a row. Hey, as long as we were wet, we might as well enjoy it.

The Great Smoky Mountains were a wonderful vacation spot. We had so many more things we wanted to do, but we had to go home. We'll put it on our list of places to visit again.

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