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» Saturday, November 01, 2008The Babes in the Woods
Anyway, we are in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for a couple of days. We've never been, and you could tell later on.
I had almost everything packed by this morning, so we rose leisurely and had breakfast, then got Willow and Schuyler into the car and started out about ten. We were just taking our time, and stopped about an hour later to walk Willow. We stopped at a place called Panorama Orchards in Ellijay that we had noticed when we came up for the apple festival. This is a nice little farm store; I would like to come back and have a chance to look around; there are some fabulous-looking apple pies I would like to take along on Thanksgiving! I bought half a peck of Granny Smith apples and we each had one as we continued on our way.
I had thought when we originally planned this trip that we had to go up I-75 through Chattanooga and Knoxville, but when I mapped it on MapQuest there was a route directly up through Ellijay that cut through a tiny bit of North Carolina. So this is the route we used. We had a couple of bobbles, but it wasn't much matter on this very lovely route. As we came north of Ellijay, the color in the trees brightened and we drove in an autumn paintbox that deepened as we continued further north.
We were making good time until we turned onto route 441 through the town of Cherokee, which is in the midst of a small Cherokee Nation reservation. There was obviously some type of fall gathering taking place at the park and traffic was backed up for at least a mile. We inched along with the creek on our right. There were large statues of painted bears (like the "Trail of the Painted Ponies" figures) around the park, and as we approached and passed the park the right side of the road was filled with gift shops and souvenir places that were gradually replaced with motels and restaurantsand then we went through a light and all was moving again.
Finally the road narrowed and we wound through a gorge along the river where during the summer whitewater rafting takes place. The rafting appears closed for the season, but there were still people fly-fishing or just sitting in chairs along the riverbank, enjoying the woods and the water.
On our ride we were listening to my XM radio: it did pretty well except for pockets in the high areas. We listened to Top Tracks (60s, 70s, 80s rock), then switched to "Whaddya Know" on PBI, but they were talking about politicswe're both up to here with it. So we had Radio Classics on until noon, when we put Cigar Dave on. No, we don't care about cigars, but Dave sometimes has a show about barbecuing, or doing Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners. But Dave was also blathering on about politics, so we listened for an hour…and then the station went off the air. XM said it would be back on "shortly," but the screen display said it wouldn't be on until midnight. We thought this was very strange. Cigar Dave is broadcast on XM's "conservative" channel, so we switched to the "progressive" channel and it was the same way. Are they shutting down the partisan channels until the election? Weird.
I hunted around to see if "Holly" was on yet, but they still had the stinky Hallowe'en channel. Bleah.
We reached the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and almost immediately began to climb. As we did so, the trees began to lose color because their leaves had already dropped. By the time we reached the top of the ridge, which was at 5,045 feet, all that was left of leafed plants were the evergreens. Not only that, but bits of leftover snow began to appear in the folds of the grass near the road where the sun had not reached. We stopped at one scenic overlook where there were still piles of snow in abundance on the lee side. A large group of people who looked like they were originally from India had stopped and were frolicking in the snow, throwing snowballs, and taking pictures.
We mounted the crest of the mountain and then came winding down again. As we descended the color reappeared, and we passed a brilliant valley.
As we reached the Tennessee exit to the park, traffic slowed again. Neophytes in this part of the country we, we didn't realize when they say Gatlinburg is the "gateway to the Smoky Mountains," they mean it literally: Gatlinburg starts when the park ends!
And Saturday afternoon is a very, very busy time on the Gatlinburg main drag. It reminded us of the main street of Helen on a Saturday, only that is tiny and this is much, much longer, choked with hotels, motels, restaurants, stores, shops, and attractions. We inched and inched, and inched, growing hungrier and hungrier. We had stopped a bit earlier at a tiny hobby shop...not even certain where...with a Subway nearby, but we had figured on finding a Wendys in one of the small towns before we hit the park. None had appeared, just a couple of junky McDonalds, so we figured we would eat once we got into Gatlinburg. Well, we were here and we weren't finding anything fast.
The first order of business was finding our residence. I had picked out a chalet online via Pets Welcome.com, right up the side of a mountain. The office was actually on the other side of the tumult of the main street, so we had to make it all the way through it and then up a side road to get there. The rental office closes at one p.m. on weekends, but our key and directions were in a lock box outside.
Naturally, we had to turn around and go right back through the mess again to get to the proper traffic light where we needed to turn! At least the traffic was a little better going in the opposite direction. We then got on a smaller road, which led to a smaller road, and to a one lane road, with some really hair-raising switchbacks on them, but eventually we arrived at the "Baby Bear" chalet.
This is really cute! You come in and there is a living room/kitchen combo on your left: a big sofa and a rocker chair, a fireplace in the corner with the TV over it. This is a full kitchen, with a little round table and two chairs. On the right is a pool table and a little loveseat in the corner, and also a tiny bathroom. The bedroom is downstairs, a big king-size bed and a dresser, with a CD player; also another fireplace and a television and DVD/VHS player. The bathroom has a jacuzzi as well as a shower, and there's a hot tub out on the deck.
Oh, and we're to be careful because bears have been sighted outside!
By now we were starving. We had a nice selection of grapes, granola bars, and apples, but not much else. However, there was a placard on the counter about a steak place that delivered, so that's what we did: had New York strip steaks, baked potato and salads at our little table, while Schuyler watched us from the coffee table and Willow cadged for scraps.
Schuyler apparently was unfazed by the entire trip, except for the stop in Ellijay where a wagon came by and then when we un-seat belted her cage from the back seat. She's actually staying on the table, where she can see the television properly. We have placed Willow's collapsible crate next to the front door. As soon as we set it up, with a towel and her fleece inside and another towel over the top to make a nice den, she knows it's for her.
After dinner we decided to make our way down the mountain to get a few groceries. So down we slithered through the hairpin turns. There was a little local market, but a gallon of milk was six dollars, so we kept going. We found that there is a road that runs in back of all the attractions on the main drag, so we went that way and came out at the Ripley's aquarium. Since it was almost eight, the street traffic was wayyyyyyy reduced.
We decided to head out toward Pigeon Forge in search of a grocery store; after a dark interlude we emerged on another busy road, but this was not as crowded as the Gatlinburg main street and was at least one lane on each side and a median wider. This reminded us of route 92 in Kissimmee, with gift shops, stores, amusement parks, restaurants and motels all happily jumbled together. We found a small but busy grocery store where we bought some breakfast things, a half gallon of milk for me, and Coke Zero for James. A little further on down the road was something called "Book Warehouse." (I can hear my mother saying, "No matter where she goes, she can always find a bookstore"). Well, yes, I bought books, including two gift books, and one of the $19 Tintin compilations for only $7. James got a huge basic cookbook for only $5 and a history of the man who founded the Blue Angels.
Of course by now it was pitch dark and we retraced our drive up that twisted mountain road back to chalet, hearth, dog and budgie. We watched Back to the Future III on Encore and then retreated to bed.
Have to remember to turn my watch back...yay, Eastern Standard Time!
(Originally published November 2...when I rented the chalet it said that this place had internet access, but it's a cable modem and it says there's a signal when you hitch it up, but it doesn't get online worth a damn.)