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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gatlinburg or bust

I'm in my car, hurtling down an unfamiliar, steep, curving, mountain road, which has been made slick by sodden leaves. This morning has dawned - if one can use that word when the sun hasn't been able to break through - very wet and very foggy. To my right, is a seemingly solid wall of tractor trailers, also hurtling. To my left, a cement barrier wall. Behind me, impatient headlights. Two tractor trailers separate ever so slightly, and I glimpse a sign: WARNING: FALLING ROCKS.

Sweet. This whole scenario needed one more bit of mayhem.

It's Wednesday morning, and I'm driving to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with my oldest son, now napping sweetly in the back seat, his stomach full of Denny's. We left Winston-Salem at 5 am, and we have about another hour and a half left, having lost 30 minutes to the Denny's stop. It's 8 am, and I still haven't seen the sun today.

The exit for Foothills Parkway comes up suddenly, and I realize when I try to turn that I have a deathgrip on the wheel. Tell me again why I'm going. Yeah, yeah, the kid will love it. But why am I going?


Oh, I love it here! Indeed, it's ticky-tacky to the nth, and the attraction ticket hawkers hassle you, and there are seemingly only two types of non-chain eateries: Pancake joint and candy store.

But the air! The air is heaven, crisp and moist and completely clean. And the leaves? Love them, with their myriad shades of brown. And there's a sweet, old Episcopal church, named, what else, Trinity. And there are some lovely old buildings scattered here and there.

Our hotel room has a balcony overlooking a creek. Normally, I'm told, the creek is calm and sweet, but today, due to the recent rains, it's a muddy torrent of whitewater. And it doesn't babble; it roars. The oldest's whole face lights up when he sees it.


So we did the aquarium (wonderful), Guinness World Record museum (ripoff), Treasure Quest minigolf (meh), the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum (cool, actually), an outdoor minigolf with local history markers (very cool), and some "gem mining" on an outdoor flume (the oldest's favorite - he "mined" an arrowhead).

We also did the Pancake Pantry, the Pancake Log Cabin, and the Parkway Pancake House. We tasted fudge at at least eleven candy stores. We ate "mountain taffy", which is inferior to saltwater taffy, I'm sorry to have to tell you.

But ultimately, the thing that made Gatlinburg a place we have to go back to, was the Motor Nature Trail, which is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I cannotcannotcannot convey to you adequately what an amazing thing it is. We stopped the car and got out at least twenty times. The absolute highlight was seeing three deer drinking from a creek, all of thirty feet away. And the water smelled so good I had to resist the urge to just stick my whole head in.

And so we'll go back. We'll probably avoid the strip for the most part next time, and we'll most likely rent a cabin - creekside would rock. But we will go back. Oh, and, for the record, Pancake Log Cabin for food, but Pancake Pantry for service. We just won't talk about the Parkway Pancake House.

Thank you, brlittle, for the destination recommendation!

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