Thursday, January 28, 2016

smoky mountain blues

Well here I sit on one of those gloomy deep winter days, wishing I had some travel to look forward to - but alas, this winter I believe I'll be sticking it out to the bitter end, without a visit to warmer climes... :(

I know, boo frickety hoo, first world problems. On the upside, the winter so far up here in the great white north (at least in the Toronto area) has been pretty darn tolerable - almost February, and not a sign of snow on the ground (as of the writing of this post anyway). That still doesn't mean that a little escape wouldn't be nice - so for today, I'm going to escape by looking backwards to our September 2015 trip to Tennessee, and more specifically, the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in charming Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

As mentioned in my previous post, this was our first ever trip to Tennessee - and it was a rather spontaneous trip at that, so we were sort of flying by the proverbial seat of the pants as to where to go and what to see after Nashville - but we knew enough that no trip to Tennessee would be complete without casting our eyes upon the Great Smoky Mountains.  In fact, we learned that of ALL America's National Parks, GSMNP is the number one most visited in the country.  Hmmm.

Now I'll be honest - I probably would have pegged Yellowstone or Yosemite to top that list (have been to Yosemite and was literally moved to tears by its magnificent beauty), but I will have to admit, those Smokies are pretty darn magnificent themselves:

Pretty classic stuff right?  I had always seen images of the Smokies that looked like this, and thought that you'd have to hike for hours into the deep recesses and up the tallest peaks of the park, and have the perfect weather and light conditions to obtain such a photo - but I'm here to tell you that these incredible vistas are easily viewable to one and all, simply by taking a relatively short but very scenic drive up Clingmans Dome Road from the town of Gatlinburg.  Along the way you'll want to stop and drink it all in:

Haha, okay, so we're not not exactly looking in the proper direction in this photo to "drink it all in", but hey, had to do a few "Smoky selfies" as long as we were there...  :) 

Anyway - that's about half way up the road to Clingmans Dome Lookout (where you'll want to head to see those spectacular views), and as you go farther along you'll come to another stunning lookoff point - Newfound Gap

An interesting tidbit of information about this area is that up here, you're straddling the border of TWO states, Tennessee AND North Carolina:

So you get bonus travel points for that. :) 

From Newfound Gap, it's just another short distance drive up until you reach the Clingmans Dome lookout area, and you're met with this vista, quite literally from the parking lot:

Oh, but wait!  It doesn't end there - from here you can take a short(ish) hike up a paved pathway that leads to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower.  It's a bit of a steep climb, but you'll eventually arrive at a sort of alien-pod that is accessed by a spiral ramp:

And from here (weather permitting), you'll have pretty much a 360-degree view of the Smokies. On the day we were there, fog was rolling in and out intermittently, so the view was a bit spotty at first (as you can see above), but it cleared pretty quickly:

Still, I think I preferred the view from the parking lot, so we made our way back down, and realizing it was getting pretty darn close to sunset time, we opted to stay for the big show - along with MANY other photographers, all waiting for the money shot:

I think they got their money shots, and I'm pleased to say I found a few of my own:

Not a bad end at all to a day in the Smoky Mountains, I'd say. :)

From here we made our way down Clingmans Dome Road, and back into the town of Gatlinburg, which is a destination unto itself - I would describe it as sort of "Niagara Falls of the South" - (with the natural attraction of course being the Smokies, instead of the Falls), with countless tourist attractions such as the Gatlinburg Sky Lift

Gatlinburg Sky Lift
As you can see, the Sky Lift attraction is basically a chair lift up one of the many mountains that surrounds the town of Gatlinburg, which offers a gorgeous view of the surroundings and the town nestled in the valley below. I believe it operates year round, and it even does weddings!  (I take it Gatlinburg is, much like Niagara Falls, a honeymoon destination - so you can do it ALL here!)  

There is also a similar attraction - an Alpine style gondola ride up to the top of the Gatlinburg mountains, Ober Gatlinburg:

In the winter this appears to be transportation to the area's ski hills, as well as offering that spectacular view: 

Beautiful Gatlinburg
We didn't have a lot of time to spend in Gatlinburg, but one of the most fun things we did while there was sample some good ol' southern moonshine! There are at least three fine moonshine establishments in town, we visited two of them - Ole Smoky Distillery:

Both these distilleries offered tastings of their products, and believe me, this is NOT your grandfather's moonshine!  While it definitely packs an alcohol content punch, this moonshine is brewed in deliciously creative flavours such as "Butterscotch Gold", "Peanut Butter & Jelly", and our personal favourite (at Sugarlands), "Applachian Apple Pie". OMG people, it really tasted like apple pie!!  By the time we sampled a thimbleful of every available flavour, they had us right where they wanted us, and we left the store with three (mason!) jars of moonshine, and an assortment of wearable merch. Seriously - even if you don't drink, these places are worth the visit just for the fun and atmosphere alone. At Ole Smoky, we got comfy in some rocking chairs, and sat back and enjoyed their house bluegrass band, who were FANTASTIC: 

A truly authentic Tennessee experience, and yet another musical treat.  I'm telling you, there must be something in the Tennessee water that makes this state so musically inclined (or maybe it's the moonshine?)  Whatever it is, we were thoroughly charmed by Gatlinburg's hospitality, and the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains.  There's something for everyone here, young or old, or anywhere in between - and our visit to this part of the state only cemented our desire to return again for more in the future.

Tennessee, you are the BEST. :)


  1. Hmmm. you always visit the most interesting places - or find the most interesting things to do in the places you visit. Think I should hire you as my travel agent! Another thing to add to your resume :-)
    Always enjoy your blogs and beautiful pics. Just really jealous that your hair has turned a lovely white/grey. I keep telling myself I will chop mine off and be done with the head poisoning, but my "natural" color now is unfortunately an ugly steel grey. Perhaps some day I will find the nerve...
    Keep well - keep blogging.
    Your old (and getting older) friend Debbie ox

  2. Debbie! So good to hear from you. Glad you're enjoying the blogs - it seems I do actually have a VERY small readership, and lovely to know I'm connecting with old friends through them. As you can tell I haven't made up my mind what this blog is about - grey hair? travel? random shit? (haha I think the latter) At any rate it's a good outlet for writing and photography, both of which I enjoy.

    Hey, ditching the dye isn't for everyone! Mom is still a bottle blonde at 80 years old, and looks fantastic (we are regularly mistaken for sisters - great for her, not so great for me! haha)- so just do whatever makes you feel best. God knows at this stage of the game hair dye is the least of our worries! :)

    Hope I've inspired you to check out Tennessee - it really is one of the best trips I think we've ever taken. I think I'll tackle a post about our time in Memphis next...

    Wonderful to hear from you! My best to you and your ever-expanding family! xo :)

  3. hey there bloggy buddy! gorgeous photos! i may have mentioned before that i have family in tennessee. great state to visit!

  4. Hi Tracie! Why thank you - easy to take gorgeous photos in that part of the world. Lucky you, I'd like to have an excuse to visit more often...I really do feel like I left a little piece of my heart there. :)