If not for three things we would have literally stayed in the mountains. The doors are closing at the end of this month where my husband works. Fortunately for us he has enough years in to retire. We have long contemplated retiring to the Smokies - if not for three things. Number one is Mason our first born grandchild - nearing two years of age and a whopping two minutes older than our second reason - Garrett - grandson number 2, closely followed by reason number three - Jake who is nearing the three month mark. Those three things held us back and sent us on the road back south to the beach. I just can't imagine leaving while they are this age and doing new things everyday and especially since they have learned to say Love You Nana! The Smokies while awesome, just couldn't compete. As for the trip - as always it was wonderful. While we expected the mountains to be devoid of color and the leaves to have dropped - that was not the case. In pockets in the lower elevation we were able to see vivid yellows, bright orange and a lot of red still remaining. We would go along a stretch of road and think the color is gone only to find it a few hunred yards up the road. There was no rhyme nor reason for the areas where color remained - much would be on the same elevation and an area left bare only to find trees still boasting color a few yards away.
Our first trip as always was to Cades Cove. We saw literally herds of deer, but alas only four bucks throughout our stay. Instead of bear jams we were faced with many a buck jam. At the old homeplace and the store/cabin midway around, there was a sorghum making demonstration complete with what I would have called a mule but the owner informed us was a Belgium - at least I didn't call it a Clydesdale like one visitor. There was a blacksmithing demonstration as well and some young ranger (soon to be) that were giving talks about furs of some of the animals in the park and some that were no longer in the park, i.e. wolves. We left the cove to return to our cabin. Being rapid Alabama fans and yes I meant to say rabid and not avid, we needed to be home in time to watch the Alabama/LSU game. Imagine our dismay when we arrived only to find it had been preempted by the Georgia game. My husband was literally mourning and frantically searching the cabin for a radio to listen to the game. I recovered a little quicker and ran to the car and headed to Pigeon Forge to shop at my favorite store - Christmas Place. Let me tell you I did some damage at that store. Luckily or not - the things I purchased fit into one small bag so hubbie never asked what the total purchase price had been. He wrongly assumed that with such a small bag the damage couldn't have been that great. Fortunate for me he has never looked at the price tag on those hand blown glass ornaments that I buy each year. He'd never let me go back if he ever checked out the prices and thankfully he loves to sit in the rockers placed strategically outside for the less than interested male shoppers. Thinking the entire game had been preempted, I remained in town and shopped a number of the stores. I went to all the little shops behind Old Mill and found one Western Wear Shop on the strip that was having a huge sale. I couldn't resist purchasing "real" cowboy boots for the boys along with "cowboy cut" wrangler jeans in size 2Ts that were just precious. Let me tell you, when I brought those home, two little fellows immediately began shucking their crocs and put on those boots. There is nothing cuter than almost two year old twins trying to walk in their first pair of cowboy boots (with heels that were over an inch and pointy toes). They looked slightly drunk, but nevertheless precious in t shirts, sagging pampers and a pair of boots. I have pictures to prove the cuteness of the entire episode, but I regress. After a few hours of shopping I returned to the cabin to find a much happier husband, because the game had finally come on and he had only missed the first quarter. I was there for the important stuff - the win in overtime. After the game I pulled out the chili that I had made at home and packed for the evening. We heated it up, ate in front of the TV, made hot chocolate and finally decided to explore our cabin and decide where to sleep. We had done a VRBO and it had three bedrooms for us to choose. The cabin was comfortable, reasonably priced and the owners were great to deal with.
The next morning I was up well before daylight, making coffee, preparing a hearty breakfast and packing a picnic lunch. We had decided to go to Cataloochee by way of Cosby. Word to the warning - this route is not for the faint of heart or anyone with bladder control issues, maybe TMI, but along the route for those ladies in the 50 plus age range you can understand - but I tightened my bra straps. Several of the rocky bounces had me biting my tongue, literally and this went on for it seemed 100 miles though in reality was just over 30. We chose to go the scary/sheer drop route on the way out - while narrow, the road was much better. On the plus side for the Cosby route, we didn't meet a single car the entire way. After driving over the road we now know why. We did stop for a short hike to the Baptist Church - I had read about the trail in the "Smokies Life" magazine. It was worth the effort. We continued into Cataloochee and right before the Ranger's House to the right, barely in the woods and within spitting distance I saw the first elk - three bulls - one standing and two laying. Since we seemed to be the only humans around, we stopped the car and within just feet in the safety of our vehicle watched the elk as they lay there on that cold morning (it was 33 degrees according to my car's thermometer). I snapped several pictures and then we moved on. We stopped just after passing the Beech school to take a picture of some beautiful reds in the trees and it wasn't until I was reviewing the photos that I noticed what I had not noticed while snapping the pictures - a whole herd of elk (cows and calves) laying in the edge of the woods. Needeless to say we turned back around, stopped and got out our binoculars to count. We went further in - walked to a couple of cemtaries on the side of the hill and wondered just hard it was to carry a casket up that steep hillside. Those people were really tough. It was hard to make it up the hill with good shoes, a walking stick and nothing but ourselves to haul up. I can't imagine carrying a pine box with the deceased. After leaving Cataloochee, we set Podunk to head to Maggie Valley. Podunk is our GPS and we named her Podunk after a trip to the mountains the first year we had her. I told my husband I didn't believe she could find every little Podunk road and even private drives - but she did. She's always right - even when you think she's wrong - she's right. She has taken us down one lane pigtrails that we just knew would lead to nowhere when we asked her to find alternate routes around Gatlinburg - she took us out through a one lane road from Roaring Fork and through a RV park that skirted the entire town. While we drove on that road - we just knew she was wrong - but she was right on the money. Thus she earned her name Podunk. Well Podunk took us unerringly to Maggie Valley where we stopped a few places along the way and we chose to take the Blue Ridge Parkway back and still had time to get in yet another trip to Cade's Cove. Again, we saw plenty of deer and just awesome glimpses of nature and beauty. I never tire of riding through time after time. We left the Cove and after reading great reviews on Calhouns we went there for dinner. I can't believe how reasonable the prices are. My husband got a rack of ribs for just over $12.. and they were falling off the bone and delicious. Our bread basket included garlic rolls, biscuits, and corn muffins. We were nearly stuffed before the meal arrived and it was delicious. A great bargain and great food. Now I must also give my props for a roadside vendor in Wear's Valley. Just on the mainroad there is a vendor that has tents set up with fresh produce, the best fried peanuts you can find, kettle corn that you can watch them pop while you wait, jellies, preserves, hillbilly taffy and a huge smoker filled with pork that has been pulled and your choice or sweet or spicy barbecue sauce. The buns they will toast or leave soft and they are huge and they pile on mounds of lean pork. We picked up two sandwiches to take out on a picnic one day and they were awesome. I didn't ask the price, but we purchased two sandwiches, a box of taffy and the cost for all was $9.00. We went further down the road and stopped at the Rocky Top Barn in Wears Valley and picked up a pound of fudge - I got mixed varieties and got a half pound free. I'm still eating on that fudge and it's some of the best I have found anywhere in the Smokies.
We came home, lit a fire, drank hot chocolate, sat in the hot tub for a while and headed off to bed. Refreshed and ready to go the next morning, we got out and went to the Heritage Museum in Townsend. If you haven't been - you really should go. Outside they have old cabins, smoke houses, stills, sawmill, etc. Inside they have a room dedicated to transportation in the Smokies and it has old mail carriers, buggies, wagons, a short movie on how they made the roads, old road graders and plows, etc. In the auditorium they had a wonderful short movie on the history of the Smokies. They had classrooms, a gift shop with crafts and wears from the smokies, great blacksmith items, pottery, etc. Inside they had wonderful exhibits, quilts, replicas of homes, medicine in the Smokies, archaelogical sites and items found BC and AD - very interesting and only $6.00. We became so engrossed we spent around three hours perusing the exhibits. AFter we left we decided to head out back routes and went the Foothill Parkway and drove the Tail of the Dragon. We came back country routes and turned around and then headed back toward Maryville and drove the backroads again. We just love the scenery. We came back through Townsend and were tossing around the idea of either going to Miss Lily's Cafe to the Black Bear Grill in Wear's Valley. We decided on Miss Lily's. The ambience was nice and there was a group of young people on the front lawn playing tag football. The food was good, but the lunch menu was pretty limited. I was hoping for a little more variety and I'm going to make my first real complaint. First off they were out of the special and the waitress told me they were out but that it had been replaced and she would check and see what it was. After looking at the menu and seeing that only sandwiches and soup was offered as a lunch item when she returned I asked what they had changed the special to. She gave this huge audible sigh and said I'll have to go ask. She huffed back to the kitchen and came out and said and I quote, "you'll get a slice of pot roast and a piece of white bread for $8.99". Well I opted for the chicken salad on a hot croissant and it was delicious. We ordered and split a bowl of hot potato soup and it was good - just not as good as mine. My husband ordered the Rueben and the waitress told him they were out of rueben so he made another choice. Not three minutes later two couples in and came and sat to the table immediately by us. They ordered and one of the men ordered a Rueben. She told him they were out and he said something to the effect that he really had his heart set on Rueben so she acqueienced and told him they had the stuff to make them - she just really didn't want to slice anymore corned beef. Now my husband is easy going so he didn't want to say anything, but I was a little ticked off that they had the makings, but she didn't want to slice anymore meat. I wanted to send back his second choice and insist on a Rueben, but he said not to bother. The sandwich comes out for the man and it's filled thick with corned beef and gooey cheese and sauerkraut and my husband is sitting with a hard roll with a slice of ham and a slice of beef brisket. I won't go back to Miss Lily's - not because of the food - it was good - but because of a less than personable and attentive waitress. - Off my soapbox now. We left and went to Country Tonite - show was great. Went back home and next morning went shopping for more souveniers for the boys. Went again to Cade's Cove, bummed around for the day going here and there and that evening went into Gatlinburg to see the Christmas Lights and then followed up by going to Pigeon Forge to see their lights. The next morning we packed and headed back home, asking Podunk to take us the back road routes. We came through a good portion of northwestern Georgia, bypassed Birmingham and Montgomery taking more scenic routes and ended up at home in time to see the boys before they went to bed. We gathered up Garrett as it was his time to spend the night with nana and paw paw and headed home, grandson in tow. Last night I began searching for cabis for our Spring Break trip to the mountains. This time we'll be taking all three of the boys as well as our daughters. Had a wonderful time and yes we still saw color. We were not disappointed at all.