Trip to the Smoky Mountains

BE WARNED: This is quite possibly the longest post I’ve ever written.

In April, our family from overseas came to visit after sixteen years. We had a wonderful time with them! The month seemed too short to get everything that we had planned out done, but it was lovely just spending time together.

Since it had been so long since they had come, my parents planned a four-day trip to the Smoky Mountains. As a family, we haven’t done many road trips (the last road trip we went on was about thirteen years ago) so you can imagine our excitement. We rented a lodge situated in the mountains in Tennessee and spent a long time deciding which places we would visit. Our plan was to leave Wednesday morning, drive through Indiana and Kentucky and arrive in Tennessee. We would then stay for two days and return on Saturday.

It took us a full day to arrive in Gatlinburg, the town ten miles from our lodge. We had rented a 15-seater van as there were thirteen of us and we needed the two extra seats for our food and our bags. (That’s our family for you. All about the food 😀) The drive itself took nine hours, but with all the stops we took for lunch, bathroom breaks and gas, it totaled up to eleven. It was a fun drive though; the car was filled with chatter, laughter and the never-ending music that my grandfather and uncles played. As we drove through Indiana, we noticed the landscape progressively becoming more lush. By the time we were in Kentucky, there were flowers everywhere and everything was transformed. We left Chicago behind in the early stages of spring, everything still brown but little buds were just beginning to appear on the trees so it was interesting to see the landscape changing as we drove.

DSC_0038.JPG
This was taken either just before we crossed the border between Illinois and Indiana or just after. Notice the brown landscape with green slowly creeping up.
DSC_0071.JPG
And look at the difference! This one was taken while we were driving so it’s a bit blurry.

A few more pictures taken while we were on the road…

DSC_0093

DSC_0112

DSC_0113

We arrived at the lodge by nightfall. Like an idiot, I didn’t take any proper pictures of the outside or the inside and the ones that I did take have family members in them. I was so irritated at myself when I got back home. But the long and short of it was that it was a lovely house, three floors with a game room downstairs, plus a home theater.

The next morning, we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast and drove down to FireFox Mountain to do some zip lining. I’ve never done zip lining before and I’m not great with heights so I was really nervous. I knew though, that if I didn’t do it I would regret it. BUT WOW. What an experience. I wasn’t allowed to take my camera with me but the view was phenomenal. We went through seven zip lines, each one longer and higher than the one before it and once we got to the sixth-oh my. Just the speed at which I was going and the height at which I was at was enough to leave me breathless. When I looked left and saw thousands of trees just standing there, the tops in line with my head, I was overcome with this mix of wonder and elation and I lost my breath. I even screamed a few times, screams of pure ecstasy that were lost with the wind. It was such an adventure and I’m so glad I did it.

We came home around noon, ate some lunch and set off again, heading to Clingman’s Dome.

DSC_0121
Photos taken on the drive to Clingman’s Dome.
DSC_0122
Credit to my sister for this photo. She was sitting at the back of the van and therefore had a better view of the forest behind us. Check out her blog here.

Clingman’s Dome, if you haven’t heard of it, is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at 6,644 feet above sea level. Part of it is in North Carolina and part of it is in Tennessee and we ended up driving on the side in North Carolina. We drove up most of the way and then we had to walk half a mile in order to get to to an observation deck which was at the top of the mountain.

DSC_0141
Photos taken on the walk up.

DSC_0137

The walk got a little tiring as it was about 85°F and the path was rather steep. But we took breaks along the way and the view from there was well worth the walk.

DSC_0178

DSC_0180
Don’t the mountains look dreamy?
DSC_0184
Panoramic shot

Walking back down felt easier (I was constantly fighting the urge to run down) but as my mother and aunt kept reminding us, going downhill is harder on the knees and so we were walking with much control. My cousin realized later that walking backwards was easier on the knees and though the adults disapproved at first, (“You’ll walk off the edge of the path!”) after a while we were all walking backwards down the mountain. It was quite amusing.

We decided to spend some time in downtown Gatlinburg before we headed back home. By now, the evening had cooled down considerably and we had a lovely time walking through the streets and peering into the shops. The town is built in a quaint style and with the mountains looming over it, it was quite picturesque. Again, the few pictures I took in the town had family members in them, but I cropped them out of one of the pictures just so you get an idea of how it looks. Not the best, but better than nothing.

DSC_0242.JPG

DSC_0239.JPG

And that concluded our first day in the Smokies.

The next day, we went an Alpine Coaster. (Once again, something out of my comfort zone) It was a coaster situated in the mountain where the view was spectacular. I wasn’t allowed to take my camera with me but it was fun. It certainly was not what we were expecting. We ended up going twice. And we are not the type of people to go on amusement park rides.

After that we went to a place called Ober Gatlinburg which was a site where they offered a tram ride to the top of the mountain. It was a 10 minute long ride and we were quite high; I could feel my ears popping due to the change in air pressure. Photos from the tram ride…

DSC_0269

DSC_0255

DSC_0264

Once you arrived at the top, you could do other things such as ice skate, see animals that had been kept in cages as they were injured and needed care, shop, (They had an arts and crafts fair going on) or go on a chair lift that took you even higher for a better view. Naturally, we chose the chair lift.

DSC_0281.JPG
Taken at the top.

We had a good view but not as spectacular as Clingman’s Dome.

DSC_0288.JPG

Overall, rather slow and took some time out of our day. But looking back, it was quite nice.

Once we got home, we had a debate as to whether we wanted to go back to downtown Gatlinburg to shop or Cades Cove, a wildlife reserve about an hour’s drive away. The debate seemed never-ending and we were running out of time until finally, my uncle put his foot down and said “Let’s just go to Cades Cove and if we don’t see any wildlife, then at least we’ll get some scenery.” That was exactly what we needed, a firm decision and as you’ll see in a bit, it was the right one.

The drive was lively, everyone being in a good mood because of the lovely weather, and also because of the chips and danishes we were eating. 🙂 Once we had entered Cades Cove, we took the turn that led us down an eleven mile drive, circling the valley. Everyone was quiet (sort of), looking out of the windows hoping to catch glimpses of birds, deer, and, we all hoped, a bear. Believe it or not, we got our wish. I remember asking my uncle who was driving to slow down, and yelling at everyone to be quiet as I had noticed a black spot in the trees. We stopped the car and stared at it. When it moved, I knew I had seen a black bear.

We all got out of the car and stood a good fifty feet away, taking pictures. Since the foliage was so thick and we were so far away, my camera couldn’t capture a good photo of the bear. But whatever I have, I cropped so you can at least see something.

DSC_0301
That black blur in the center is an American black bear.

I took a video of the bear so you can see it moving, but obviously it isn’t uploading.

Once we got back in the car, we were elated. We had seen a bear out in the wild! My little brother, having watched many documentaries about black bears, was most excited of us all. As we drove further, we spotted other animals such as wild turkeys, deer, wild horses, grouses, and, would you believe it, five more bears. One of them was a mother so she had three cubs with her. Unfortunately, they were all so far away and my lens wouldn’t zoom all the way so I couldn’t get any clear pictures. (It was hard enough getting the binoculars as everyone wanted a turn) But it was so surreal; I had never thought I would see a bear in the wild, much less a mother bear with cubs.

DSC_0429

DSC_0314
Wild horses.
DSC_0363.JPG
Near one of the bears, we saw what we thought might be a den.
DSC_0377.jpg
Once again, a cropped photo so excuse the blurriness. I think this was the mother. Her cubs were attempting to climb the trees behind her and tumbling down, it was so sweet.

A few more photos from Cades Cove…

DSC_0372

DSC_0387

DSC_0390.JPG

DSC_0368

DSC_0333.JPG

We returned home at sundown, exhausted but happy. After finishing our dinner and relaxing together in the game room for a while, everyone turned in, well except some, me included, who stayed up until two in the morning, curled up in the home theater  watching The Return of the King. (Any Lord of the Rings fans out there?)

The next day, we were back on the road, heading north to Chicago. As it was raining and the roads were extremely bumpy, I didn’t get many photos of the lovely redbud trees that had started to blossom along the highways. But what an amazing trip! I’m sure we’ll all remember it for a long time.

If you got through this extremely lengthy post, I appreciate you. 🙂

Thanks for reading and have a lovely day!

Advertisements