Chapter 36 - Fort Chiswell to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, TN
Aug 2nd, Day 60: Today we once again continued driving southwest down Interstate 81 although fortunately it was less crowded than our previous experience on this same interstate only two days earlier. The scenery was beautiful over the entire 4-hour drive at least until we arrived in the highly commercialized area of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The six lane highway leading into this city has businesses crowded on both sides of the highway hawking tourist junk culminating with the massive and extremely popular Dollywood located less than a mile from the KOA where we are spending the next two nights. Kathy and I visited this area about a decade ago and we did not think much of Pigeon Forge back then and it still holds true. Fortunately the areas surrounding this city including Gatlinburg only a few miles to the south are less commercialized and then of course, just south of Gatlinburg is the magnificently beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park which we will cross as we continue to make our way south two days from now. Our campground was not unexpectedly very crowded considering the popularity of Pigeon Forge and Dollywood but we had a nice shaded site with full services including cable TV hookup and a workable WiFi system.
Other than do a little shopping for food supplies we decided to delay our tourist activities until tomorrow morning when hopefully the streets are less crowded. Quite to our surprise however, on our way back from the supermarket, we passed and stopped to visit an old historic water-powered gristmill that began operations back around 1830. The mill originally ground up grains but by the early 1900s it was also the main source of electricity for the small town of Pigeon Forge. Today it is surrounded by all kinds of tourist junk stores and restaurants but it remains a beautiful picture from across the Little Pigeon River.
Quite to my surprise when we arrived back at our campsite a few minutes later, did I realize that we were parked only a couple of hundred feet from the banks of the Little Pigeon River and just upstream from the old mill. For the rest of the day we just relaxed although we did try and walk along the river to see if we could find the old mill although we eventually reached a fence and we had no choice but to turn around.
August 3rd, Day 61: Today we awoke to beautiful weather and knowing that during this time of year Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are very crowded we decided to set out early. The first stop we planned was to the Visitor's Center at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to get there we decided to take a bypass around the main street of Gatlinburg. The one very beautiful thing about Gatlinburg is that the mountains rise above the city on all sides and the city kinds of sits in a deep valley. The bypass took us on a winding mountain road above the city and this photograph taken around 8 am was shot from a pull-off area along the highway. The mountain in the distance is Mount Le Conte which rises to a height of 6,593 feet above sea level and it sits almost a mile higher than the Village of Gatlinburg.
The Visitor's Center offered Kathy an opportunity to purchase a few items and for me to pick up a few maps that might helps us explore the area around Gatlinburg. Since we are planning on crossing the Great Smoky Mountains tomorrow morning, we decided to delay driving any further into the Park. We did decide however, to drive up another highway into the mountains that is named the Cherokee Orchard Trail. This road is noted for its collection of old log cabins including the cabin owned by Noah "Bud" Ogle who managed a farm in this area between 1883 and 1925. The photo was taken of his old farm house. As we drove up the winding mountain road one problem that we encountered as the morning moved along was that the few parking areas where we could pull off were all filled up. In most cases the visitors were hikers who were taking advantage of the many trails covering the side of the mountain. Oh to be young again.
The winding mountain road eventually took us back into Gatlinburg giving us a chance to revisit at least from our car windows, the city where we had spent a week during the month of January about a decade earlier. Not much has changed here other than the heavy summer traffic. The many shops lining both sides of the streets we had visited during our previous stay, but today they offered us no attraction. Perhaps our having been on the road traveling for over two months has slowed us down a bit.
One of the other areas that we wanted to revisit was Gatlinburg's ski resort which is called Ober Gatlinburg and it sits high on a mountain overlooking the city. There was snow on the slopes during our previous visit but obviously not today. The activities in the area include besides just skiing, an indoor ice skating rink, an aerial tramway, a scenic chairlift ride and a few other activities all of which clearly informed us that "No Pets Allowed." Too bad. You cannot get any money from us.
Fortunately the view from Ober Gatlinburg was wonderful although the view from the Aerial Tramway might have been even better.
One of the things that we miss living in Florida are the mountains so it should not come as a surprise to admit that I took more than a dozen photos of various mountain views.
During the morning as we drove up and down the narrow roads surrounding Gatlinburg we ended up at one point by accident in a parking lot of a huge hotel overlooking the city. We decided to walk around the hotel since the views were terrific. It was here that I took the mountain view photo above as well as this photo of Kathy and Cabo and a very sweet young bear that Cabo to a liking too.
We returned to our campsite by early afternoon. It was another great morning but as always we welcomed the chance to finally just sit around and relax. I think that this photo to the left tells it all. Tomorrow we will cross the Great Smoky Mountains (if our car can handle pulling the trailer up the steep hills) and head south into another forested and mountainous area in northern Georgia. This visit will be kind of special for us since we spent six summers in this area at a cabin we owned near Blue Ridge, Georgia. These last few days will also represent for the most part, the end of our travels up and down the east coast of North America. Frankly we are both a bit tired and we look forward to returning home. Tomorrow and the next two days however, will be special. It ain't over yet.