Monday, July 20, 2015

Saying goodbye to Tennessee and hello to Virginia...

As we left the area around Gatlinburg, we still had a couple of stops I wanted to make before we left the beautiful state of Tennessee...A couple of "must sees" on my list!

You know how we like to visit "factory tours", or at least see where, if not how, things are made!  Well, Bush's Best Beans are made in Chestnut Hill Tennessee, not all that far from where we were headed, how about that!  So, off we went!  Unfortunately, they didn't offer a factory tour, but they did have a great Visitor's Center, that included a wonderful museum of sorts that told you their history and showed about "how it all started" and how's it's done!  We probably spent an hour or more there, going through it all.  We even got ourselves weighed in beans!  Lots of opportunities to get your picture taken (they even give you a free one to take with you!)  One of the surprising things, I thought, was that they didn't start out in the "bean" business!  Did you know that?  They actually started out in the "canning" business...and by hand, at that!  Each one was soldered individually by hand.  They canned tomatoes, and other vegetables long before they discovered that beans were the way of the future.

 They started canning tomatoes in 1904, and didn't start canning beans until 1969!  They are still a family owned and operated business.  It was a fun stop, and now we know more about beans than we ever new before!

As we continued north, we came to the town of Harrogate, where the Abraham Lincoln Library & Museum is located.  He's my most favorite President, and I was so glad to finally be near enough to get to his library!  It's actually on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial University, which is interesting.  It's a small library, but done very nicely.  It had some furniture, and Mary Todd's china along with some of their clothing.  But mostly it was paintings of him, maps of the time, speeches he made, and lots about the Civil War of course.  I loved one note from the gentleman who ran the telegraph office that said he got to know the President "on a personal level" since he came every day, and stayed there most all day long, writing/composing.  Once, he remembered, he would sit, write a line or two, then look out for long moments and ponder, then write another line, and then ponder some more.  He asked the President what he was writing about, and he answered, "I'm writing a speech to end the war".  It turned out to the the Gettysburg Address.  Wow.

Our last stop we ended our stay at, and that was at The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  The Cumberland Gap itself covers three states:  Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky.  Depending on the drive, and the moment, you could be in any of the three states!  Our campground was in Virginia, the Cumberland Gap National Park Visitor's Center was in Tennessee, and the grocery store down the street was in Kentucky!  ;-)  What a beautiful place though!  We thought we would spend a couple of days there at their National Park Campground, and ended up spending a full week.  Most of the time we were only one of maybe 4 other campers in the whole park!  The only time it ever got busy was on Saturday, when "weekenders" came in, and they brought in a great bluegrass group for our evening entertainment, then the place was hopping!

We spent several days just driving through the many thousands of acres of beautiful forests, hills, rock formations, wildflowers, valleys and great vistas.  We had a few rainy days where we just sat back and read our books and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the quiet nature around us.  The campground was gorgeous in and of itself, it was hard to leave it.

Cumberland Gap Tunnel VA
Fern Lake KY
L-R: TN, (bottom: VA) KY - The "Gap" is the area along the ridge on the right
Benge's Gap, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park VA

Eventually, it was time to "break camp" and move on...through West Virginia (which, by the way, have very few campgrounds!) and on to Pennsylvania to visit with family for a bit!

...kicking back in PA,   Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our last days in the Great Smoky Mountains

With just a few days left in The Great Smoky Mountains, we still had a couple of places we wanted to see!  Our campground was nicely situated where we could easily get to Knoxville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg easily (we were already in Sevierville which is where Dolly was born, don't ya know!).  So, with our list in hand, we set out to check out the towns! 
Weather played a big part in what we did first...Dollywood was big on our list, but since it was going to be a "full day" outdoors, we needed to make sure to save it for a day it wasn't going to rain.  So far, this week, the weather proved to be an "on & off" rain cloud variety - one best to do "other things" we chose to "wait" on Dollywood til later in the week..

So...we went shopping!  Now, Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge aren't "our" kind of places, actually.  They're best for young families...the kind that have kids who enjoy lots of miniature golf, dinner shows, Wonderworks, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not, etc.  But, Gatlinburg does have an 8-mile loop off of it's main road that is called Great Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts Community that has about 120 artists from the local Appalachian Mountains.  Wonderful drive and terrific artists!  We found a great wedding present for our nephew and his bride-to-be this fall.  I think something "hand-made" is so much more special than what anyone can buy at a commercial store, don't you?  All the artists were in homes, tucked in along the creek & trees, it was a lovely drive and so nice to be away from the main road that screamed "tourist $$!" 

Outside one of the artist's shops

Our next visit was to Knoxville.  Very different! It was so much more metropolitan, and no "screaming tourist $$!" at you!  Nice.  Hard to find parking tho...But we managed.  We had read about a noon radio show being broadcast at their Visitor Center downtown, called the "Blue Plate Special", so we headed to that as soon as we got settled.  Good thing we got there at 11:30, because the place was filling up fast!  Two groups were playing that day, both bluegrass groups (we love bluegrass!) but get this, one was from Sweden and the other from Iceland!  I guess "the world" loves bluegrass!  Each group played for about a half hour, and they were each great!  What a treat!  Jack spoke with the banjo player from Dunderhead (Sweden) and asked him what got him interested in playing bluegrass & banjo, he said he heard Earl Scruggs when he was 7 years old, and after that, started looking for a banjo in Sweden!  Wow, amazing, huh? 
Dunderhead, from Sweden
Arstioir, from Iceland
After we left there, I had read about an old Victorian cemetery, so we went in search,  The Old Gray Cemetery was established in 1850 and absolutely beautiful. The massive oaks and hackberry trees are part of a wide variety of trees and vegetation here that are living witnesses to the history of Knoxville since before the Civil War at which time this area was an open pasture.  Some of the headstones here are pure art...

We also made a stop at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville.  They had a wonderful exhibit called "Voices of the Land" that had everything from the Civil War with a cabin you could walk into, right up to an 1800's trolley and pharmacy with a soda fountain you could walk into.  Lots of recordings of people and experiences, crossing through the Cumberland Gap, the music, just about everything.  Very nicely done.
Virginia Road Wagon
"Betsy", David Crockett's First Rifle
Well, with the rain gone, by the end of the week...we finely made it to Dollywood!  Yea!  Well worth the wait too!  We pretty much filled our day with music & food!  We caught every show they had, and all were great (of course!), and each just different enough.  Her "My People" is fun in that her brother, sister, two nieces and two cousins are in it and she appears above in a video that is so well done you almost forget it's not "live".  Her museum is fun to go through as well as her RV (especially since we have one to "compare" to:  Hers has a well lit dressing room tho!).  They did have one really unusual show, we'd never seen anywhere, and that was a "bubble" show.  We couldn't take any pictures, and you wouldn't think "blowing bubbles" wouldn't be that amazing, but I have to tell you, what this guy does with bubbles and lasers is truly amazing!  After 7 hours, we called it a day.  A nice way to end our stay in the Great Smoky Mountains...

"My People" (sister, niece, brother, cousins)
Dolly's "coat of many colors" in her Chasing Rainbows Museum
The make-up spot in Dolly's Home-on-Wheels
Dolly's Childhood Home
...kicking back in Tennessee,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee

Eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina rise up to greet each other in a mighty panorama of rugged mountain peaks along the southern spine of the Appalachian Mountains.  Wave upon wave of mountain ridges are separated by deep valleys.  This amazing natural landscape has been preserved for all of us to enjoy.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park within the US, with almost ten million visitors a year.  Its two main entrances are from Cherokee, NC and from Gatlinburg, TN next door to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville where we entered it from.  Covering over 520,000 acres, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranges from the pastoral meadows of Cades Cove, which measures 840 feet above sea leavel at its lowest point, up to Clingmans Dome, the park's highest peak at 6,643 feet.  The Great Smoky Mountains has over 36 miles of continuous mountain ranges reaching heights above 5,000 feet, making it the largest stretch of high land in the eastern US.

The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world.  Worn down over time, its peaks are now covered with an abundant carpet of trees, pines, shrubs and plants.  Over 100 species of native trees and more than 1500 flowering plant species can be found in the Smokies.

Birthed during the Great Depression, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established by the US Congress on June 15, 1934, and dedicated by President Franklin D Roosevelt at Newfound Gap in 1940.  This particular park was carved from the homesteads of families as well as the forced closure of logging businesses.  All the land had to be bought and paid for; school children of the time even donated their lunch pennies.  A number of historical homes and farms have been preserved to represent the hard-working early settlers.

Unlike a lot of other national parks (Yellowstone, for instance) there are not a lot of wild life roaming around for visitors to view easily.  There are estimated to be 1500 black bear, along with a small herd of about 130 elk.  After nearly vanishing from the eastern US by the mid-1960s as a result of widespread pesticide use, peregrine falcon reintroduction efforts in the Smokies have resulted in recovery of a small population in the park.  River otters were also reintroduced in the park after a 70-year absence. does have over 200 species of birds, 66 types of mammals, 50 fish species, 39 varieties of reptiles and 43 species of amphibians!  ;-)

We were just excited to see a young bear trying to cross the road in front of us!  Once he saw us, he quickly scurried away though...(but we did get to see him!)

One of the things I wanted to "see for myself" was if the mountains really did look blue "in person", like all the pictures showed!  I had seen lots of ads for the Great Smoky Mountains, and they always showed the iconic scene of the mountain range all misty in shades of blue.  I'd always wondered if that was done on a certain day early on a fall morning, when the weather was "just right", and that it wasn't something one sees very often.  So, when we arrived and got set up in our campground, I was anxious to "go to the mountains"!

Doing my research, I learned that there are several driving tours of the Smokies you can take, each one taking a full day, and each very different from the other.  So, we decided to do the Newfound Gap Road first.  This one was more "natural sights" vs "man-made" sights.  It also started at the lowest elevation and took you to the highest.  This gave us the best view of those "blue mountains"...and yes, the views are blue!  ...and beautiful, really beautiful.  It made me just want to stand there and stare at them forever...I really was in awe.  I've really never seen anything quite like it before.  It's almost mystical...

But, one must move on... after all, there were other sights to see here...

Our second trip was into Cades Cove.  This secluded, flat little valley is only 4000 acres in size and is sheltered by the mountain ridges.  It's a wonderful 11-mile, one-way loop that follows the outer edge of the cove through intermittent woods, sheltered fields and historical buildings.

By the mid 1800s there were 132 families (about 500 people) farming the precious flat land in the cove.  Today, Cades Cove is home to one of the most complete collections of historic structures in Southern Appalachia, letting visitors see firsthand how people subsistence-farmed and lived off the land.  Early churches, homes, mills, barns and even cemeteries are left just as there were.   

Carter Shields cabin (c1910)
Missionary Baptist Church (c1915)
John P Cable Grist Mill (c1870)
Each tour came with a self-guiding tour booklet that told you all about each stop, which was wonderful.  I especially enjoyed the one for Cades Cove because it shared all the personal stories about each of the houses and the people who had lived in them.  My favorite was the Walker home (1841-1921).   John and his wife had 11 children.  Six of the children were girls,five never married.  Eventually the home passed along to them and they all stayed in it together.  In the 1930s, the commission responsible for acquiring land for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the Walker sisters to sell the homestead.  To avoid negative publicity, the commission finally opted not to force the Walkers off via eminent domain.  The Walker sisters eventually sold the farm in 1941 in exchange for a lifetime lease.  Legend claims the sisters were paid a visit by President Franklin Roosevelt, who convinced them to sell the land.   (don't you just love it!)

Walker Home (c1841)

As I've said after every visit to a National Park, thank you, thank you to our fore fathers for saving these beautiful lands for us, and our children and their children to enjoy!

...kicking back in Tennessee,  Marie

 If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: