Category Archives: Travel

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Main drag: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Main drag: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

December 1, 2013:  Gatlinburg, Tennessee, well is Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Every parent’s vacation nightmare.  The amount of money that could be dropped in this area on a vacation is unthinkable.  My problem is that I would rather take the kids through Cades Cove and not to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  I’m sure though, they would rather see the world’s longest earthworm instead of some old log buildings and the off-chance of spotting a bear.

Fifteen years ago Gatlinburg was big and busy.  Our visit welcomed a larger, cleaner Gatlinburg, disturbingly but enjoyably quiet.  Being the weekend after Thanksgiving, the town and surroundings were peaceful and empty. This is something I would never believe I would say about this tourist’s paradise.  I have been here when you could not find a place to park and walking on the sidewalk was akin to being in a pinball machine.


Ripley’s has expanded, 5 Guys is there now.  And of course the numerous overpriced gift shops.  These gift shops do not have the quaint feel that is received from a little mom and pop place that you find in an obscure out-of-the-way destination.  There was a small arts and crafts show going on. And it was quiet.

I could not talk Jennifer into taking the Aerial Tramway up to Ober Gatlinburg, so we drove up.  I have never seen this ski area before.  Fortunately they had just opened 2 days earlier and was the earliest they had ever opened.  They had 14” of artificial snow.  There is a little mall inside and a skating rink.  They also have an Alpine Slide they use in the summer, a water slide and few smaller amusements.  Kind of disappointing for $5 we paid to park, but growing up skiing, it brought back some very old memories.

Definitely wanting to go back to the Smokies, but Gatlinburg is just not my thing.

Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap Road

Another view from the ramp at the observation tower.
Another view from the ramp at the observation tower.

December 1, 2013: Over the past 30 years I have been to the Smokey Mountains probably 7-8 times, in all seasons except winter or close to winter.  If you have never been, it is worth the drive, however going at peak times can make it miserable.  Being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it was almost deserted.

We headed off early Sunday morning from Maggie Valley for the trek over the mountain from Cherokee, North Carolina, through Newfound Gap, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It is probably one of the most memorable scenic drives I have ever been on.  It is a different experience each time and the experience changes depending on the direction you are driving.  There are numerous pull offs, waterfalls and tunnels.

Heading from Cherokee to Newfound Gap is a much more direct and straighter route than going down the backside in to Gatlinburg.  One of the drawbacks to this auto excursion is being the driver trying to take in all the views without driving off the side of the mountain.  Fortunately there are plenty of places to pull off the road.

The road from Newfound gap to Clingman's Dome
The road from Newfound gap to Clingman’s Dome

Just before Newfound Gap, there is a turn off for a 7 mile drive to Clingmans Dome.  We were luck as this was the last day of the season this road would be open.  This drive is along the mountain ridge parallel to the Appalachian Trail.  This is an incredible drive with awesome views.  There was snow and ice in many places, and most of the tree limbs were covered in ice.  We came across one rock face that was a solid sheet of ice, amazing!  The parking lot affords more spectacular views.  During a previous visit years ago, this parking lot was above the clouds towards North Carolina, but it was clear towards Tennessee.  Today it was clear for 360 degrees with clouds miles away that we were above.  Reaching the parking lot was easy, now the hike to the observation tower.

Start of the trail.
Start of the trail.

The hike up to the dome is a half mile, very steep walk and it seemed that it lasted forever.  It is nicely paved but you can certainly feel the reduced oxygen and the nicely spaced benches were very welcoming.  I used each and every bench and the views were absolutely unbelievable and indescribable.  The pictures do not do them justice.  The trail finally leveled off and turned right where we joined the Appalachian Trail for a few hundred yards.  There were a few spots that were completely covered in ice and required fancy footwork to cross.

Observation tower from the bottom of the ramp.
Observation tower from the bottom of the ramp.

The observation tower was finally in sight, a 54 foot high concrete tower built in the early 1960’s that has a curving ramp to the top.  At the top of the tower it was very windy and cold, but after the trek we were sweating so it was not too bad.  Being a clear day we had tremendous views.  I think of all the times I have been here, this was the only time I had a complete 360 degree view.

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet.. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647 feet), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher.

Apparently there have been several plane crashes into the mountain in this area.  In the early morning hours of June 12, 1946, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress crashed near the summit of Clingmans Dome, killing all twelve aboard.

The walk back to the parking lot was much easier however it worked the “brake” muscles, so I could be sore all over.  Walking back gave a different perspective on the scenery.  I remember turning the corner and seeing the parking lot way down there.  So that is what a half mile with a 300 foot descent looks like.

At the bottom, near the parking lot, is a gift shop and book store.  Inside was a fireplace and several park rangers serving hot cider and cookies.  Nice little cozy resting stop after the hike.

We left and made the 7 mile drive back to Newfound Gap and headed down the Mountain to Gatlinburg.  The drive down seems much steeper and definitely requires a slower speed due to more curves and some areas of snow.  This side has great views and a few tunnels.  The times I have seen bears in the past were along this stretch.

Three hours after we left our hotel we arrived in Gatlinburg.

Maggie Valley, North Carolina

The infamous "Ghost Town in the Sky"
The infamous “Ghost Town in the Sky”

When we decided we desperately needed a break, my first thoughts were to just hit the road and find a small town motel along the way.  It being Saturday after Thanksgiving, I became a little concerned about availability and started looking on Priceline.  I started looking at Harrah’s in Cherokee, North Carolina and they are booked up on weekends until August.  I started looking further away and just was not getting anything reasonably priced.  I finally found a Bates Motel looking place in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.  I was familiar with the town as I remember seeing billboards advertising the Ghost Town in the Sky.  You park at the base of the mountain and ride a chairlift to the amusement park at the top of the mountain.  So I booked a room at Travelowes Motel.

The hotel and room wasn’t too bad.  It took about 2 hours to heat up the room; I am very sure the room had been vacant and the heat off for a while.  We were in a little 2 story wood constructed annex on the bottom floor right next to the highway.  I am certain they rented the room above us to either snowboarders or a couple of yetis.  Every step they took sounded like they were playing whack-a-mole with their feet.  Each time I got tired of the constant banging over my head, I just turned on our bathroom exhaust fan as it sounded like an F-5 taking off and rattled the building like a F5 tornado.  That’ll teach em!!

Our hotel
Our hotel

Apparently, my concern of finding a vacancy was a bit over dramatic as this place was deserted.  I just knew there had been a zombie outbreak and I had to find the nasty buggers. Most of the touristy gift shops were closed for the season and the ones that were open that we visited, we appeared to be the only patrons.  The Ghost Town was closed for the season.  This was confusing, Santa’s Land (an amusement park/zoo) was closed for the season.  Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought December was Santa’s season.  Most of the restaurants were closed. What to do…..

[There was one attraction that just opened probably in the last week.  On the side of a hill facing the main drag was hill covered in snow, man-made snow, but still snow.  There were about a dozen or so “snow tracks” where people were riding down the slope on inner tubes, having a blast.  On the left side of the slope was a people mover taking people and their tubes to the top.  Pretty cool.

On the subject of snow, the storm before Thanksgiving dropped a bit of snow in the area.  On the northern slopes where it does not get sun, we saw quite a bit of snow.  As we got to higher elevations there was more and very beautiful.

Harrah's Cherokee Casino
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

When we were sure the heater was blowing hot air, we changed and headed over to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.  It is a very winding road that goes up half way and then down half way.  According to the signs the half way down was at a 9% slope.  That means “holy crap brakeman!”

Jennifer had never been to a casino, but this was my 7th or 8th visit to one.  Being on a very tight budget, we each got $20 and went crazy (not really).  I immediately impressed my wife with how quick $20 could disappear on the tables.  Her being a poker player, found her happy places among the poker slot machines.  I’m still not sure how far ahead she got as she kept giving me some ones to disappear.  Anyway after an hour we had about $35.  I told her we could put it all on a table and double it or walk away and have a 2 – 3 star dinner.  She chose dinner.

The Country Vineyard Cafe, great end to a perfect day!
The Country Vineyard Cafe, great end to a perfect day!

So we took the winding road back over the mountain, this time in the dark, to find food in Maggie Valley.  As most places were closed, our choices were slim.  We found a quaint little romantic place called The Country Vineyard Café.  My intrigue was the marquee that advertises entrées starting at $9.95.  It was a pleasant and relaxing dinner even with the mandolin player, as impressive as he was, droning in our ears.  Best news was they messed up Jennifer’s order and had to remake it, so it was half price.

After dinner we went back to the room, watched a movie and crashed.  Have to get up early to drive over the mountain….

A great little town in a valley in the Smokey Mountains.  I bet it is a zoo during peak season.

Dillsboro, NC and The Jarrett House

Robert Frank Jarrett
Robert Frank Jarrett

Dillsboro came on my radar while searching for accommodations. I found a Bed and Breakfast called The Jarrett House. Jarrett being my wife’s maiden name I looked into it discovering it was fully booked and the bedrooms did not have televisions. This brought on the discovery of The Great Smokey Mountain Railroad and the train/bus wreck from the movie, The Fugitive. So this became a definite stop on our short journey.

The Jarrett House, originally called The Mount Beulah Hotel was built in 1884. In 1894 it was purchased by Robert Frank Jarrett. Mr. Jarrett, along with being the proprietor, also wrote, poems, songs and books. I’m still researching the genealogical side to see if there is any relation.

We also found the Jarrett Memorial Baptist Church in town. The Baptist built their first church here in 1888. It was destroyed by fire, Robert Frank Jarrett donated money and labor and the rock church was rebuilt in 1937 and renamed Jarrett Memorial.

The Jarrett House
The Jarrett House

Dillsboro is also the stopping point for The Great Smokey Mountain Railroad where the passengers get a lengthy layover to visit the various shops. I used that time to sneak aboard the passenger cars and sneak a peek.

Maybe in the future we can go back and stay at The Jarrett House and see more of this mountain town.






The Fugitive Train Wreck

fugitiveBefore we left for our weekend trip, I started searching the internet just to see what was on the way and any place of interest near our route.  While looking at Dillsboro, North Carolina, I found the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad stopped here and their itinerary said that you could see the Fugitive movie set along the route.  The fugitive with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones is one of my favorite movies. More searching and I found that they filmed this right in Dillsboro.  So I had to see it. This is the scene involving Kimble’s (Harrison Ford) the wreck between the prison transport bus and a freight train.

Apparently this train/bus crash cost $1,000,000 to film and used 19 cameras.  For whatever reason they just left everything there.  Across the river, where I took the pictures from is a trailer park.  Must of been an exciting night for those people.

They also used the nearby Cheoah Dam for the scene where Harrison’s character jumps from the dam.  Scenes in the hospital after Kimble initially escapes were filmed at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, North Carolina, just a few miles from Dillsboro.

This is the scene from the movie showing the train wreck:

Tallulah Falls Railroad Museum

Train depot
Train depot

I love trains, always have.  So after we flew past this on Highway 441 in Rabun Gap, Georgia, I did a u-turn and had to check it out.

Unfortunately it was closed for the season.  From what I gather from the web, this has all been built by the students from The Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School across the road.  Obviusly they have built all the track as it is a two foot (1′-11 5/8″) narrow gauge railway.  I am unable to verify if they built the depot or it is original.  Peeking through the windows, I am of the belief it is original.

The museum displays artifacts from the defunct Tallulah Falls railway that was a 57-mile line from Cornelia, Georgia to Franklin, North Carolina.

The railroad ended passenger service 1946 and freight service in 1961. A short section from Cornelia to Demorest remained in operation until about 1985.

Goats on the Roof – – – Really!

Main building
Goats on the Roof -Main building

I spend  some time doing research on some of the places I go.  A while back I was searching for information on the old paper mill ruins by my house.  I came across a website similar to mine and was browsing his galleries when I saw this place….with goats….on a roof.  I thought it was hysterical.  I did not give it much more notice or even saw if the author said where it was.

On our way to the Smokies we headed to South Carolina via Highway 441.  I looked to the left and here was this place…Goats on the Roof.  Had to check this place out and it took me a minute to figure out where I had heard about it.

There are two shops, one that sells gifts, shirts, homeade jams, plust toys, games and more.  The other is an ice cream and fudge shop, which also sells burgers and dogs and gemstones.

This place is totally silly but alot of fun.  You can even feed the goats…..on the roof!!