Day One – The Adventure Begins
A Little Background on Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a veritable Mecca for tourist attraction aficionados like me; I’ve been dying to come here for a couple of years now. How could I resist the pull of a place that can boast such disparate sites as the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum (“three floors of outstanding and incredible artifacts from around the world”) and Christus Gardens (“See Greatest Story Ever Told in a series of realistic life-size dioramas; rare Bible & coin collection”), plus Hillbilly Gold (“Play the world’s most unusual miniature golf. Two 18-hole courses with challenging mountaineer hazards.”), the Mysterious Mansion of Gatlinburg (“Gatlinburg’s scariest and most exciting attraction. Come see your nightmares come true, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.”), and the World of Illusions (“The world’s largest exhibition of action packed Grande Illusions. Make a friend disappear, walk away from your shadow, see a superman use x-ray vision and much, much more.”)?
Even the Genesis (to borrow a term from Christus Gardens) of Gatlinburg is interesting. According to my favorite book, Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun by Tim Hollis, Gatlinburg “was originally called White Oak Flats, and its main business enterprise was a general store owned by one Daniel Reagan. Another character with the last name of Gatlin eventually bought the store, but he then announced that the locals could not pick up their mail at the post office (which was located in the store) unless they renamed the town after him! Hence, Gatlinburg came into being.”
9:11am: Heading Out of Lawrenceville
We pulled out of my garage at 9:11 Thursday morning to begin the short (but, it turned out, long and wonderful) drive, and after a stop at QuikTrip for a couple of cappuccinos (one hot and one frozen) and a box of Sour Patch Kids, we were off. We drove up US 23 for a couple of hours with only one bathroom stop, until we arrived in Tallulah, Georgia.
11:30am: Tallulah Gorge
Around 11:30 we took a detour onto the Tallulah Gorge Scenic Loop and stopped at Tallulah Point Overlook (“A mountain tradition since the 1920s”) to get out to gawk at Tallulah Gorge, which is a 1000-foot chasm carved out by the Tallulah River and which contains a series of five waterfalls. (The town it is in, not coincidentally, is named Tallulah Falls.) After we looked at the gorge, read about Carl Wallenda’s 1970 tight-rope walk across the chasm, and browsed in the gift shop (purchasing one Cheerwine cherry soda, a bag of peanuts, and a couple of postcards), we walked up to the Tallulah Village store and browsed some more. We finally left at around 12:30.
We didn’t get far out of Tallulah Falls before stopping for lunch at Granny’s Kuntry Kitchen in Clayton, GA, where a hand-written sign told us that “Our food is made to order. Good food takes time. You cannot be in a hurry. Especially on weekends. Chef Don.” Chef Don? I assumed that Granny did the cooking. Well, though they did take about twenty minutes to arrive (the sign was right), the grilled chicken and mashed potatoes were good anyway. After lunch we made it a little ways up the road before stopping at the Dillard Antique Mall in (guess where?) Dillard, Georgia.
Finally, at 2:48, we crossed over into North Carolina. After five and a half hours on the road, we were…well, about a hundred miles away from my driveway. But after our stop in Dillard we managed to drive for over an hour without getting out to look at anything; we drove through Cherokee, NC, passing the various tomahawk shops, teepees, and “Take your picture with a genuine Indian” stands without stopping; we were even too tired to get out and play with the baby bears.
3:55pm: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934 and was among the first national parks assembled from private lands. It’s vast, covering thousands of acres along the North Carolina and Tennessee border, and contains, according to the brochure, “1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, and more than 200 species of birds and 60 of mammals.” It also contains species of salamander that have never been found anywhere else.
Our drive through the thirty or so miles of 441 that goes through the park took about an hour and a half, mostly due to my desire to stop and take pictures at nearly every overlook. It’s not a place one wants to speed through anyway, even without a camera. It is, in places, unspeakably beautiful.
Finally, more than eight hours after our departure, we completed the 200 mile drive and arrived in Gatlinburg proper. We checked in at the East Tennessee Realty office and drove the five miles to our cabin, which was at the end of a steep gravel road that my Nissan didn’t particularly like driving. The cabin, though, was wonderful; it was well furnished, comfortable, and private and secluded.
After about an hour of unpacking and then relaxing in our cabin, we headed back to Gatlinburg, with dinner as our main objective. The strip of Gatlinburg along 441 is incredible; it is, I think, the exact opposite of a sensory deprivation chamber. There is so much to see and do, and so many people there seeing and doing, that one gets a little overloaded.
After about an hour of walking up and down the strip, we bought Ogle Dogs (foot-long corn dogs) at Fannie Farkle’s (“That’s a combination of two words,” Anna said, “one them being sparkle.”), and then went into Guinness World of Records Museum. We spent over an hour looking around, reading nearly every plaque, comparing our weight with that of the worlds heaviest man (you know, that guy they buried in a piano case) and our height with that of the world’s tallest man.
Some of the things you see in the Guinness World of Records Museum are interesting, but some of them make you shake your head and wonder what people are thinking. Did you know, for example, that there’s a world’s record for cricket spitting? In July of 1998, Danny Capps of Madison, Wisconsin spit a dead cricket 30 feet 1.2 inches. His mother must be so proud.
We finally returned to our cabin a little after 11:00, exhausted after perhaps the single busiest day of our lives, but also very happy after what was, at least to me, one of the single most satisfying vacation days ever.
And it was only the first day of this vacation!