Disclaimer: While I do not hate country music, there is only a little that I like. I really hate overly-commercialized tourist-y areas. I would rather vacation on Edisto Island, SC, than Myrtle Beach. (MB is pretty, but ohmygod, the crowds.) So where did Cheryl plan a little mid-week vacation for us? Gatlinburg TN.
For those reading this unfamiliar with that locale, it is in the Smokies and is really three small towns strung out along Rte 441, also known as The Parkway: Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and the aforementioned Gatlinburg. Pigeon Forge is the home of Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s version of CW Disneyland.
From what I know of the area and its history, Dolly coming in and doing what she did (bought up an old park that was on its last gasps and heavily revamped it) breathed new life into the area and revived all three towns. That’s cool; I have always liked Dolly, ever since she did the movie 9 to 5. I begrudge her nothing.
That said, I must admit that the whole area is really strange, like it is caught in some sort of incongruity-loop. The attractions vary from the ridiculous to the unexplainable to the just plain weird. In between there are almost as many go-kart tracks as there are fudge shops (a goodly number of both), interesting crafts-men and –women, and a bizarre fondness for making fun of all the stereotypes of mountain folk; everywhere you turn there is “hillbilly this” and “hillbilly that”.
We had a few great meals at recommended restaurants; the Apple Barn blew me away when they brought warm apple fritters with a cup of fresh-made apple butter as soon as we were seated. That beat the heck out of a bowl of salsa and corn chips, let me tell you. Their chicken and dumplings were superb. Then there was the Old Mill; I ordered the meatloaf, figuring on a couple of hefty slices; I got what looked to be an individual meatloaf that had to weigh a pound! We made killer sandwiches the next day for lunch.
I’ll take you on cruise down 441…(not necessarily in the correct order) The coming weekend was the Rat Rod Rally, an annual gathering in Pigeon Forge of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cars, pick-ups, hotrods and other strange wheeled vehicles. They were parked facing 441 up and down both sides facing the Pkwy. There were some incredible rides; the trade-off was that the speed limit seemed to have been reduced to 17 MPH as everyone gawked at the cars. There were folks tailgating and just sitting in camp chairs facing the street watching the traffic, a good deal of which were old and interesting.
Some of the various theme restaurants seem pretty bizarre; even more bizarre than the Ripley’s attraction with the upside-down front façade. The Titanic does not, in my mind, bring to mind fine dining renown. In my mind, it brings to mind images of screaming and panic, people behaving badly and heroically at the same time. It does not make me yearn for a chicken-fried steak. Maybe I have a quirky stomach, but an atmosphere of impending doom does not make my mouth water.
Then there was the Stampede. I like watching trick riders and rodeo. I like eating. Somehow I missed the gene that thinks eating a meal at a table that is on the edge of the “arena’ is a good idea. No matter how much or how little you try, that fine dirt does nothing for mashed potatoes.
There were jousting eateries (more of that fine dirt seasoning), Arthurian/fantasy eateries and name brand restaurant chains were all represented, but one stood out as the oddest, at least to my mind. It was called Biblical Times; I couldn’t help but wonder if you ate fried pita, mashed chickpeas and yogurt off of wooden platters. Nahh, probably not. Loaves and fishes?
That part of the mountains is beautiful country; we were too early for any fall color. We took a ski-lift up Mt Harrison and listened to a three-man bluegrass band, took a cable car up the side of a different mountain. Ober Gatlinburg has two rides down the mountain; one a little sled in a cement quarter-pipe and the other fastened to a steel track/pipe. I thought it looked like a cool ride, but I couldn’t get Cheryl to do it with me.
If you like driving go-karts, this is a great place with lots of venues and every kind of track. NASCAR has a big driving attraction there that looked really interesting. It is probably a good thing that my son and his family were not with us; we would have spent a fortune on those karts trying to kill, err, beat each other. Hell, I probably would have had a stroke.
The only attractions rivaling the karts for numbers were the miniature golf venues. Monsters, farms, one up a mountain that you had to ride an incline to get to, every climate-theme except Arctic, it was there. We played three rounds over three days at the same venue that had three different courses and a great multiple-rate.
You could not force me back there in-season at gunpoint; off-season it was a nice drive and we had some good times.
Oh, the rock? Well, when you live in the mountains, rocks are something you can expect to have a lot of, virtually lying around everywhere you look. We walked into a place called The Sandman in the Old Mill area. They dealt in rocks, primarily flat-sided rocks, and they have a sand-etching machine. They have combined perhaps the oldest communications format—drawing on a wall, with the newest—a computer-controlled etcher. They photo the rock you are considering, then allow you to see whatever you want etched on it on the screen, and they have bunches of different fonts, dingbats and icons. We found an unusually colored stone and had it engraved, already knowing exactly where it was going in our back yard. When we got it home, it was perfect.