Friday, July 19, 2013


When Ryan was on his last break from school we took a little family vacation for a couple days.

I found a deal on Groupon for a hotel in Gatlinburg. We'd heard a lot about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge since we moved here and everybody raves about how family friendly it is. Since it's only about a 5 hour drive and I've wanted to see the Smoky Mountains for quite some time we booked our stay.

We loaded up and headed out by the afternoon. The plan was to stop at a rest area somewhere in Kentucky to let the kids run and have lunch (I pack enough food so that we don't have to eat out at restaurants the whole time). Well, I-70 through Kentucky had like NO rest areas. I guess because you're driving through cities often nobody considers a rest area until you reach the border. We ended up stopping at a McDonald's (we haven't had Mickey-D's in a long time)... and it was pretty crummy.

Eventually we made it to Pigeon Forge - the gateway to Gatlinburg. Talk about sensory overload! There we fun things to do all over the place, and flashy lights, and traffic, and people walking up and down the sidewalks. Ryan saw an IHOP and decided we would return eat there for dinner.

We drove into Gatlinburg through all the beautiful green trees and entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg was very busy also with people wandering all over the side of the street. After finding and checking into our modest hotel we headed over to play in the huge indoor swimming pool.

All of us love to be in the water but since neither of the kids can swim on their own yet we're pretty limited in what we can do. I forgot to bring their arm floaties so they were being held the entire time. This reminds me... I need to enroll them in swim lessons again!

After swimming, we drove off to IHOP, ate a simple meal then returned to our hotel to sleep.

The next morning was our big day. We all dressed, packed a day bag, and began our trek outside.

We were waiting around for the trolley but weren't sure of its arrival time so we began to walk. About 10 minutes into our walk we happen upon another trolley stop as the vehicle is stopping. We hop on and wide-eyed watch our way through the city and get off at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.

This is a great place to bring the kids and a must-see attraction for families who visit! There are the usual things at this aquarium, but there is also a REALLY LONG underwater shark exhibit. That was pretty cool.

 We also enjoyed the children's exploration area.

 There was a dinosaur exhibit but we didn't stay very long because it became very crowded and we needed to head out to go to our next stop.

After escaping the aquarium, we waited at the trolley stop to make our way to Pigeon Forge. After making our transfer we stopped at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede - the other must see attraction in the area.

Ryan and Will on the trolley
Lana wanted to see the lady in the "pretty dress" so we chatted for a little bit

Dixie Stampede was probably my favorite thing we did. It's sort of like Mideval Times Restaurant (though I've never done that so I can't say how accurate it is).  Patrons choose which side to be on, North or South. During the show you are given a 4 course meal. There are trick riders, competitions, pig/chicken/ostrich races, singing, dancing, fire, flashy lights... the whole kit-n-caboodle! It was so much fun! The kids really enjoyed it and even ate some of their food. Both Will and Lana say their favorite part was when the female rider was standing on 2 horses and then jumped through a big hoop of fire. Oh, and we were Northerners and the North won! Whoot!
waiting for the show to start
our host at the beginning of the production
chatting with one of the riders after the show... both kids got to pet his horse
Dollywood was nearby, but sadly we did not make it over there. Maybe next time.

When the fun was over there we caught the trolley back to Gatlinburg, got off at the Aquarium and opted to walk back to our hotel so we could see and experience the main drag of the little town.

It was there we discovered how much there really is to do in that town. Zip-lines, museums, tourist traps, candy shops, restaurants, souvenir stops, just fun little things all over. I really would love to go back, maybe with more people, and experience more of what was there.

Once back at our hotel we went swimming again.
Then before it got too dark we got in the car to venture on one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Scenic Auto Tours.

It was beautiful. I love nature. It was so green! We stopped off at Ogle House and I took a few snapshots and told Ryan we would have to come back the next day to walk some of the trail.

We continued on our drive and I savored the beauty of the woods. Ryan humored me, because I know that just isn't his thing. The kids were quite content chatting and playing with the iPad. I saw parking pull offs for hiking trails to scenic spots, like waterfalls, but knew we did not have the time to explore with the impeding dark coming on.

As we rounded a corner I mentioned how I hoped there was a scenic stop ahead because I wanted to get photos of the mountains. And, to my happiness, there was one!

I pulled up and stopped and hopped out of the car. As I did so I noticed rustling in the bushes next to me. I do have basic nature knowledge and I knew there was an animal in the bushes so I hung back by my open car door to see where it was going. I could tell it was a larger animal too and it was moving AWAY from me. It couldn't be a bear, could it? It seems to small to be a bear... bears are really big. (I'm used to grizzly bear size bears.) I take a step away from the door and catch a glimpse of something rambling down the hill. This is all happening within seconds in my head.

I step closer to the ledge and sight it -- it's a real bear! A black bear! Oh my goodness! It's much smaller than I'd imagined! It was my first real sighting of a wild bear in nature. I was very happy about that.

can you see it?! The black thing near the center of the photo.

Ryan was less thrilled.

The bear continued down and away. Ryan did get out and I pointed out where the bear had eventually stopped but we couldn't see it anymore.

Our driving continued with me occasionally stopping if something interested me.

It was getting pretty dark so we just kept driving back to town. The hills were beautiful. We passed more old homesteads. We drove by a water fall. We followed the river. Oh, it was so nice! I wish I had more time to spend out there.

Ephraim Bales Place (another of the more than 80 historic buildings preserved in Great Smoky Mountains National Park).

The next morning we loaded up and checked out.

Will & Lana playing on a rock near the large indoor pool
I wanted to do the scenic route again but I knew we couldn't do it all. We did stop at Ogle House and look around a little bit. I wanted to take the trail around the property to see where the garden and other things used to be but Ryan really wanted to head out on the road. So we only looked at the house and the barn then went back to the car.
checking out 1 of 2 identical rooms
in the barn

Our final tourist stop was at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Welcome Center. I had to check out what they had and I was able to actually see maps of how big that park really is. There were just so many beautiful things to see... all God's creations.

The drive home was pretty uneventful. A stop at a rest area to eat lunch and let the kids run, then on home.

Gatlinburg was a great place to go. Oh, I'd love to go back and spend a week or longer. Preferably with more people... maybe grandparents. Much of the time I kept telling Ryan that Tegan would LOVE this place and I told her the same thing later on the phone. Perhaps someday me and my best friend will get to explore and hike in that awesome land.

This was my second time going to Tennessee. I think that state has captured my heart.

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