Friday, July 11, 2008

Smokies with Kids

These are some things to do that we really enjoyed!

DO drive the Roaring Forks Motor Tour. It’s really beautiful and there are some great places to get out of the car and explore the streams and trails.

DO buy the waterfall map for $1 and then take your pick! Laurel Falls is VERY busy, but still fun. We also drove to a few waterfalls.

DO take a picnic lunch to one of the parks in downtown Gatlinburg. They have nice picnic tables and it’s easy to go down to the stream and play on the rocks.

DO go to Cades Cove. It’s a 25-mile drive from Gatlinburg and then an 11-mile loop to explore the life of early settlers. If you are in good shape, you can ride your bikes around the loop. It is closed to cars on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. Kent and I did this 10-years ago and we loved it. It’s too strenuous for young children.

DO go to the Ripley’s Aquarium. It had lots of sharks and amazing exhibits where you could walk in a tunnel under the fish tanks. Believe it or not. We got to see divers feeding the fish, too.

DO take along some books on CD to listen to during some of the drives when everyone is wiped out!

DO enjoy lots of candy in Gatlinburg. There are lots of things to do downtown. Ride the trolley or take the tram over the city. Play miniature golf, shop, ride go-karts.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Smokies MUSTS

2. You MUST stay at the Brookside Resort.

Returning to the Smokies as an adult, I think the Brookside had to have been one of the nicest places you could possibly stay in Gatlinburg. It’s right by the stream. Downtown, but not in the center of town.

But as I looked at the rooms on the Internet, they look like they might not have changed much in 30 years.

We decided to stay in a beautiful two-story log cabin perched on the side of a mountain. It has its own hot tub, two indoor whirlpools, two decks, a full kitchen, washer and dryer and pool table.

And yet, every time we drive by the Brookside with the waterfall pool and the big statue of a brown bear out front, I look at it with longing. They’ve added a large red, curving slide for the kids, too. Maybe next time.

3. You must go to Clingman’s Dome.

The ONLY hiking I actually remember doing in the Smokies was to Clingman’s Dome. To miss driving to the highest point in the park and then walking up to the dome is basically a sin.

But... well... we’re not going. We’ve hiked several other trails and we’re going to spend our last day relaxing.

4. You must buy homemade candy.

There’s nothing quite as nostalgic as watching the guy with the white hat push the taffy through the candy-making machine. You can buy a bag with 10 pieces of taffy for 98 cents. A big box is only $3.

The kids have a new love. Taffy.

5. You must eat your lunch on the back gate of the station wagon.
I couldn’t actually remember ever eating a meal in the Smokies. Did we go to a particular restaurant? Did my mom cook in the room.

Then, we were out hiking and it was time to eat lunch. We saw some other people spread a table cloth in the back of their pick-up. Then, I remembered. We would pack a lunch and sit on the tailgate of the station wagon.

The kids thought it was a blast to sit scrunched up in the back of the mini-van eating their turkey sandwiches.

Things You MUST Do

When I was a kid, it seemed like all of our family vacations were to one place: the Great Smoky Mountains. I remember siting down with our family and reviewing all of the possible destinations for summer vacation. Then, it was decided. Gatlinburg!

This is the second time we have returned to Gatlinburg since we’ve been married. Part of our journey involves trying to recreate some of my childhood memories.

My family loves tradition. So when we went to the Smokies, there was no question about where we would stay or what we would do. Tradition.

Here are a few things on my list of “must do”.

1. You must buy a Crayoneer.

In my family, the story is legend. Here is how I remember it.

It was the last day of vacation. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. I desperately wanted a Crayoneer... a thick, hand-carved writing instrument, with little colored crayon tips strapped to the side. You could switch out which tip you wanted to write with.

We were parked in front of a little road-side store where they sold the Crayoneers. They were $6 each. I had $1. It quickly occurred to me that there were six people in our family.

“If everyone would just pitch in $1, I could have a Crayoneer,” I said with all of the youngest-child-in-the-family cuteness I could muster.

Without much discussion, everyone reached into their wallets and pulled out the dollars. I marched into the store and returned to the car the proud and delighted owner of a brand new Crayoneer with it’s on blue denim drawstring bag.

I don’t know how many times we visited the Smokies, but I do know that over the years I managed to collect three Crayoneers.

My plan on this trip was to whip out my VISA and buy one for every member of my family. But after searching the downtown strip, the Arts and Crafts community AND the Internet, it seems the Crayoneer no longer exists.

When I typed the word on Google, it sadly replied, “Did you mean crayon?”

No. I meant Crayoneer. I want one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Animal Count

We have been keeping track of all of the live animals we have seen since we entered the Pigeon Forge city limits on Sunday afternoon.

Horses: 1
Dogs: 4
Cats: 1
Bears: 1
Owls: 1 (spotted only by Andrew)
Parrots: 2
Raccoons: 1

I also had a big black bug in my shoe, but we aren’t counting insects. And we only count birds if they are fairly large, or exotic, like the beautiful bright blue parrots. They were in a cage in downtown Gatlinburg as an advertisement for some type of zoo, but they were alive and well, so they count!

We had a great day driving through the Roaring Fork Motor Trail where we stopped to play on the rocks in the river. The climate in the mountains created a cool, natural refrigerator with the moss-covered rocks and hanging tulip trees as a beautiful backdrop.

Later on, we craved even more rock-hopping, so we headed to the creek that runs through downtown Gatlinburg. That’s where Matthew spotted the raccoon. Although the rest of the family didn’t see it, it was confirmed by some other people playing in the creek.

Our most exciting animal viewing was, of course, a black bear, which we saw on Monday. The children had been nervously anticipating the possibility that we might see a black bear for the past few weeks.

“What will we do if we see a bear?!?” they asked repeatedly. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m SURE we won’t even see one.” I assured them. I couldn’t believe we actually saw one on our very first hike!

We started our week with a hike to the “most popular” waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. It wasn’t exactly the natural solitude we had travelled so far to enjoy. We were practically in a parade hiking down to the waterfall. And once we got there, we found a little slab of rock where we could sit between all of the other nature viewers. We stared in awe, watching young children risk their lives to climb the slick rocks along the waterfall as their parents stood below video-taping. Ah, America.

We were all laughing as some families hiked down the 1.5 mile trail in their swimsuits and flip flops, ignoring all of the large signs warning of the danger of climbing the steep rocks around the waterfall. “They act like they are going to the pool,” Andrew kept saying.

At least if any children fell to their death from the top of the rocky embankment, the authorities wouldn’t have to wonder what had happened. The parents would have it all on film... or should I say, DVD. I am definitely getting old!

Anyway, back to the bear.

On the hike back, we were shushed to a halt by a big traffic jam of people coming from the opposite direction. At the top of a cliff right above us was the bear. Several people said they saw a baby bear, as well. We snapped our own photos and video and then moved quickly down the path. (Yes... I know I sound like a hypocrite, but if you are facing possible death by bear, you should have it on DVD, right?)

“Boy, that bear was big!” we remarked smugly in loud voices as we passed people flip-flopping up the path. “Can you believe we already saw a bear?!”

With a real live bear sighting added to the list, we didn’t care about all of the tourists anymore. We were on vacation. We were in the mountains. And we saw a bear.

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