Aila’s Day Out : Smoky Mountains

QG - Smokies.pngThe mountains are calling, and I must go.
-John Muir

I have this terrible knack for saying I’m going to do something for myself and not doing it. I wind up feeling guilty for a multitude of reasons and can come up with more excuses than George RR Martin can come up with characters to kill.

Tuesday I felt those familiar pangs rising up, threatening to thwart my plans for yesterday. Chief among those guilty feelings was the fact I was going alone. I’m not opposed to being alone. I’m one of those people who sometimes feels lonelier in the company of people than I do when I am, in fact, by myself.

I devoted some time to exploring these feelings, though—something I rarely do, but should do more often. I realized I felt crummy about it because I’d penciled in some locales that my husband and I hadn’t experienced together. I guess it’d equate to if one of us watched an episode of one of our shows without the other one. So, I scratched those ideas and decided I’d go to some of my tried-and-true favorites. Places I don’t mind seeing over and over again, which isn’t really the husband’s cup of tea. (Not that he doesn’t enjoy these places, but he’s not one for as much repeat business as I am.)

Now, this may sound odd, but while I’ve never lived in the Smoky Mountains, I feel more at home here than anywhere else. There’s a certain sort of peace of mind that washes over me when I lay eyes on these hills. Maybe it’s what an addict feels when they get their fix. I don’t know.

I left my house at 6:00 am.

Let that sink in.

I’d leave this early for all of my trips if my husband would too. Leaving this early meant I’d gifted myself the sunrise over Flat Rock, NC (just minutes away from Carl Sandburg’s House. It was a little foggier than I’d like, but that’s the mountains for you.

(Also, since I was by myself, I wasn’t able to capture pictures. Cue sad face.)

When I got into Asheville, North Carolina it had started raining. But I wasn’t afraid, this is also just par for the course in the mountains. Weather is extremely unpredictable.

But when I got on the Smoky Mountain Expressway?

Fog. Oh my goodness.

But then when I got into Maggie Valley?

F. O. G. FOG, FOG, FOG!

I’d planned on walking around Maggie Valley to take some pictures, but that didn’t happen. Here, to see what I saw of Maggie Valley, close your eyes for a second and picture a gray box.

That about covers it.

I hadn’t intended on getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I thought maybe I would elevate above the blasted fog and actually see something. You tell me:

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This was actually the best view I had on the Parkway for several miles.

I began to get a little discouraged. I mean, I’d come early for a reason, and that was to beat the crowds, not get swallowed by a thick pea-souper. So I meandered down the BRP, even slower than required, because the freakishly thick fog required it.

And I’m glad I didn’t give up, because eventually, somewhere past the Bunches Bald overlook and the Thomas Divide (Elevation change -1190 feet), Mother Nature must’ve had a cup of coffee, because the fog lifted and I couldn’t have been more elated!

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Now, if you are ever on the Southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway (which, I suggest adding to your bucket list) look for Balsam Mountain and take that road all the way to the end where you’ll really find Balsam Mountain road, which is a twisty, winding little one-way road (meaning do not begin this road if you don’t intend to finish, because you have no choice. Have snacks, drinks, and above all else make use of the facilities located conveniently before the road starts.)

If I had been in my SUV, and if it hadn’t been so foggy, I’d have taken you down this road with me. There are some excellent chances to see wildlife: I.E. BEARS.

Instead, I journeyed on to a very special place, one I’ve been visiting since I was, as they say, knee-high to a grasshopper.

Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center has changed much (new facilities built in 2011), but it’s better than ever. First thing on my agenda was the mini-museum.

Normally we fly through this, if we even visit it at all anymore. But I took my time reading the signage and watching the videos. It really is a neat stop.

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It might be hard to see in the slide, but the chair is the one used by Roosevelt at the dedication ceremony in 1940, the site of the ceremony is just about a 25-30 minute drive up the mountain toward Tennessee—unless it’s peak tourism time (especially leaf season), then you’re looking at closer to an hour or more.

After I’d had my fill of the museum and shopping (where I bought a jar of chow chow for husband and peach preserves for me) I decided to explore the old farm, braving the cold (and boy was it cold!) and really allowing myself time to study the buildings and the information stands.

I hadn’t realized how ingrained in my memory that cabin had become over the years, because it is nearly a carbon copy of what I envision for Corrie, Nelly, and Mabel in Alabama Rain (though, not with a second story).

I also walked along the Oconaluftee River as long as I felt safe doing so. I wasn’t as worried about bear here as I was Elk. They are notorious for being in this area of the park, and with it being springtime, I wouldn’t have been excited to happen upon a pregnant Elk, or worse, one with a baby.

After I’d finished with the farm, I felt a rumbly in my tumbly and thought it best to have lunch. I’d packed my own, so I decided to drive up to Newfound Gap and teeter along the NC/TN line just so I could say I’d been in four states in one day (Georgia would come later). My view for lunch:

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Not shabby, eh?

Now, when I left Greenville at 6am it was over 70F.

It was 34 at Newfound Gap. I didn’t care to be outside the warmth of the car very much. I did volunteer to take a picture of a nice elderly couple. She took his picture first, then he took hers. I stepped out and asked if they’d like to have one together. I think it was like Christmas for them! I chatted with them a while. They were fascinated that I’d travel there alone, what with the bears and snakes (not in 34F!) and general scariness of being alone. Truthfully, I was enjoying the solitude.

I contemplated driving the seven miles to Clingman’s Dome, but if it was 34 at Newfound Gap, it was likely to be mid-20s at Clingman’s, so I thought better of it. I did see some worn-out hikers coming up the Appalachian Trail, which is always neat. I envy them so much.

It was still only a little after noon, so I decided to stop in at Mingus Mill (which you saw pictures of already. Here are some that didn’t make the video.

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If you notice the trail that runs along side the water, aptly named Mingus Mill Trail, that’s a really neat one to follow. A little rough, a little steep, but really worth the effort if you’re ever in the area long enough.

When I departed, I decided to make a loop. Going back the way I came would’ve been just fine, but why not see more stuff?

Not to mention, the loop afforded me the opportunity to stop in and surprise my parents.

Once I made it into Georgia there were two stops I wanted to make. One of which, and I’m sure you’ll agree, is one of those places that could only happen in The South.

It’s freaking Goats on The Roof.

Goats. On the Roof.

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I’m a sucker for goats.

There are actually some neat gifty things inside, and if it had been warmer I’d have gone to the sweet shop and taken pictures of how they make ice cream (liquid nitrogen!)

But, be forewarned: Walking in some areas may result in goat poop raining from above.  They are living creatures. They’re on the roof. It’s got to go somewhere. Do not let children run amok here, I’ve seen them try to feed the goats hamburgers. Not cool.

My final stop (with pictures) was in Tallulah Falls, Georgia. Most people mistakenly call it Tallulah Gorge (though, that is why people come here.)

I didn’t go to Jane Hurt Yarn, but you should. I’ve been there many times, and would’ve stopped in on this trip had I not planned on stopping in to see my parents. I did, however, stop at the best overlook in town that happens to have one of the neatest shops!

(Also, I think it’s fun to note that even though it was roughly 20 degrees warmer here than at Newfound Gap, the wind coming off the gorge was insane, thus making this the most frigid stop on my trip!)

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Why the moon pies?

You’ll find out when you read Alabama Rain.

This concludes my day trip yesterday! I hope you enjoyed reading about it and all my pictures. If you haven’t been in this area, I totally suggest it. It’s gorgeous and full of character. I wish I could be your tour guide through my mountains!

Now, about the giveaway…

I know I was supposed to announce what all is included, but I am still waiting to hear from one of the companies, so while I do want to share it today, I also don’t want to potentially disappoint. So, please bear with me and come Saturday if I haven’t heard back from this company yet, I will select another one and go from there.

I will give you a hint, though, already locked in for the giveaway is a full-year’s subscription to one of the services you’ve seen popping up on my blog lately.   Including this one. Quite possibly below. 😉 Nod, nod, wink, wink.

See you soon, friends. xoxo


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