GATLINBURG

It may be just my circle of friends and family, but prior to this trip I had not heard of Gatlinburg. It’s a small town in Tennessee on the northern side of The Smoky Mountains with a population of less than 5000. My husband would send me Instagram posts of activities going on in Gatlinburg and I was immediately drawn in by the fairy lights and outdoor activities. I just didn’t think we’d be heading there anytime soon.

For my surprise anniversary trip we arrived in Gatlinburg mid afternoon. WOO! But we were hangry. More accurately, I was hangry. It seemed appropriate we would end up at a place called Dick’s Last Resort. In hindsight I should have noticed the character on my menu. For reference, there he is down below…

Tony remembered seeing a video about this years ago. Basically the premise is they don’t have to be nice to you. Far from it, they are known for being mean and not taking your shit. They get a kick out of throwing napkins and straws at you; no save the turtles here lol. It’s family style seating whether you like it or not. And you get paper hats with custom names courtesy of your waiter. Turns out a “lot lizard” is not a reptile. Google it…

Here’s two things stood out to me the most:

  1. Tony asked for a seltzer and lime and I asked for a water as is our custom. The waiter followed that with calling us cheap for not ordering alcohol. The waiter then brought Tony the seltzer with no lime. We thought he just forgot about it. But five minutes later the waiter rolled an entire lime towards Tony on the table. A WHOLE LIME! I laughed pretty hard at that one for a while. I did not see that coming.
  2. The next thing that happened was to the elderly woman sitting next to me. She politely asked the waiter to cut her burger in half. He turned around and said, “Listen Mee-Maw, I ain’t your grandson and I don’t have to listen to you!” At first I was shocked, and then I laughed pretty hard at her expense lol. Sorry not sorry.

Overall it was fun. I wouldn’t make that the establishment I take my parents to, but I would definitely recommend people do it at least once.

After filling our bellies we explored the area by foot. There is an entire distillery called Ole Smoky Moonshine tucked away behind Dick’s last resort. The entire town was decked out with harvest decor too.

You can both see and smell the process, as well as read about moonshine’s history and origin. I’m all for a nice alcoholic beverage, but that smell was nasty BLEGH!

To make up for the smell there was a band playing live music and plenty of rocking chairs to enjoy the tunes. Inside the store I found some of the most aesthetically pleasing shelves ever!

Later on that night once the sun had gone down we were feeling especially adventurous. Tony, who is afraid of heights on most days, had the bright idea to venture into the Skylift Park. He didn’t realize you needed to ride the yellow and orange sky lift in order to get to the sky bridge. For reference I’ve added an image below that was taken the next day with daylight.

Normally I would be making fun of him because it’s not that high. But the swinging yellow death traps do not secure you into your seat. The restraint, if you could even call it that, lifts and does not lock in. Needless to say, we were both slightly freaking out. Don’t judge us.

Did I mention the Sky Bridge has glass floors too? We didn’t know until we were up there either lol. Oh, and the bridge swings in the wind too.

Once we were done exploring the bridge we found a bar inside the cafe. We had some beers and enjoyed some nice views of Gatlinburg. Well, at least I was enjoying myself until Tony reminded me we still needed to ride the death traps down to go back to the car. FML.

Obviously I’m exaggerating when I call them death traps lol. I’ve never gone skiing and didn’t know that in order to keep the flow moving the restraints didn’t lock. Don’t let my over-dramatization deter you from heading up either. It’s real nice up there. The views include the space needle and the mountain coaster. The beer is also a bonus. Sort of like a prize for conquering your fear of heights (not that I have one). And sort of like liquid courage to help you head back down.

Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.

-Lewis Carroll
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CLINGMANS DOME

What do you do when your tent has been pitched at Elkmont campground and you’ve got a couple of hours of daylight left? You drive to Clingmans Dome! This entire weekend was about spontaneous plan adjustments and Clingmans was no different. We originally intended on driving up and hiking around midnight to stargaze (I had seen some pretty milky way pictures from here). However, according to my weather app it was going to be a cloudy night, and therefore little to no stars to see.

When we arrived at the parking lot around 6:30pm there were only a handful of spots left. The sun was still peaking through the clouds and it was way colder up there than I anticipated. Thank God for parkas! There were plenty of tripods and cameras set up at the lot and for a moment I wondered if it was even worth going up to the top. Maybe these photographers knew something I didn’t.

This is where my FOMO kicked in and I started taking some pictures of the sky. It was nothing to be impressed by though. I also had no idea what the sky was about to do. So we stopped at the restrooms real quick and headed to the trailhead.

At the base of the trail there are signs leading you in the right direction. I quickly found out why they do not allow strollers, wheelchairs or bikes on this paved trail. It’s only half a mile long, but it’s a steep 13% gradient! You’ll gain 332 ft. and break a sweat immediately. They have benches along the way and if you prepare with enough time you can get to the top at your own pace. The hike is a straight shot up. You’ll make a slight right near the end and the entire tower and walkway open up in front of you.

We did not have the luxury of taking our time and did it in one shot without stopping. Tony’s legs are way longer than mine and I tried keeping up with him. When I tell you my lungs were on fire. I mean, seriously. ON FIRE! It took us 16 minutes to get to the base of the tower.

The tower at Clingmans Dome provides panoramic views of the mountains below. You can see Tony (furthest right) at the top of the observation tower. It was really cold up there. About 20 degrees colder than lower laying areas. But the views are unlike any other we’d seen in the park so far.

Now, let’s talk about sunset. HOLY CRAP am I happy we did that instead of trying to stargaze with a poor chance of being able to see anything. The sky was so beautiful that it made me forget that we broke into a sweat climbing that steep incline. I completely forgot my lungs were on fire. I have to get the words out of my brain to describe what I saw this weekend! The best way to do it is to dig deep into my past undergrad memories and pull out every descriptor I’ve ever used in a college essay as follows:

The sky began its show by turning into soft shades of blue and barely-there pink. They were the kinds of shades found in freshly made cotton candy. So fluffy and perfect. As the shades deepened I could almost taste the sweetness of the colors moving through the sky. While at the top of the trail the sky decided rather haphazardly to turn parts of it’s cotton candy colored clouds into flames with help from the sun. It displayed bright reds and oranges burning through the clouds. The display of balanced colors between soft and sweet and brilliantly ferocious was the show of a lifetime. The sky gave us so much to see, so much to feel and demanded nothing in return…

Excuse my brain, it can be cheesy sometimes. But it’s as genuine a telling of what we saw as told by me. I’m sure the sensation of bliss and happiness was also amplified by the fact that I was with my husband and we were enjoying each others’ company. But look at these pictures!!! How could I not be?

I promise you these are not filtered in any way shape or form. No photoshop, no special lenses, no filters, just sheer beauty captured by a lucky amateur photographer dangling a Nikon from my neck.

My legs are still super sore by the way. My shins hurt real bad too lol, but it was totally worth it and I would 1000% do it again.

Here’s a video of us recorded on my iPhone 8 Plus on our way down to show you real time sky colors. Don’t mind us, we were rushing back to the car because it was getting colder by the minute.

“She knew she loved him when home went from being a place to being a person.”

E. Leventhal