Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tennessee Vacation Oct 2006

Leafers, Dead Bodies, Cabins and Waterfalls
~ Sevierville, Tennessee Trip, October 2006

Our trip started in the early morning with Greg introducing me to the “best kept secret of Metairie,” the Lagniappe Luncheonette restaurant. I've lived in Metairie all my life but for 2 years in Slidell, yet somehow I never knew about this tasty treasure. Greg ordered a number of dishes that we split, including the best omelet I have ever tried! The onions and peppers were sautéed and the shredded ham was tender as could be, all held together by a thin layer of egg. And don't get me started about the pancakes, woah! So hush, keep it under wraps, but if you go to the family owned restaurant, don't skip breakfast! And while you're there, grab a smile at the various pictures. (I won't say what the monkey does by the cash register. I'll leave that for the curious!)

We drove the majority of the way in one day, but stopped for the night singing the namesake of “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” The morning greeted us with fresh air and a panoramic visual of mountains on every side. The workweek washed away as the serene atmosphere offered peace and quiet. We ventured to the Cherokee national forest and walked through an Indian reservation. The path was pretty, but we felt that the buildings were too contrived. Then again, we were Leafers, in search of nature adorning her fall bouquet.

Our scenic route, via Greg's GPS, took us on an attraction in and of itself, offering pullovers as the road meandered along a tumbling creek. We followed a sign for camping sites via a road not paved and dense with lowland forest canopy. When we found an area that was close to the creek, Greg pulled over. Weathered roots and rocks were our playgrounds as we made it to the water. I have to admit that I'm grateful Greg talked me into getting hiking shoes! They were perfect for this trip.

With the windows down and the rooftop open, we turned back to his SUV and down the path we came. I must have been in la-la land, because when Greg yelled out, “There was a dead body! Did you see that?!” I thought for sure he was joking. I looked at him with a “yeah, right” face and he said, “I'm not kidding.” The expression he returned was incredulous as he put the vehicle in reverse. At first glance, I said, “No, that's just trash in the water, something blue.”

And then, I saw it, two boots at the end of the fabric and I could make out a human figure floating but not moving. “Oh My God!” It wasn't just ONE body, it was TWO floating in the water. And NO, I am NOT kidding, there were bodies floating in the river, faces down, bodies not moving but for the current pushing them into the riverbank! All those horror movies and news on the television about people dumping bodies in the river came rushing through my mind.

It took a second for us to realize that those were the two men we had passed along the side of the road. We saw their snorkels in the water and knew they were OK. But, tell me, WHO snorkels in inches of water? The water was as clear as could be and they couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 inches in the water, if that! We laughed for a good while, looking at each other and saying, “Dead Bodies!” Greg even commented, “I was trying to figure out how to get a message to 911 because we didn't have any bars on the cell phone.” Ah, that got the blood pumping!

As we drove through the quaint town of Etowah, Tennessee, Greg saw a Craft Fair and we stopped to enjoy the local talents, including a young boy singing to the audience, crafts and the smell of country cooking. Maybe it was the delightful smells or the excitement of the river, but suddenly we had a hankering for a local restaurant. Greg tapped a couple of buttons on the GPS and presto ~ The Farmhouse Family Restaurant was on the list and within miles.

It must have been an Etowah secret too as it was not on a main road yet steady with customers. On the steps up to the restaurant door, I saw Greg looking back at the vehicles that were parked. People were standing on the porch of the building and he turned to them to say, “It's not a German plate. It's a personalized license. You don't want to know what it spells out either.” The plate read “6UL DV8” and yes, Greg did tell them, to which eyes opened and laughter escaped. If you can't figure it out, I'll share in a moment. I turned to Greg and asked, “You heard them talking about the license plate on that vehicle, that's why you kept looking back?” He is very attentive to things going on around him!

We couldn't help but smile at the Tennessee accents surrounding us and how everyone in the restaurant seemed to know each other. Our waitress immediately asked, “Where are ya'll from?” I could feel the eyes and ears from neighboring tables perk up with interest as Greg responded to her question. I wonder how the grapevine of that small town must have buzzed to have something new to talk about. (By the way, if you haven't deciphered it yet, the personalized plate reads sexual deviant)

Shortly after we left with content bellies, our trek took us through the heart of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where the Country Bear Cabins main office was located. We obtained directions, in hopes that our cabin was not what we had seen thus far along the drive. Some cabins were subdivisions, so close to each other and tiny as could be with having either a view of a busy Pigeon Forge highway or the slope side of the mountain. We didn't know anything about our cabin, other than what we saw on the Internet. One of the reasons we picked that particular cabin was because there was a picture showing the windows leading outside with the view of mountain ridges.

Up and up we went, twisting and turning along the mountain. As we went higher and further away from the congested section, our hopes grew, especially when we saw that we were on the ~ summit and, literally, at the end of the road (greeted daily by the watch dog)!

The cabin was lovely in the interior, wood all around ~ floors, walls, ceilings.. The vaulted ceilings added to the space, yet the fireplace made it cozy, along with the decor. The first floor was a large open area for the kitchen, then leading into the family room, which included a pool table! (I actually won one game, hehe..) There were two porches, one that led out from the family room, with two rocking chairs and a Jacuzzi.

The second porch was on the lower level leading out from a huge master bedroom, with a king-sized bed, hot tub and two people sized shower (with shower heads spraying from three directions). It was wonderful to wake up and see the mountain ridges, even from the second level of the bedroom.

The cabin was equipped with everything, including starter kits that you would find in most hotel rooms. All pots and pans were in the kitchen; we simply had to stop at the local Dunn's Market or other small markets in the area for food to cook.

Can you tell that we were very pleased with our accommodations? The only complaint we had was the “cabin projects” as we called them. Those were located in the far distance on one of the mountain ridges for our view. Don't get me wrong, the cabins in that area were very nice looking. It was disturbing to see so many of them clustered together on one ridge. It certainly made me count our lucky stars that we opted for a “Mountain View” that was “private.” (Though we did have one neighboring cabin to our right, but that is nothing in comparison to the 20 some odd cabins that were in the far distant ridge. Besides which, our neighbors were honeymooners according to their vehicle and well, need I say more?)

Our cabin, by the way, was called, “Cherished Memories” and is located in Sevierville, right outside of Pigeon Forge.

This trip to Tennessee was not a long stay, but long enough to know we would like to come back and long enough to do some hiking on trails, road tours through the mountains and shopping.

I say shopping, but we stayed in the Sevierville area, which offered a quaint style of arts and crafts community. When Greg asked me if I wanted to look at any of the shops, I said, “Sure, if you see something I might like, we can look.” He found this fantastic small group of stores, to which I bought Christmas gifts.

We stayed out of the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area. As Greg said, it can all be summed up with these few words: tourist, traffic, shows, over priced pancake restaurants (one at every corner it seemed). We weren't there for the towns; we were vacationing for nature.

I should have followed Greg's advice, to endeavor the shorter trails to see a falls, but instead, I was hoping the morning energy would allow a hike to the Rainbow Falls. Yikes! Word to the wise, if you go on this trail be prepared for no paved walk ways. The entire path is steep and riddled with rocks and tree roots. It's not an easy hike, again, grateful for the boots! Unfortunately, though we walked 1.4 miles, with me having to stop along the way... and being told by a couple that we still had about the same distance to keep going, we turned back around. Greg said that it wasn't a disappointment, because he still enjoyed the walk in the woods. To that I agree, but in my mind, I'm determined to go on that path in the future and make it to the falls!

As we took the Roaring Fork motor nature trail through the national forest, we pulled over with a Mountain View. Thankfully, before setting out, Greg had packed turkey sandwiches and water. You couldn't ask for a prettier view to enjoy our lunch! Along the road, we even found a path not marked and walked further into the dense forest to “get back to nature.” It's our own little nook with a special appeal for cherished memories.

Greg's GPS was great in offering us a trail back to the cabin without going through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Through small, winding country back roads, we said it was worth every second! (His GPS is a great buy, though at another time in traveling, the mountains and trees were so high that we couldn't get any readings. We mimicked what we thought the GPS voice should say, “Buddy, you don't know you are. You're lost. Just keep following the road, because you're screwed!”)

Another day took us on a wiser path to the Laurel Falls. As we walked the 1.3 miles one way to get to the falls on a paved steep path, we picked up handfuls of autumn leaves. That was a request my dad made, for us to bring him back autumn colors. The higher we went, the more we saw “trees on fire.” They were beautiful and the weather for our hiking couldn't be lovelier with blue skies to line the way.

Though the path wasn't nearly as difficult as the Rainbow one, this was winding and steep, so we did stop from time to time to catch a breath. It seemed nature understood as rocks stood on edge, collided and jammed in layers of rocks and soil together. Even the sounds of the road faded away within a few minutes of walking, instead, the distant falls tumbled downstream to welcome our steps.

I don't know what it is about waterfalls. They say waterfalls generate negative ions which make people feel good, offering brighter moods, increased energy, improved physical performance and better health. Waterfalls also create a soothing “white noise,” that rush of water that makes you want to touch it and let your heart beat rhythm with it in timing.

What I do know is that the stop and rest at the waterfall was refreshing, the air was cool and Greg was adventurous as rolled up his pants legs and took his shoes off to brave the slippery water by the falls. Everyone was watching him, I think in envy and they laughed as he made a face, showing how cold the water was! He was adorable!

Maybe it was the waterfall that gave us energy, maybe it's that the walk down is a lot easier, but we made good timing and not winded down the path. We stopped to look at some bright red mushrooms and took pictures for groups of people along the way. At one point, Greg whispered to me, “Watch this.” He asked a couple if they wanted him to take their picture together, to which they happily responded. As he zoomed in the lens, he said to neither of them, just out loud, “Your zipper is down.” As both of them looked down, he snapped the shot. They starting laughing and he snapped the picture again. Greg told me later, “It's the second after they look down and realize it was a joke and they start laughing, those are the good shots.” The real laughter...

Another time, as we were walking down the path and closer to the end of our trek, a lady was walking up the path, holding a baby and her husband was right behind her. She asked, “How much further is there to go to the falls?” Greg sort of laughed and answered, “You should let him carry the baby!” We all laughed and as we turned out of ear range to them, Greg said, “Her husband is probably cursing me right now.”

With leaves in hand (Greg called me “Nature Girl” on the Rainbow path as he put a yellow leaf in my hair like a women would normally wear a flower), we traveled back to the cabin, stopping along the way for another packed lunch in the Smoky Mountains. The mountains were marching down the colors, brighter each day, offering the yellows of hickory and birch, the browns of oak and the splendid scarlet and gold of the maples. Our Leafer journey was complete.

Before leaving the cabin, Greg asked me if I was going to write anything in the cabin journal, a book where other guests wrote comments. I told him that I would. One night while we were relaxing, Greg had picked up the book and started reading the comments people wrote. He came to one particular entry that started off with, “I know we are probably the only Alternative Lifestyle couple to stay in your cabin.....” At that point, Greg made a face and went, “Ewwwww, that means two men were in the bed downstairs!” He went on to read the rest of the entry, but feeling as though the knowledge of an alternative couple might have upset the “feeling” of the cabin, until he came to the end of the entry. Then he read out loud the names of the people and he said, “COOL! It was two women!” Haha. That thought totally changed his outlook. MEN!

To start the drive back, we went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast. I mention this for a reason. Greg went to the bathroom, while I was getting my purse and whatnots together. As I got up from the table, I saw Greg coming out of the bathroom and he had a lopsided grin on his face. I told him I was going to the ladies room. When I came out and we walked to the parking lot, he started laughing, saying, “I was in the bathroom stall. I look over and see this silver, metal box and think, hey that looks like something a female bathroom has for tampons. I couldn't believe it! I was in the women's bathroom! I was in the middle of business and had to quickly make an exit, hoping I could fly out of there before any woman came in!” We laughed all the way to the vehicle. Only Greg..

We figured with a long drive ahead, to make it back home in one day that we wouldn't stop at the place the original plans. However, Greg forgot that he had already entered the address of the store in the GPS, so as luck would have it, we ended up in the parking lot of Bass Pro Shops. We made an agreement to only stay in the store for 20 minutes and kept good to our word, but my goodness! I'm glad we went in there!

I can see why people would say to stop in this store. It is decorated from the outside with all sorts of tree and deer and so forth for hunting, fishing, camping, etc. The message above the store door reads, “for all the hunters, fishers and other liars” hehe.

I told Greg, “If you don't like the outdoors, after going through this store, by the time you leave, you WILL like the outdoors!” The entire store was set up to feel like you were in the outdoors. There was a multi-layered waterfall reaching two stories high and if you walk up close to the waterfall area, an aquarium of various fish greeted you.

For the camping section, tents were out for display, but not just a simple open tent. They had funny scenes, such as a guy bending down into the tent with his hinny up in the air as he moved something in the tent and right by his rear end, there was a skunk with his tail up in the air! You had to laugh. In another tent was a doe. Greg looked at me and said, “It looks real doesn't it? Go ahead, I know you want to touch it!” And that's exactly what I thought, the fur on the deer was coarse, but it looked so real! (Greg said that he thinks my animal spirit, if there's such a thing, is more of a doe than a mountain lion.)

We spent some time on the second level as there was a mock shooting range. I tried my hand at it but didn't score any points. You not only had to hit the circle but also had to hit the center of it. Not as easy as it seems, though to see Greg in action, you would think it was! He scored the highest of any of the people there. All of those competitive shooting matches that he went to in Louisiana showed his skills in the shop. Greg would ask me what I wanted him to hit and as he hit the center, whatever figure was there would move (i.e. The raccoon moved up and down or the keg would let off steam, etc.) As we left the store, Greg said, “It's like Disney World in there.”

The drive home was long, but the enjoyment of the trip was as well. Cherished Memories, indeed. I agreed with Greg, another day at the cabin in the Smoky Mountains would have been great!

Autumn marches down
water whispers ever clear
never same thing twice
scarlet hues drift gently near
to sigh of winters coming

I image a winter in the Tennessee mountains would be a lovely journey.... dreams for another day.

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