As you may recall, my husband and I went down to the Smoky Mountains. We like road trips, although I’d have to admit that I like them more than he does. He likes to get there, pedal to the metal approach, while I like to soak in the changing landscape. It’s no surprise to report that between here in St. Louis and the Smokies, there are some significant changes. Flat, then rolling, then MOUNTAINS! Any guess as to which one I like the most? At least at this time of year.
We got off to an edgy start: the car broke down when we hit Paducah, Kentucky. Turns out it wasn’t just the battery. It was the alternator as well. Lucky for us that Paducah has a car rental place, so we left our car in the hands of the repair shop and continued on three hours later. By the way have you ever been to a car repair shop where they serve cappuccino and muffins? Yes, I got nervous about the bill. (Good news: it turned out just fine.)
Armed with the rental car, we continued our southeast journey, arriving in North Carolina in the early evening. Did I mention that we rented a log cabin? The cabin was originally built elsewhere, then disassembled and then reassembled and expanded in its new home in Waynesville. When you consider its original size (14’ by 20’), you begin to understand what growing up in these mountains might have involved. In fact, by the time we left we were pretty much amazed at what those mountain families had accomplished.
So the days started with coffee out on the deck and typically ended with a grilled dinner. During the day, we explored. Much to our delight we found that the Blue Ridge Parkway was uncrowded. (Apparently the timing of our vacation in late August was both wise and fortunate.) Up and down the parkway, the waves of mountains left us speechless. And appreciative. We stopped often at the overlooks to soak in the beauty and to try to capture it in pictures. A specific shout out to the inn at Mount Pisgah where you can enjoy a meal and rock in the creaky chairs out on the porch.
We also stopped along the country roads that led up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to sample goober beans (boiled peanuts) and rum jam. Here’s a handy link to the famous Goober Peas folk song. I remember growing up listening to Burl Ives sing that funny little song. In addition, we visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indians and the Carl Sandburg Home (and its 17,000 books and functional arrangement). Perhaps my favorite side trip was to see the elk in the Cataloochee Valley…although I’d be less than forthright if I didn’t mention that the steep drop-offs along the twisting gravel road scared me a tad. Talk about blind curves! At any rate, we were well rewarded. A 12-point buck let us admire him at a leisurely pace. Should I mention that when he looked over my way, I got back in the car?
On our last day, we drove over to Chimney Rock State Park that featured a hammered dulcimer musician by the name of John Mason. There’s nothing like mountain music played in its natural surroundings. By the way, old photographs show ladies in full dress and hats having a picnic in a nook in the rock that’s been nicknamed the Opera House. I can hardly imagine scaling the rocks to get there with modern gear and I’m flabbergasted by the idea that these women climbed up in full regalia. (We took the elevator.) We spent our last night at a folk festival held along the edges of Lake Junaluska. Between the cloggers, fiddlers, and family bands, we learned to appreciate the ties of tradition.
A week later, refreshed by the break and invigorated by the mountain air, we began our journey home. The only two stops this way were a visit at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville (well worth it) and then a quick stop in Paducah to pick up our car.
Gone in a moment. At least it feels like that. But as I re-tell our vacation story, I get pleasure out of reliving the time. It gives me an opportunity to sort out what was most important to us. Plus it gives us a chance to share our memories with our family. Like last night when we shared our pictures and vacation stories with our daughter, son, and daughter-in-law. What a lovely ending: consider it a modern day story time around the campfire.
Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis.