Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Snow Day!

Here's Seuss, taking a little nap in the morning:

Here's my house in the snow:

Here are the trees by the creek:

Me, standing in the front yard:

Me, sitting on the front porch, admiring the snow covered trees:

And finally, a lone walnut tree in the front yard:

* * *
I posted these pictures back in 2000 to share with Anna, and added them to the current version of Planet Burdett on November 19, 2017.

Saturday, November 4, 2000

North Georgia Mountains

 Day One: Anna Ruby Falls, Brasstown Bald, and Helen 

Heading Out
Anna and I began our fall vacation to the North Georgia mountains Saturday morning a little after 7:00. The air was cool and the sky was overcast but we were too excited about our trip to care. We stopped at a McDonald's in Buford for breakfast and then headed up US 23 to the mountains. Because we're both literary types, we decided to take the first day's attractions in alphabetical order: Anna Ruby Falls, Brasstown Bald, and Helen.

Anna Ruby Falls
Anna Ruby Falls was named after Anna Ruby Nichols, the only daughter of Colonel John H. Nichols, who purchased the Tray Mountain parcel of land containing the twin waterfalls in 1869. The waterfalls are formed by Curtis Creek, which drops 153 feet, and York Creek, which drops 50 feet (and therefore suffers much less damage than the Curtis). The two creeks merge at the base of the falls and lose their individual identities, becoming the Smith Creek, which feeds into Unicoi Lake.

We made it to Anna Ruby Falls around 10:00. Rain had begun to fall lightly as we drove through Unicoi State Park toward the falls, and when we arrived at the Anna Ruby Falls Welcome Center, the rain began in earnest.

Fortunately, I had brought my rugged outdoorsman hat (it used to be a sophisticated man-about-town hat until the feather broke off) and a couple of extra denim shirts, and my umbrella was in its usual place in the back seat, so we didn't even consider letting a little rain deter us. We spent a few minutes in the gift shop and then walked up the four-tenths of a mile trail to the falls.

The walk itself is beautiful. The leaves displayed every possible fall color, and the creek, alternately to our left and our right as the path meandered upwards, was in some places a gentle, fluid babble and in others a gushing, liquid roar. The waterfalls themselves are splendid. We stayed at the top for about 20 minutes, took lots of pictures, and then headed back down. After a stop at the drink machine for a Nestea and Mr. Pibb, we set out for our next destination.

There's a loop of highway—actually three different highways: GA 75, GA 180, and GA 384—that's been designated by the Federal Highway Administration as the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. It winds through the Chattahoochee National Forest, going up mountains and down into valleys, past various rivers and streams, and crossing the Appalachian Trail twice. We drove the whole length of the Byway, about 40 miles. Even with the rain and fog and clouds, it was wonderful. Fortunately, the Byway goes past both Anna Ruby Falls and Brasstown Bald, plus a few other places we didn't stop at because they didn't fit in with our alphabetical scheme.

Brasstown Bald
At 4,784 feet above sea level, Brasstown Bald is Georgia's highest mountain. On a clear day, it is said, you can stand atop Brasstown Bald and see into four different states. Strangely enough, those four states are Wyoming, Arizona, Illinois, and Rhode Island. I have no idea how such a thing is accomplished. I'm pretty sure it's a miracle.

Okay, I made that up. The four states you can see into are Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and, naturally, Georgia. Frankly I don't think Georgia should count. I mean, you're in Georgia, so of course you can see Georgia. Even if you take your glasses off and close one eye and squint with the other, you can still see Georgia. On the other hand, if you keep both eyes open and leave your glasses on, you can see as far south as Atlanta, which is a good 100 miles away.

But of course we couldn't see any other states or Atlanta—it was still raining, even harder now—but we did get an incredible view of clouds that one normally gets only from an airplane. As the clouds would move across the sky, we could see the mountains in an area, and then they would slowly disappear behind thick white clouds.

But we had to rest a bit from the grueling walk up before we were able to appreciate the scenery. Unlike the walk up to Anna Ruby Falls, the trail to the peak of Brasstown Bald is pretty steep in places and fairly strenuous, especially if you're walking in the rain, trying to hold an umbrella some of the way, and you're already out of shape to begin with. Every once in a while we would pass a group on their way down. “You're almost at the top,” they would say encouragingly, though really we weren't. The encouragement helped, though. I think it's what kept me from having a heart attack.

But we finally did make it to the top. We spent a while in the information center up there, reading every sign and pushing every button to light up the maps representing the mountain ranges and rivers and sites where gold had been discovered, and then we walked around outside, looking at the mountains and the clouds and taking pictures.

We stayed at the top for over an hour, then returned to the car, descended the mountain in low gear, drove the rest of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, and checked in to our Holiday Inn Express room in Helen.

I love Helen, the faux Bavarian village in North Georgia, because it combines the cheesiest imaginable roadside attraction-type atmosphere with the beauty of the mountains. I don't care who thinks it's tacky, I love it, and I will tolerate no harsh words about it.

Helen was born as a sawmill town in 1912, and when the sawmill was shut down in the late 20s the town began a gradual decline. It might have faded away altogether if not for three men, Jim Wilkins, Pete Hodgkinson, and John Kollock, who got together in 1968 and decided to save the town by remaking it as a tourist attraction in the form of an Alpine village. Their scheme was wildly successful; now, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Helen every year to buy hand-blown glass items, cuckoo clocks, and airbrushed license plates, to eat bratwurst and sauerkraut and drink dark imported beer, and to gawk at those local merchants who really get into the spirit of things and dress in funny feathered hats and lederhosen.

We walked the half-mile from our hotel to the Farmer's Market Cafe and had dinner. It was our first real meal since McDonald's, nine hours earlier, unless you count Cracker Jacks. After we finished eating we walked around the town for an hour or so, along with a few hundred other people, this being the last weekend of Helen's colossal month-long Oktoberfest celebration. At Flossie's Funnels we ate a funnel cake, and then we returned to the hotel, exhausted but happy.

 Day Two: Helen (Again), Dahlonega, and Amicalola Falls 

Out of the Hotel and Back to Helen
After a free continental breakfast that consisted almost entirely of miniatures—little-bitty muffins, croissants that were about one-third the usual size, bagels the size of those little chocolate donuts—we checked out of our room and headed back to Helen. Our mission: to acquire our wedding candle.

During another trip to Helen earlier this year, we had seen someone in the Kandlestix store making an elaborate cut candle. It was neat to watch, and the results were beautiful. Anna decided back then—and that was before we were actually engaged—that we should have such a candle as our unity candle. Once in the store, it took us a few minutes to pick out the exact design we wanted, and a few more minutes to choose just the right colors, but once we did the candle was done within 10 minutes. In fact, it had to be done within 10 minutes, the young woman who cut it for us said, or the wax would harden too much to work with.

We killed a few minutes walking around town while we waited for the candle to dry, then returned to Kandlestix and picked up our candle and headed away from Helen. We stopped at the West Family Restaurant in Clevland for lunch, gorged ourselves at their Sunday lunch buffet, and set out for Dahlonega.

Dahlonega was the site of the nation's first gold rush in 1829, a good 20 years before the California Gold Rush of 1849. Between 1838 and 1861, the U.S. Mint in Dahlonega created over $6 million in gold coins. Today, the little town commemorates its heritage with its Dahlonega Gold Rush Days every October, drawing hundreds of thousands of people annually. You could say that tourism is Dahlonega's current gold.

We didn't find gold in Dahlonega, but we did spend an hour walking around the square, browsing in various shops. All we bought, however, was some candy at the candy store—I got some of those buttered popcorn jelly beans that I like so much; they're almost as good as gold to me. Then we headed west towards Amicalola.

Amicalola Falls
Amicalola Falls is Georgia's highest waterfall; in fact, it's the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. The Amicalola Creek forms the falls in a series of seven different cascades which total 729 feet, after which it feeds into the Etowah River. Amicalola Falls State Park is one of the main entry points to the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. If you've read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods you may remember that he spent the night in the lodge here before he and his friend Katz started their walk. Anna and I are staying at the lodge, too, though we have no ambitions about walking the AT, since we both have to be back at work on Tuesday.

We didn't see the falls on our first day at the lodge, but we did see some spectacular views of the mountains. It wasn't raining and the sky was fairly clear, so the view from our room in the lodge was fantastic. After we got settled in, we went down to the porch and sat in the rocking chairs for a while. Anna painted with her new watercolor set. I walked around and took pictures, then sat and read Silent to the Bone, the new novel by E.L. Konigsburg. It was nearly dark, and quite chilly, by the time we went back in.

We had dinner at the lodge restaurant, an all-you-can eat buffet, then went back up to the room to feel stuffed in peace. Around 8:30 I went outside to walk around and look up at the night sky. As I rounded a curve along a sidewalk at the front of the lodge, I saw a young deer, not 15 feet ahead of me, munching on flowers. It cocked its head and examined me cautiously; I stayed still until it went back to its meal. On my next step, however, it ran up the hill towards the parking lot. I followed it around for about 10 minutes before it got tired of me and headed back into the woods.

 Day Three: Burt's Farm and Amicalola Falls 

Burt's Farm
The folks at Burt's Farm estimate that they get about 50,000 visitors a week during the fall harvest season. People come to select their Halloween pumpkins, to drink apple cider and munch on pumpkin muffins and boiled peanuts, and to go on the two mile, twenty-minute hay ride through the Appalachian area surrounding the farm.

But Anna and I had the place practically to ourselves when we went Monday morning around 11:00. I was a little disappointed at first to learn that Burt's Farm had not been started by Ernie's friend, but I enjoyed my cider and cream cheese pumpkin roll so much that I decided I didn't care. Actually, Burt's Farm had its beginnings in 1972 when Johnny and Kathy Burt planted two acres of pumpkin seeds in their backyard. Now they have a total of 76 acres, 54 devoted to pumpkins and gourds and 22 devoted to popcorn and Indian corn.

It was chilly and overcast while we were there, but we still spent almost an hour walking around, being very careful to obey the signs that said, “Please do not stand on, sit on, kick, or drop pumpkins.” Before we left we bought a large loaf of pumpkin bread and a bag of toffee popcorn, both of which were very good.

Hiking to the Falls
I've already written that Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi, with a total drop of 729 feet. Monday morning we finally got to see it.

We returned to Amicalola Falls State Park from Burt's farm around noon. We spent half an hour or so walking around the visitor's center, reading about the various flora and fauna that inhabits the park and looking at the stuffed bears, bobcat, and owl.

We drove up to the reflecting pool, which is about half-way between the entrance to the park and the top of the falls, parked, and set out on the trail to the base of the falls. The trail is not too strenuous and it only took us a few minutes to make it to the base of the falls. It was beautiful. We stayed at the platform at the top for a few minutes, listening to the rush of the water and taking pictures, and then we returned to the car.

It was beginning to rain again as we walked down, so we decided to go ahead and head back to Lawrenceville. We stopped for lunch at a Chinese buffet in Dawsonville, and made it back to my house by 3:00.


I drew on two books for the background information in this travelogue: Highroad Guide to the Georgia Mountains by the Georgia Conservancy, and The Georgia Conservancy's Guide to the North Georgia Mountains edited by Fred Brown and Nell Jones. I recommend them both.

(I originally published this travelogue on my AOL Web site on the dates shown above, and transferred it to our family blog in late October of 2017.)

Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Tallulah Falls, Georgia: A One Day Visit

A century ago people called Tallulah Falls “The Niagara of the South.” It was one of Georgia's most popular tourist spots, drawing thousands of people a year to see the mighty Tallulah River with its six waterfalls, and to hike down into the Tallulah Gorge, which is two miles long and in places as deep as 1200 feet. At its peak, the little town was home to seventeen hotels and boarding houses, and in addition to the natural beauty of the river and the gorge, it offered restaurants, tennis, horseback riding, and music and dancing.

In 1912 the Georgia Railway and Power Company dammed the Tallulah River, reducing the Niagara of the South to a trickle. But Tallulah Falls, Georgia is as worth visiting today as it was a hundred years ago. Though the dam left the falls quiet for nearly 80 years, now regular controlled water releases bring the falls back to life several times throughout the year. But even when the dam fully holds back the Tallulah, the gorge itself is as awesome as ever.

Anna and I had stopped in Tallulah Falls for only a few minutes back in July on our way to Gatlinburg. I thought the place was interesting enough for another visit, so I took a Wednesday off work and went back. Fortunately, and quite serendipitously (I didn't think to check the water release schedule before planning my trip), my visit was on one of the midweek water releases.

I left my house at 8:15, stopped at a QuikTrip for the traditional cup of cappuccino and two Krispy Kreme donuts, and headed up U.S. 23. The drive is beautiful, and I took it slow. At 9:49 I pulled into a parking spot at the Indian Springs Trading Post on the 441 scenic loop.

It was probably the Indian Springs Trading Post that first attracted me to the little town. I've admitted to my weakness for roadside attractions any number of times, and the faux western fort and genuine imitation Indian totem poles definitely tickle that part of my fancy. The Indian Springs Trading Post wasn't open, however, so I took a few pictures and moved down to Tallulah Point Overlook (“A mountain tradition since the 1920s”). I browsed in the store for a few minutes and bought a grape Nehi, a walking stick, and a book about Tallulah Falls. There was a small but steady stream of people coming through, about five in the store at any one time. There were four other cars in the parking area when I got there, but about four more soon arrived.

Next I went to the Tallulah Gallery (“Prints   Originals   Pottery”), looked around for a few minutes, and bought a couple of things—an enameled pin with a cat that looks like our Seuss for Annie, an angel medallion to give to my friend Pearl on her birthday.

At 11:47 I turned in to the Terrora Lake part of Tallulah Falls State Park and discovered that on Wednesdays parking is free! Not that I would have minded paying the two dollars admission, but it didn't bother me to not pay it either. I parked in the shade, walked through the nature trail, sat on a bench by the lake for a few minutes, and then set off for the walk along the rim of Tallulah Gorge.

The view from Overlook 5 I joined the trail at the midpoint, Overlook 5. My first thought was: what a place of splendid beauty! There was a breeze coming out of the gorge. The leaves were starting to change colors. Overhead, a pair of crows seemed to be having a cawing contest, and from across the gorge I heard the yapping of some small dog climbing the trails with his family.

It took me about forty minutes to follow the trail along the north rim from Overlook 5 to Overlook 1. I was growing a little hungry, not having had lunch yet, but I was too excited to really think about food. What a wonderful place to be on an autumn Wednesday afternoon!

At the end of the north rim, near Overlook 1, I went into the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center. The Center was named after an Atlanta environmental activist who was called “The Grand Dame of Conservation” by Southern Wildlife magazine. I walked around the center for a while, going through the history of Tallulah Falls exhibit, looking at the examples of flora and fauna found in the area, and browsing in the gift shop. I went into the little theater and watched the 15 minute film about the the area, and then headed out to the south rim.

It took me about an hour to walk the south rim. There were a lot of friendly people out there, people who talk to The Author at the end of the South Rim you. There was one couple I first encountered on the north rim and who I met up with again along the south rim. They were probably both in their mid fifties, possibly from the Midwest; they were, the woman told me, meandering through north Georgia in their RV. The man had a gold earring and a mustache and wore an enviable brown hat. He let me look through his binoculars (also enviable) at one of the falls. At another spot we watched a green snake climbing a tree.

I finished the south rim at about 4:30. My legs hurt and I was very tired and hungry, but also very happy.

I intended to end the day by having a simple dinner of a hot dog or grilled cheese sandwich at the Cat Cafe at Tallulah Point Overlook, but it was just closing down as I arrived at 5:00. Instead, I went to Isabelle's. Isabelle's is a big white house on a hill that you pass on 441; I imagine that in a past life it was home to some wealthy family, one of the ones that found prosperity in the late 1800s tourist boom only to see it all taken away by the dam. I ordered Monterey chicken with French fries, which I ate alone (as far as I know, they didn't have any other customers that night) on the screened in porch. I was not nearly as hungry as you might think, considering that all I'd eaten that day before going to Isabelle's were two donuts about nine hours earlier.

I finished eating at 6:15, and began the drive south, back to my mundane life in Lawrenceville.

(I originally published this travelogue on my AOL Web site on the dates shown above, and transferred it to our family blog in late October of 2017.)

Thursday, July 27, 2000

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

 Day One: The Adventure Begins 

A Little Background on Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a veritable mecca for tourist attraction afficianados like me; I've been dying to come here for a couple of years now. How could I resist the pull of a place that can boast such disparate sites as the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum (“three floors of outstanding and incredible artifacts from around the world”) and Christus Gardens (“See Greatest Story Ever Told in a series of realistic life-size dioramas; rare Bible & coin collection”), plus Hillbilly Gold (“Play the world's most unusual miniature golf. Two 18-hole courses with challenging mountaineer hazards.”), the Mysterious Mansion of Gatlinburg (“Gatlinburg's scariest and most exciting attraction. Come see your nightmares come true, it's an experience you won't soon forget.”), and the World of Illusions (“The world's largest exhibition of action packed Grande Illusions. Make a friend disappear, walk away from your shadow, see a superman use x-ray vision and much, much more.”)?

Even the Genesis (to borrow a term from Christus Gardens) of Gatlinburg is interesting. According to my favorite book, Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun by Tim Hollis, Gatlinburg “was originally called White Oak Flats, and its main business enterprise was a general store owned by one Daniel Reagan. Another character with the last name of Gatlin eventually bought the store, but he then announced that the locals could not pick up their mail at the post office (which was located in the store) unless they renamed the town after him! Hence, Gatlinburg came into being.”

9:11 AM: Heading Out of Lawrenceville

We pulled out of my garage at 9:11 Thursday morning to begin the short (but, it turned out, long and wonderful) drive, and after a stop at QuikTrip for a couple of cappuccinos (one hot and one frozen) and a box of Sour Patch Kids, we were off. We drove up US 23 for a couple of hours with only one bathroom stop, until we arrived in Tallulah, Georgia.

11:30 AM: Tallulah Gorge

Around 11:30 we took a detour onto the Tallulah Gorge Scenic Loop and stopped at Tallulah Point Overlook (“A mountain tradition since the 1920s”) to get out to gawk at Tallulah Gorge, which is a 1000-foot chasm carved out by the Tallulah River, and which contains a series of five waterfalls. (The town it is in, not coincidentally, is named Tallulah Falls.) After we looked at the gorge, read about Carl Wallenda's 1970 tight-rope walk across the chasm, and browsed in the gift shop (purchasing one Cheerwine cherry soda, a bag of Tallulah Gorge peanuts, and a couple of postcards), we walked up to the Tallulah Village store and browsed some more. We finally left at around 12:30.

We didn't get far out of Tallulah Falls before stopping for lunch at Granny's Kuntry Kitchen in Clayton, GA, where a hand-written sign told us that “Our food is made to order. Good food takes time. You cannot be in a hurry. Especially on weekends.—Chef Don” Chef Don? I assumed that Granny did the cooking. Well, though they did take about twenty minutes to arrive (the sign was right), the grilled chicken and mashed potatoes were good anyway. After lunch we made it a little ways up the road before stopping at the Dillard Antique Mall in (guess where?) Dillard, Georgia.

Finally, at 2:48, we crossed over into North Carolina. After five and a half hours on the road, we were...well, about a hundred miles away from my driveway. But after our stop in Dillard we managed to drive for over an hour without getting out to look at anything; we drove through Cherokee, NC, passing the various tomahawk shops, teepees, and “Take your picture with a genuine Indian” stands without stopping; we were even too tired to get out and play with the baby bears.

3:55 PM: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934 and was among the first national parks assembled from The Great Smoky Mountains private lands. It's vast, covering thousands of of acres along the North Carolina and Tennesse border, and contains, accodring to the brochure, “1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, and more than 200 species of birds and 60 of mammals.” It also contains species of salamander that have never been found anywhere else.

Our drive through the thirty or so miles of 441 that goes through the park took about an hour and a half, mostly due to my desire to stop and take pictures at nearly every overlook. It's not a place one wants to speed through anyway, though, even without a camera. It is, in places, unspeakably beautiful.

5:30 PM: Gatlinburg!

Our cabin in the mountains Finally, more than eight after our departure, we completed the 200 mile drive and arrived in Gatlinburg proper. We checked in at the East Tennessee Realty office and drove the five miles to our cabin, which is at the end of a steep gravel road that my Nissan doesn't particularly like driving. The cabin, though, is wonderful; it's well furnished, comfortable, and private and secluded.

After about an hour of unpacking and then relaxing in our cabin, we headed back to Gatlinburg, with dinner as our main objective. The strip of Gatlinburg along 441 is incredible; it is, I think, the exact opposite of a sensory deprivation chamber. There is so much to see and do, and so many people there seeing and doing, that one gets a little overloaded. After about an hour of walking up and down the strip, we bought Ogle Dogs (foot-long corn dogs) at Fannie Farkle's (“That's a combination of two words,” Anna said, “one them being sparkle.”), and then went into Guiness World of Records Museum. We spent over an hour looking around, reading nearly every plaque, comparing our weight with that of the worlds heaviest man (you know, that guy they buried in a piano case) and our height with that of the world's tallest man.

Some of the things you see in the Guiness World of Records Museum are interesting, but some of them make you shake your head and wonder what people are thinking. Did you know, for example, that there's a world's record for cricket spitting? In July of 1998, Danny Capps of Madison, Wisconsin spit a dead cricket 30 feet 1.2 inches. His mother must be so proud.

We finally returned to our cabin a little after 11:00, exhausted after perhaps the single busiest day of our lives, but also very happy after what was, at least to me, one of the single most satisfying vacation days ever.

And it was only the first day of this vacation!

 Day Two: The Adventure Continues 

1:15 PM: Lunch at Atrium Pancakes and On To Mountain Mall

We slept in Friday morning and then had a breakfast of Pop Tarts, orange juice, and coffee. I then spent the next four hours creating my Day One travelogue, while Anna alternately read, watched TV, and napped, never once asking, “Aren't you through yet?!” She deserves a medal for her patience and tolerance.

We went to Atrium Pancakes for lunch at 1:15. Anna ordered the chocolate chip and coconut pancakes, which I'm afraid aren't rendered very well in the picture, while I had plain old pancakes with ham and eggs. After lunch, we went to the post office to mail a few post cards and get stamps for a few more, and then returned to the main strip of 441. We went into Mountain Mall, looked around for a while, bought about fifteen dollars worth of books at Book Warehouse (including three John Bellairs novels, which have really cool titles like The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost and The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull), and then set out for Ripley's.

4:50 PM: The Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum

Robert L. Ripley was a cartoonist who made a career and a fortune out of traveling the world in search of odd and unusual facts to present to the public, first through his syndicated newspaper cartoon, then later through radio, TV, and even personal appearances. The Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museums, of which there are 26 worldwide, had their start at the “Odditorium” at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. As the museum guidebook describes it, “On display were genuine shrunken heads from the Upper Amazon, medieval chastity belts, instruments of torture, and even The Last Supper painted on a dime!”

We saw the shrunken heads, chastity belts, and instruments of torture, but we didn't see the dime; we did, however, see a stuffed two-headed cow, a chain of chewing gum wrappers that's over a mile long and which a school teacher spent almost two decades constructing, and a funhouse mirror that made me look like my legs went just about to my neck, with practically no torso in between!

We also had a wax cast of our hands made, a process that involved dipping our hands in 136-degree wax about a dozen times, waiting for the wax to cool, then carefully extricating our hands from the wax to leave a Chris-and-Anna-holding-hands shaped mess of wax. It was a most unusual experience, and Anna is delighted with the results.

Here are a replica of a woolly mammoth's skeleton, a horse statue made of coat hangers, and Robert Ripley's personal favorite item from his collection, the Fiji Mermaid, which was fabricated out of the upper section of a monkey and the lower half of a fish, and exhibited in the late 1800s as a genuine mermaid by P. T. Barnum.

7:20 PM: Dinner at Blaine's Bar & Grill

While we were in Ripley's (a span of time greater than two hours), a thunderstorm came up and soaked the city, even causing the power to cut off briefly a couple of times as we made our way through the exhibits. After leaving the museum, we trudged up the steaming streets, and ended the day with dinner at Blaine's Bar & Grill. After eating, I took a few pictures of the still-wet city streets and the surrounding mountains from the balcony outside the third floor.

Finally, we went to the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen (which, despite the name, was not that smoky), bought a half-pound of bridge mix (mostly chocolate covered raisins, peanuts, and almonds) and came back to the cabin.

 Day Three: Above Gatlinburg 

10:00 AM: Breakfast at the Copper Kettle Pancake House

We started our third day with breakfast at the Copper Kettle Pancake House, one of approximately a thousand restaurants in Gatlinburg with the word “pancake” in its name. We both had the Mountain Breakfast, which includes eggs any way you like them (we went with scrambled), home fries, biscuits and gravy, your choice of sausage or bacon, and coffee or tea. It was loaded with fat, sodium, and cholesterol; I suspect there was even some nicotine in there somewhere. I loved it, though; left to my own devices, I'd put gravy on everything. And I did.

11:15 AM: Christus Gardens

Next we went to Christus Gardens, Gatlinburg's most pious attraction, the complete opposite of the Ripley's museum. It was created over forty years ago by a man named Ronald S. Ligon, after he was stricken with tuberculosis and nearly died. Feeling that his recovery was the result of divine intervention, Ligon decided to build a memorial to show his gratitude. The result is a series of dioramas depicting Some of the murals at Christus Gardens the life of Christ, from the Nativity to the Ascension, complete with dramatic lighting, sound effects, and narration. The museum also contains a series of paintings depicting various parables, a small but pretty outdoor garden, and a collection of Biblical-era coins. It also features what is described as the single most photographed thing in Gatlinburg, an image of the face of Christ carved in a 6-ton block of Carrara marble, the eyes of which seem to be looking at you regardless of how you approach it.

We spent about forty-five minutes going through the museum and then browsing through the gift shop. When we left, we were ready for an uplifting experience of a different kind.

12:20 PM: The Sky Lift

The Gatlinburg Sky Lift has been taking people up to the top of Crockett Mountain for over forty-five years now. It wasn't one of the things I had planned on doing, but Anna thought it would be neat so we did it. I'm glad we did, too; it was quite an experience taking the ten-minute ride on the chairlift up the mountain, looking down at the streets and the people and the city.

We spent about twenty minutes at the top of the mountain; we looked at the cheesy gifts in the gift shop, ate some Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and then rode back down. The ride back down was even neater because it gave us a good view of the city and the mountains surrounding the city.

1:25 PM: The World of Illusions and Ripley's Moving Theater

Next we went to the World of Illusions, a fairly recent and, frankly, disappointing attraction. It's basically a wax museum that uses lighting and mirrors to make it look like Dracula is turning into a bat or the person on the other side of the booth from you has disappeared. The most interesting thing, to me, was found in the Frankenstein display: the wax figure of Dr. Frankenstein, I would swear, had been taken from a now-defunct wax museum, specifically from a MASH display. He looked just like Hawkeye Pierce (or at least as much like him as wax figures ever really do), even down to the dogtags (though I couldn't read them) and the army-issue olive drab belt and pants!

The Ripley's Moving Theater was a little better. There are two movies to choose from; we chose the roller coaster one. Just like a real roller coaster, the time we had to wait was about three times as long as the actual ride. It did feel like a real roller coaster, though, no doubt due to the fact that (as the posters told us) the seats moved in eight different directions. By the time we were done my tucchus was quite sore from all the bumping and jerking.

5:30: Into Pigeon Forge and Dinner at the Old Mill House

We went back to our cabin to rest for a while, but by about 5:30 we were getting hungry. We decided that, since we'd seen most of Gatlinburg already, we would go north a couple of miles to see what Pigeon Forge had to offer.

Pigeon Forge is a lot different than Gatlinburg. It's a tourist town too, but not quite in the same way; it's a little more subtle, so naturally I didn't like it as much. It's biggest attraction, of course, is Dollywood, Dolly Parton's amusement park, but it also has plenty of minature golf places, go kart rides (both indoor and outdoor), laser tag places, and even an indoor skydiving attraction.

Fortunately, though, our objective was dinner, so we didn't have to deal with any of that. We picked The Old Mill Restaurant because it sounded interesting in the guidebook Anna had picked up somewhere. It was interesting, and good; our meals (sugar cured ham for me, turkey and dressing for Anna) included corn chowder, corn fritters, salad, mashed pototoes, green beans, and our choice of dessert. It was a lot of food, and it was all really good. It was worth the half-hour wait.


For the historical background on Gatlinburg, and for the many hours of pleasure it has given me, I am indebted to Tim Hollis's book Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun.

(I originally published this travelogue on my AOL Web site on the dates shown above, and transferred it to our family blog in late October of 2017.)

Saturday, May 27, 2000

Chattanooga, Tennessee: A One Day Visit

10:30 AM: Rock City Gardens

Rock City Gardens is one of my favorite tourist attractions in the world. In fact, I had visited Rock City about five times in the last two years before our Memorial Day weekend visit; as you can imagine, I'm pretty familiar with the place. That's why—well, that's one of the reasons why—it was so nice to have Annie with me, because she had never been there.

Besides being one of my favorites, Rock City is also one of the nation's oldest tourist attractions. Rock City Gardens as it exists today was first opened to the public many years before I was born—in fact, many years before my parents were born—in May of 1932 by Garnet and Frieda Carter. (Garnet, a Chattanooga businessman and developer, had already made an indelible mark on the roadside attraction industry over half a decade earlier as the inventor of minature golf.) The area atop Lookout Mountain that he and his wife opened as an attraction in 1932 had been called Rock City since the 1800s, but during those less civilized years you could get in for free, there were no plaster gnomes, and “Fat Man's Squeeze“ had not been properly labeled as such.

Garnet and Frieda corrected this slight oversight of nature. They laid out pine needle pathways through the rocky formations, provided signs for “Eye of the Needle,” “Lover's Leap,” “Mushroom Rock,” and the rest, situated genuine German statues of gnomes variously along the path, and began charging admission. Tourists such as myself obliged them, and the Rock City of today is virtually the same as it was 68 years ago. The Fairyland Caverns, my favorite part of Rock City when I was a kid, the part I thought was Rock City, were added in 1947, Mother Goose Village seventeen years later, and Rock City Gardens was complete.



2:00 PM: The Southern Belle Riverboat Lunch Cruise

After our fun-filled two hours in Rock City, we headed down (or is it up?) to the Tennessee River to the Chattanooga Riverboat Co. for a lunch cruise on the Southern Belle. We got there a good half-hour before boarding began, which gave us ample opportunity to browse through the gift shop and take a brief walk down the pier. I was very happy to discover that the gift shop stocks Willy Wonka's Chewy Gobstoppers, which I prefer to the generally more readily-available Everlasting Gobstoppers (plus, of course, the chewy kind don't turn you into a giant blueberry so that the Oompa-Loompas have to roll you down to the de-juicing room, but that, as Kipling would say, is another story).

We boarded the Southern Belle at around 1:30, found a table by a window, and immediately began making our sandwiches at the "'Build-Your-Own-Sandwich' Buffet with a delicious assortment of meats, cheeses, breads, and condiments," as their brochure describes it. "A long table with bread, bologna, and mayonnaise" might be a better description, but it in fairness I must admit that it did include turkey, ham, various kinds of cheese, and mustard. We had pretty much finished our sandwiches before the boat left the dock, so it wasn't truly a "lunch cruise," in so much as we weren't cruising during lunch, but it was close enough for me. Neither Annie or I had ever been on a boat like that, so it was especially neat.

After we finished eating we moved up to the top of the boat, where, as you can imagine, one could get the best view. For the next hour and a half the riverboat meandered down (or up?) the river, with the captain providing a narrative of the sights we saw, the history of the area, and his own experience piloting boats down the river; his rambling dialogue combined the informative, humorous, and annoying in a way that rivaled my own travelogues. A couple of times as we sat in our white plastic chairs along the railing, the sun warming the backs of our necks and the breeze playing with our hair, Annie drifted off to sleep. The sun was especially searing that afternoon and I got some major sunburn on my arms and a little on the back of my neck while we were sitting on the top level of the boat, but it was worth it.

After we were done with the riverboat cruise and got our land legs back, we went to the outlet stores for a while, where I decided against a shirt that I have since wished I'd bought, then we went to a really cool used bookstore that's in Chattanooga, McKay's used books, where we bought a near-complete set of Childcraft Encylopedias and at least a dozen other books. We finally left for home around 8:00. We stopped for dinner at an Applebee's in Dalton, and got back to my house around 10:30.


For the historical background on Rock City, and for the many hours of pleasure it has given me, I am indebted to Tim Hollis's book Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun. If you grew up in the south in the 1970s as I did and have fond memories of family road trips to places like Rock City, Gatlinburg, Panama City Beach, Marineland, and Six Flags Over Georgia, you should get this book. It's really good.

(I originally published this travelogue on my AOL Web site on the dates shown above, and transferred it to our family blog in late October of 2017.)