The Smokies and Knoxville

We crossed another National Park off the list this week with a wonderful visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMP). It’s a big place that could have kept us busy for months and months. Over 800 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail (AT), hundreds of historic sites, and innumerable streams and rivers make this one of the most beautiful parks we’ve seen. 

They say GSMP is defined by the 3 Ws: Wildlife, Wildflowers, and Waterfalls. We would add one more letter to the description: C for crowds. Even in the off season, which is what March is considered, the crowds at the popular sites were large. We can’t even imagine what it would be like in the peak seasons of summer and fall. It’s no wonder it’s the nation’s busiest national park…1/3 of the US population lives within a days drive of its borders. 

On one day we explored Cades Cove, a verdant valley punctuated with historic homes and churches, abundant wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We drove the 11 mile loop road, stopping along the way to learn about the settlers who populated the valley in the early 1800s.

We also spent a day driving the Newfound Gap Road, which crosses the park from Tennessee to North Carolina. The mountain pass reaches an elevation of over 5,000 feet where the road crosses the famed Appalachian Trail. We enjoyed some short hikes along the drive but skipped on the AT (for now). 

We also spent one day just hanging out at our incredible RV resort, Little Arrow Camping Resort, in Townsend, TN, right outside the entrance to the national park. We had a waterfront site that allowed us to listen to the rushing water right from the rig. Each evening we participated in activities, including Bingo, Trivia, and Smores night around the fire. Bob especially enjoyed the socializing. 

From Little Arrow we were able to hop on several hiking trails. One took us to a viewpoint that overlooks the cute town of Townsend. There a local carver is installing a giant Sasquatch, and we were able to chat with him about his work and admire the grandeur of the piece. 

Just down the road from Little Arrow we did a hike in the national park which we learned is one of the best trails to see the spring wildflowers. 

After our four days at Little Arrow and GSMP we drove less than an hour north to Knoxville. Steve had been here back in 1982 for the World’s Fair, so we did some reminiscing. There are no RV parks near downtown Knoxville so we “camped” on top of the Civic Auditorium parking garage, which provided us with electricity and security!

The main reason for hitting Knoxville was to complete another marathon.

Steve braved the cold and wind to finish the marathon in less than four hours. This was his 25th state, so he’s half way to his goal of all 50 states!

From here we head west towards home and will not likely post anything more until we begin our next RV adventure in May when we head north to Alaska!  So hang on…there’s big stuff ahead!

Thanksgiving and Whiskey

You can’t come to middle Tennessee and not visit Lynchburg and the Jack Daniels distillery. After leaving Nashville we drove south about an hour and a half to the little town that is home to the country’s most popular whiskey.

The town itself is tiny, with a square lined with shops that sell Jack Daniels souvenirs. The official Jack Daniels store is housed in the Lynchburg Hardware and General Store. There’s no hardware sold there…only more Jack Daniels stuff. Steve bought, what else, but a hat.

The tour itself took us into the actual distillery to follow the production process. As we walked through the beautiful grounds we learned about the production of the special charcoal that makes this whiskey so smooth. The whiskey is filtered through the charcoal before it is put into toasted oak barrels. Did you know that Jack Daniels has its own fire brigade to protect the 92 barrel houses that dot the nearby countryside?

We learned that when Jack established the distillery back in the 1860s, he chose Cave Spring Hollow, the current location, to take advantage of the iron-free, mineral rich water in the spring. The water has turned out to be one of the ingredients that makes Jack’s whiskey so good. We met Jack at the spring and took some photos. The Jack Daniels distillery registered with the federal government in 1866, making it the oldest distillery in the U.S.

After the tour we were treated to a tasting of six Jack Daniels products including the traditional Old No. 7, Gentleman Jack’s, and several of the newer, flavored varieties. Of course we walked away with a few bottles to enjoy at home!

The day started off wet and rainy but we ended up with clear skies and cool temperatures. It was a perfect day to explore this cute little town.

On Thanksgiving morning we took the short drive from Lynchburg to Lawrenceburg, TN and set up camp at the beautiful David Crockett State Park. The campsite was the perfect place to enjoy our socially-distanced Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, stuffing, and of course, our first homemade Jack Daniels pecan pie!

The park has some nice trails and historical information that we got to explore. Davy Crockett and his family settled here in 1817. An old mill, a lake, waterfalls, and historical stuff makes it easy to hang out for a few days.

This week I was cleared for regular shoes and am no longer wearing the surgical shoe that has been plaguing me. We commemorated the occasion with a short 1/2 mile hike on the nearby Trail of Tears. Seemed appropriate. My foot is still swollen and sore if I’m on it much, but it is getting better.

The other feature that drew us to this area is the nearby Ethridge, home of the South’s largest “Old Order” Amish settlement. “Old Order” means they have no modern conveniences, no cars, no tractors, no electricity, and no running water. We did learn that they have a lot of kids!! We toured a portion of the community, which has approximately 250 families. You can stop at most farms and buy their wares including fresh eggs, preserves, hats, rugs, furniture, saddles, caskets, and a bunch of other things. We bought a few yummies and really enjoyed our short but cordial conversations with the community members we met. They don’t believe in having their photographs taken, but we snuck in a few of the countryside.

We’re continuing our trek south and should be on the gulf coast within a week. We’ll share more updates as we have news to report.

Music City and Beyond

Nashville, known as Music City, is filled with incredible opportunities to listen to live music and learn about the history of one of our favorite genres of music. But it’s so much more!! We just spent the last week exploring this historic city while navigating the increasingly severe pandemic. 

On our first day here we headed towards nearby Franklin, south of Nashville. Our first destination was the legendary Loveless Cafe. Known for melt-in-your mouth biscuits, we started our day with chicken and waffles and a yummy BBQ omelet, along with incredible biscuits and preserves. Where this was once a restaurant and motel for travelers along Highway 100, it’s now a favorite stop for Nashville locals. Yum!

Just past the Loveless Cafe begins the Natchez Trace, the 444 mile-long parkway that links Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. Originally an Indian footpath, the route has served settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and now modern day travelers. We didn’t get very far along the parkway, but we did capture some cool photos of the double-arched bridge at the beginning of the Trace. 

Steve was planning to run the Nashville Rock and Roll Marathon this week but like many other things this year, it wasn’t meant to be.  Less than a week ago, it was postponed due to the pandemic. Steve had the option to defer his registration or to do the race virtually. He chose the virtual option and ran 26.2 miles through the streets and and parks of Nashville on his own, fully self-supported. He finished this race in just over four hours and placed second in his age group. Here he is as he was heading out the door to run with his water on his back. 

Almost every day we were in Nashville we selected one major activity. Here’s a run-down of our fun:

The Grand Ole Opry– The Opry, the longest running radio broadcast in U.S. history, is recently back open after being closed to live audiences since March. We snagged two of the limited-availability tickets for Saturday night’s performance. The two hour show featured country stars Russell Dickerson and Lady A. 

Cheekwood Holiday Lights and Chihuly Nights – The Cheekwood Estate and Gardens preserves a 1930s mansion and grounds. With incredible views and a deep history, the annual holiday light display coincided with a show of the work of one of our favorite artists, Dale Chihuly. His large-scale glass art installations dotted the gardens of the historic estate and were accented by the twinkling of the holiday lights.

It was a festive, beautiful evening that got us in the holiday spirit. 

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – A visit to Nashville isn’t complete without a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. On a rainy afternoon we explored country music from its early days to the modern era. Highlights for us were references to television shows from our childhood. Minnie Pearl’s dress and hat (complete with price tag) reminded us of all those Hee Haw episodes we watched with our parents. The Bandit’s TransAm was a cool reminder of the classic movie, Smokey and the Bandit. 

Belle Meade – On a nice afternoon we toured the Belle Meade Plantation. Belle Meade began in 1807 with a log cabin and 250 acres.  Over time, and with the dedication of the Harding and Jackson families and the workers who lived there before and after Emancipation, this site became one of the largest thoroughbred horse farms in the South. In fact, all Triple Crown winners can trace their pedigrees back to Belle Meade. 

Between our tours and events we also visited the Nashville Farmers Market, the State Capital area, and Broadway, the downtown street lined with bars featuring live music at all hours of the day. Masks are required and there’s lots of social distancing in light of the pandemic. We are following all of the rules and guidelines and being careful to wash our hands and use our hand sanitizer as much as possible.

We’re now headed south with a few interesting stops planned. Whiskey anyone?