6 nights in one place might not seem like a lot to many Airstreamers – but for Tom and me it is somewhat of a record! Seven days, six nights, in the Smoky Mountains National Park! First though, on Tuesday, November 1st, we headed for East Fork State Park, around the corner from Micah, to celebrate his birthday. Leaving at noon on Tuesday, we were set up in our campsite by 3:30, and shortly after Micah called to say he was off work, done exercising, and ready for us to descend.
We arrived at Elkmont at 1:30, just as our Airstream neighbors-for-the-week, Terry and Sue, were returning from a morning hike to Laural Falls and a climb up Clingman’s dome -- they pack a lot into a morning! We wasted no time in choosing a spot and setting up the Silvermine for the next six nights. Terry and Sue were on their first adventure in their new 28' Airstream, and had already traveled from Ohio to North Carolina, and then joining us at Elkmont. Here are pictures of our rigs sitting side-by-side -- they all look alike, RIGHT?
Trails from our campground lead back to an abandoned village, and we wasted no time showing this little hidden gem to Terry and Sue. We ran into a painting club that was capturing the derelict buildings on canvas . . . while we did likewise on film.
This little collection of days-gone-by retreats always amaze me. They are inside the National Park, and I think they just can't decide what to do with this bit of nostalgia --- let them continue to crumble into decay . . . or fix them up for the sake of preservation.
Leaving the ghost cabins we took our time walking the campground loops back to our site, and admiring some of the very different camping fashion statements.
Back at the campground we did the minute-math, and figured we had time to head into Gatlinburg, only 7 miles away, and shop up our favorite outdoor supply store. An hour shopping yielded mosquito head-nets for next summer’s Alaska trip – a cheap trip!
We were back at the campsite with a fire going and dinner on the grill by 6:30. By 8:00 it was dark, and we shut down for the evening!
Up at 7:00 and ready to check an item off my bucket list! For many years (actually decades!) I have wanted to ride around Cades Cove in a lawn chair, in the back of a pick-up truck – redneck style. Leaving the campground at 8:00 it was a bit chilly, and I wasn’t sure that it would be good redneck-riding weather. First we took a quick trip around Cades Cove campground and stopped at the store to empty our tanks and snap some pics.
Before we even got to the start of the loop road we sighted our first wildlife - which the loop road ride is famous for. Unfortunately, this was about it for close-up wildlife viewing for the trip.
By now the weather was warming up, and Sue and I decided to try the redneck ride. Terry and Tom took over the cab, and we enjoyed the lovely views and smells in the open air,
We stopped at several of the viewing opportunities listed on the loop road map . . . and passed by several more. One interesting stop was at the Primitive Baptist Church where a volunteer gave a great lecture on the importance and meaning of the church in the lives of the valley people. He pointed out that they did not have welfare, health insurance, or any of the other stop-gaps between catastrophic loss and survival. But, they did have the church, and the congregation stepped to fill the shoes of all of our social programs!
Half-way through the ride, we stopped for a more extensive walk around the Mill area of Cades Cove, where there are several buildings on display and a nice little store. By this time it was well past the lunch hour, and we settled back in the truck with a switch of the girls up front and the boys in the back, and finished the loop without another stop.
A drive of 10 miles led us to the Subway restaurant in Townsend, and a late lunch. By 2:30 we were back at the campground, and settled in for a peaceful couple hours of enjoying the 70-degree temperatures.
We rallied in the afternoon for a walk around the “other” part of the campground which was closed off for camping at this time of year. Our favorite campsites, the “G” loop has large, flat, sites that are by the river.
We enjoyed a Cornish Hen dinner, and as dark settled we invited new friend, lone-camper Ruth to join us around the fire. Ruth’s husband had passed away in January, and she was on a solo camping, hiking trip, reaffirming her passion for the great outdoors in this new unaccompanied stage. Camping in a very small pup tent, Ruth relayed to us that she had just become owner of a 1962 25’ Tradewind Airstream. We certainly will keep our eyes out for Ruth in the future!
Friday morning Terry, Sue, Tom and I left the campground at 8:00 – destination: breakfast at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg. There are scores of pancake places in Gatlinburg, but our favorite is the Pancake Pantry, and it is the first pancake house in Tennessee.
Shops were not open yet in Gatlinburg, so we headed for Pigeon Forge and the little shopping venue called The Island – Margaretville. It was also just waking up for the day, and a stroll through the little shopping street scored a new pair of shoes for both the girls! We rode the giant Ferris wheel for a great view of the surrounding mountains. The ride is not at all like a carnie wheel – the seats are enclosed and climate controlled, and the ride is very smooth and quiet! Here are some of our views from above.
Back on the ground we lingered just long enough to hit up a few stores and take in the views of the shopping smorgasboard
While in Pigeon Forge, Tom had two stops to make in his quest for an Outback jacket for the Alaska trip. The particular brand is famous for the below-hip and ankle-length “duster” styles, but Tom is looking for the oiled canvas that fits at the waist. No luck, but he still had some addresses of places to try in Gatlinburg later in the week.
Exploring ended early for the day as we headed back to Elkmont with the intent of taking showers in the Airstream. We were meeting brother Richard and friends for dinner in Townsend at our favorite Trail Head restaurant.
Richard, Paula, Barb and Josh arrived within 10 minutes after we got there – I spent the 10 minutes with the phone service and catching up on emails. Then it was time to catch up with my brother while we ate dinner Tom had a hamburger and I had the fried catfish, and we enjoyed 1 ½ hours around the table with chit-chat and catchin’ up. We got back to the campsite at 7:00, just as it was getting dark, and enjoyed a last campfire with Sue and Terry. They would be pulling out for home in the morning.
It was only 39 degrees when we got up this morning – we had fortunately closed all the windows before going to bed. I had the Yellowstone Pendleton wool blanket out, but we didn’t have to layer it on our regular quilt bedding. I did, however, sleep in a hoodie!
Tom started a fire and made egg sandwiches on the griddle outside. I perked coffee on the stove-top in an old-fashioned percolator. Tom said it was the best coffee he had in years, and that is how I felt about his egg sandwiches!
By 9:30 we were off to Gatlinburg in search of a couple more stores that might have Tom’s Outback, oiled, canvas jacket. Both stores that we found had the jacket, but they all just had the long, long, duster style in stock. We came back to the camper for a quick sandwich lunch and to pick up Charlie Button and then did the Roaring Fork auto tour that takes off from downtown Gatlinburg and winds up the mountain for 15 miles. Hiking trailheads are sprinkled along the 16 mile road, and although there are signs to prohibit parking on the roads, at each trailhead there were dozens of cars barely pulled over and parked. In several places it was a tight squeeze. On the back half of the loop, the road turns one-way, and become really tight. But the scenery is Tennessee forest at it’s very best, as well as several well-preserved log cabins and a grist mill.
In Gatlinburg we stopped for a splash of gas to fill up the generator (yes we are cheating and using a generator to recharge our battery, and power my hair dryer!) By 4:00 we were settled into the campsite for the duration of the evening . . . the temptation was to go into Gatlinburg to watch the Buckeyes play Nebraska, but Tom resisted that urge. Supper was lamb chops on the grill, salad, and potatoes.
Another cold morning in the 40’s (and a time change) greeted us, and a plan for a big day of more auto touring. The Heintooga Ridge road would require a trip past the famous Chimney-Tops, up to Newfound Gap, across the top of the mountain, down past the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and a short stint on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had never done this drive before, and were anxious to check out the Campground on Balsam Mountain.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was quiet and peaceful and beautiful, as always, and we had no trouble finding the turn-off on the Heintooga Ridge Road. We drove along several miles just to find that it was closed for the winter! Turning around we headed back into Cherokee for lunch and a brief shop-stop to see if the local outer-wear store carried Tom’s Outback jacket. NIX!
With that we reversed our trip back down and through Gatlinburg, with a quick jaunt out to a grocery store in Pigeon Forge to buy a steak for the evening grill. We were back at the campground by 3:00, with plans for a book-session, a quick nap, dinner, and a movie in the camper.
Our last day began with a run in towards Maryville, my home town, for a visit to our favorite hiking store, The Little River. I saw the exact jacket that I want for the Alaska trip – the light-as-a-feather shell that is reported to be toasty warm. For $300 it ought to be! Tom had the same experience with looking for new hiking boots. We drove on into Maryville to the Route 401 cut-off to Sevierville – thru beautiful developed country homes scattered along secluded valleys. In Sevierville we renewed our relationship with the Smoky Mountain Knife Works – the largest knife shop in the . . . . .. area? It was a favorite of our kids when they were little and it has been at least 5 years since we have visited. Stock full of knives and guns and ammo and kitchen slicer and dicers, we left without a purchase. In Sevierville we settled on Long John Silvers for a quick lunch, and a return through Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and back to Elkmont. The temperatures were in the mid 60’s, and it was our last day to enjoy the 0-G experience in the lawn chairs at our campsite. Beautiful.
This last trip of 2016 was a great way to end the camping season. The Silvermine has an appointment for a spa day at Jackson Center, and we have managed to accumulate a list of items to be taken care of. She has performed admirably for 9 months and is ready for a few months rest. This ends my blog, also, for the season . . . except that I will be writing a summary of our statistics for the season! Tune back!
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown