Monday we were on our way by 9:00 to our river-front camping spot at our favorite Elkmont Campground in the Smoky Mts. National Park. On our way through my hometown of Maryville, we stopped at the Blount Memorial Hospital to pay a visit to the laboratory celebrating the life-long work of my father. It had been years since we had stopped for a look, and we found it just as impressive and modern as when it opened in 2008.
The lab has a showcase window with memorabilia of daddy, including National awards received (The Billings Silver Award for scientific study and discovery) and declarations from the State of Tennessee, and "inventions" (the first "drunkometer" to measure alcohol in the blood and a slide-rules to calculate blood gas balances.
The walls of the laboratory are a showcase of pictures showing Dr. Kintner in family and work scenes -- below is Mama and Daddy!
There is a story behind this next picture. In 1980 when I was pregnant, daddy tried to get a blood sample from me at his house -- using his ancient equipment and very dull needles. Finally he admitted that he hadn't drawn blood in over 20 years -- he had "girls" to do that for me at the lab! Off we went to the lab, and somebody got this picture of one of "his girls" drawing the blood.
From there it was a well-known path straight east towards the mountains, and an hour’s drive back to Elkmont Campground. Last year there were plenty of sites available – but none along this river. This year we made reservations and nailed a prime spot in ”C” loop that was right beside the Little River. A slice of heaven for the next six days!
With a high of 53 for the day, an early afternoon campfire took the chill off, and we were able to cook our dinner of Cornish hens and roasted potatoes over the fire. As temperatures dipped, we snuggled under a couple extra layers of blankets and were toasty warm in the low-40 overnight – except for the midnight trips down the hall to that rear bathroom!
Tuesday, our first day of sightseeing took us briefly into Gatlinburg (7miles) to grab some Subways for lunch. Then, on up into the high mountains of Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome. The dome’s tower was closed for repairs, so we enjoyed the view from the parking lot and, with a stiff wind at 42 degrees, ate lunch in the truck, where the bright sun coming through the window felt wonderful. At this elevation, all of the leaves were off the deciduous trees and some light snow and ice were showing from a cold front a few days before.
On a quest to see some rutting Elk, we drove back down to Newfound Gap again, and over the mountain to the “other” end of the park – Oconaluftee and Cherokee Indian Territory. One lone elk was in the field outside the visitor center and there wasn’t any rut going on – although signs warning the tourists and some very torn-up fields showed evidence that it was the season! We were also back at elevations where the trees were in full color. Having been disappointed with the town of Cherokee the last few times we visited – we turned away from it and headed back to Elkmont.
Back at Elkmont I enjoyed a couple hours of reading by a fire, and Tom headed off with Charlie on a walk to cross the river and follow a trail back up to our camp location. In awhile I heard him whistle to me and watched as he took pictures of our campsite from across the river.
Supper was left-over meatloaf sandwiches and cheesy potato soup. Then, things picked up a bit as 3 Airstreams moved in right around us – two 22’ Sport models and a 25’ Eddie Bauer. Within the hour we met all three. Oh how much fun to form new Airstream bonds! (Later in the week several more Airstream vans and coaches moved in and out – one with a mother/schoolteacher and her 9-year-old son who were playing hooky the whole school year to tour the entire USA!
Wednesday morning we headed out for Sugarlands Visitor Center, with the intent of asking questions about the Synchronous Firefly appearance in June – we are hoping to plan a rally around the event. The ranger confirmed that reservations for Elmont Campground must be made 6 months (to the day) ahead of time, and that the sites go extremely quickly. To be able to gather a group in one area of the campground is especially difficult. During the two weeks that the fireflies put on their show, the only cars allowed back to Elkmont are in the morning until mid-afternoon. . . no evening access to view the fireflies! Only people who win in a lottery are able to ride a trolly back for an evening. I have a list of a dozen couples that are interested in making a firefly rally a reality. You can learn about the firefly event here:
Funny thing at Sugarlands – the electricity was out - a transformer had gone out. We got back in the truck and as we reached the edge of Gatlinburg (3 miles away) the electricity still seemed to be out. So, we reversed our trip and blew through Gatlinburg out the other end to Pigeon Forge for a little prime outlet shopping. At the Coleman Outlet we picked up a single propane burner to use outside with a skillet. We also marched through the Lodge cast iron outlet without a purchase. We made a quick stop at “The Island” (Margaretville) where I bought a pair of Alegra Shoes – the most comfortable shoes in the world!
Then back through Gatlinburg for lunch at the famous Pancake Pantry where there was no line! Usually the line wraps down the sidewalk and through the little “Village.” We splurged with peach crepes. Our last stop was a large mountain supply store Nantahala Outdoor Center, and while we are always tempted by their high-priced swag – we resisted and came away empty-handed.
Back at the Silvermine we fired up the generator, turned on the hot water, and pealed down for showers in the camper. Our evening plan was to drive to Cades Cove for a just-before-dark drive around the cove when the wildlife is usually out – and then a return to the camper for a late supper.
Our timing was about 45 minutes early for a true-dusk trip around the cover. But, it was a beautiful drive and we saw 5 deer, several turkeys, a field of ponies . . . and two black bears! One poor bear was trying to cross the road, and had created a long “bear jam” of cars. People were out of their cars and heading into the woods and the bear was a bit riled with his hackles up. Eventually he disappeared into the woods. The second bear was grubbing under a walnut tree up by the road – last chance to fatten up for the winter.
Thursday morning Tom tried out the new propane burner that we bought at the Coleman Outlet Store. He cooked eggs and bacon for breakfast and declared the stove very efficient.
This fueled us for a walk through to the end of the campground and up into the old cabins of Daisy Town. Left over from the turn of the century, before the park was a park, these cabins are just withering away and melting into the surroundings of the deep woods. It is strange that $$ have been spent to pave the road and add parking spots, and hiking trails that give access to the cabins, but they are all posted with “do not enter” signs.
Another excursion for the day was the roaring fork motor road that leaves through Gatlinburg and meanders up and over the mountains (with frequent pull-off for trail-heads) – a one-way road barely big enough for a truck. It is mountain beauty at it’s very best.
I have not talked yet about the leaves; of course, the whole idea of a fall trip to the Smokies is about the leaf-peeping. It is hard to decide if it is “peak week”, but I can say that the leaves that are still on the trees (about 60%) are all in various colors from bright green to yellow to orange and rust and red. Combined with the bright sunshine and the blue sky – it is all “peak” in my mind.
In the early afternoon we took time to just enjoy the campsite. Backed right up to the river we sat our chair in a slightly sunny area and enjoyed books and light napping – all to the sounds of the moving water. The temperature rose to 74 degrees, making for a wonderful 2-hour session.
I then had a hankering to go into Gatlinburg (only 7 miles away) to my two favorite shops – the sock shop (new socks for those new shoes I got yesterday) and Paws and Claws (a new Ohio State hoodie for Charlie!) We walked the streets and did a few more shops, and then headed back to enjoy more of our campsite. In the 70-degree weather. In November. By the river. Watching this blue heron! Heaven.
Thursday night it rained lightly; but nothing that left a lasting impression at the campsite in the morning. We ended back up at Sugarlands for a few loose ends that had to be tied up from our last visit when the lights were out. While watching the movie about the GSM my phone rang – brother Richard had just been wanting to see what we were up to – he DID NOT know that we were close-by in the mountains! We immediately made plans to drive into Maryville for a dinner date that evening.
Then, back to the campsite to enjoy reading by the river (Ella), hiking a trail through the campground (Tom & Charlie), and a bit of early packing up before heading for Maryville to meet Richard and Paula. By 8:00 we were back at the campsite and enjoying our last evening at Elkmont. Saturday we were up early, off by 7:00, stopped by Micah's house to drop off/pick up "stuff", and home in time for the Buckeye ball game!
There will definitely be a repeat of this trip next fall!
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