Edit Blog Post
Published: October 5th 2015
Editor's note: This trip was over a year ago. As mentioned in a blog published earlier this year (2015), I felt out of sorts after losing our cat on a trip to WV and thought I took pictures and got started on writing, just didn't have the heart in it. Finally, feeling a bit better, I decided I needed to catch up and get some of these out. We really do enjoy our camping trips with Dave and Bonnie and wished we all lived closer and could do these more often.
Our trip in August (2014) took us to VA and we had hoped to see good friends Dave and Bonnie Lodge. Alas, they were off on a motorcycle trip to The Tail of the Dragon in NC. It's a fascinating ride on twisting mountain roads with breathtaking scenery. Good for them, bad for us. So when we got a note asking if we wanted to meet at Dollywood in mid September, we were ecstatic! Of course we did. We consulted on campgrounds and finally found one that we could get in at a reasonable price and have sites next to each other. Woo-hoo, we were ready to go.
Trolley System in Pigeon Forge
Most rides were $0.50 but you could buy a wrist band for $2.50 and ride all day. The trolley stopped at the campground and took you to a central transit point where you boarded a different trolley for Dollywood. Saved gas, parking, and stress; plus you got to see the countryside.
Now Trish is NOT a ride person, as in amusement parks. So after the initial excitement, she started having second thoughts. She was ready to have me go and she would stay at the campground in the RV and relax. Well, enter another good friend, Ellen Bowman, former boss at the Army. Trish and Ellen were talking on the phone and Ellen told her she also did not like rides. But Dollywood had SO much more to offer; she knew Trish would really enjoy it. Ellen said the shows alone were worth the price of admission. So with some cynicism, Trish said OK, she'd go to the park. We left early Sunday AM, got checked in at the campground, set up and waited for Dave and Bonnie's arrival. We had decided to fix dinner for them since they had the longer drive. After getting set up, and their inspection of our new RV (first they had seen it since we got it last fall) we fixed Sloppy Joes, chips, carrot sticks, wine and beer and sat eating outside. Yes, the sites were close but we sat chatting till well after dark and made our plans for the next day.
Old Mill area of Pigeon Forge
Without ever going to Dollywood, there was plenty to do in Pigeon Forge. This old general store had lots of backwoods goodies (food, tools, books, knick-nacks) and next door was a wonderful restaurant and across the street was a pottery shop and a distillery (with tasting!)
They have a transit system in Pigeon Forge with trolleys running various routes, including right to the campground. Problem was, no one knew exactly how often they came nor exactly when. So the next day (Monday) we drove into town and bought trolley passes for the day, allowing us to get on and off as often as we wished. First we rode north of town, checking out the shops, attractions, etc. Stopped at Walmart to get some necessities and back on the trolley to the main depot. Once there, we headed for lunch to the Old Mill and had wonderful meals. That was followed by a visit to the distillery next door where we got FREE samples of various whiskies. Quick visit to a pottery shop and then back to the trolley depot to catch the Dollywood transit.
They have a great promo: if you buy a ticket AFTER 3PM, you get the rest of the day PLUS all of next day for one price. We thought we'd spend the 3 hours we had exploring and deciding what we'd do the next day. The trolley came, dropped us off at the entrance and after getting tickets, headed in for
Face Jugs at pottery shop
I was interested in these because a college frat brother makes these. Trish and I looked and agreed that Bill Bailey's (former Judge Bailey, of Wooster, OH), makes much better, more interesting face jugs.
our wandering and review.
Dollywood has taken a page from Disney/Epcot Center. Grounds are immaculate, staff goes out of their way to be friendly and helpful, walkways are wide with lots of benches to rest, and plenty of places to shop and eat and relax. After scanning the events list we headed to the far end of the park (naturally) to see a movie (30 minutes) of why Dolly loves the Tennessee hills and people so much. Beautiful stage with great effects and lighting, a slick movie with lots of music and narration by Dolly, and you leave wanting to hear more. Then it was past the steam locomotive to another venue where we got a 45 minute up-tempo show by six young people featuring the history of country music. We heard tunes by all the famous singers and watched a performance that was pure professionalism and exceptional talent. Wow! After that we wandered to a live show of Raptors--birds of prey. They had eagles, owls, hawks and a Golden and Bald Eagle fly around. We learned of the efforts of Dollywood to help save the eagles and saw 20-30 live eagles living in the wild under netting and
Re-creation of old grist mill in Dollywood
Everywhere you turned inside the park were rides, shops, shows and places to eat. There were also lots of benches to sit and rest. This old mill had lots of souvenirs and trinkets.
fenced as they recovered from injuries. Young that were bred in captivity were later released into the wild to help propagate the species.
We finished off the day walking up to a ride Bonnie convinced me was harmless. It was a roller coaster in the dark with lots of scenes built into the sides of firemen fighting flames, burning buildings, etc. All in the dark, with sudden drops, quick turns, and things flying seemingly right at you. I survived. We walked back to the exit as it was time to go and, like any good amusement park, they exit you through a LARGE gift shop. Rode the trolley back to the depot and then drove back to the campground. Long day, but good times. Next day we'd go back for a full day of fun, music and rides (maybe).
Next morning we had got on the trolley at the campground and after a 30 minute ride out into the country past a number of other campgrounds, we were at the depot, to await the trip to Dollywood. Unfortunately, times were messed up and we waited 40 minutes, looking for a coffee shop. Finally it was time to go
History of Country Music show
This group of talented young people reminded us of Up With People. They were high energy, good voices, fast paced, and in 30 minutes we heard snippets of famous songs from Dolly, Rheba, Patsy Cline, Loretta, Kenny, Johnny, and many others. The young lady in the blue dress is from Arab, AL and after the show we had a chance to chat with her. She's been doing this for 3 years now.
to the park and after a quick ride, we went right in, got some big breakfast rolls and coffee and then headed off to check on rides. First ride was a wooden coaster. I was set to go with Bonnie until I watched it careen around a turn at a high rate of speed...and it was only starting. Bonnie got to ride by herself. After she got off she was praising the trip...."Faster than the coaster at King's Dominion in Virginia." (Good choice, John, to not go.) There were other coaster rides so Dave, Trish and I waited while Bonnie got in line, zipped around and had a ball. Finally we found a ride I would go on: sit in a seat and pull yourself hand over hand up in the air. Simple. Yep, and then, when we got to the top, and I could see all the fairground and beautiful mountains off in the distance, I looked down. Opps, I'm afraid of heights. Came down only to have Bonnie pull us back up like crazy. Did this 3 or 4 times. Finally our time was up. Another fun ride I won't be going on again anytime soon.
Our National Symbol
Dollywood partners with the American Eagle Assoc. to rescue and restore all sorts of raptors. Theuy have a large caged area where wounded/injured birds live until healthy enough to return to the wild. They also have a teaching show that features owls, hawks, and eagles flying over the audience and then the caretakers explaining how we can help. Beautiful!!
finally said, "You guys go on for a bit. There are still 2 or 3 major coasters Bonnie wants to ride." So we wandered around the grounds, stopping at some little shops like leather goods, old fashioned general stores and dry goods shops. We eventually all hooked back up and took the short steam locomotive ride through the hills (@ 5 miles round trip) and hurried back to see a couple of more shows at some of the theaters. One show was all bluegrass music with bass, banjo and guitar. These guys were GOOD! They played the theme from Beverly Hillbillys and swear...only half the audience clapped. Some seemed like they had never heard it before. Trish and I sang along with them. We went to the Dolly Parton museum and saw the actual coat of many colors her mama made for her, items from her one room school house, and TONS of awards. All of it was very tastefully and educationally arranged and displayed. Then closed with a show featuring some of her family members live on stage and Dolly joining in via taped video. Very impressive and well done.
We took the trolley rides around Pigeon Forge,
Since Bonnie likes rides, I offered to go with her...on some. This looked easy: sit in the chair and pull hand over hand and go to the top. Then the ride attendant releases tension and you slowly fall back down. Yeah....except I "forgot" how terrified of heights I was and after getting up, looked down. YIKES! But we gamely pulled ourselves up several more times.
saw a number of campgrounds, went out to eat one night, and took in the sights. One day we drove to Gatlinburg and wandered that mountain town. We shopped little shops and honkey tonks, and had lunch in a German beer garden. Overall impression of Gatlinburg was negative; it was crowded, many similar tourist traps and lots of coffee, lunch, and glitzy shops. Maybe we missed something, but it wasn't all that great.
We left the town and drove up to the Smokey Mountain National Park Visitor's Center and spent time watching a movie, going through the natural history museum, and doing some shopping. It was getting late, so we left and drove back to the campground. We went out for one last dinner at a "meat and three" spot where we got our choice of a meat and three sides. Lots of food and most all of it good. That night we took a bunch of firewood down to a firepit on the banks of the creek we were camped at and had our traditional smores around a campfire. It was a nice end to a wonderful experience with the Lodges at Dollywood.
When we left, Trish
Decorations for Fall in the park
The entire park was tastefully decorated with Fall foliage. Nothing was garish. It was a wonderful experience for those who did not partake of rides to wander through the area and enjoy the scenery.
and I decided to take a couple of extra days and explore some back roads.
We stayed off the interstate and drove through the hills to eventually get to Vonore, TN on one of the TVA lakes near Fort Loudon. We got a campsite and looked forward to exploring. This was the boyhood home of Sequoya, famous Cherokee who developed an alphabet and writing for the tribe. The campground was on TVA land, leased by a campground. They had to meet certain TVA requirements, but it was a lovely site, lots of room, great hookups, and a nice bathhouse and beach. Unfortunately, in order to be profitable, they lease out sites for long term and so only have a limited number of transient places available. Since going here, we have learned that this is how TVA operates and most sites on TVA property are beautiful, lots of spaces, and most of those are long term lease.
The first full day we went to the Sequoya museum and learned of the Cherokees in the area, how many were forced to march west by President Jackson, and their land was confiscated by the whites. Then the TVA flooded the area
This group performed live and featured a national banjo champion. Great music and the audience was invited to sing along the the Flatts and Scruggs theme to Beverly Hillbillys. Trish and I gave Granny's wave at the end and the guitar player started laughing. Got several of their CDs.
for a lake to create flood control, irrigation, and electricity. Many old native American sites were covered before complete and proper archaeological investigation could be completed. What a shame that so much history may have been lost.
We also learned how Sequoya, with an English father, learned to read and write and then developed an alphabet for his tribe. He was much older when he did this and was considered a witch by the elders. NO one could communicate on paper! He had taught his daughter and had such faith in his daughter and his system that he proposed a test: put his daughter in one building, he in another. Tell him something and he would write it in Cherokee and then have it sent to his daughter. If she did not accurately translate what was said, he was willing to have his daughter and himself put to death as witches. Well, the test worked and the elders were so impressed, they had him teach others. Soon all Cherokees could read and write. They were the only tribe to do so. They had newspapers, books, deeds, and hymn books as well as scriptures translated into Cherokee. They had already
SL (Steam Locomotive) ride through the hills
Dollywood has a steam locomotive used in the construction of the AlCan Highway in the 1940s and it takes visitors on a short (5-7 mile) ride up in the hills and then around the perimeter of the park. Lots of cinders and soot and whistle blowing. Way too much "cutesy" narration by the conductor.
long ago established a government much like the United States, with representatives and voting (only for the Cherokees, women were also allowed to vote) and yet they were considered savages and heathens.
After leaving the Sequoya museum, we drove to Fort Loudon, a re-creation of an old fort built to protect settlers west of the Alleghenies in the early 1800's. They have a decent museum and a wonderful fort with docents in costume explaining customs and practices of the time. It was a bit like the Plimouth Plantation, but on a smaller scale. We learned of medical practices back then and saw some of the instruments used by surgeons. We heard stories of the health and sickness at the time and later learned that for all the massiveness of the fort, it was only in use for a short time.
Later, back at the campground, we enjoyed a late season swim in the lake and then relaxed under the awning of the RV watching a glorious sunset over Lake Tellico. The whole week had been fun, relaxing, and educational. Can't ask for much more than that!!
We drove home again over back roads and promised ourselves that
Dave and Bonnie on the SL
Finally got the two of them next to each other and sitting still. Bonnie was always off in line to ride the roller coasters, so hard to get the two of them in one shot.
if anyone ever asked us again to go to Dollywood, we would respond enthusiastically in the affirmative. Pigeon Forge and the Smokies are a great place to vacation.
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