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Published: October 5th 2008
JOHNNY’S JOURNEYS : SMOKY MOUNTAINS of TENNESSEE 2006
November 20, 2006 (Monday)
The preparations have all been made. And it is finally time for our Thanksgiving week
vacation. After Bethany broke her leg at school last May, our Grand Canyon / western
states trip was cancelled. Seems like I have put in tons of hours of overtime work at my
pharmacy. As I said, we are **really** ready for a vacation.
With my Mapquest.com directions by my side, the three of us leave home about 10:30
a.m. There are 549 miles between us and our Holiday Terrace Motel in Pigeon Forge, TN.
Estimated travel time is 8 and ½ hours.
Our first stop is in Evergreen, AL. At 12:15 it’s lunchtime and we plan on eating at
Floyd’s country buffet. It has been a few years since we ate there. Now the location is
called Jalisco Mexican restaurant. Once we pass Montgomery, it finally sinks in. We
really are on a vacation again!
Just south of Birmingham, we take I-459. Eighteen miles later, we start driving on
I-59 until we reach Chattanooga. After moving the clocks and watches forward to Eastern
time, we talk about a few of our previous trips through this beautiful area. Seems like
there were many more 18-wheelers on the roads with us today.
After Knoxville, we ride through the festively decorated cities of Sevierville and
Pigeon Forge. The Christmas decorations are brightly lighting the streets. We find out the
next day, that it snowed this evening on some of the higher elevations. Checked into our
motel a little after 10 p.m. It has been a long day. Looking forward to lots of FUN these
next five days. And Bethany has no idea what adventures lie ahead. We have not revealed
our itinerary to her. There will be plenty of surprises this Thanksgiving week.
November 21, 2006 (Tuesday)
After a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast, we leave Pigeon Forge about
10 a.m. We enjoy a lovely ride through the country side for several miles. It was 32
degrees this morning, so we have plenty of coats with us. We see some old churches,
ancient barns, winding roads, cross a couple of creeks, then finally a gravel road. We
arrive a little early for our 11:00 reservation. The sign reads : Smoky Mountain Llama
Treks. And there is a huge smile from our backseat Bethany. We have chosen the 1-hour
Creek Hollow Trail. I paid the owner, Sandy, $78 for this little hiking adventure with
Bethany walks with Evangeline. She is not quite one year old. My llama, Domino, is
also white colored and he is six years old. Janet leads / walks Afrika. He is so gentle and
has brown, yellow and beige patterns that resemble a giraffe. He is an Appaloosa
patterned llama. Very pretty.
Sandy is originally from Connecticut. Then lived in Miami, FL before moving to the
Smokies. This is her 6th year to operate the llama trekking business. She points out
pictures of poisonous plants we would encounter on this trip: rhododendron, mountain
laurel, oleander and yew. As few as 10-20 leaves could kill an adult llama. And these
animals did love to nibble.
We headed down the driveway, through a wooded area, then onto an open field. A
few minutes later, we were at the creek. And a couple of the animals enjoyed a long drink
from that cold, crystal-clear creek.
The sun was shining brightly, the winds had died down and the temperature was now
in the 40’s. What a gorgeous day to be hiking in the Smokies with these magnificent
llamas. I don’t know how it was done but these llamas were guaranteed NOT to spit.
After a previous experience with a spitting llama at the Hog Wild Festival in Mobile a
few years earlier, I was pleased with this guarantee.
Our guide has been leading llama treks / hikes for six years. As the word spreads by
friends, advertisements or internet access, her business has grown each year. Our journey
took us down the gravel road again. Just enjoyed talking and walking with these gentle
animals. We stopped at a different spot along the creek, next to a log home. Then sipped a
few cups of hot chocolate and deliciously warm apple cider. This is certainly a peace-
ful paradise. And did I mention how pretty the scenery was?
There was a family staying in a nearby log-house. We talked to them for a few minutes
as the grandmother took a few pictures of our llamas. Passed by a few more houses and
trailers on our way back.
Made our way back to the llama barn. And had to purchase a few souvenir tee-shirts.
This has been one wonderful hour!
After returning to the motel to freshen up, Bethany and I had another destination. We
went to see WonderWorks. The first thing you notice about this building is that it is up-
side down. With the roof on the ground, the dirt and trees were at the top of the place.
It was a secret scientific laboratory on an island in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. A
hurricane transported the building to Pigeon Forge, where it was deposited. It reminded
us of the Exploreum in Mobile. Hundreds of questions about science and scientific trivia,
such as weather and lightning strikes. There were several dozen “hands on” exhibits and a
few movies. An Amusement Park for the Mind, it features 150 + interactive exhibits.
I successfully climbed a rock wall. Enjoyed the optical illusions. The highlight for
us was laying on the Bed of Nails! 3497 total. The acrylic floor dropped. For 20 seconds,
my weight was supported by nothing but these sharp nails. Wow!!!
Our third adventure for the day was a trip to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. While
hundreds of us waited 30-40 minutes, we were entertained by a musical group called
Wild Oats. With banjos and fiddles, picking and grinning, we all enjoyed some country,
gospel and bluegrass music.
Time to go in the theater and find our place. We were sitting on the very top row. Our
waiter first brought out the tea and Pepsi. Next, our bowls were filled with a creamy
vegetable soup. Along came the rolls followed by ¾ of a rotisserie chicken. Corn on the
cob and a sliced potato were added to a small slab of pork. Yum! We then had apple
pastries for dessert.
Thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the riders. So talented. 32 horse riders, wagon
trains, riding two horses at once, and jumping through rings of fire. Stunning perform-
ances by the riders and lots of audience participation. During a few lulls in the action,
we were entertained by the master of ceremonies and “Skeeter”. He played the part of a
country bumpkin / redneck and had some wild tales and stories for us. Very funny. They
also had ostrich races and piggy races too.
Inspired by the Christmas and nativity themed parts of the show. When the white dove
flew entirely across the open arena and landed in the hands of an angel, it brought goose-
bumps. Very well done. We would recommend this to anyone.
Had a chance to meet several of the horse riders when our show was finished. Got five
autographs and petted a few of the horses too. Time for some souvenirs. What a wonder-
ful performance. My parents had come here to the Dixie Stampede twice before with Bill
and Melba Ward. Proud to say we came here on November 21st. That was my momma’s
November 22, 2006 (Wednesday)
Another beautiful fall morning as we drive across the Parkway to the All American
Pancake House. There are 50 items on the menu, to represent all of our states. Pretty
nifty. I ordered the Massachusetts pancake, which was covered in cranberries and sauce.
Today we drive into Sevierville. We tease Bethany as we turn onto a road with a huge
NASCAR building. Ask her about seeing some fast cars today. Then pull into the parking
lot of Rain Forest Adventures. Exotic animals, birds, amphibians and reptiles from
various rainforests. These animals were gathered from Central America, South America
A female brown lemur was added to the zoo last week. She joined the one male and
now there are five pairs of brown lemurs in captivity in the U.S.A. The coatimundi are so
cute with their big brown eyes. They are omnivorous members of the racoon family.
Saw a couple of poisonous frogs from Costa Rica. They were lime green with black
splotches. Looked just like the ones in our hotel swimming pool in Pocora, Costa Rica.
All the finches had orange beaks. The snakes didn’t seem to care about anything. For a
50 cent souvenir, they had snake-skins which had been shed. We got one venomous one :
a rattlesnake and one non-venomous one : a boa constrictor. That was a rather
unique collectable. Beautiful parrots and some mongooses.
Learned about an ongoing project to identify EVERY species of animal found in
the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Seems like new species are discovered daily.
And it looks like the Smoky Mountains region may have the largest concentration of
salamanders on our planet. Wow! It has been a very enjoyable adventure to the Rain
Bought stamps at the post office and viewed the Ten Commandments on the wall.
Our afternoon activity takes us through the winding hills, mountain and countryside.
After 5 and ½ years, we return to Cade’s Cove. It’s a 12-mile loop. Stop to see old cabins.
John and Luraney Oliver were the first settlers here in 1818. Slowly, others followed.
And by 1850 there were 700 people living in this area. Had a chance to stop and visit
the three churches: Methodist, Primitive Baptist, and Missionary Baptist. There were
cemeteries adjacent to all three. So many died at a very young age, attesting to a very
difficult life, fires, and diseases. The average life-span in Cade’s Cove was 45.
Bethany and I hiked through a meadow to see about 30 horses. They sure are people
friendly. And I got some great snapshots of my daughter petting a few horses, with the
mountains in the background. Janet sat in the car, windows rolled down and enjoyed
the quietness and beautiful views. This is God’s country. What calendar wouldn’t want
a picture of this place included in it? Then tee-shirts, books and postcards before we left.
Ride through 18 miles of winding roads until we see the Welcome to Gatlinburg sign
in lights. These people are ready for the Christmas season. Decorations everywhere! Over
5 million lights help to welcome the visitors. Have supper at the Legends Restaurant.
Good Italian food, topped off with tiramisu and bread pudding with rum sauce. Then had
to buy a few sweat shirts and souvenir magnets. It has been another lovely day.
November 23, 2006 (Thursday)
Happy Thanksgiving Day! Fruit for breakfast this morning. I drive Bethany into
Gatlinburg. We have a 2 and ½ hour tour of the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum.
Oddities, unusual stuff, shrunken heads, old film-clips. Robert L. Ripley had traveled
to 201 different countries and loved to collect bizarre items. Fascinating! I had the
opportunity to visit the Ripley BION Museum in St. Augustine, FL about 30 years ago.
Reservations have been made at the Black Bear Jamboree Dinner Theater for our
Thanksgiving lunch . The presentation today is the Christmas Spectacular Dinner
and Show. We wait in the gift-shop until its time to be seated. Have our picture taken
before going inside. The waiter escorts us to level A. This table for six is adjacent to the
stage. Cannot get any closer than this!
What a feast in store for today: chicken, barbeque, corn on the cob, veggies, rolls,
creamed vegetable soup, potatoes, tea, coca-cola and dessert. Did I mention the word:
feast? Our Christmas themed show today deals with a family in east Tennessee with a
young daughter. She has written to Santa Claus that she wants Raggedy Ann and Andy
dolls for Christmas, but has not told her parents. As Santa is flying his sleigh over the
Smoky Mountains, somehow Raggedy Ann and Andy fall out. They meet three nice,
sweet bears who don’t have a telephone they can use. They are directed to a cave where
three, shall we say uncivilized, bears are hibernating. Raggedy Ann and Andy share what
Christmas is really all about. In the background is some wonderful dancing and acting.
Very pretty costumes. And we were as close to the action as anyone that day. Thoroughly
enjoyable!!! Purchase a souvenir DVD of today’s performance and a family picture.
After a little downtime at the motel, we journey 10 miles down the road to Gatlinburg.
Tonight we visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Representing over 350 different
species, there are 10,000 + sea creatures featured here. It is organized into individual
areas. The Tropical Rainforest display recreates the lush, primeval world of the Amazon
rainforest where more than 2000 species of fish thrive. The Ocean Realm shows us a few
common fish and a few not-so-common species. There are more living species of fish
than birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians combined. At the Coral Reef, there are
hundreds of the world’s most colorful fish: blue, orange, pink, yellow, etc. Most of these
fish came from the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Shark Lagoon is the largest and most
popular exhibit. One of its best features is the 340 foot long glide path, that winds
through the acrylic tunnel. We enjoy getting close to the large sharks (including the
sawfish), giant sting-rays, snappers, tarpons and green sea turtles.
Gallery of the Seas let us watch sea-horses, octopus, jelly-fish, corals and brilliantly
colored fishes. Stingray Bay is home to over 100 rays. There are hands-on exhibits to
actually touch crabs, stingrays and a few other varieties of the wet-life. This has been a
Time for some ice-cream and a few post-cards. Then on our way back to the motel.
November 24, 2006 (Friday)
After breakfast, we head to the edge of town and join a thousand cars. As we pass by
a nice golf course, I tell Bethany that since I played my first golf one year ago, I had been
wanting to play this game again. However, we miss the entrance and continue onto Dolly-
wood Amusement Park. Finally parked and caught a shuttle bus to the main entrance. A
very helpful lady assisted us at the customer service desk. I had misplaced our park
tickets in Mobile. That’s right, our “purchased and paid for” tickets did not make the
trip with us. Took a little while, but we soon entered the park. And it was decorated
for the Christmas season. Just another wonderful day at this family oriented amusement
park. 40 + rides, including a wooden rollercoaster. There were more than a dozen
mountain crafts featured, including blacksmith foundry and glass blowing. And lots of
stages for showcasing dancing and music: country, gospel, mountain and bluegrass.
We saw several shows that first day and enjoyed walking and riding the fun stuff. It was
dark by the time we got back to the room.
November 25, 2006 (Saturday)
Today we paid a couple of dollars to park at Patriot Park and ride the bus. It dropped
us off at the front gate. Hardly a wait and we already had the tickets from yesterday.
Ready for some more fun today. Visited the Timber Tower. Next was the Thunderhead
wooden rollercoaster. It features a 100 foot drop and a top speed of 55 mph. Think
Bethany and I rode that one five times!!! Really liked the Smoky Mountain Wilderness
Adventure Tour and the Tennessee Tornado.
Ate a buffet lunch at Aunt Grannys. My favorite dish there was the pumpkin chili.
What a meal! Caught some live music shows and picked out some cool souvenirs. This
has been fun.
Back to town a little earlier tonight. Did not want to miss the Old Mill Village. Built in
1830, it features an old general store, restaurant, grist mill by the stream, bakery café,
candy kitchen, many homemade crafts including pottery. About 1000 pounds of grain
are ground daily. And this village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
November 26, 2006 (Sunday)
The first sight I view each morning as I look out the window is a very large cross on
a hill, not too far away. There is a church nearby. Puts me in a good frame of mind.
Checkout and head on down the road. Stop at a Shoney’s for breakfast in Athens, TN.
Then visit a place we have seen on two previous visits, Striker’s Premium Winery. At the
edge of a babbling brook, this is as pretty a setting as you can find in Tennessee. Purchase
a special case of TN grown souvenirs, and we’re heading south again. Soon we cross the
Alabama line and stop to shop a little later in Gadsden. We find the Emma Sansom mon-
ument. She was a noted teenage Confederate heroine of the U.S. Civil War in 1863.
Bethany had presented a report about her in school a few years ago.
We make it into Montgomery and by now it is dark. Drive to Greenwood Cemetery to
lay a wreath on my mother’s grave. So dark that we have to use flashlights. Cannot find
where she is buried, so I go to my grandparent’s gravesite, John and Velma Pope. They
have been there, side-by-side now, for 30 + years. Meditate for a few moments then
place the wreath. It has been another wonderful week and we shall be home in a few
more hours. Life is good!
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