Days Three and Four: Holy Smokes!

“I can’t believe we slept so late!” was one of the first things I heard on the morning of our third day. It was only 8:30 a.m. After our “late” start, we went right to the visitor center for Smoky Mountains National Park, Sugarland. Since then, I think we have been back three times in the two days? Anyways, Grandpa poked around to find out what we needed see, while Grandma went to the museum section and I headed straight for the stickers. I just really love stickers. After we watched a short informational film on the parks, we headed back to the truck to get to Clingman’s Dome. Our first visit to the visitor center was fairly short.

Clingman’s Dome was an essential stop and I’m so glad we did it. How could we not go to the highest point in Smoky Mountain National Park? However, trying to park was an adventure in itself (this happened many times during our stay in the Smoky Mountains, it is a busy place). Once we got there we started the hike to the observatory, it was only half a mile, but it was pretty steep so Grandma and her knee surgery had a hard time with it. We all made it up to the observatory. The view was fantastic, it might have been a little bit better without all the fog. But hey, that’s what makes the Smokies the Smokies and after I hike like that I don’t want to complain about anything. I was really happy I got to see some of the Appalachian Trail because someday I would like to hike the whole thing.

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After our first hike of the day, we headed over to the New Found Gap, which wasn’t really a place to hike, it was a place to look. It was a great view, which resulted in some great pictures. Also, this guy had a 16 year old, bald chihuahua! The man said it was mean though so he held it’s head while I pet it so it wouldn’t bite me. I’m glad I got to pet it even though it was mean.

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The Grotto was the next destination on our agenda, we put the pick up in at the Trillium Trail trail head by Rainbow Falls. Grandma, Grandpa, and I set out with our backpacks and water ready for our next hike. We had little mix up trying to figure out which direction we were supposed to go to get to the Grotto, but we were optimistic. After 15 minutes of up and down and stepping over exposed roots, Grandma decided her newly operated on knee wasn’t ready for this kind of nonsense. She turned around and Grandpa and I forged on. It wasn’t until Grandpa thought he heard a deer that we realized that we had been paralleling the road almost the entire time and what he saw was a car. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that meant there was another trail head farther up the road. We both tried to call Grandma to tell her to meet us and hike the rest of the way with us, or at least pick us up after but cell reception in the mountains is spotty at best. By that time we had realized that we had gone more than the 1.3 mile estimated hike, but we had to go farther to get to the falls so on we went. On our way, we only saw two other people and one cool looking snake. We also saw a whole lot of bear poop, but no bear. I am happy we didn’t get attacked by a bear but after all that poop I felt like I deserved to see one.

This hike actually turned out to be a great opportunity to see some wildlife and to practice some wildlife photography, a hobby of mine. Anyway, Grandpa and I reached the trail head we were supposed to put in at 2.5 miles after we started. We were sweaty and thirsty and a little worried that Grandma would never find us so we turned around and walked back down the road to where we had originally parked. We vowed to return the next day to conquer the 1.3 miles we didn’t do to reach the grotto. It was while we were walking back that I was able to get roughly 5 feet away from a beautiful doe. She didn’t seem to be very frightened by me or any of the noise of traffic. After I got some good pictures we went on our way, eventually returning to the truck, hungry and tired, but very excited to come back.

Day four started with us making our way right back to where we should have started the day before. We followed the exact same path up until the road closed sign. It was a disappointment to say the least. After getting over it and some new navigation, we went on to the road to Cade’s Cove. On the way we stopped to hike Laurel Falls, which ended up being better for Grandma anyway because it was paved. I also got to do a couple easy climbs which was nice because I have not had much practice since getting out of school and, boy, do I love to climb things just to do it.

Up next on our agenda was Cade’s Cove. Our original plan was to check out the village around Cade’s Cove and reserve bikes for the next day. But it didn’t exactly happen that way, the cove was very out of our way as it was, and the weather was looking like rain. So the executive decision was made to not bike the loop in the morning. I actually really did want to do that, but somethings you have to set aside for the next time you come back. Next time, I will bike the loop. We did drive the loop, though, or at least part of it. It was so crowded that we were at a standstill for a very long time. Apparently, everyone in front of us got to see a bear, but we still weren’t lucky enough. We were bored and tired and we cut out of the loop as soon as we could. You win some you lose some.

As much as was packed into days three and four, the evening of day four felt like a vacation. We wandered around Gatlinburg and really just got to do what we wanted. I bought some vegan ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, we went over to the aquarium, and did some shopping. Aquariums make me sad because of captivity and whatnot, but I do enjoy spending time with my grandparents so I pet the jellyfish like every other tourist. When we got out of the aquarium, Gatlinburg was experiencing what one would call a downpour, so we bought rain ponchos, and ran from store to store until we reached Ol’ Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Don’t judge, they had a super cute coffee mug I wanted to bring home.

Once we reached the distillery the rain was letting up. Grandma and Grandpa went to sit outside while I searched for the coffee mug of my dreams. When I found my grandparents after my purchase, they were sitting in rocking chairs listening to a family band. The evening was peaceful and relaxing. I left the mountains with a few new stickers and only one blister.

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