Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Our Amazing Vacation in the Smokies!

In between moving and building our new house, we haven't taken a full family vacation in about 2 years! Long overdue. We thought a cabin in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains sounded like a perfect plan:)

We flew into North Carolina to see the Cary Earlys on the way:)


Pete and Steph look amazing!!

 
Maddy got to see her first real life surgery on a dog with a broken back.

 
What an amazing opportunity - thank you so much Pete!
 
Thank you so much for having us - we had a perfect family visit. Love you guys...see you again soon :)


Our first stop was at Beech Mountain, NC. 'Land of Oz' is an abandoned theme park at the top of the mountain. It opened in 1970 and after the death of it's owner, financial challenges and a fire that destroyed some of the exhibits (including the dress Judy Garland wore in the movie), the park closed in 1980.

 
Back in the day, guests would access the park via a converted ski lift made to look like a hot air balloon. We didn't realize that there are still working ski lifts on the other side of the mountain so we drove up as far as possible on the mountain roads and made the rest of the way to the top on foot...
 
 
After a couple of hours we found it. It was just incredible! So pretty and very little damage to say it has been closed for over 30 years...
 
 
Dorothy's red shoes are still intact...
 
 
...and the Yellow Brick Road is beautiful:)
 
 
The witches castle...
 
 
Faces in the forest...bit spooky...
 
 
Dorothy's house after the tornado...
 
 
And of course we did the dance:)
 
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Afterwards, we hung out for a while and enjoyed the mountain scenery. There were some extreme bikers in action...hard core stuff...

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And we got our first close up experience with nature :)


On Monday morning we went to the spectacular Chimney Rock (where Last of the Mohicans was filmed) on our way to the cabin and passed through Lake Lure (where some of Dirty Dancing was filmed:)).

 
Maddy is not in any of these pictures since the elevator was out and she took it as a personal challenge to make it to Exclamation Point at the very top. She's a rock star :)
 
 
That's Mike waving his arms down there. He's a rock star too :)


In the evening we arrived in Pigeon Forge. The town has been destroyed by tourism and looks just like a country-themed version of International Drive:(. I wasn't worried since I knew our cabin was a safe distance away and nestled in the mountains. Mike said he nearly threw up in his mouth:). But when we arrived - it was just perfect...

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Maddy's favorite thing to do in the cabin was have Oreos in the hot tub!
 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in America. The name "Smoky" comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is caused by the vegetation exhaling volatile organic compounds. We chose the Cade's Cove area for our first visit to the park, primarily because we had read that there is an average of two bears per square mile and we were all so desperate to see one after our failed attempts in Yellowstone a few years ago :).

After only a few minutes on the 11 mile loop, we saw several cars had stopped and we heard that someone had seen a cub in the woods. We parked up and ran over and there it was - a baby bear cub playing  in the woods!!!! So exciting!


I was giddy when I ran back to the road and a friendly driver pulled up and wound down his window. I figured he was going to ask what was up there so I told him about the cub. When I'd gotten done, he said "actually there's one right there" and pointed behind his car.



It was unbelievable! Another bear had just walked out of the woods towards the road! Now when you have only ever seen a bear like this...

 
You don't actually expect it to look exactly the same in real life:)
 
 
In fact I was so shocked and it was so beautiful and harmless-looking that I completely lost my mind and got way too close as it crossed the road. It was a bit bigger than a large dog and didn't seem to be bothered by me at all.
 
 
Mike didn't forget that bears are dangerous - listen to that stern tone of Daddy bear putting his Early foot down..."Clare - that's enough" :)
 
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And listen to the sound of it's claws as it climbs the tree...Mike may have been right to be concerned after all...
 
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Just amazing. One of the most incredible things I've ever seen.
 
 
After all the excitement we took a hike out to see Abrams Falls. 
 
 
Later we saw a deer with beautiful antlers...

 
And a Barred Owl...
 
 
And 3 more bears :)
 
On Wednesday we drove out to pretty, rustic Walland. I saw my first groundhog on the way :)


We stopped off at Townsend for some Tennessee roadside BBQ. It was the most freakin' amazing food. Ever:).


In the afternoon we took a tour of the Tuckaleechee Caverns which were pretty amazing too...

 
There's a really sweet story about these caverns being discovered by two six-year old boys. Evidently they kept them secret until they were old enough to buy the land and start their business by opening up to the public. There are 17 miles of caverns underground....
 

 
You can drink the water!


I may be looking all 'country cocky' in the picture but I was terrified about the promise we had made to Madison to go ol' fashioned horseback riding the next day :)

 
She was excited...

 
The sign wasn't helping...

 
Mike's horse "Blue"...

 
Maddy and "Oreo"...

 
Me and my "Magic"...


(Mike wants you to know that this photo is visually deceptive since I was on my horse when I took it and really - his horse was "massive":))

 
I am on my horse in this picture - the only picture ever of me on a horse!

 
The Davy Crockett Stables riding experience is 'real trail riding' through the mountain woods. After a ton of rain the day before it was very muddy which mad it one of the scariest things I've ever done. The mud was about a foot deep and the horses were slipping around in it the whole time as we went up and down the mountains. I dropped my camera just as we set off so I didn't get any pictures (not that I ever felt safe enough to take a picture during the ride). My horse was (fortunately) risk-averse and so avoided the mud where possible even if it involved putting me into a tree but (unfortunately) stopped to snack every five minutes on the shrubbery. We had a lot in common, me and Magic. And he knew who was in charge - the guy in front. I clung on for dear life and was very happy to get on firm ground again afterwards.
 

 
Maddy and Mike had the time of their lives!!
 
 
I managed to find the camera afterwards but forgot to clean it off before I touched my face and ended up triggering my allergies. God knew what he was doing when he made me allergic to horses. Mike called me "Rocky" for the rest of the day...
 

In the afternoon we drove out to see Lake Chilhowee stopping at Look Rock on the way. We drove the "Dragon" - 318 curves in 11 miles - and stopped at a crazy bikers' resort at Deals Gap. 

 
On our last day we went to see Clingmans Dome - the highest point in Tennessee in the morning...
 
 
Afterwards we hiked to Laurel Falls in a big rainstorm! There's Amish in them there woods...


Maddy jumped in!

 
We ended our last day playing old fashioned games like Checkers and Pick Up Sticks before the trip back home. This vacation was everything and a whole lot more than I ever could have hoped for. I so love the Smoky Mountains and my wonderful family :)