Last week, I traveled to Tennessee to finally get a personal look at the area. Having grown up in Ohio and Michigan, I was familiar with hills but not mountains. At places on the interstate, giant walls of rocks climbed two and three stories high and surrounded the road. The work involved in cutting out the rocks told stories with each crevice and root growing. The Great Smoky Mountain area is one of perseverance and grit, as seen from the Cherokee Indians who hunted and settled in the area to the early farmers who cut down old growth lumber to build their homes. History was made here.
Today, places like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg rely on tourism for their economy. Dolly Parton took her hometown and created an amusement park, stage show and thriving community built on friendliness and hometown values. Dollywood rivals Orlando’s Disney and in fact, upon arrival in Pigeon Forge, the main street looks much the same. Billboards change every 15 to 30 seconds announcing the next show or restaurant as well as local places to shop. Pancake restaurants dot the landscape with one every 30 feet or so, but many other chain places can be found to chow down, from TGIFridays to Cheddar’s. In fact, there’s something delicious for everyone! Our favorite place was a “fresh-Mex” restaurant in Gatlinburg. Loco Burro had funky bar stools, a mechanical burro and some of the most delicious Mexican food around. While a little pricier than many chain restaurants, Loco Burro’s portion size was huge and the service was outstanding.
Log homes are available for rent if families were looking for something more than a large hotel with free breakfast and fun amenities. We loved our log home which was located in a small community right off the main road in Pigeon Forge. It was only a hop, skip and jump down the road to Gatlinburg and the National Park. The winding roads, in and around many of the log home communities, made driving treacherous. Without shoulders and lines, the driver was blind to oncoming traffic and the almost straight up-hill roads gave my car a workout.
While Pigeon Forge is a large mecca of fun adventures from putt-putt, cabaret shows, and shopping, Gatlinburg has a small town feel with a thriving downtown district with shops and wine or moonshine tasting. Just be prepared for sore feet after all the walking!
The Great Smoky Mountains has the densest population of black bears in the Eastern United States and a diverse salamander population which rivals the rain forest, yet I didn’t get to see either. My only experience with wildlife was the squirrel who loved to wake me up each morning by running across the metal roof in search of food. The first morning he even peeked in the window to see who was staying at the home.
During our time, hot rod enthusiasts set up shop on the main street, showing off and selling their favorite muscle and historic cars. We were told upwards of 3.1 million people would be town for the weeklong event. The cars lined the street along with so many chairs. Anyone driving in the far right lane traveled at a snail’s pace so they could see the cars. And even with this influx of visitors, October is the busiest time of year in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, when people arrive to see the leaves change colors.
My husband and I really enjoyed our time in Tennessee and are looking forward to going back. We’ve even put a few homes on the short list for a possible move. After all, with all the history, tourism and Dolly Parton…I’m sure to find a few-dozen, story ideas easily!
I’d love to hear if you have visited The Great Smoky Mountain area and what your thoughts are on the place. Love it? Or Hate it?
Melissa Keir- Bio
For my wedding in Vegas, my books and computer came with me but there wasn't enough room for my wedding shoes. It’s all about priorities! As an avid reader, I was probably born with a book in hand. Luckily my mom was also an avid reader, so it was easy to "borrow" her books when my books were finished.
I was reading from an early age about dashing men on horseback riding to the rescue of strong willed and capable women who didn't really need rescuing. I came to expect that women in fairy tales should have fought their own battles. When I was older, I found Margaret Atwood and realized that women could re-tell history in their own way and I experimented with changing those basic fairy tales.
Fortunately for me, my husband allows me the opportunity to be myself (spend my salary on books) and still takes care of the really important things for me like killing spiders and opening jars. As an elementary teacher, teaching children about the many worlds inside of books is a gift that I’m lucky enough to do for a living. Teaching the next generation to love reading is a lot of fun! Reading the right book can make a new world come alive!
Currently living in the suburbs of Ann Arbor, Michigan with my darling husband, way-too-grown-up children and spoiled dogs, I enjoy getting away through a book to escape the harsh winters or summer road construction.
I’d love to hear from you!
Other Books by Melissa Keir
Wilder Sisters Series:
A Christmas Accident
Charming Chances (print of combined ebooks)
Second Time’s a Charm
Three’s a Crowd
Pigg Detective Agency:
Protecting His Wolfe
Protecting Her Pigg
One Night in Laguna
Crash and Burn
Love, Bake, Write (recipe book)
The Way to the Heart (recipe book)
We’d Rather Be Writing (recipe book)
Cooking with the Authors of Summer Heat (recipe book)
Musings of a Madcap Mind (memoirs)
Cowboy Up 2
Cowboys, Bulls and Buckles
To Protect and Love
Holding a Hero