Saturday, July 05, 2014

On The Road in the Smoky Mountains: Riding Bicycles In Cades Cove and Hiking Elkmont's Ghost Town

My iPhone Notes

The rain has stopped!  The sun is shining over the mountains.

After a great night's sleep, a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs, we loaded our bicycles and drove the 19 miles over to Cades Cove.  Riding the loop road on bicycle was a bucket list item for King Ralph. Check!

The eleven mile loop road ride was fun, humid, steep hills, with an element of Smoky Mountain history.  There is nothing I love more than a great park ranger who can tell the story of history.  We got just that when we stopped at marker two on the loop map. 

Yes, I walked the bike up those four steep hills. I wasn't alone!  While the loop road is closed to motor traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings till 10am...I'm glad we took our ride on a Monday mixed with motor traffic.  We didn't fight for road space with other cyclists, and the cars were so sporadic in flow we owned the road at times.

We now rest our fully exercised body under a canopy of trees, sipping evening cocktails, listening to country music, preparing to grill, stoking a campfire...and King Ralph puffing at his camping cigar (the only time I allow him the indulge of nasty).

You know the routine.  Adventure continues....

When the girls were young we always made sure our vacations were not only fun and exciting but lessons were learned.  Some element of history always found a way into our family trips.  It may be why M loves [and is minoring in] history. Today we decided to avoid getting in the car and took a hike with a trail head from the Elkmont Campground.

The 5.1 loop trail hike we chose was "easy" with only a 600 feet elevation gain, but it made up for itself in beauty and history. The cabins of the circa 1900 Appalachian Club--a social club for the urban dwellers to escape too--was a "if these walls could talk" experience.  The restored Spence Cabin was begging for visitors, while all we could do is envision ourselves planted in the stone patio overlooking the roaring water of the Little River.  The cucumber magnolias in bloom framing the river made the scene....  Magestic. Peaceful. Serene.  After the first 2.4 miles we entered the "rain forest"--humidity that poured sweat from the head.  The ferns rich in bloom blanketed the grounds and the magnolia trees engulfed the forest.  As we came off the mountain we found ourselves back into the cabin region once again.  We found the restored Appalachian Clubhouse.  After reading the signage that educated how the social aspects of the club functioned, we took seat in one of the six rocking chairs on the covered deck to eat lunch. We peeked around inside the rows of cabins letting out minds slip back in time.  I hope this piece of history can be restored back to its full glory.  I fell in love with this ghostly community that sits inside the campground. 

When we got back to the camper we popped open our zero gravity chairs, tipped our feet up and sipped some sangria under the mountain sun and stoked a fire.


We headed into Gatlinburg; smelly tourist trap town full of a bazillion different Ripley Museums, hotels with rocking chairs that face a road packed with traffic fumes. Ick!   Passing by all the tourist traps we settled in a booth at the Smoky Mountain Brewery for burgers and a micro brew beer.  I sipped at my raspberry beer while we watched USA lose the World Cup game.  The encouraging cheers of the crowded brewery turned to sighs of disappointment.

After dinner we popped into the Sugarlands Distillery for samplings of moonshine.  We left with a mason jar of apple caramel--a tie with the lemonade moonshine.  I suppose our next stop we will acquire some cheeky shot glass so we can shoot back a dessert with some fire and burn.

Resting by our last campfire here in the Smokies.  It's nine o'clock and darkness still has not grasped night.

Elkmont Campground Report Card:

Campground - B (mostly because the dump station is 4.5 miles down the road, conserving grey water tank space a must)
Ranger Station - A (no complaints, always eager to answer questions)
Camp Store - B+ (ample supply of fire wood, $3.50 a bundle and ice, 2.50 a bag, emergency supplies and vending machines with soda pop, ice cream, candy chips)
Comfort Station - clean, typical national park restroom, 2 stalls and 2 sinks, electric outlet (blow dried my hair after I showered)
Site G23 - D (do not reserve spots that back to the hill side, the water run off from rain makes for a muddy swamp)
Recommended [or our future dream] site - F8 (private, shaded, backs to the Little River, swimming access, can accommodate large RV)

Adventure on the move in the morning....