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Posts Tagged ‘backyard tourism’

Gatlinburg and Dollywood

Posted by eemilla on October 4, 2014

Visiting Gatlinburg is not on my list of things to do; I’ve been a few times (twice at someone else’s expense), and none of them have been very much fun.  I’d also visited Dollywood as a pre-teen or maybe teenager, and I would have rather gone to Carowinds any day.  Dollywood with a pre-schooler made me more receptive combined with their much improved rides since my earlier visit.  Our first visit as a family confirmed the food is still the horribly overpriced junk that one expects when attending an amusement park or other captive consumer situation so we do pack a cooler and return to the car for lunch.  We also pack a snack to consume at the end of the trip before we return home.

We regretted not upgrading at least one of the season passes to the Gold Pass to avoid paying the $10 parking fee, but otherwise we’ve gotten enough good use to justify renewing our passes .  Unlike other parks Dollywood is open most of the year (including plenty of weekdays) which makes it really easy to come out ahead while still avoiding peak times and maddeningly long lines.

I don’t like Gatlinburg even though I tried on the last trip.  Everything is so bright and loud and tacky.  Both of our dining experiences were ridiculously overpriced with amateur service.  After looking online at menus Mellow Mushroom and Smokey Mountain Brewery seemed like the best vegetarian options (I believe I had tried Best Italian on my prior visit with disappointing results) along with best beer selection.  The Mellow Mushroom delivered its standard greasy mess of a pizza, and I was able to order a relatively local beer (out of Knoxville).  I don’t want a hot glass straight from the dishwasher, but the glass shouldn’t be so cold that ice forms in the beer either.  Our service was the normal slow Mellow Mushroom service.  Our wait at Smokey Mountain was about 40 minutes, and our service was better than at Mellow Mushroom.  However two adults and one pre-schooler somehow managed to spend too close to $100 on food that tasted like it could have come directly off the Sysco truck.  On the bright side my flight of beer wasn’t served with ice.  We wrapped the night up with a trip to the Donut Friar because I loved the stupid pun, and I’d had some really delicious doughnuts at a few apple orchards.  The guy behind the counter was not happy to see another customer walking through the door, and I should have saved my cash rather than bother him for a few stale doughnuts.
Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

Smoky Mountain Brewery on Urbanspoon

Donut Friar on Urbanspoon

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Lego Sculptures

Posted by eemilla on September 24, 2014

Last fall until about January 2014 the NC Arboretum had an awesome exhibit of Lego sculptures by Sean Kinney; it was great to see them up close with the thousands of blocks forming a hummingbird, a rose, a bee, and a gardener among other sculptures.  Check out Sean Kenney’s website to find out where you can see the sculptures.



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Grandfather Mountain

Posted by eemilla on September 19, 2013

On our list of things we’d like to do was to visit the Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain.  Our day ended up being a cloudy and overcast day with moments of sunshine, and I found that I am more disturbed by heights than I had previously thought.  LB also found the heights scary, and she was quietly insistent on returning to the parking lot and putting distance between herself and the mile high bridge.  The entrance fee is steep ( at $18 per adult), but overall we did enjoy the vistas and the small zoo.  I left my wrap at home so we had to lug LB around on our hips which dissuaded us from hiking from the parking lot or doing much hiking on the far side of the bridge.  It was quite laughable to encounter the below sign shortly after the admission gate.

It is my understanding that you can hike from the parkway and avoid the entrance fee, but even with the wrap my stamina is quite insufficient for any sort of steep grade traverse.  We packed a picnic lunch to enjoy at the ample tables at various locations.  The otters and eagles were the crowd pleasers of our zoo visit, even though the bears were pretty active too.





The trees on top of the mountain reminded me of oversized bonsais.

I didn’t think that the bridge would scare me or make me feel so grateful to return to the mountain as I love roller coasters and the like.   I made it across, and if I had felt so anxious about it on my first few steps I wouldn’t have complete it; however it wasn’t until I was on the last portion that I began to feel uneasy.  I didn’t notice any severe wind or some clown jumping on the bridge so I cannot say why I had a sudden urge to get back across and be done.  Maybe it was LB’s fear.   Needless to say, I did not take any photos on the bridge.

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Gingerbread sculptures 2012

Posted by eemilla on February 16, 2013

We’ve decided that visiting the Grove Park Inn’s Gingerbread Sculptures will be a nice tradition, so we sucked it up and paid the $10 parking fee so we could park really far away from the inn.  Admittedly we’re part of the reason the fee was instituted: we will not spend any money there unless forced to.  The last time we spent money there it was for a gin drink and a beer, and it set us back about $20 including a normal tip (plus that was at least five years ago).  To make it even more difficult for locals to view the pieces, they’ve restricted visitors to Monday through Thursday.  We took these changes in stride as my honey works every weekend so it was six of one and half dozen of another for one of us to take some time off work.  It seemed that many more of the pieces were missing as they were on display in New York, whereas last year I only recall the grand prize being off site.  Below are my favorites.







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Moore Cove Falls

Posted by eemilla on November 12, 2012

Next time you drive to visit Looking Glass Falls and there is nowhere to park, drive about a mile further for a nice little hike to Moore Cove Fall.  The first few yards are the steepest and most difficult of the entire hike, and we easily completed it in less than an hour.  We chose this hike as we wanted an easy hike with a pretty payoff.  It is a relatively short drive, and you can walk behind the falls.

Moore Cove boardwalk
from behind the falls

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Reedy River Park and the Greenville Zoo

Posted by eemilla on November 3, 2012

I’ve wanted to visit the Falls Park in Greenville for a while after hearing so much about it from various friends over the years so I talked my mom into joining LB and I for a day trip a few months back.  I was surprised to learn that the trail is over seventeen miles long connecting Travelers Rest to Furman to downtown Greenville to Greenville Tech.  It makes me really sad that Asheville and Buncombe County cannot get their acts together and create some substantive greenways, especially when so much of our economy is based on tourism and enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds us.  Also what a better way to move away from fossil fuels than to have pleasant walking and biking trails and paths.  My husband and I live less than two miles from our jobs, but the commute would be neither pleasant nor safe as it involves a five lane highway for at least a quarter of the route.

We arrived around mid morning so there were still a number of joggers and cyclists getting their exercise in for the day.  Shops along the trail were just opening, and no one was playing in the water feature.

water feature

The pathway took us on a small bridge across the river before we arrived at the iconic Liberty Bridge.

bridge over the falls

Liberty Bridge

Liberty Bridge again

The gardens were pretty with lots of lawn for picnics or benches for relaxing


We ambled along the trail by the river chatting, and when I saw that the Greenville Zoo was only a mile or two away I convinced my mom we should go.

We stopped seeing the zoo on the informational signs along the trail so we ended up making a huge loop around it (which meant we walked around Cleveland Park and on the Eagle Trail).  However, there wasn’t a line to enter the zoo, and the admission was the same as the WNC Nature Center; I could have gotten free admission as the zoo is a reciprocal facility with the Nature Center.  The zoo was small and easy to see in an hour or less although we skipped the flamingos, alligator, farm animals, and the playground.




By this time everyone was tired and hungry so we made our back, and after we had returned to downtown LB was more than ready to be off my sweaty back which led us to eat at a smoothie bar because it was quick and filled with people in workout attire.  It was relatively cheap and served decent food, but it I doubt I would go back unless urged by convenience.

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Carl Sandburg visit

Posted by eemilla on October 30, 2012

One of my cousins mentioned that the Carl Sandburg Home was free to visit the grounds and the goats, and her girls had a nice time there.  As her youngest daughter is several months older than LB, I thought we might give it a visit.  We took my mom along as I figured she would enjoy a visit to the house (being the history lover that she is).  The day was warm but overcast, and the our tour of the grounds and the goats took longer than I had planned which meant the LB was pretty horribly grumpy near the end of our trip.  The trek from the parking lot afforded a nice view of the lake and the house, and it was shaded with benches for pondering the sights.


Carl Sandburg home


I had read about the Glassy Mountain trail on the website, but I hadn’t really thought about making taking the hike.  After we walked to the barn and checked out the goats and the garden, we decided to continue our adventure.  The trail is pretty smooth, but it does climb.  Once it widens out and becomes gravelled, there was a respite bench or two.  As I was wearing LB (and we were both sweaty) we took the opportunity to pause at one of the benches.  Mom and I were a bit worried that we had overestimated our vigor, but then again we hated to turn back before enjoying the overlook.  While the cloudy day wasn’t the best day to view the overlook, it was still a refreshing stop.

Glassy Mtn overlook

Glassy Mountain overlook

We wrapped up our day at West First Wood Fired Pizza.

West First Wood Fired Pizza's oven

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Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest visit

Posted by eemilla on August 5, 2012

On a rare day when both my honey and I were off of work by happy happenstance, we planned on hopping in the car and traveling the two hours west to visit the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.  After seeing the Giant Poplar just outside of Highlands, we’ve been thinking of taking this tour.  We were shocked by the number of dead hemlocks we encountered.

dead hemlocks in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

dead hemlock

The stumps of fallen trees were awesome, though.

When we came across the dedication plaque on a boulder in front of a large tree that appeared to have been struck by lightning, I admit that I was disappointed at the size of the tree.  Fortunately, we had only gotten to the center of the figure eight loop with the giants at the far loop.

Joyce Kilmer dedication plaque

Although my husband had downloaded an app that advised us on which direction to proceed we managed to bypass the back loop at the intersection, so on our first pass we missed the giants. We then backtracked to the memorial plaque and continued on the right side portion of Poplar Cove Loop.

Joyce Kilmer map

Poplar Cove Loop sign

I think our navigation error resulted in a more private experience of the large tree grove as when we first left the parking area a couple of other groups were just ahead of us.  The sky was darkening with the possibility of an afternoon thundershower which lent a more solemn air to our tour.  It is difficult to not feel awe in sight of these trees (of course the photos fail miserably to convey their grandeur).

These next few photos are some of the other cool sights we ran into along the trail.

We didn’t expect that Little Santeetlah Creek would be a nice spot to cool down, but our daughter thought it was the highlight of the trip so pack some towels too.

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Sylva driveby

Posted by eemilla on July 21, 2012

A weekend or two ago we went to Sylva to celebrate a wedding, and as we had to drive past WCU we decided to make it a proper day trip with lunch and a tourist stop.  For lunch I decided on Nick and Nates.  I’ve been waiting for a reason to eat there as it was opened by a fan of my favorite (no longer open) pizza place, and much like other imitators, my expectations were not met as no one ever comes close to piling the toppings on as I remember they did.  Our quick review found at least four pizzas from my favorite pizza place, albeit with different names.  The flavor, portions, and service were nice, and I would eat there again.  The beer list was much better than I expected, although contrary to the menu it was not completely devoid of one of the major breweries.  I was so  surprised to see Tanqueray in the well list that I almost ordered one.  We dined on the covered porch, and it had a nice mountain view (past the hospital); I was a bit dismayed that a lady decided to smoke on the porch during our meal, but smokers will smoke.

I shared a Mediterranean with my daughter, and I’m glad I ordered the medium because she enjoyed the pizza and ate almost an entire slice.  My husband went for the Border Crossing, and the jalapenos still had seeds which brought tears to his eyes; he ordered another beer to help wash it all down.  Overall we were happy with our pies, and we’d definitely stop back by; if so I’m getting a Tanqueray up with a twist.

Our next stop was the Heinzelmannchen Brewery, where we sampled all they were pouring.  I didn’t recall my first tasting at Brewgrass a few years past, but I really enjoyed their beers on this sample.  Everything was easy to drink without tasting watered down; I even liked their Hoppy Gnome, but my favorite was the Hefeweizen which the pourer described as being tart.  I was a bit worried, but alas my tart and his tart are far apart.  It was perfectly crisp, and when I was trying to stay cool at the wedding while waiting for the newlyweds to appear I knew it would’ve hit the spot.  Next time we are out that way we’re packing a cooler so we can bring home a growler, and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the growlers show up next to Pisgah & ABC at the store.

We really didn’t have any extra time before the wedding to explore downtown Sylva, even though it is only a few blocks long and wide.
Nick & Nate Gourmet Pizza on Urbanspoon

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