Monday, July 27, 2009

Old Smoky and Smoky the Mule (A Trip to the Smokies, part three)

The Magnificent Six, returning from a triumphant ride (well, okay, close enough!)

Encompassing 814 square miles, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a lot of ground to cover. On the first day of our stay there, we decided to give ourselves an overview of the park by driving all the way across it, enjoying the scenery and stopping at only two places: the Sugarlands Visitor Center (the one closest to Gatlinburg), and Clingman's Dome, which at an elevation of 6643 feet is one of the highest peaks in the eastern US.

There really wasn't anything special to photograph at the Visitor Center, but we took several photos of our stop at Clingman's Dome. Clingman's is also known as "Old Smoky," the very same mountain immortalized in the famous old ballad "On Top of Old Smoky." After parking in the parking lot at the foot of the peak, we (along with perhaps a couple hundred others) walked up the VERY steep paved path to the summit. Here's an example of the breathtaking views we saw along the way:

At the summit of "Old Smoky" is an observation tower, which was built to enable visitors to get a great view. When the tower was first built in the sixties, it supposedly offered views of up to 100 miles when the weather was clear. Here's the tower (not the prettiest sight we saw!):

We climbed to the top of the tower, which is about a hundred or so feet high, but which mercifully has a spiraling ramp with a very gentle grade. When we reaced the top, we had a beautiful view of....

Well, pretty much just clouds. Due to acid rain and other types of pollution, those old views of up to 100 miles no longer exist. The day we were there was a particularly cloudy one, and visibility was probably not even one mile. Here, Courtney is enjoying her view of the clouds.

And here we all are, enjoying the chilly weather. It must have been about 60 degrees in the tower, which was a great blessing after the near-100 degree heat (and 90% humidity) that we had been "enjoying" in Houston for the previous six weeks.

Time to head down.... (I spent quite a bit of time carrying Christine on this trip!)

Clingman's Dome is roughly in the middle of the park, and it was thus halfway along the 45-mile-long road that cuts directly across the park. After we had almost reached the opposite end of the park, we made an interesting find, something that was not even on our map. We saw a sign that said "Mingus Mill" and decided "What the heck? Let's go check it out!"

Mingus Mill (named for a nearby creek) is a reconstructed late 19th and early 20th century mill that actually functioned on the very spot where it is currently located. It was definitely worth the stop. Here's a view of (almost) the entire mill.

Here are the kids and me in front of the water sluice.

You'll never guess the name of the man who built and ran the mill for most of its existence...

Sion Thomas EARLY! We couldn't believe it. Since my paternal ancestors came from Knox County, Tennessee (adjacent to the county that Gatlinburg is in), it is very likely that this Mr. Early is a relative of mine. In the photo below, you can see his initials ("STE") carved into the wall of the main building, just below the gable (click photo to enlarge).

That was pretty much it for day one. Most people (including us) spend most of their time in the Smokies just driving from place to place. We put a total of 420 miles on our car in the six days we were there. The combination of mountain driving and hiking can wipe you out. On our way home, we spent a little bit of time walking around Gatlinburg. We ate dinner in a reasonably-priced but mediocre Italian restaurant, then returned to the cabin fairly early and collapsed.

On our second day, we decided to go horseback riding. There are a large number of places that offer riding, and most of them are reasonably priced. The first one we picked (we found out after we parked and went to the office) did not allow 4-year-olds to have their own horse, or even to ride with someone else. We did not want to leave Christine behind, so we went elsewhere. The second place we chose was quite some distance away. Not only that, but we got lost on the way and ended up driving an extra 45 minutes to get there. We didn't even get to the place until noon, having left the cabin at about 9:45.

The place was called "Davy Crockett Riding Stables." This seemed fitting, since Crockett had connections to both Tennesee and Texas. And they DID allow 4-year-olds to ride by themselves, so all six of us would get our own horse.
I got a sweet-tempered white mule named (appropriately enough) Smoky. He was very well-behaved and easy to manage. Here I am on him. You can also see Audrey, Beth, and Courtney (in the foreground) on their horses.
We were a little anxious about how Courtney would do. Jennifer told our trail guide that she was autistic and almost entirely non-verbal. Somehow, the guide didn't get the message. For the first 10 or so minutes, when the guide would tell us all to do something like lean forward, and Courtney didn't respond, she would say, "What's her name?" ("Courtney!" we would reply). "Hey, Courtney! Lean forward! Courtney! Hel -LOOOOOO!" Jennifer finally reminded her that Courtney is autistic and can't respond to such commands and questions. The guide finally got used to her, and even though Courtney had a few problems, she did quite well. She had a great time, as did we all.

Christjne was so excited to have her own horse. She did perfectly!

Happy trails, to you.......

We all had a wonderful time riding our horses (which we did for an hour). Next time: our first hikes.


elizabeth said...

That's really lovely. I am so glad you were able to have such a special time! I have not been on a horse since I was a child! Brings back memories! :)

d.burms said...

On top of OLD SMOKY,
all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meat ball,
when somebody sneezed.

Isabel said...

so you had to leave Texas and go to Tennessee to ride a horse? Looks like you all had fun!

kilgores said...

Sion Thomas Early was my great-grandfather (specifically, my father's mother's father). I would be happy to share any information concerning the Early-Enloe side of the family. Incidentally, my brother has two chests full of the original tools he used to build the Mingus Mill.

Sidney W. Kilgore

Fr. James Early said...

Sidney, that would be much appreciated. Would you please send me your email address? Mine is