Thoughts

A Love Letter to the Smoky Mountains

November 30, 2016

Recently I did a little computer cleaning. It’s one of those projects that I put off constantly and save for a “rainy day” because I know it will take some time. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE doing it, but I know that once I start, it’s hard to stop and I can easily spend hours organizing all the files, deleting different objects I no longer need and blurting out obscenities at my computer whenever it takes too long or freezes.

Downton Gatlinburg, TN & the Smoky Mountains

I found a number of photos from various trips and excursions that I could include on here. I have photos from a favorite taco place, my cruise up to Quebec, trips down to New Orleans and even some pictures of early baking experiments from when I was still working in an office on a daily basis and had yet to learn all the little nuances of the daily life of a baker (back when it was still romanticized). One collection of photos I found particularly appropriate was of my trip down to Dollywood. I put them aside in hopes of writing something about them. This was back in October. It’s now December. Clearly, I need to work on writing posts in a timely manner.

So when I saw that Gatlinburg was trending on Twitter the other day, I was heartbroken to see why.

Yes, wildfires can occur in any forest area, especially one that hasn’t seen rain in weeks or months. And we all know that wildfires happen in California every Summer. None of these occurrences are great. It’s never a blessing in disguise. It’s devastating. I do think that these wildfires in Sevier County hit a little closer to home because it’s a place I visited not too long ago, a place I imagined myself going back to visit, a place I could even see myself retiring to in the very distant future.

Up until my visit there, my knowledge of the Smoky Mountains essentially came from Dolly Parton songs. But to see it in person, it’s absolutely beautiful. I’ve been to the Rockies out in Colorado. I’ve driven through the White Mountains up here in New England. There’s something different and special about all of them.

The beauty of Dollywood is that it’s in the mountains. Driving into the park, you go through a street lined with massive tourist trap stops, buildings designed to look like boats or planes or castles, all housing mini golf or a restaurant. But behind them all, are mountains covered with trees (or, for some reason, bosky, a word I remember from a game of Balderdash many, many, many years ago). It’s stunning. The park itself is located in these mountains. You don’t see any buildings. You don’t see any highways. It’s just mountains and trees and it’s absolutely beautiful. The park is small and easy to walk around, but themed beautifully with Dolly Parton music piped in through the speakers. It feels like a bit of a fantasy. You’re in the hidden world, having a grand old time, forgetting about the daily hustle and bustle of the city.

I went in the fall because…well…Autumn…and it was beautiful. After a day in the park, we made our way to downtown Gatlinburg, driving through some of the Smoky Mountain National Park. Pictures never did anything justice. The area we stayed was filled with restaurants and motels and mini golf courses and some other odd touristy things (like a mirror maze, an oddity museum). But just behind the hotel was a river. You could walk around, play mountainside mini golf, get a drink, sit outside, listen to a bluegrass band. It was wonderful. We took a trip up to the top of a “space needle” and the view from there was breathtaking. The mountains, dotted with cabins, covered with trees changing from green to red and orange and yellow. It’s an absolutely beautiful area.

Maple Cinnamon Sugar Bread

So, as I sit here drinking some wine, excited for the airing of “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” tonight on NBC, I think back to what I ate when I was at Dollywood. Of course there’s the usual theme park food. But I remember a mill on the river, with a water wheel and the smell emanating from there was heavenly. Butter and sugar and cinnamon and bread. Upon close inspection, they were making Hot Fresh Cinnamon Maple Bread. You could watch the bakers make everything. Once the dough was risen, it was slashed and dropped into a vat of melted butter, pulled out and then tossed into a bowl of cinnamon sugar mix and then off to proof and bake it went. It was like light and crisp and doughy and hot and rich and delicious and it was amazing and I know what wasn’t good and I know I’ve used a lot of “ands” in this sentence and I don’t really care. It’s one of those foods that I hope to one day try and recreate.

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There was a giant candy shop with all sorts of handmade chocolates. A big ass apple pie. Seriously. It was ginormous. And candy. So much candy. Homer Simpson wouldn’t have been able to leave.

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The evening in Gatlinburg started with a tasting of moonshines at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler. You can walk by and see moonshine being made and then you go into the tasting room. Where they keep filling up tiny little shot glasses of moonshine. Mixing different flavors together to give you all sorts of different flavored options. And that’s how they get you. As you’re loosened up by all the liquor, you’re surround by walls full of jars of moonshine. So of course, you’ll buy some. And if you get 5, you save money…or something to that effect. It’s smart. And delicious. And then you stumble out, hands carrying heavy bags of booze and head on down to a restaurant to fill your stomach with something greasy to sop up all the alcohol in your system.

Moonshine Samples!

My heart goes out to everyone down in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and Sevier County and Tennessee. I have very fond memories of my time there. Great memories of great food. Beautiful views. Stunning weather. A grand ol’ time.

This page has a number of places to donate to, to help out the areas & residents hurt by the fire: How to Help

And since it’s Christmas & Dolly Parton is on topic, here’s a Christmas movie I discovered last year: A Smoky Mountain Christmas

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