A Soul-Restoring Trip to the Smoky Mountains

Photo by Saloma Furlong

I have always wanted to visit The Smokies, ever since I was an Amish teenager. For some reason or another, it never quite worked out for me to visit these ancient mountains until this past weekend.

David and I headed off to Asheville, North Carolina without planning what we were going to do during our three-day vacation. It was the first time we’ve traveled this way. There are pros and cons to being spontaneous, but it left us open to exploring, and we did plenty of that.

We decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway part of the way. We got on in Fancy Gap, Virginia, and took it all the way to Asheville. The sights along the way were just so awesome and stunning. I could not capture the beauty of standing at one of the overlooks with a panoramic view spread out before me, but here are several attempts.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway gave us a chance to breathe out in nature without being surrounded by throngs of people, commercial establishments, or traffic jams. It took us a lot longer to get to Asheville than it would have going a more conventional route, but it was an experience in and of itself. We could get out and enjoy the views along the way. We found a picnic table under a tree at one of them, where we spread out the food we’d packed and enjoyed a leisurely lunch surrounded by Beauty.

We’d been hearing about Asheville for years — including from friends and acquaintances in Vermont and Massachusetts. Most people raved about this city. In fact, we’d never heard a bad word about it. When we came off the Parkway and onto a mainstream highway, we realized we were leaving the alternative world we’d been in for hours. As we headed into the city of Asheville, we thought it looked like Anywhere USA. It was quite a shock from our afternoon experience, with throngs of people walking through downtown. David dropped me off by a restaurant called Curate, which we’d had a high recommendation for, and he went to find parking. Lo and behold, Curate had no more openings for that evening, or for the following evening. But they did have an opening for lunch on Sunday, so I made reservations and waited out on the street for David. About twenty minutes later he came driving by. He was unsuccessful in finding a parking space. We finally found one in the parking garage. Locating a restaurant with space for dinner was even more difficult. We finally sat at a counter and ordered a light meal at one of them before heading off to Hendersonville thirty minutes away to an Airbnb, where we’d booked a room.

Sunday we went back to Asheville and had lunch at Curate. Eating there was an experience. The food is served Spanish style (as in Spain), to be shared with the people at the table. David and I ordered three dishes: chicken croquettes, meatballs made from beef, pork, and lamb in a tomato sauce, and lamb skewers with moorish spices and pickles. We had cheesecake with strawberry compote and whipped sheep’s milk for dessert. We felt nourished and satiated when we finished our meal.

We spent the afternoon walking around the park where they were having a veggie fest. We browsed through the art and crafts tents, then sat near the pavilion, listening to music and watching children playing in the water park.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

We browsed in shops in town that afternoon, but then decided to go back up into the mountains. We went south of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and again there was just so much to see. Here are a few photos, including of “Looking Glass Rock.”

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

As you can see, the clouds gave us quite a show on Sunday afternoon. Below is a photo of something I’d never seen before. I can only guess that these were sun rays coming down through the clouds at the same time it was raining in that spot.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Soon thereafter we saw a rainbow, followed by a shower, and then mist in the mountains.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Some scientists want to claim the Smoky Mountains are older than life on earth. I’ve taken one geology class, and I remember my geology teacher saying that scientists disagree about how the Smoky Mountains were formed, but they do agree that the mountains and rocks in this region are ancient. Being there, one FEELS these mountains and rocks are old. If I were a geologist, I wouldn’t begin to know how to interpret these rocks. There just seems to be so much going on here.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

David and I agreed that Asheville was too intense for us, at least this past weekend. Our assessment is that perhaps too many people love Asheville, causing rapid growth. This changes the nature of a place all on its own. However, there is still a lot of emphasis on supporting the arts in the city, and there are many good restaurants. Perhaps we made a mistake going there on a holiday weekend. If we go there again, we’ll have to go during the off-season, which someone local told me is January, February, and part of March.

We did not visit the Biltmore Estate, home of the Vanderbilts. We thought about it. We heard the gardens are spectacular. I couldn’t find the cost of tickets until I actually tried to book them online. I found they were going to cost $75 each. So we didn’t go because we couldn’t afford it. As it turns out, we had a good time in Mother Nature’s Garden, one that took hundreds of millions of years to become what it is. And we got to enjoy this out away from the hordes of people going to the Biltmore. Someday soon, we’ll visit the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, which is free.

Monday morning we headed for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we picked up a mountain road that led up to the Park. We thought Asheville was commercialized, but it was tame compared to Gatlinburg. There was so much hype there, it’s as if the town has become a great big amusement park. I snapped a few photos as we drove through town. Here is one:

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Compare this to the photos of what we found when we were up in the mountains. There was a stream running alongside the road for most of our way through the mountain pass. At some point, we stopped by a waterfall and cooled our feet.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

 

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Reluctantly, we realized in mid-afternoon that it was time to head home. We took a route that went through Knoxville, and then we picked up I-81. Even though this is a major artery, there was very little traffic in Tennessee and southern Virginia. Around Roanoke the truck traffic picked up, but most of the return trip was stress-free. As we drove through Virginia, we realized it’s beautiful here too. We were seeing that with fresh eyes.

Even though we drove a lot more than we’d planned, overall we found our trip soul-restoring and awe-inspiring. New horizons inevitably bring new perspectives and this trip was no exception for me. I will share more about this at another time.

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11 thoughts on “A Soul-Restoring Trip to the Smoky Mountains”

  1. Saloma, You took some awesome pictures, capturing wonderful vistas. Glad your trip home was not as busy on 81 as it is sometimes.

    1. Hi Sadie,

      Thank you for your compliments. The last part of our trip was hectic, of course. I-81 in our area is horrible, isn’t it? In Tennessee there was a speed limit of 55 for trucks, 65 for cars. It seemed to cut down on the number of trucks on I-81. Wish we could do that here. Some of the night truckers are a menace on that highway!

  2. A year ago this past August I was in Ashville, in Hendersonville and Brevard. And Cades Cove. It was also a time of refreshing.

    1. Katie, that is just about the same trip we took. We thought the drive up the pass was more dramatic than Cades Cove… how about you?

      Yes, getting out into nature’s wonders is refreshing. So glad you got to experience this last year.

  3. I love the Smokey Mountains! So many people think visiting Gatlinburg is visiting the Smokey’s. Boy are they missing out! Your pictures really captured the beauty of the mountains!

    1. Thank you, Pam, for your thoughts and compliments. I agree, the people going only as far as Gatlinburg are missing out. But then again, I wouldn’t have wanted all those people in the mountains anyway. People have a way of sorting themselves out according to their interests.

  4. My daughter lives in Black Mountain about 10 minutes from Asheville. It’s one of my favorite places in the world and know that someday I might find myself living there. I agree Asheville is too much, but Black Mountain is a very small town in the heart of the mountains. Whenever you get tired of noise, traffic and other people, the mountain trails are nearby to quiet our souls.

  5. The great Smokey’s have always intrigued me, though I have never been there it is certainly on my bucket list. Thank you for your amazing photograph’s, you captured them in such a way that it makes my longing to go all that much stronger. Thank’s also for the info. Neither Paul or I are big on tourist traps. It’s good to know what to avoid and what to expect if we decide to check some of these places out. I want to stay in that little log house you took a picture of, so beautiful. Paul and I are both mountains and woods kind of people. They speak to our souls as the ocean does for other’s. My brother has been to Biltmore and said it’s worth seeing, but I’m with you on the cost. I understand their reason for doing so, cant imagine the cost of it’s upkeep, just a little steep for us. Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about your trip!!!

  6. I had to laugh when I read your comments about the Biltmore Estate. I just visited the Smoky Mountains in August, and when we looked up the tickets for the Biltmore Estate, our reaction was the same!!! The price is just crazy.

    We stayed in Pigeon Forge and visited Gatlinburg and Asheville as well.

    I just finished reading “Bonnet Strings” (I had read your first book about a year ago), and I came here to look up your recipes. I’m always searching for a great pie crust recipe and although I haven’t had the nerve to try it yet, I really want to learn to make homemade bread.

    My grandparents were raised Amish in Mattoon, Illinois and Middlebury/Shipshewana/Goshen, Indiana (I’m from the latter). My great-grandparents left the Amish sometime after the children were all grown, but my maternal great-grandparents wore their Amish clothes to the end. There is a funny story that I found in one of our geneaology books about my maternal great-great grandparents. In a letter written by my great-great grandmother Fannie Cross to my great-grandfather (her son) Enos, she was so distressed because her husband George wanted, in the worst way, to have one of those new cars, a Ford Model T! Since he obviously couldn’t have one and be Amish, he had started going to the Mennonite Church instead, and she was just beside herself in the letter. She was even more upset because the younger children still living at home were now going to the Mennonite Church with him because they wanted to ride in the car! What was even funnier was to read the accompanying letter from George… He spoke about the weather, the farming, making small talk. Then he said, “Your mother won’t say a good word to me…” and in one or maybe two sentences said she was upset about the car and the Mennonite Church. Then he went on with the small talk, and that was all he had to say! So amusing!! For many years, a photograph of George in his Amish clothes, standing over his Model T, hung in several local restaurants. I wish I could post it here!

    Anyways, my mother and I found your books very interesting and I am glad you chose to share your story. It is interesting just how different the Amish communities around the country are. Most Amish in our area do not shun their relatives who leave the church and most are involved in the local tourism industry, which is heavily focused on Amish restaurants and goods. If you ever visit Shipshewana, you must look me up and I will give you the GRAND tour! :)

  7. Hi there,

    I’m a few months late with this discussion, but I have some tips for your next trip to the Great Smokies! I live in Georgia, so we drive from another direction than you do. And the word down here is always, “Stay away from Gatlinburg if you want peace and quiet.” (I could see a family with young ones thinking it would be fun.) Asheville might soon be talked of that way, too.

    Anyway, next time you are down ther, try Brevard (just a little south of Asheville), Bryson City, Cherokee (for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian), and a stay at the Pisgah Inn (very remote and SW of Asheville). There is a lot to do in the Smokies! I really enjoyed this post.

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