SHOW #48 December 29, 2014
This week on Episode 48 Smoky Mountains Radio, We recover from another Christmas Holiday season and I give you a trip report and updates. Let’s Go!
It is Monday, December 29, 2014 and this is episode 48 of SMR. As always, I am your host Mike, and My goal for the show is to give you the insight and information that you need to have a great trip to the Smoky Mountains. I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and you got to spend your holiday with friends and family and if you are like me, stuffing yourself with so many goodies that i’ve about shoved myself right into diabetic coma. This is a terrific and obviously very busy time of the year for all of us, so I hope you were able to take at least a few minutes to enjoy it.
If this is your first time joining us, welcome aboard and thanks for taking the time to listen. I hope you like what you hear. Thanks to all of you that have been around for months or the past year now and staying tuned each and every week.
I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com. There you will find a wealth of information including hikes from all over the Great Smoky Mountains including length, difficulty, and a short description of what you will see and and can expect as you hit the trails. If you are planning on staying in one of the surrounding towns, you can find information about those as well. You can contact me directly by emailing me at email@example.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio. You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784. Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher. Leave me a review while you are there. Those links can also be found on SMR.com. If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time. Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SMR.com
And while you are at the website or finding the shows on your favorite pod catcher app, please take the time to give the show a review. And please tell a friend or ten about the show and help spread the word about the program. These are the things that I need to help keep this show up and running. And while you are at it, if you are so inclined, please stop and make a small donation to the show. The links can be found right on the homepage. It is easy as can be and is done through Paypal. Thanks to Jack and Cindy for their donations to the show this month. Every little bit helps make sure I can keep bringing you content about the greatest national park in the U.S. each week.
Let’s get on with the show.
Before we get to the trip report, just a couple of items of news items to hit with you first.
- A passenger tram in the parking lot of Dollywood hit a 76 year old employee that was directing traffic at the time. The man is expected to be ok, but was flown to the UT medical center as a precaution. No word yet on why this happened at this point.
- You’ve all likely heard of the road to nowhere that was made infamous during Sarah Palin’s time as a vice presidential candidate in 2008. The road in alaska was a major bit of contention about wasteful spending, and all the political garbage that goes with it. But did you know there is a road to nowhere in the Smoky Mountains? And unlike Alaska, this road literally goes nowhere. Well, what makes this a news story is that it has been a contentious issue for years. It was a huge project that was made necessary years ago when the creation of the Fontana Dam resivour essentially wiped out a highway that ran through it. The solution was supposed to be a road in the area that went around it. Well….then it gets complicated. 34 miles of road in all was supposed to be built. They managed to get 7 miles done. And did I mention that this was in the 1960’s? So through all this time, the project never got done. Routing the road it was decided would cause too much environmental damage and would cost upwards of half a billion dollars. Too bad they didn’t take that into account before they built the resivior, but that is another story. After years and years of litigation, the towel was thrown in and the town was supposed to get a 52 million dollar settlement as at least some compensation for the headache and trouble the lack of a road is providing. Well, they are still not following through on that, and congressmen and women in the area are trying to take action. Not to get political, but congressional action is kind of a contradiction in terms to me, so I guess we will see. Regardless, the 7 mile stretch is there for you to take in at your leisure during your next trip, the famed road to nowhere.
- Apparently, the views in the Smoky Mountains are finally starting to improve. For years the pollution in the air has drastically held visibility down when you are standing on those amazing mountain vistas that the Smokies have to offer. The TVA, or Tennessee Valley Authority, has been one of the major culprits in the problem. The coal power plants have put all kinds of toxins into the air that has progressively worse dating back decades. However, they have turned the corner and are using better techniques that don’t harm the environment nearly to the degree these plants do. They have closed most of the plants, and no surprise, the views are once again opening up to levels that we haven’t seen in more than 10 years. They are still trending upward, so the news here is all good. It seems like every time that I have gone lately, there has been cloud cover or just the traditional smoke of the good ole Smokies, so I haven’t seen that much of a difference yet, but from upper elevations it is really a game changer on a clear day. The best proof of the increase other than the good old eye test is from the environmental station on Look Rock. It continually tests the air quality around it and confirms that the bad stuff in the air is on the decline, so if its been awhile, come on out and see what you have been missing.
- Finally, some really cool news. Listener of the show Jack, who you have all heard from before on the program has decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail this year. I am insanely jealous of course, but he wrote in to let me know that he will be starting on January 3rd. That will likely be before our next show, so I want to wish Jack all the best on his trip. He is starting really, really early. Most people leave Springer mountain in the last couple weeks of March or early April. It will be insanely cold at the elevations in Georgia and the Smokies this time of year. It’s a couple hundred miles to the Smokies from the start of the AT, so I am hoping to meet up with him at Newfound Gap when he makes it there. He also said he will send me periodic updates about his progress, so I will be sharing those on the show as he goes. It’s going to be a long 2100 plus miles to Maine, but we all wish you all the best on your adventure. He will also be posting trail journals at whiteblaze.net so, be sure to check that out. His trail name is Sir Snacks A lot.
Well I told you last time that I would have a new report for you in the next show, so we are gonna spend most of our time today going through all of that. So to give you the particulars, my wife, myself, and our little dog Mickey all decided to stay in a new place this time around. We very rarely bring the dog with us, but we wanted to have our furry companion for this trip. So let’s get into the trip a bit.
For starters, I took one for the team yet again and came up through exit 407 on interstate 40. You have heard me say before that this is about the worst way to come in, but since about 90 percent of you come this way, I thought I would check out the progress….or lack thereof. About five months ago I told you that road construction was starting up again in Sevierville, and it is not even close to complete. In fact, traffic was at a crawl from the moment we pulled off the interstate and all through town on the parkway. If all lanes are not open in this area, it is not going to go well, and this was no exception to the rule. We got stopped at every light and about every spot in between. Traffic cones and construction materials still litter the area. Unfortunately, even when you get past that, Pigeon Forge is not much better. All that traffic is so clustered that pigeon Forge traffic did not pick up until we got passed traffic light #6. So we were in the car for about an extra hour that we didn’t need to be. Stay clear my friends. There are many more ways to come in, and it’s not worth the headache unless you are staying right on the strip.
If we do stay overnight, we rarely stay in Pigeon Forge. It’s not that the area is bad, its just extra time to get around and get to the mountains, so we usually stay in Gatlinburg or Wears Valley. This time was different. We decided to try out a new cabin company for you this time around. So for this trip, we stayed three nights with Sunset Cottage cabins and specifically the Always Together Forever Cabin. This cabin is a one bedroom cabin in a development that is located just passed Pigeon Forge. If you turn on traffic light 8 and go passed DollyWood, you will be pretty close….within about a mile. The location is good for getting in and out of the strip. In fact we had no real traffic issues at all. It took us about 15-20 minutes to get into the mountains from there, and that includes taking the spur and going either through or around gatlinburg. So back to the cabin.
This cabin is obviously a pet friendly cabin. And these are harder to find than you might think. Another thing we liked is that their deposit program ensured that if we needed to change our plans, we weren’t out hundreds of dollars. A small deposit of under 100 bucks would be lost, but that is about it. So that was definitely a positive. This time of year, I wanted a cabin that was not on a crazy high and windy road. You never know when bad weather is going to give you problems. They assured us this one was not on that kind of road, and they were true to their word. It was up a hill a little, but nothing too high where our little 2 wheel drive suv would have trouble if the weather turned. As a side note though, here is my biggest complaint about all of these cabin companies. They won’t give you addresses until you check in. It would be incredibly advantageous to see where it is located beforehand. You could see if the roads are where you want or need to be. You could see if it is really a secluded cabin, because this is usually the biggest lie cabin companies tell you in listings. Everything is better by knowing what you are getting ahead of time. Pictures on the website only tell you so much. And of course, pictures only give you the best angles of the cabin and surrounding areas. But anyway, I knew going in this one was not secluded, and it wasn’t. If you rent a cabin in a development like we did, you often get some included amenities like the indoor pool complex that we didn’t end up using, free breakfasts, or some other perk. But the cabins are usually very close together. In this case, the neighboring cabins were roughly 10 paces from ours side to side. Again, i didn’t expect differently this time, but it is something you might want to consider. We had good neighbors during our stay, but if you end up with the drunken and loud type, it could really ruin your trip.
So about this cabin. Like I said, it is a 1 bedroom cabin. It has a kitchen, living room, and bedroom with bathroom and two person jacuzzi. There is also a hot tub on the back deck. They have a 2 sided gas fireplace in the living room that is also in the bedroom, and that is a nice feature. The cabin is small at only a few hundred square feet. For two people it is fine, but for more than that I think you are going to be pushing it. I read several journal entries from couples that brought two or three kids with them. That would have been really tight. The couch in the living room pulls out to a bed, but still, it is tight, especially with one bathroom.
Here’s where I get to my first real problem. The cabin is pet friendly. Great, that’s what I needed. But, if you have a pet friendly cabin, you gotta clean it really, really well. The place was cleanish, but from the moment we walked through the door, the dog was going crazy, sniffing at everything, and trying to mark his territory. There were also several carpets in the cabin, which for a pet friendly cabin I think is a little unwise. I really wondered what was on those things. We pulled them up and stuck them in a closet for the duration of our stay.
If you have stayed in cabins in the area at all, you know that they are often furnished as cheaply as possible and do not get replaced over the course of many years. The couch/hideabed was really uncomfortable as you could feel the structure more than you could the cushions. That made snuggling by the fire a little uncomfortable, but it was still nice. The rest of the furniture was fine, and the decorations were very homely and quaint like you would want in a cabin. They did have a multicade arcade machine with old school games like packman, galaga, donkey kong, and several others. Obviously, I spent plenty of time here. Overall though, I thought it was pretty nice and it suited our needs well for what we wanted. If I had to do it all over again, we had no problems with the cabin company at all, so that was good. I would use them again, though next time I might opt for a place that was more secluded.
We spent little time in Pigeon Forge this time around, so I can’t report much on that except that it is basically the same as always with the newer things like Hard Rock Cafe, and the Island dominating the landscape. Still, no place was busier than the mall. The Tanger Outlets were insane getting in and out of…so we didn’t do it. Not surprising given that we were there three days before Christmas, but I would be that it was a nightmare. Those kinds of crowds are not my thing.
We spend a little time in Gatlinburg. Nothing really different there. It is much the same as it has been over the last decade with stores coming and going, and more tshirt shops than you can count. If any of you are looking for a great drinking game, drink every time you pass a tshirt shop on the strip. You will be in the bag before you hit midtown. We stopped, of course, at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen. I got my brown bears and my wife got a carmel apple. It is our regular standing order at this place, and as always, it did not disappoint.
I continue to be more and more perplexed by The Day Hiker. Every time I go in, they seem to be selling more novelty items, tshirts, and camping gear that no hiker would really use. They still have some decent stuff, but overall, I think they are catoring more to the idea of hiking than most real hikers these days. I hate to see that, but if that is what they have to do to survive, I totally get it. They have been able to stick around for decades while about everyone else has folded, so take that for what you will. We also stopped at the other hiking store in town, the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC. They had terrific stuff as usual and such a wide variety that there is definitely something for you. I could have spend hundreds there, but restrained myself to a new book on the Applalachian Trail.
We also made the pilgrimage to my wife’s and her entire family’s favorite place to eat, the Pancake Pantry. I’m not a breakfast person, so I don’t particularly get it, but she loves it. The food is very good, and the service is always very positive, so it’s worth it, even though you will wait outside for what feels like forever waiting for your table. My wife recommends the french toast. I am still annoyed that this place refuses to accept cards. Everybody using debit/credit cards these days. It is quite the hassle to use the ATM in the place that costs you 3.00 just to pay for breakfast. I don’t know about you, but I very rarely carry any cash on me these days, and if I do, it’s usually only a couple of bucks. So, another plea to Pancake Pantry; please start taking plastic!
We made our way into the national park and even since the last outing, they have cleared a lot of trees. They went down by the dozens after numerous storms in recent months. The park service has done a great job of clearing them out. There are still many littered here and there, but they have really worked hard on this and it shows. While at Sugarlands Visitor Center, I decided to buy a new guidebook and bought Day Hikes of the Smokies. I’m not a fan. It has 45 hikes, supposedly the best 45 day hikes in the park, but I find the list odd in some places. Some of the hikes are not the best out there, and in order to keep it pocket-sized, I think they skimped in places. Go with the big book and call it a day. At 9.95 I didn’t waste a lot of money, but even so I would have rather gotten anything else. At least the money will help the park.
And that takes us to the hikes for this trip. Yeah, that was the plan anyway. I was looking for some easier to moderate hikes that my wife and I could do together. But as I started getting my gear sorted I realized something very important. My knee braces were not here. That’s right, I left them in my gym bag at home. Now, i’m not going to rehash all the stuff about my awful knees here that you have heard time and again, but without knee braces, I will be in a ton of pain hiking. I thought about going to buy new ones and just go, but that brought 2 big problems. First, they are expensive. At about 100 bucks for the pair, I just couldn’t stomach wasting the money. Secondly, much like your hiking boots, breaking in a pair of knee braces on the trail will cause serious irritation and perhaps more pain than without them. They gotta be broken in before the trip. So, then I was faced with a decision about what to do. I could just see how things go and turn around if I felt I needed to. But as I have preached on this show a hundred times, being safe is the first commandment of hiking. I didn’t want to put myself or my wife in a bad situation if my knees gave out halfway up a mountain. So, I decided to play it safe and we stayed really low on the mountain and decided to do a couple of laps of the Cataract Falls and John Ownby Cabin. I’ve reviewed this hike on the show before, but combined it only about 2 miles of easy walking, so we decided to do that. The trail is even easier than I remember from the last time I did it. The trail is graveled for most of the way to cataract falls, and the trail almost always stays completely level. So it is easy walking. I was shocked that it was deserted. We got there about 11am and the parking lot was packed, but nobody was doing the trail. The loop trail to the Owenby Cabin was a little more difficult, it has some moderate uphills and downhills, but nothing major. The cabin was nice as I remembered, tucked in the middle of the woods. The drawback to these hikes is that you can see and hear traffic on the road at almost every point. But, we didn’t not see a single person on the hike to the cabin and only two people on the cataract falls trail. There was a ranger walk with a crowd starting to the falls as we got back, but that was about it. I still think this is one of the more overlooked hikes in the park, and if you are doing a tough hike in the area that day, it is a great way to warm up or cool off your legs before/after your hike.
(I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com)
Thanks again for checking out this episode of Smoky Mountains Radio and I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and has a terrific new year. Be sure to contact me on SMR.com to leave me a question or comment. It’s been a great 2014 being with you all, and I look forward to what comes in the next year. It’s about time for me to wrap this up, so i’ll go ahead and get this thing done. So until next time, do a better job than me. Make sure you check and make sure you have all of your gear, and then……go take a hike!
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Theme music provided by “The Breakmen” and their terrific song, “KM19″