After Alabama we went back to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains park for four or five days (this is all last summer of course). Obviously in spite of all of the grotesque, and mostly depressing, schmaltz that stretches outside the gates of the park for twenty miles, and the circumstance that most of the more accessible trails inside the park are ridiculously crowded compared to almost any other natural preserve in the country, we had a pleasant enough time the year before to want to come back and do more. Given my social and cultural pretensions, I cannot really justify my not reacting to this place with total revulsion on several levels, however--the park and the mountains are beautiful in a way that does uplift the downtrodden spirit, and even in the pancake houses and mini-golf venues down in the town the visitors have a kind of earnest enthusiasm for these modest pleasures that is kind of infectious to be around (I was even almost tempted to pop into the giant "As Seen on TV" outlet store in Pigeon Forge, but having seen on the internet the photo reports of other visitors that it is full of nothing but the worst kind of junk, I am pleased to have resisted that temptation).
1. Along the Trail to a Falls, I Believe Grotto Falls
This first set is mostly nature pictures. Due to my wife's having just had a baby two months previously, we had to stick to the easier, and thus inevitably more popular hikes. These were nonetheless worthy and aesthetically satisfying hikes. The variety of plant life on the trails in this park is extraordinary compared with pretty much anywhere else I have seen in the eastern U.S. One often has the sense of being in an arboretum rather than actually outside in nature itself.
2 & 3. Along the Grotto Falls Trail.
These don't really give the sense of harmony that one experiences among the diffuse elements of the scene there.
As I usually do in instances such as this when I am selecting 20 or so pictures for display out of a selection of about 500 or so, I generate a number of them randomly, just keep the ones that seem acceptable enough, and jettison ones that I don't think are any good. These seemed to say more when they were blown up fairly big.
My procedure of picture generation did happen to generate a picture of me and a few of the children congregating behind the falls at the end of the trail. It was a good picture, except that I looked fatter than I generally like to have known to the greater world, so I suppressed it.
4. Ripley's Amazing Mirror Maze, As Seen From Across the Parkway in Downtown Gatlinburg.
My children are sentimentalists in the same vein as I am, and thus in addition to the new things we intended to do in town, they also wanted to do the same things they had done on their previous visit, which thankfully had only been a couple of things.
5. Inside the Maze.
7. Approaching the Bluffs
I managed to get out of the maze by way of bumbling around until I happened upon the curtain which led back to the Willy Wonka-esque candy shop which is attached to the maze. I did not figure out the layout--I was primarily tailing my five year old to make sure he didn't get scared, and not really paying attention to the pattern--but I also reasoned that a clever well-educated father of a past era would not only have noted the pattern but related it to something like a Mozart aria and kept up a banter with the children throughout that elevated the whole experience somewhat above mere sensation.
I did notice on the streets of Gatlinburg more of a rougher, lower class element than I did the first time we went, especially in the evening. People slapping their children and that sort of thing. Hiking for the sake of hiking (as opposed to hiking for the sake of say, fishing, which still draws more of the salt of the earth crowd) seems to attract people and families on the more organized end of the societal scale nowadays, as a general rule. On the hike in the following pictures, there was a cheerful and good-looking group of college kids from Nashville who were going all the way to the top of the mountain and staying at the lodge that was up there overnight as getting up there took the whole day (we did not do this, but that is the sort of thing I would like to do sometime). They were quite friendly and upbeat. Indeed I felt like the professor in Wild Strawberries around them, which was pleasant but a little disturbing as I was 41 at the time and the character in the movie is around 70. I'd better start doing something so I have something to look back on in my life when I am 70.
6. On the Way to Alum Cave Bluffs
This is a wonderful trail. Alum Cave Bluffs are about halfway up the 6,000+ foot Mt Lecomte, though the walk gets much harder and steeper apparently after the bluffs, which are a worthy attraction in themselves. This hike starts out along a river among thickets of rhododendron bushes, some of which happened to still be in flower, there is a cavelike portion of the walk, lots of water, above is part of one of the vistas seen when one gets higher up on the trail. I recommend it highly.
7. Approaching the Bluffs
We have beautiful nature, but if we do not generate beautiful art or greater intelligence from it, what good does it really do us?
8. Arrival at the Bluffs
This is halfway up a mountain. I made the joke at the time that this is what America is supposed to look like, at least in part. It isn't Manhattan--what is?--but it is great after its own manner.
9. Jellyfish Tank at Ripley's Aquarium in GatlinburgThis place is first and foremost a money making extravaganza, and the corporation that owns it is supposedly about as sinister as they come, but it isn't a bad aquarium, especially for children, and the children for whatever reason really wanted to go to it, and they often talked about it during the year, so I took them. I found at the end that I was quite emotionally spent by the visit. It was strange. I had not expected it. Kind of as if I were to suddenly--well, do anything I often think about doing but never actually do, though I can only imagine what that would take out of me. I bought myself a souvenir tumbler which I frequently drink my morning Coca-Cola in as well as the occasional stiffer drink.