It wasn't the best of all possible starts to our morning when we came down to breakfast and the hotel was out of biscuits, out of sausage (okay, that part wasn't a loss to us), out of gravy, and the milk and plates needed to be replenished. It's very annoying to wander around with a foam bowl full of raisin bran and not see any milk in sight (and no, I'm not going to count thimblefuls of irish cream-flavored coffee creamer). We persevered despite Andy's grumpiness that his instant oatmeal was MAPLE instead of APPLE.
We did have to drive a little bit before we got into the Smoky Mountains. We drove past trees and fields and signs that were liberal with their spellings of "peanut." Finally, we arrived in the park proper and wandered around the visitor center. I bought a Learn-How-To-Quilt set and a cool wildflower guide. Andy got a poster of a fox. After we paid for our purchases, we drove down to a grist mill that still operatoinal (though they don't grind much grain there). It was pretty cool to watch the water setting everything in motion.
Leaving the mill, we drove through more of the park and then we set out on the Clingman's Dome Death March--er, I mean, the hike to Clingman's Dome. See, I knew we'd have to walk to get there. I had not realized exactly how steep it would be, or that it was a half mile up and another half mile back. We did all right, though, and the forest smelled wonderful in the moist air.
I didn't care too much for the observation tower, being a bit scared of heights, but it was neat to be able to say that I've been there.
The walk down was much easier on the knees, and we arrived back at the car without mishap. By now, we were all ready for lunch, so Chris drove us down into Gatlinburg, where we ate at a Texas Roadhouse. The food was good, but either the waitress was very new or...well, I don't know what. She barely spoke to us, as though we had suddenly appeared in, say, her personal dining room rather than having sat down in a reasonable manner in a restaurant. Among her other oddities, she was also laboring under the misapprehension that brown sugar and cinnamon are the same substance.
Anyway, we ate our lunch and also our fill of peanuts and then departed for Ober Gatlinburg. I had been there once many years ago to go ice skating with a church group--it was much grubbier than I remembered it. We took the tram up, of course, and were surprised to see that they are brand new, just installed this year. The trip up was fine, but the very moment we stepped out to buy tickets for the outside rides, the heavens opened and poured rain on us. It wasn't a sprinkle--this was a drencher! We took cover outside the lockers for several minutes, but when it showed no signs of letting up, we dashed for the inside again.
Ice skating looked fun, but we were underdressed; so we hopped into a puzzle and game shop to kill some time, still hoping the rain would let up. We bought a kit for each of the boys and a pirate game, but the rains still came. Accordingly, we got into line for the tram again. And yes, as soon as we got into the tram, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It mattered not, since the rides were still closed and would be for the time being, so we rode down the mountain again.
After forays into a couple of gift shops, we decided to wander around the town. The Ripley's Museum looked interesting, but was very expensive--$33 just for Chris and I. We skipped it and walked further down the street. We saw a mini-golf place, so we did that instead. And yes, we had to let everyone play through because we're all exceedingly slow. Par for the 18 holes was 41. Chris scored 44, which was respectable. The boys and I (giving scores randomly) scored 61, 64, and 65. I believe the highest number of strokes per hole was 8. Obviously, one of our family has been given all the blessings of coordination.
By the time we finished our game, we were tired and hot. We walked back to the car and drove to Pigeon Forge, where we were going to camp for the night. It took only a few minutes to set up our beds and bring our suitcases in, and then we were off in search of dinner. We finally settled on Pizza Hut, but it turned out to be an almost fully self-serve place. The only thing you don't do is cook it yourself. The pizza was fine, but the dining room was a disaster--grubby and not kept up at all.
Full of pizza, we drove back to the cabin for the night and spent a few hours writing letters, playing games, and uploading pictures. Our last full day of vacation: tomorrow, we drive back home to Indiana. I think we're ready!