We all turned in pretty early last night. The girls went swimming and showered before bed. When I got up to shower this morning, I found they had left Stephanie and I collectively one clean towel to use. I definitely had to laugh. “Happy Father’s Day, here’s a previously used towel for you to dry off with!”
We have a new toy on this trip – a GPS that we are using for navigation. As we unloaded the car last night, Stephanie dropped the GPS on the asphalt. Fortunately, no cracks or damage. However, this morning Stephanie was thinking out loud that we might want to get an Otterbox case for it. (Not the worst idea I’ve heard.)
Our hotel has free breakfast, but part of their response to COVID-19 is to give you pre-packaged food that you can eat at a table in the lobby or back to your room, etc. We took four of the scrambled egg bowls, and they were not half bad. But we were not deterred from stopping at a local donut shop for that little extra boost of sugar.
Our drive toward the Smoky Mountains took us through Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee. Stephanie and I had not been to Knoxville since we attended the Oklahoma State / Tennessee football game there in 1995. My mom, PK, went to that game with us, and I remember that she introduced us to the X-Files on that trip. Great memories.
We stopped by Sorority Row on campus so that Mallory could see the Zeta Tau Alpha house. As luck would have it, it was next door to the Phi Mu house – Stephanie’s house.
Our final stop was at Neyland Stadium. Such a unique placement with it being right on the banks of the Tennessee River.
Leaving Knoxville, it was only about an hour drive to the park. We arrived too early to check in at our campground, so we opted to go straight to the Visitors Center. Our drive took us past Gatlinburg, which Mallory called Gatlin-nerd, and we all found this very funny for no obvious reason.
The Visitors Center was enforcing social distancing rules as best they could, but only allowing 30 people into the building at a time. We had only a short wait before we were allowed in.
During our trip planning, we identified 5 or 6 hikes we were interested in taking. A primary purpose of hitting the Visitors Center was to talk to a Park Ranger and make sure all these trails were open. The Park Ranger very patiently listened to each of my hikes and gave me his feedback. (All the trails we were interested in were open.)
When I mentioned the “Mt. Cammerer” hike, he paused and slowly looked at each one of us and said, “I have hiked every trail in this park. I will not hike Mt. Cammerer again”. This is a considered a strenuous hike, as it covers 11 miles and has 3,000 feet in elevation gain. He didn’t tell us we couldn’t or shouldn’t hike it, but he was not encouraging us either. Message received.
We purchased a few goodies in the gift shop while at the Visitors Center. Let’s talk about the gift shop. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the #1 most visited NP in the USA. The gift shop at the Sugarland Visitor Center was definitely not on par with that distinction. Very small in size, and I was unimpressed with the selection. Maybe have a little less local jam, and a few more t-shirt options. There is a short hike that can be taken from the Visitor Center, to the Cataract Falls. It was decent and pretty well attended. Once we got the waterfall, there was a crowd of about 25 people there watching and taking pictures.
This was not the world’s greatest waterfall, but also we didn’t want to peak too early. We’re going to be exploring here for the next three days. Let’s leave some good stuff for later.
By the time we got back to our car, it had started to rain. We pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward our campsite, which is fortunately not the same direction as Gatlin-nerd where approximately 95% of the card were headed. It was a very scenic drive through the park to get to our campground.
Thankfully it had stopped raining by the time we got the campground. Check-in was easy, and in 90 minutes we had our campsite completely set up. Piece of cake. It was a little unfortunate that the campsites are so close together. When we arrived, our neighbor had their tent guy wires extending way over into our area. The camp boss came over and had them relocate them and they were friendly about it. It’s all good, man.
There is a massive tree limb about 20 feet from our tent that had recently fallen. A fellow walked over while we were setting up camp and said it broke at 3am this morning. Yikes! Words cannot express how glad we are that it fell before we showed up.
We made foil packets full of beef, potatoes and veggies for dinner on some charcoal. Not too shabby. Stephanie had made the foil packets before we left, so the setup was pretty simple once we got here.
We also made some banana boats for dessert on the coals. Bananas with marshmallows and chocolate chips. Unbelievably good.
After dinner, it was game time. Uno and Egyptian Rat Slap. Marissa and Mallory won all the games, but it didn’t matter – a fun time was had by all!