The Boy and I were in Bama to visit family, and teamed up with the Bro and Cuz for a brief road trip to hike in the Smokys and coast in Dollywood. First we stopped at a place I'd visited once at about 4-5 years of age, Horse Pens 40 (the name refers to the 40 acres of the original property that had the horse pens). I'd absolutely loved it, so naturally, my parents never took me again, though they would gleefully point out the exit any time we passed close on the highway by without stopping in.
The place is full of substantial granite, and is a destination in the south for bouldering. The boy loves climbing, and they do have pads for rent. They also obviously have the obligatory waiver to sign.
While the bro and I wandered and ascended any rock that was easy, the boy did his thing, and along with some visitors from New England encouraged Cuz to take on more than he ever had. Except for that awful heat that I moved thousands of miles to escape, a good time was had by all.
It was mercifully cooler on the Ramsey Cascades trail the next day in Great Smoky Mtns Natl Park. Though still humid, the hike goes through the largest of the old growth forest in the park which shields the sun, ascending 2000 feet over 4 miles.
It's fairly steady, with the steepest stretch coming in the last mile as you reach the largest waterfall in the park. Compared to the hikes I've made in Yosemite, this one is much easier on the legs, and the size of the falls can seem downright puny. On the plus side, a popular hike to Ramsey Cascades meant 20 or so cars at the trailhead at the end of a gravel road, whereas one sometimes feels a need for traffic lights on Yosemite's famed Mist Trail. We spent some time enjoying the falls, wading in the water, snacking a bit and taking photos. The boy did a little climbing, and fortunately has the skill of understanding his limitations and the situation. At the risk of sounding preachy, climbing around waterfalls can lead to tragedy; in this case he's away from the water in a mutually agreed upon location. Trying to ascend to the top, for instance, is not something I would allow or recommend.
We stayed in Pigeon Forge at a small independent motel. The algebraic equation is Pigeon Forge=Fisherman's Wharf+(Miniature GolfXGo Carts (squared)+Old Tyme Photos). The boy says it would be a good spot for dating with a different place to go every night, but to me it was CircusCircus without the class.
Going to Dollywood on Sunday July 3 was risking an overload of humanity, after all, it took about 3 lifetimes just to drive through the horror known as Gatlinburg on the 2nd, but we decided to buy into their Qbot system and hope for the best. Overall, the place is like an extended Frontierland with rides, several music centered shows and lots of craftsmen. There's a loop road nearby lined with artists and the like who apparently apprentice there a few decades until they reach the minimum age of about 72 to work at Dollywood.
Turnstiles were open 30 min early with no rope, you just couldn't do anything yet except rent the Qbot. We first rode the Mtn Slidewinder since it wasn't in the system and involves a long uphill walk to reach, and entered Mystery Mine as the first ride in which we'd skip the lines. The MtnS is fast and fun and leaves you with damp buns. don't think the Mouse's legal team would approve of this vehicle. Before reaching MM, we easily rode Blazing Fury, and 2 rides each on the Tenn Tornado and Thunderhead. The first was fun in a campy sort of way, the 2nd a decent steel looper, and Thunderhead one of the absolute best woodies I've ever experienced. It's long, give plenty of air time, and is relentless with no dead zones or slow spots at all.
There would've been a bit of a wait at MM by the time we arrived since it has low cap vehicles. It's good though, with physical thrills combined with indoor creepiness and even some flames. We also skipped past the riffraff on the new Barnstormer, a high spinner and River Battle. This got me very wet in a good way in the heat, and it's easy to get into the spirit of the personal water cannon, but tiring that the pump comes from manual exertion instead of simple push button technology.
The Boy and Cuz spent some time on Adventure Mtn, which I'm told is OK, maybe a bit easy for them, but a decent timekiller. The zip lines that cost extra were never used that I saw. The steam train is a full size locomotive that follows a scenic route with some structures and props, but isn't a way to reach a destination since there's only one stop. The fact that it burns coal may be how the Smokys got their name.
Unfortunately, I had a headache that I couldn't get under control and by mid-afternoon needed to bail. With an 8PM closure, we didn't really consider our standard break, though in hindsight we should have. We did have vouchers for a meal that came with the online ticket purchase, but wasn't valid until after 3PM. Before that, I noticed what may be the biggest shortcoming here-food can be spaced far apart. There's really nothing in the MM area, and late openings when something was found. The BBQ sandwiches from the vouchers were as expected-edible but far short of proper Q.
If we'd had time to come in after 3PM the Saturday which allows one to return free the following day, and my hurting brain hadn't cut us short, it would've been a good value over all. As it was, we didn't really need to spend the $ for the Q2Q as the only really important ride that would've seen a wait was MM. Still, had we stayed longer, there would've been more rerides, so that was, in part, a simple twist of fate. Many parks have their rule quirk, and in DW it's hats. If they are seen, they require leaving them at the station. The crew will handle it for you, and they're all adherents to southern hospitality, but even having my cap clipped on my belt loop didn't fly on Blazing Fury. A shame that the Bro's keys came off the clip when I was removing the cap. Didn't notice for hours, but lost & found was ready for us when we showed up.
When renting the Q2Q they will program any shows you want. Most are music centered, but while I like guys like Willie and the Man in Black, and love bluegrass and Americana, I got the feeling this would be more of the Top 40 in a cowboy hat country [sic] music. They do have a bluegrass band, but they're off Sundays, and not in any of the reserve-able theaters. We did go to the Celebrity Theater to see what has becaome to us "The Show Whose Name We Do Not Speak". Seriously, Worse than Voldomort or saying Beetleguise SIX times! Not our scene.
Good hike, though!
More photos at Pictures by ralfrick - Photobucket
Dollywood: Dollywood 2011 pictures by ralfrick - Photobucket
Great Smoky Mtns: Great Smoky Mountains 2011 pictures by ralfrick - Photobucket
Horse Pens 40:Horse Pens 40 2011 pictures by ralfrick - Photobucket