There is something magical about Tennessee that draws me back year after year. With the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop and overlooking Wears Valley, the view from my cabin is ever-changing. Rising early to watch the sunrise – this year with a rooster cock-a-doodle-doing in the valley and enjoying a glass of wine while witnessing every sunset is a priority for me. It’s a perfect way to bookend a day in Tennessee and never disappoints.
In September I took my first (and only since Covid) vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Traveling solo during a pandemic, I sought new experiences that were safe and uncrowded. The first was a pottery class at Fowler’s Clay Works, something I’d always wanted to try and I loved it!
My creation had to remain behind to cure, be glazed and fired. My expectation was to receive it after three months which would be mid December. To my surprise, it arrived on my front porch this morning. It’s so pretty and I flashed back to an especially fun and memorable day. I’m including photos and this link, https://spencesgirl.com/2020/09/26/tennessee-great-smoky-arts-crafts-community/ to my earlier post about the art classes I took in Gatlinburg if you’d like to check it out.
One of my favorite things is watching afternoon thunderstorms roll over the mountains. Protected by my covered deck, I watched one front move through Wears Valley followed thirty minutes later by another. The heavy downpours, booming thunder and crackling lightning set against the Smoky Mountains is magnificent to witness. As the storm passed, thick fog slowly blanketed the valley, making the mountains disappear before my eyes. The air cooled as mist enveloped my cabin. It seemed I was in a cloud.
There’s something about the Great Smoky Mountains that connects with my soul, a sense of peace that I crave. After rescheduling my May trip due to Covid-19 lockdowns, I made the trip this month and immersed myself in the beauty and calm of the Smokies.
One of the first things on my list was to drive the Cades Cove loop. It’s an eleven mile, one way, slow and scenic drive with a high likelihood of seeing wildlife. It never disappoints.
On this trip I explored the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community for the first time, discovering a number of artists offering “Create Your Own” art. Looking specifically for less crowded attractions, I found Fowler’s Clay Works and signed up for a pottery class, something I’ve always wanted to try. Owner Mike Fowler was friendly and welcoming. Our instructor Rachel was fun and knowledgeable, guiding myself and my classmates, three ladies from Florida celebrating their birthdays in the Smokies. Separated by distance and plexiglass, we each created a piece of pottery while laughing and sharing stories. I fell in love with the cool, wet clay and the focus required to shape it into a wonderful memento of my trip. It will be fired, glazed and shipped in a few months. I can’t wait to see it!
On an “art high” after my pottery class, I drove on to explore other Create Your Own offerings and found Sparky’s Glassblowing. After a brief chat with Sparky I signed up for a class the following week.
When I arrived for my class, his lovely wife got me suited up in a leather apron and protective eyewear. She explained Sparky would be masked but that the extreme heat of the torch would protect me from any airborne germs and the glassblowing booth was surrounded by glass. To my amazement, I made a glass bear and two blown glass ornaments in the span of an hour. Sparky has a great teaching style – safe, encouraging and a clever sense of humor that reminded me of Spence. The class was a delight!
With time before my next class, I continued exploring the art route and came upon Firefly Glassworks. Up a steep one lane drive, it’s a “drop-in” (no classes) fused and dichroic glass studio and adjacent workshop. Owner, Nancy Huff, was knowledgeable and fun to chat with while I designed a ring dish using colorful pieces of mirrored and dichroic glass in an abstract pattern.
My final class was at A. Jann Peitso Art. For 2 1/2 hours I painted side by side with Jann, (both of us masked), creating our own unique paintings using Yupo paper and alcohol ink. It was a fascinating process and I fell in love with it. Jann, an artist in her 80’s, is a soft spoken southern lady, superb teacher and has a lovely gallery filled with her artwork. She closes the gallery during classes so there are no interruptions. By the time I left, I had a completed painting (including matting), a certificate from the class, list of materials and resources for future painting endeavors and a conversation that I won’t soon forget. I’ve already acquired the materials to continue my exploration with this medium, I’m hooked!
NOTE: The classes were extremely affordable and for those items that needed firing, shipping was included.
When visiting the Smokies the food is a major part of the appeal. There are endless choices – I’m highlighting a few that I love.
My longtime favorite bbq spot, Smokin Joe’s in Townsend never disappoints. While I’ve had their brisket and ribs this time I ordered the pulled pork with fried okra and corn nuggets (fried cream corn). OMG.
A new find was Trailhead Steak and Trout House also in Townsend. I started with fried green tomatoes, a Caesar salad followed by their grilled trout that was perfectly prepared. While I neglected to photograph those meals (too hungry?) I did manage to capture the following:
Driving the Cades Cove Loop you’ll find several churches with small cemeteries. It was early Sunday morning when I came upon them and I was able to hear parts of the sermons and hymns at each as I walked with reverence around the graveside pathways. It was peaceful and I was in awe of the history in this place.
The Dan Lawson Place, which was originally constructed in 1856, is a transitional piece of architecture – the home features both sawn lumber and hewn logs. In addition, the pioneer cabin featured a modern chimney made out of bricks.
Over the years, Lawson expanded both his land holdings and his residence. By the time of his death, the cabin had been expanded to have a large porch and an additional second story. The large, covered porch was used as a post office that Dan ran from his house.
I visited Cades Cove on three occasions this trip and my posts only provide a glimpse of the beauty. The peaceful meandering loop road connects you to nature. At any hour of the day you’re assured of unforgettable scenic views and often wildlife sightings making it a must-see when you’re visiting the Smoky Mountains.
Since my last visit in 2016, the Foothills Parkway was completed. The Wears Valley entrance was less than a mile from my cabin and I decided to check it out. I drove it several times during my stay; it’s scenic with many turnouts for taking pictures and little to no traffic.
”The Foothills Parkway is a national parkway which traverses the foothills of the northern Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, located in the southeastern United States”. Wikipedia