Tennessee – the Beauty of Storms in the Smoky Mountains

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.

First storm coming my way
The clouds and fog roll in
Mountains disappearing
Peace, tranquility and the beauty of nature.

Tennessee – Cades Cove

This yearling bear walked right next to my car. Thrilling!

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.

Tennessee – Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community

If you’re traveling in the Smoky Mountains, I recommend driving the few winding miles outside of town to explore the galleries and create your own art, watch for this colorful sign!

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.

Returning to Tennessee – part eight

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:

Fried Oyster Basket, Hushpuppies and Fries at Paw Paw’s Catfish Kitchen
Piggy Mac is Cherry wood-smoked pulled pork in an iron skillet topped with white cheddar Mac and cheese and biscuit breadcrumbs at Pucketts in Pigeon Forge, I couldn’t resist this entree, comfort food on steroids!
I discovered an amazing bakery, Cakes by Bakin’ Bishop that had these ginormous cinnamon rolls – what an indulgence. They were my breakfast each morning as I sat on my deck, enjoying the sunrises over Wears Valley. I got to chat with the owner who was so friendly and also got two of her big cupcakes, custom frosted just before she boxed them up. They were a delightful treat and worth every calorie. This bakery will be a part of my future trips.
Inspired by southern cuisine and using my cast iron skillet I fixed this delicious plate of pea meal bacon, cheddar jalapeño cornbread, oven roasted potatoes and pickled okra.

Returning to Tennessee – part six

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.

Returning to Tennessee – part five

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

33 miles in total distance
I got up early to catch the sunrise.
Turkeys but no bears
In Wears Valley I love to seek out interesting photo opportunities and thought this was a cool old barn. And I love old barns.
It never rained during my stay but it looks like Gatlinburg got a bit of rain this day. The clouds were low, shrouding the mountains.
I pulled off on a side road to take this shot. This is Wears Valley.

Returning to Tennessee – part four

A trip to the Smoky Mountains isn’t complete without driving the Cades Cove Loop. I drove it three times during the trip choosing daybreak, midday and late afternoon to experience the changing light and wildlife sightings. It’s a one-way 11 mile drive that progresses slowly as you savor the scenery, take photos and stop for animals.

I get a thrill seeing the black bears that are a beloved fixture in Tennessee. I’d been following several Facebook groups in the weeks before my trip with numerous posts of mother bears with multiple cubs. I’ve always had multiple bear sightings on past trips – my hopes were high. I saw one bear cub on my late morning drive. He scampered across the road in front of me and was gone before I could get a photo. He was my only bear on this trip but there’s always next time.