Gatlinburg was the original destination for the vacation my sister and I planned together. Even six weeks ahead of time, we couldn't find affordable hotel rates in Gatlinburg, so we booked reservations in the nearby Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area. As it turned out, we added a few days to the front end of our trip and went to Asheville first, but we did make it to the Gatlinburg area on schedule.
Gatlinburg is quite hilly, as one would expect of a town that has the Great Smoky Mountains in its backyard. It was easy to see where the road into town had been carved into the mountains:
We were standing at a pretty high elevation when I took these photos outside the Gatlinburg Welcome Center:
If Asheville and Gatlinburg were side by side in a jewelry box, Gatlinburg would be the costume jewelry and Asheville would be the real thing. The heart of Gatlinburg was clean and very pretty, but in a gaudy sort of way. Being there felt sort of like finding myself in a cartoon village, removed a step or two from reality. It was very bright and colorful. There were hanging baskets of flowers along the streets, and storefronts were painted in crayon hues. The citizens had succeeded in making most parts of the town attractive. Unfortunately, an abundance of overhead wires, construction cones, and automobiles messed up a lot of photo opportunities in other parts of town.
Though we weren't in Gatlinburg in peak season, there were still plenty of people there. A lot of them were seniors, like us. Unlike us, they didn't seem to mind walking those hilly streets under a blazing sun. We drove through Gatlinburg several times and planned to take a day trip there by trolley.
It never happened.
In our hotel room at night we watched Tropical Storm Lee bearing down on the Gulf Coast. We texted and telephoned loved ones at home to find out what the local weathermen were saying. TS Lee was projected to move north-northeast on the exact trajectory of our route home and to end up precisely where we sat in Tennessee.
We had three choices:
1) Staying in the Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area as planned, which might have meant being stuck in our hotel room--and paying for the privilege--because of heavy rains;
2) Waiting a day or two to see which way the storm moved, which might have had us driving home in tropical rain and wind; or
3) Abandoning the rest of our vacation and trying to get back to our homes before the storm got there.
By the time we settled on Option No. 3, we were more than ready. We dumped all our stuff into the back of my sister's SUV, checked out, and hit the road for home. My little sister drove straight through for over 13 hours, stopping only twice for gas and fast food and once for promised souvenirs.
For most of that drive the weather was fine, but the rain began after the sun went down. The people of Mississippi and Louisiana apparently abided by televised storm warnings and stayed in their homes on that Saturday of Labor Day weekend, leaving the dark, wet roads eerily empty.
We were five miles from my house at one-thirty in the morning when the worst weather, blinding rain and gusty winds, welcomed us home. My sister said those last five miles were the longest she'd ever driven. She was so tired, and I was so proud of her. She had three more hours to drive back to Texas the next morning, but the storm had stalled in the Gulf by then. She made it home without any trouble.
So, even after weeks of researching Gatlinburg on the Internet, making lists of things to do and places to go, it had been unceremoniously lopped off our itinerary by a tropical storm. As glad as I was to get home, I'm sorry we didn't get to see more of the place that had been our original destination. I wish I could try it again sometime in cooler weather.