Photography, Stories Told, Travel

A visit to the Smokies

The view from here 2

I’m stuck on Indiana, but in the unlikely event of exile I’d hightail it straight to Tennessee. I love it there. I fell hard on my first visit, about 30 years ago. I nodded off in the back seat somewhere in Kentucky and awoke as our Tennessee mountain ascent built pressure in my ears. I lifted my head that autumn day to find the hills absolutely on fire with the reds, oranges, and yellows of the changing leaves. I sat slack-jawed, wondering if I was just stuporous from waking. But my awe did not abate as my sleepy cobwebs fell away, and then the show continued for an hour as we kept south toward our mountain destination. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I jump at the chance for a trip to the Tennessee mountains. So you can imagine my thrill when the company where I work sent the entire IT department on a three-day junket in the Smokies. It was part professional development and part team-building, but mostly just blowing off major steam.

We rented a cabin that slept 75 near Pigeon Forge. Given that there were only about 30 of us, we had plenty of room. I lingered for some time over the arresting view off the back deck.

The view from here

Our first day in the Smokies was perfect: sunny and cool. I could have sat on the deck all afternoon, but we had a full itinerary.

Back porch

We weren’t quite at the top of the mountain. This cabin was across the street. When they’re this big, can you really call them cabins anymore?

Bergauf

Inside, the relentless knotty pine didn’t quite cover the fact that these “cabins” are built like frame houses. Still, as “cabins” go, this place was pretty swank. It had a theater room in the lowest level, with a giant flat-screen TV and seating for about 20.

Living room

This is the dining area, with its commanding view.

Dining area

We spent most of the next day in nearby Pigeon Forge at a tourist trap called The Island. It reminded me of a European small town — but one that featured a Build-A-Bear Workshop and a beef-jerky emporium. We came to play The Escape Game, which locked us in rooms in groups of six to eight, and we had to use clues in the rooms to figure out how to get out. I wasn’t into the idea, but as the game unfolded I ended up having a lot of fun.

On The Island

The joint was pretty busy. Tourist traps do work, you know.

On The Island

Ole Smoky Moonshine is actually produced down in Gatlinburg, but The Island features a satellite distillery. You can sample all the flavors, which I did, and it was great fun. My favorites were butterscotch and orange, and I bought a jar of each. I shared the orange back at the cabin that night and we drank the whole thing. Fortunately, dividing a pint of hooch among that many people doesn’t let anybody get wasted.

Pickin

The day’s clouds parted as the sun began to set. The evening was starkly lovely.

Ferris wheel in the evening sky

The colors became almost surreal. So was Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, pictured at left.

Sunset on The Island

The clouds returned overnight, and rain fell. We awoke to this: the reason they’re called the Smokies.

Misty mountain morning

It was just outstanding. I wish we didn’t have to pack and leave so quickly.

Misty mountain morning

As we drove home, it rained through Tennessee and Kentucky. We ended up having one final adventure, as a wreck had I-40 backed up for a mile. My boss was navigating, and he found a detour route that would return us to the Interstate beyond the wreck. What Google Maps didn’t tell us was that most of this detour involved a winding one-lane mountain road full of blind hills. Our driver had nerves of steel as he threaded our fifteen passenger van up and down and around and through. We encountered two oncoming cars in there!

winding_mountain_road

I used my Canon PowerShot S95 for all of these photos except the last one, which I took with my iPhone 5. I shot my S95 in RAW mode and tweaked them all in Photoshop Elements’ RAW processor. From there I used a plugin called Athentech Perfectly Clear to quickly bring out great detail and clarity in these photos. I really liked it, but its $150 price tag was too much for me to keep using it past the trial period.

I also shot a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in my Nikon N2000 on this trip. I’ll probably share those on my Tuesday-Thursday photo days for a while.

What a great trip we had. It’s great to work for a company that invests in its people this way. And I always love time in Tennessee.

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