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Gatlinburg-ish, Day 1.5

Everything in this area is bear-themed. Our rental house is called “Lazy Bear” and is positively drenched in bear-aphernalia 😝

My family arrived a little early in the Greater Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Metropolitan Area yesterday afternoon. We made killer time driving from Virginia to Tennessee, but that meant we had time to kill before the rental office was open for our little mountain retreat. We drove to some covered bridge that sounded interesting, but it turns out it was built in 2000 and wasn't particularly special. We got our key, got lost on the way to the house, found the house, found out we had no mobile signal, but settled in nonetheless to a glorious view of the Smoky Mountains.

The Smokies are probably my favorite part of the Appalachian range.

We picked this spot because this whole trip was planned around hanging out with my wife's sister and her family. They've been on a tear camping in National Parks this summer, and wanted to stay in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to make it six in a year. I love camping, but not in August in Tennessee, so we decided to stay somewhere between the park and Gatlinburg so we’d (theoretically) be close to some activities.

The problem (one of them, really) is that we're actually about 20+ minutes from anything useful in the area. My sister-in-law suggested we have pizza for dinner at our place to keep it simple on our first night here. Any restaurants with pizza that looked okay were so far away it would be cold by the time it got back to our rental house. And did we really want to tack on an extra hour of time in the car after a day full of driving? There was a restaurant close to the rental office and they had pizza, so it should be fine, right? I always talk about pizza as a "high floor" food. Even carelessly-made chain pizza can be enjoyable under the right circumstances.

Have you ever encountered a pizza that smelled like canned corn? I know some other countries intentionally put corn on their pizza, but it’s not common in the US, and we sure as hell didn't order any on our pies. BUT THEY SMELLED LIKE CANNED CORN. The crust was cursed, the tomato sauce was flavorless, and the cheese was oddly-textured. I make a big show out of not wanting to pay for Papa John's pizza, but I'll eat it at a party. This stuff? I didn't even want to save the leftovers. You could have made a better pizza dropping all the ingredients on the floor on the way to the kitchen.

But the food isn't why we're here, right? It’s family time! Last night we planned for today's activities since we had no phone signal and needed to meet up with multiple vehicles.

And what are we to do together? As a family? In Gatlinburg?

Gatlinburg, TN (and Pigeon Forge beside it) is what you would get if you took all the aggressively kitschy tourist mania of a beach locale like Myrtle Beach, removed the ocean, and somehow packed in twice as many mini golf and go kart facilities. If you want to do almost anything in nature without crowds (because COVID is still a problem right now even if TN doesn't seem to think so…) you need to drive and drive and drive. It is not my idea of a vacation to drive 6.5 hours and then have to drive everywhere all the time during the day, so we kept it simple today. Most of the gals went to some mountain roller coaster (a gravity-driven downhill car on track) while the rest of us took the littlest kids to a nearby playground.

We took it easy from there, getting another disappointing takeout meal from a local BBQ joint before parting ways so we could shop for supples and take a rest back at the house. Dinner was a safer bet this evening with some hot dogs cooked over the fire pit and corn on the cob, while Valerie and her sister made plans for a more scenic day tomorrow. It hasn't been a bad time so far because we love hanging out with family, but I think we maybe would have picked a different venue if we did it all over again :-P

Oh yeah, but we did see a black bear and her two cubs last night from our upstairs balcony!

Mama bear and cub, just oblivious to our presence one floor above.