The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Take a Ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Having Lunch with Dolly Parton
A Visit to Santa's Land
Frog legs, go-karts, trains, wave pools, Santa Claus, Dolly Parton, pancakes, waterfalls, and a competition of chaps with chainsaws: welcome to the eclectic attractions of the Great Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee and North Carolina.
It's easy to grasp the beauty that captivates Robert A. Tino, a painter from Sevier County, Tennessee. Tino satisfies his artistic inclinations – and makes a living - depicting realistic wildlife scenes of bears, birds and creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains.
“I love the area, love the nature,” Tino says. “You can go out and look at the same subject and see it different - definitely in the seasons. But, week to week, it can be different.”
Tino roams the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And he can afford to find solitude. The park spans over 500,000 acres along the North Carolina-Tennessee line. In a word, it’s sprawling – with creatures that crawl, waters that fall, trees that stand tall. For an artist, it is a natural draw.
Curiously, though, the Smokies are shouldered with what you might expect to find along a shore.
Big sharks swim in the tanks of the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Frothy waves consistently cascade in pools at Dolly’s Splash Country in Pigeon Forge and the Wilderness at the Smokies of Sevierville. A replica of the world’s most famous sunken ship, the Titanic, stands along “The Parkway” at Pigeon Forge.
Just like a trip to a beach resort, you can spend your days playing miniature golf along The Parkway. Or you can mash the gas of a go-kart at Adventure Raceway or the Xtreme Racing Center.
You can also find great seafood – from fish and shrimp to scallops and oysters – at eateries like Jimmy Mac’s Restaurant in Bryson City, North Carolina.
Unlike the beach, you can go underground to see the eerie formations of Forbidden Caverns and hear how Native Americans once considered this some kind of portal to the underworld in what is now Sevier County. “This cave is a very up-close and personal cave,” says Bob Hounshell, the Forbidden Caverns manager.
Over the course of four seasons, I journeyed to both sides of the Great Smoky Mountains – getting up-close and personal with Tarheel towns like Bryson City and the “peaceful side” of the Smokies at Townsend, Tennessee. I went “from zero to hero” in 1.1 seconds on Dollywood’s new FireChaser Express rollercoaster; launched a tube on the lazy river at Dolly’s Splash Country; and caught a baseball game at the Smokies Stadium near Sevierville.
In North Carolina, I traced the tracks of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City to Fontana Lake then took an excursion with Wildwater Jeep Adventures, passing an old moonshiner’s cabin, a 400-year-old tree, trout farms, waterfalls and the Appalachian Trail. ...