Every year for the last seven years, I have made the trek to Gatlinburg to attend our utility association conference. I always learn something at the conference that makes the trip worth while and I get to see friends and colleagues that I don’t see often enough, so I keep coming back. I usually take Highway 11 from Chattanooga up to Lenoir City and then Hwy 321 across to Pigeon Forge and on into Gatlinburg. US 11 is one of the old grand highways that was THE highway before Interstate 75 came along. It passes through some beautiful countryside and towns that you will miss if you travel via the Interstate. In total, the trip takes a little over three hours, which, in and of itself is no big deal. But is the last 30 miles that I really dread. That is the home stretch from Pigeon Forge into Gatlinburg.
Just when you think “they” can’t pack one more pancake house, putt-putt golf range or Hillbilly dinner theater into an already ridiculously overcrowded sliver of real estate, there appears The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show (Feudin’ Feastin’ Family Fun!) or a half scale Titanic complete with water breaking on the bow. I guess in the interest of full disclosure, those enticing attractions are in Pigeon Forge, but Gatlinburg does not escape the blight either. Witness one of my favorites:
What once was by all accounts a charming little sleepy mountain town has been turned into a caricature of bad taste, incorporating all that people claim to be repulsed by in a vacation destination, but still flock to the scene of destruction in droves to witness the train wreck. The crowds are larger this year than in years past; maybe there is hope for the economy yet!
There is a saving grace to this place: just south of town is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There is a reason that this park is the most visited national park in the United States; it is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. I encourage everyone to drive up far into the Smokies, get out of your car and go for a walk in the woods – it will do your soul some good (even if you have to drive through Pigeon Forge to get there!). Here is a small taste of what you will find: