Think Outside the State

American Tale: My 50-state Adventure

Tag: Tennessee

Weekend Getaway: Pigeon Forge

Though I have many states and other trips to post about, I thought I’d post about my most recent adventure. This past weekend my sister and I treated my mother and my grandmother (also known as “Mamaw”) to a belated Mother’s Day getaway. We stay two nights in a cabin just outside of Pigeon Forge, in Sevierville.

We started off our trip at the Blue Moose, a wonderful burger and wings joint that my parents often visit when they are in town. We are a family of sharers, and that led to us splitting Pulled Pork Nachos, a 25 wing platter, a hot dog plate and a burger plate. The nachos were DELICIOUS, and as I’ve commented on previous posts to this blog, I’m a little partial to good BBQ nachos. These are definitely in my top three. There is a huge offering of wing flavors, and with mom’s seasoned knowledge we picked out some great ones: honey garlic, medium buffalo, garlic parmesan, honey BBQ, and gold fever. I highly recommend any of these flavors, though the honey garlic definitely took the cake. We had the Tennessee Dog and the Junkyard burger, which were classics (and HUGE) covered in slaw, chili, and onions, in a very “all the way” style. We had more than enough for another meal, and I’m not ashamed to say that I ate some of the left over wings as a midnight snack!

 

Our next stop was Gigi’s Cupcakes, literally next door to the Blue Moose. We got the Peanut Butter Cup, Strawberry Shortcake, Wedding Cake, and Red Velvet Cake cupcakes. The best (with a ¾ vote) was the Strawberry Shortcake. Overall, we were a little disappointed in the quality, as we had had them before and they seemed more tasty and moist than the ones we received this visit.

After grabbing a few movies from Redbox, we headed back for the rest of the night in at our cabin, relaxing in the hot tub and going to bed early (spoiler alert: we didn’t get the chance to watch the movies).

The next morning, we were up and at-um as early as we could rally all the troops (that being said, it was 9am). We started our morning with a crowd-pleasing breakfast at the Applewood Restaurant, part of the Apple Barn and orchards. We had a Country Boy Skillet Breakfast, Buttermilk Pancakes, and Biscuits and Gravy. As always with this business, I was impressed with the amount of effort/quality that they displayed. When you’re seated, your waitress automatically brings out Apple Julip, Apple Butter, Apple Fritters, and Apple Muffins (which were the winners of the taste test, 100%). We had plenty of food, great coffee, and a bit of entertainment as the birds that were displayed in our dining area were oogled by all passing children. I highly suggest you get to the Applewood as close to opening as possible, for while we had no wait to get a seat, on our exit there were hoards of people sitting on the porch waiting for their parties to be called.

After breakfast, we went to the Apple Barn shop, picked up some fresh apple butter as a souvenir, and headed off towards Gatlinburg.

 

 

 

The drive from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg encounters the Great Smoky Mountain State Park, and is a gorgeous, winding, scenic road that makes the trip as fun as the destination.

 

 

 

Once we were there, we parked and got our tickets to Christ in the Smokies. Though it may seem a steep per-person cost of ticket, there are coupons for it in the many books you can find where ever you go in the area.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the first 40 or so minutes of your tour includes a short video, and then a display-by-display museum detailing Jesus Christ’s life through mannequins, dressed and presented in period correct fashion. As you progress through the displays, the voice over explains what’s happening in the scene, starting at the very first one with Christ’s birth, and ending with his ascension to heaven. At the end of the displays, it opens up into a garden, which we spent a good bit of time in. It looks deceivingly small, but as you walk around and read and view the different things, it truly lives up to the hype. Afterwards, there is a room with artifacts and ideas about what the prophesies in the bible refer to, and a gift shop. My favorite part of the entire experience was seeing the old money from the bible, the dioramas depicting the set up of Jerusalem, and seeing an original page out of the King James Bible!

After the museum, we drove to the Ober Gatlinburg. We parked in paid parking directly beside it (and for $10, the convenience was definitely worth it). The wait was about an hour to get a ride to the top of the mountain, but we definitely thought it was worth it. There is also a ticket in many coupon books for this attraction, and your tickets are good for 24 hours, so you can ride back and forth multiple times. If someone in your party doesn’t want to go up in the cable car, there is a driving route to the site at the top.

   

We had a great time riding the car up the mountain, and the views were indescribable (good thing we took a ton of pictures, right?). You could clearly see where last year’s fires devastated certain areas, and how the area is building itself back up to it’s former level.

 

 

 

Upon arrival, we decided to look for lunch. There are a few different options, but we chose to have burgers and hotdogs (again). While they weren’t the cheapest, they were delicious and we were very full by the end of the meal. After looking around for a bit (and watching people attempt to ice skate), we decided to go a do the wildlife experience.

There were Black Bears, Bobcats, a Golden Eagle, Otters, a nocturnal section including owls and skunks, and a section different reptiles/amphibians. We spent quite a bit of time here, until we decided that we needed to head back down the mountain for the rest of our adventure. It was an affordable add on to our Ober trip, and they have a lot of options for activities once you get to the top of the mountain.

 

When we arrived back on the street in Gatlinburg, we stopped at a small shop between the Ober station and the paid parking. They had just recently opened, and they had great prices and product for visitors wanting a commemorative shirt or bobble. I highly suggest stopping by!

After a drive back to our cabin, a quick rest, and a wardrobe change, we set out for the Dixie Stampede! Note: We had been once or twice before when we were younger, and one occasion we were picked to participate, but we didn’t have on the proper footwear. If you or anyone in your party is interested in the possibility of participating, make sure they come prepared!

The doors open over an hour before the show starts, and it gives you time to have your picture taken as a group (which though you might be against buying, ends up being a great deal at $30 for the whole 3-picture package, a small frame, and a digital code), grab some popcorn and a non-alcoholic blended drink in a souvenir boot/hurricane glass, and watch the band they have in the center of the two story gallery. We opted in for a Large Popcorn and Two Hurricane-style drinks for $15. The Orange-blossom beverage won out as our favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

As the doors to the main auditorium open and the band closes up, they came up to the top level (where you enter the main auditorium) and took pictures/met fans.  Malorie was all over this, and made sure to get a picture with a few of the members!

 

We were seated in accessible seating, in the “N5” section, against the wall. They weren’t the absolute best seats in the house, but I don’t think any seat has a “bad” view. Part of the fun is that they seat you on either the “north” or the “south” and you cheer for each team as they compete. I wont give any of the details for the show away, but I will tell you, if you have any interest in watching horse racing/tricks/effects/light comedy, I highly suggest looking into going to this dinner show. The food was absolutely delicious, with my favorite thing being the warm biscuit and creamy vegetable soup. Another “different” aspect of the Dixie Stampede is that there are no eating utensils, so you’re chowing down on a whole chicken, sliced potato, pork loin, and corn on the cob with your very own hands. For dessert, they bring out hot apple turnovers, and a warm towel to clean up your hands/self with. Overall, I highly suggest going, even though it is a “bigger” budget item. It is cheaper to go during the day (the 3:30 seating) or to have the upper seats (about $5 a person) but there isn’t anywhere (that we could find) to get discounts/coupons for the event. We were also informed that there wasn’t a teacher or a firefighter discount after we inquired.

 

The real adventure of our trip started after we arrived back at the cabin. About 30 minutes after getting back, a terrible storm hit and knocked out the power. We didn’t get power back at all that night/next day, so we got ready/packed in the dark and headed into town to see if they had been effected as well. On our drive, we saw many trees down, power lines knocked down, and people out trying to clean up after.

 

We got to the Smoky Mountain Pancake House right before a huge rush, and had a great breakfast of ham biscuits, pancakes, gravy, and country fried steak.

 

On our drive home, we stopped at Picker’s Paradise, an antique/picker shop on the side of the road. We spent quite a bit of time chatting with the owner and looking through the miscellaneous offerings. Malorie got a few firefighter themed things, and we loaded up the car to head back towards home.

 

Overall, I highly suggest a weekend (or week) trip to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. We are blessed with being close enough to visit often, and though we didn’t do everything there is to do in the area, we regularly have the opportunity to come back and check some more things off of our list. The area has a ton of arcades, race tracks, themed attractions, and shopping (including a Tanger Outlet) and a ton of history and character.  I highly suggest using the great tourism resources they have online such as the My Pigeon Forge website and the Gatlinburg Visitor Site as you plan your next vacation!

Let me know in the comments what your favorite thing about the area is, or what is on your to-do list for your next trip!

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Memphis TN: Riverboats, Ribs, and Elvis

I have visited Tennessee quite a few times, but for my “50 by 30”, we’ll use my most recent trip.  I had never been to Memphis before, and the prospect of our first stop being there on this huge road trip was enough to have me re-routing our trip.

We drove the 9-hour journey on Saturday (April 4th), and arrived in downtown at dinner time.  We mostly drove around, soaking in the sights, when we happened upon their oldest restaurant, The Arcade

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After dinner, we went drove around some more, and spent the night at the Days Inn in West Memphis, AR.  The room was nice, but the area was a little rough looking.  It’s right across the bridge from Memphis, so it’s a great place to stay on a budget.

Sunday morning was Easter, and Mom and I went to church at the Midtown Church of Christ.  The people were welcoming, the sermon wonderful, and I would definitely recommend it!

After a quick lunch of snacks in the car, mom and I jetted over to the Home of the King: Graceland.  Here are a few pictures I took in the house, but the rest of them can be seen on my flickr account.

At Graceland, you buy your tickets at the building across from the actual estate, and you take a bus across the road and up the the very front of the house.

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The mansion is beautiful, and you are given an iPad and headphones that give you a audio tour (read by John Stamos) through the Presley house, going room by room.  It’s a little hard to work with, and after struggling for several minutes (I had far too much around my neck to be able to explore properly) I ditched the iPad and wondered around with my camera.

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The upstairs is off limits, in respect for Elvis’s preference to not have people in that private area, but the main level gives insight into the kind of life he held.  The dining room, kitchen, “wilderness” room (I’m not actually sure of the exact name of that room, a side effect of disregarding the iPad), the music room, and the bedroom on the main floor are all gorgeous, and beautifully furnished.  The bottom two rooms are not handicap accessible, but are quite the sight.  One is a media room, with multiple televisions, records, and bright shades of yellow, while the other is a darker, more relaxed pool room with fabric lining the walls and ceiling.

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At the back of the house, there is Vernon’s office, a Racquetball court, and a large memorial for the Presley family.  Overall, it’s a beautiful, historic home, and definitely worth the visit.

My planning abilities cannot make more hours in the day, and since we were headed to Arkansas on Sunday night, we had to scoot to Memphis River Boats in time for our 2:30 sight-seeing cruise.

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We had an AMAZING “narrator”, who referred to us as his history “class”.  As we spent an hour and a half out on the chilly, slightly damp riverboat, the narrator put all the pieces together for us about the history of the Mississippi River.  He kept the subjects changing, and held everyone’s attention the entire time, and constantly had us gasping in surprise and laughing at his jokes.  
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I wont give away any of his stories, but I will tell you, whether of not you enjoy history, I would highly recommend this experience.  It isn’t cheap, but to really get an understanding of Memphis, I think you have to realize the impact of the Mississippi River on it’s culture.

On the way off the boat, we had a chance to chat with him for a moment.  I hadn’t caught his name, but when I told him about my travel plans, he recommended his favorite BBQ be the restaurant that represent Tennessee.

And that’s how we found ourselves on Beale Street.

Our guide had recommended The Blues City Cafe, where we started off the their Gumbo Fries, and mom and I split the “Best Meal on Beale”, which was AMAZING fried catfish, ribs, slaw, and beans.  We finished off the meal with apple dumplings and ice cream, which was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.  I was so excited about eating that I didn’t use the camera to take pictures of it, but simply snapped a quick picture on my phone before digging in.

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After we finished our dinner, we took a few pictures, packed up Walt (my Ford Focus) and headed on to Arkansas.

In less than 24 hours, we soaked in as much Memphis as we could get.  Shout out to our Waitress from the Arcade, Kaitlyn, and our Waitress from Blues City Cafe, Vette.  A huge thank you to our narrator, I’m currently searching for your identity!  A large part of the reason I’m embarking on my fifty state mission is the amazing people we have met along the way.

The next state on our list, Arkansas, will be posted soon, but for now, I hope you enjoyed seeing our time in Memphis.  Feel free to comment below your favorite thing about the city, whether it’s something we did, or something we missed!

Blessings and Happy Weekend!

Meg