Sunday, August 28, 2016

Vacation - Smoky Mountains

Last weekend we took another driving vacation, this time to the Smoky Mountains. We hung out around the house on Saturday, I got the car loaded and ready to go and Sunday morning we headed to our first stop the National Museum of the USAF.

I was there in June with a group from work and though we were there most of the day I only had time to look at two of the four hangars. One that I did get to spend time in was the Presidential Gallery, I enjoyed it very much and thought Tania might enjoy it as well.

I took a couple of shots of unique things, the first being on Harry Truman's Douglas VC-118. It was a vintage Boston pencil sharpener mounted near the navigators station.

The second was a Chance-Vought/LTV XC-142A one of five built in the early 60's to explore VSTOL aircraft, these aircraft were the predecessors to the Osprey. What really struck me as odd on this aircraft was the rotor on the tail, it just looked so out of place.

The third was the North American F-82G Twin Mustang used during the Korean war, it was originally developed as a long rage bomber escort and looks like two P-51 Mustangs connected at the wings. It was actually an all new design and credited for downing the first three Korean aircraft during the war.

There are literally hundreds of unique items and incredible aircraft to look at, a day is not enough. The museum is open seven days a week and costs nothing to enter, it is well worth the trip if you are anywhere near it. There is much more than aircraft to see.

We spent about seven hours at the museum and then headed to Knoxville for the night. The next morning we got up early, drove around for 40 minutes looking for a self serve car wash only to find one half a block from the hotel we stayed at. We had driven through some heavy rain right before we got to Knoxville and I wanted the car clean for our next stop, Deals Gap.

Deals Gap is a mountain pass on the North Carolina - Tennessee state line, it wasn't actually my destination the road was. To get to Deals Gap the road has 318 curves in the last 11 miles and is called "Tail of the Dragon". Its a mecca for gear heads and motorcycle riders, it was also a bucket list item for me.

The start of the dragon was just over twenty miles from where we were, we filled up with gas, took the top off the car and set out to enjoy the day. About 10 miles outside of Knoxville we came across a dirt track, it really caught my eye because I had never seen one with red mud.

The road had numerous scenic overviews along the way, this was Calderwood Dam viewed from Dragon Overlook.

Along the "Tail of the Dragon" there were numerous photographers that take pictures of the cars as they pass by then post them online for purchase. When I checked there were about 25 of us, the three below are the ones I purchased.

The road was fun to drive and a bit challenging as the sun would blind you then you would drop into dark shadows multiple times through a corner. The temptation to go fast is hindered by the traffic and the three different patrolmen on the side of the road over the 11 miles.

At Deals Gap there is a "motorcycle resort" its basically a small hotel and gas station that sells shirts and Dragons Tail memorabilia. In the parking lot was a tree called the "Tree of Shame" it was covered with motorcycle parts from bike wrecks along the road.

We bought a couple of shirts and talked to a few people before we headed back the way we came. There are many interesting roads in the area but our next stop was Gatlinburg and the only way we could see on the maps to "get there from here" was the way we came.

I was looking forward to the drive out but it was hindered by a long line of cars following a elderly gentleman on a bagger driving 15-20 miles an hour, completely ignoring the train of cars behind him. We even pulled over for a while to put some distance between us and caught up to the train again within five miles.

On the way out we stopped in Maryville and ate at an open air roadside place called the Dragon Pitt, they had good food.


The drive to Gatlinburg was all two lane backroads and we arrived mid afternoon. We drove through town and stopped in a self serve parking lot at the end of town. We had been in the car for about five minutes looking at pamphlets for what we wanted to do when the parking lot attendant informed us that we could not park there without paying. I told him what we were doing and that I would pay when I got out of the car. He then walked around the car took a picture of my plate, he informed me we were stealing and that he was calling the cops. I started the car to find another lot as he chased us shaking his phone at us while yelling the cops were going to get the Corvette. it was rather bizarre.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Gatlinburg, which is a complete and utter tourist trap. We did go to the aquarium which was actually pretty good. It has a rather long tunnel that runs through one of the tanks, the tunnel has a moving walkway that also rotates you as it moves.

We ate supper in Gatlinburg and then drove back to Pigeon Forge to spend the night. The following morning we got up and the Corvette wouldn't start, the battery was dead. I called AAA and while we were waiting I ordered a new battery. Less than two hours later and after a trip to the auto parts store we were driving through the Smokys on our way to Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the Smokys.

It was a beautiful drive which started just outside of Gatlinburg, the first of many stops we made gave this view of Gatlinburg.

The next turnout we stopped at had this river, one of probably hundreds in the park.

The next was another vantage point about seven miles from our destination. There was a large structure here which I didn't realize at the time was a marker for the Tennessee / North Carolina state line.

The seven mile drive from our last stop was as enjoyable to me as the drive to Deals Gap the day before.

Clingmans Dome has a long narrow parking lot that was mostly full by the time we got there. The lot is .5 miles from the outlook tower on top of the peak. The path leading to the tower is a 10-12% grade for almost the entire length. I took this picture from the parking lot and the outlook is located next to the tower in the center of the picture.

I took some pictures from the outlook but the view was very hazy and the pictures came out poor. We spent a couple of hours here then headed back to Pigeon Forge for lunch.

After lunch we decided to go to the Titanic Museum, I'm not really a big fan of the whole Titanic thing but once you see the outside of the place it kind of sells it. I totally spaced taking a picture of the outside, this is one I found on the net.

The tickets were a bit pricey and they didn't allow photos inside, they gave both of us boarding passes with actual passenger names on them and we were to determine if we lived or died. The tour itself was self guided with audio devices we carried. Around the museum there were signs with numbers on them that we keyed into the device and a recording would follow.

It was actually a very good attraction with an unbelievable amount of items both historically related to the Titanic as well as from it. Throughout the museum they had replicated various parts of the ship such as the wheelhouse and the grand staircase. The display they were most proud of was the violin belonging to the band leader. Apparently it had sold for well over a million dollars and was being relocated in the next few weeks.

After we left the museum we sat in the parking lot deciding if we wanted to do anything else or head home. We decided to head home and maybe make some stops on the way. We spent the night in Knoxville at the same hotel we had stayed at the first night. We ended up driving straight home the next day which was fairly uneventful but gave us a few days before we had to head back to work.

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