December 23, 2005,
We woke at the Ramada Inn in Kodak Tennessee, near Gatlinburg. Our intention was to spend the day at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Tennessee theme park. Unfortunately the park did not open until 2:00, and had most of its neatest activities after dark. Staying to enjoy the parade and fireworks would have gotten us to Little Rock after 3:00 A.M. and it would have been hard to leave before they started, so we made other plans.
The area offers an enormous array of family friendly activities, everything from old fashioned amusement parks and minature golf courses to race tracks, an aquarium, and museums dedicated to subjects as diverse as veterans, knifes and dinosaurs. But for us, the premier attraction was Smoky Mountains National Park. On this cold morning we drove through icicle crusted cliffs into the appropriately smoky looking mountains to find Laurel Falls Trail. During a quick stop at the park visitor’s center Zachary, whose Daddy calls him Little Bear, surprised us by instantly spotting, identifying by name and running to the full grown stuffed black bear on exhibit behind glass.
At the Laurel Falls trail head, bundled up, the boys in gloves and hats, we crossed the highway to the trailhead where a sign announced “DANGER, falling deaths have occurred here. Keep strict control of your children!” We were a bit daunted, since the brochure Bob found at the motel had described this trail as “Very easy and wheel chair accessible”/ We talked to the boys about the sign and got agreement from both of them to hold an adult hand at all times. This had worked on the Louisiana boardwalk, so we trusted them and sallied forth.
The paved trail, 2/5 mile round trip. Took us uphill through a winter wood past mountain laurel, rhododendron and pine, all still green and a thick ,maze of bare maple, sumac, and dogwood. Danny loved finding the numbered nature trail markers, at each of which Bob read aloud about some feature of the terrain. We learned that lichen erode rocks and were alerted to the mountain view through a picture window in the trees. We found pine needles on the trail and Danny practiced identifying pine trees and learned the word “evergreen” as well as two more nature words “lichen” and “moss” He was also the first to hear the waterfall, our destination.
Laurel Falls, partially frozen into tangled pillars of ice, running freely in the middle, was a lovely culmination of our uphill walk.. Sixty feet in height, Laurel Falls towered above and tumbled below the bridge on which we stood. Bob pronounced it a “beautiful small waterfall”. All the way up and down the mountain, both boys were great hikers, bright eyed with curiosity and mindful of the dangers of steep drop offs. Both of them took pleasure in touching trees and rocks. Hiking with them was a joy – to be repearted many times this spring we hope.
After leaving the national park, the country’s most heavily used and free to the public since being bought by the states of Tennesssee and North Carolina/, we took the boys to a small museum which features Jurassic Park style life size models of dinosaurs. When Zachary first heard the roar from the twenty foot high T rex which loomed above us,, he practically jumped into Bob’s arms, as Danny had when he first visited this museum two years ago. Soon Zach’s natural courage reemerged and he approached and touched both the T Rex and the 30 foot long crocodile. Danny found over a dozen small flying dinosaurs and correctly noted which dinosaurs lived in the ocean based on whether they had flippers.
Riding through Tennessee at dusk we saw a Confederate flag flying from a stone tower and discussed the racist history of Tennessee, birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. A few miles down the road we stopped for supper at a Burger King with a play ground and happened upon an extended family’s birthday party for four of its children. The family members ranged from blondest pale nine year old through every shade of bronze and mocha. They were also very friendly and shared their birthday cake with the boys, who greatly enjoyed it.