Friday, July 9, 2010

Vacation recap

It is said that one of the best reasons to travel is to gain an appreciation for your own culture and home. That being said, the trip was a success. However, to arrive at that viewpoint you must experience the shock of something different. There is different, and there is different ! I must say at the start that I approach things with a totally different mindset than most people do , and my experience tends to be very different from the average person. I say this as an explanation fro my perspective. That being said, I must also say that it has been 25 years since I was in Gatlinburg , and like all things in this world it has evolved and changed according to the needs of the area. While it was a definite different experience, it was FAR from the restful and restorative experience we were hoping for.

We hit the road at about 2:30 am Chicago time. Reason for the early hour was construction and the need to beat the Chicago traffic . Rush hour in this area begins at about 6 am and lasts till 10 am, so plan accordingly. Traveling through Chicago was a breeze, as was Indiana ( with the exception of stopping in a very scary truck stop about 4 am) and a general breeze till we stopped at a McDonald's for breakfast. Not a lot of healthy choices on the road and we did not want to carry Oats in a Jar. Back on the road as the sun was rising and we encountered one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen- a large bank of wind turbines.

There were about a thousand of these lined in a row, and I got very excited ! Yay to Indiana for doing this !!! As we drove through I got the distinct impression that I was looking at the future .

Continued the drive , and about lunchtime we encountered a Chick-fil-A. This is a chain I have heard about , but we have none in this area. There healthy options are EXCELENT ! ( grilled chicken, whole wheat buns and wraps, fruit, salads and so forth). I wish we had them here, and perhaps they will get the courage to break into the Chicago market. They would do very well ! Then it was back on the road and head into the hills of Kentucky. Where the highway is scenic and the Asphalt Cowboys( truck drivers) begin to play road games to block the flow of auto traffic so they do not lose momentum on the inclines and other reasons. Many moments took my breath way- the views and nearly running into the rear ends of trucks ! After several hours of that fun and stress we got off the interstate to the road that winds through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The first stretch happened to be under construction and the rest of America seemed to be on that road at the same time as us. 2 hrs to travel 20 miles is stress beyond belief ! Doing this with an Autistic son with sensory issues is .....

We finally got to our hotel, and learned that it was an older one with no elevator and a set of concrete stairs. This is an issue because my knee no longer allows me to climb stairs without a great deal of aid ( I cannot even walk up a street curb without aid). There was a railing, so it was manageable. The room was older but clean and nice, and it had a little balcony with a blocked veiw of the mountains ( tree blocked). I did not care- this was a little slice of heaven ! We did not feel like dealing with the insanity of the crowds, so we found a little pizza place about 2 blocks from out room after a quick swim and brought the pizza back to our room to eat.

The next morning we headed out to do Cades Cove and other sights in the park, with plans of having a breakfast picnic in the mountains( cereal bars and fruit). As we were heading down the stairs Nick fell down them and scared me to death !! When a 350 + lb person falls down a flight of concrete stairs, it is never a good outcome. He was very bruised and showing signs of shock, and then I flew into mother and reiki worker mode. I got him calmed down and gave him reiki because his hands and elbow was quite bruised( but not swelling instantly and he could move his fingers and hands so thankfully no breaks) , reaching out with my abilities to scan his body for serious injuries , panicking because I have no idea where the nearest trauma center was and reaching out to draw healing energy from the land itself . Long ago , there were certain areas of The Smokies that the Cherokee Indians understood to be sources of healing and if you understand land energies , you are able to tap into these and draw from them. After a few very intense minutes he was fine, but I was wide open, shaken and staying hyper vigilant in case there was damage I could not feel and we would have to find a hospital. Mom mode makes you look out for concussion, internal bleeding and a thousand other things As I said earlier, I am not like most people and my experiences are very different. Remaining that open in an area of high energy from a land and people perspective is NEVER a good thing. We drove into the park and all the while I was being bombarded by the land energies, the water energy from the rushing streams and the residual energies of various people. We stopped for breakfast, but because it did not contain any protein it did not help to ground me. Here are the guys- the family chauffeur and my little reason for heart attack mode !

It was a very pretty little picnic area , and very peaceful before the crowds arrived. Then on to Cades Cove- which for some reason has called me, haunted me and drawn me to it through the years . It is one of my favorite places on earth for some reason

The whole Cove is beautiful, and filled with wildlife
But the single thing that draws me through the years is this exact spot
It is the grave pictured at the bottom of the shot. The headstone is gone but I know instinctively it is the grave of a child, and I just want to spend hours there. No idea if this is accurate, who it was or anything. Through the years, since the first time I visited, this exact spot has called to me and I still have no idea why, but I just want to be there.

The Cove was very crowded , as was the whole park, but the beauty of it all makes you ignore the rest of the people and the traffic. I believe it is because the place is still healing on many levels
Nick and I at one of the other picnic areas.My "baby" is now nearly a full head taller than me !

I had noticed that the air quality was very poor and there was a lot of evidence of dead trees. Odd. And then I saw this sign that is mounted to every picnic table

It seems that the bears are more aggressive because their environment is being destroyed. Bears being bears , they will seek out available food sources, and they don't care who stands between them and the food. Any greasy foods are a draw ( I know from experience of living through a bear attack when I was young). We did not encounter any bears while we were there - something I am not sure if I am happy or sad about ! By this time I was really not doing well and I needed to get out of the crowds and get some protein in me. We headed back into Galtinburg and Pigeon Forge, and by this time the traffic level was up and I was being absolutely slammed by vibrations. I came very close to a full blown panic attack because I could not stop the chatter. Happily we found a Golden Coral and we pulled off for lunch. A trip to the salad bar, some roast chicken and fruit and I was good to go. We headed back to the park to go through Clingman's Dome. It was here that I got the absolute biggest slap in the face from the land that I had ever gotten
This is the view from Clingmans Dome. I need to explain something. The Smoky Mountains were named such because of a consistent cloud of vapors coming from the rich levels of vegetation. No matter where you looked, the mountains appear to be smoking. Sadly, our environmental pollution has reduced the views by 40 percent in the winter and 80 percent in the summer. What you are looking at is not haze form plants , but Sulfur Dioxide gas. What is worse, about one fifth of the pine trees at the high elevations are dead. I looked at this and realized that if things continue, there is a very real possibility that these mountains will no longer exist in this state for my grandchildren- and the impact on out climate will be devastating. Trees produce 70 percent of our air supply , cut down on land erosion, support the life of thousands of animal and insect species. If they go, life as we know it will slowly cease to exist.

After a pause we headed back into town to our hotel for a swim and dinner. Traffic was gridlock back into Gatlinburg, so we chose to pick up some Subway subs and dine on our balcony. That night we watched the local tourist channel and it struck me. One of the biggest reasons for the level of pollution in the area are all of the big "there are dollars in them hills- let's snag em !" attractions . They are an incredibly wasteful and useless demand of energy ! Let's face it- when you think of the Smoky Mountains , do your thoughts instantly go to visiting a cheap replica of The Titanic ??? And just how many Chinese Acrobats settled the area ??? And I don't know about you but when I think mountains, I automatically desire to touch a Stingray. It made me just want to grab people, shake them and scream wake up before you lose it all !!

The next day we decided to head into the arts and crafts community. Nick still loves to play with clay and he was fascinated with the coverage they had for Alewine Pottery. The objective was to check out this shop, the dulcimer maker and a few others. We got there before the potters began working , but he saw enough to be very impressed. We then headed out to find the dulcimer maker, but hit that stop too early , so we killed time ata pretty little man made fountain

Nick snapped a picture of Bob and I while we waited. We searched the map to see how many dulcimer makers were in the area, and there was only one. Sadly, the only one is out of business ! perhaps he retired, but something tells me that it has more to do with the fact that places like The Ripley's attractions drive up the land values, grab the bulk of the tourist dollars ( even though they have NOTHING to do with the culture of the area or the heritage) , and it makes these smaller merchants struggle to make a living. Gone are the multitudes of weavers, quiltmakers, woodcarvers, instrument makers and corn broom makers. A few still exist, but thay are replaced with the high end and higher ticket artisans, because those are the only ones who can stay economically solvent in the area. You have to be able to make enough money to pay for the shop rental, insurance, service your lot, provide restroom facilities , advertising and more in order to compete with the faceless, soul-less USELESS big name attraction business.

I come home with a lot of awareness and understanding that I don't know quite what to do with. It makes me angry to see what has happened to the area, and terrified to see other areas of this country that I visited as a child. It makes me want to do something to make a change. it makes me want to do everything in my power to stop the greed insanity. It makes me want to wake up.

A 15 hour car ride back home, and I want to be able to retain this image in my mind- not of the insanity that is Gatlinburg !


Kim said...

I'm sorry to hear your vacation was stressful. :( I hope you got a little southern hospitality while you were there. I will be going there tomorrow. Which place did you stay at while you were there? We're trying one the Best Westerns this time around. Hopefully I'll get to see Cade's Cove. :) You are right about all the big businesses moving into Gatlinburg. It's definitely not just about mountains anymore there. Did you get to try to motor nature trail? It's really nice. We've seen bears there before.

The Incredible Shrinking Family said...

We stayed at the Red Roof Inn. When we booked we thought it was very modern, like every other Red Roof in, but this one was older and had been bought by the company and given the name. Nice enough , but older and shows signs of wear and tear.The local people are incredibly polite, pleasant and helpful, and I feel for what they must have to put up with during the peak of tourist season ! For this they all deserve Sainthood :-) We did do the trail through Cades Cove- very nice but if you are going on a Wednesday or Saturday they do not allow auto traffic through till 10 am now.I have been on the auto tour several times now and the road improvements have made it a little better.Another word of caution- if you have allergies to bees or other insects, carry an epi-pen with you because there is no guarantee medical help can reach you quickly due to the one way road and traffic. I hope the next time I go back the road to Mount LeConte is open again- that was a very pretty view. Hope you guys have a good time !