Sunday, March 25, 2012

Great Smoky Mountains, Part 5: The Final Days

Shortly after waking up, we head to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The plan was to check out the Mingus Mill and the Mountain Farm Museum. On the way there, we happened to drive by a small herd of elk. We had seen the elk on the previous night, but it was too dark to really appreciate them.

Elk near Cherokee, NC

At the visitor center, we learned a bit more about the mill and the farm museum, and we proceeded to the mill. Turns out this mill was the largest in the Smokies, and it was important to many families back in the day, as it converted their wheat and corn into flour and cornmeal. We were able to see a quick demonstration of the grinding process while we were there.

Mingus Mill

Another Shot of Mingus Mill

Mill Stone

Next stop was the Mountain Farm Museum. When you think of a museum, you think about some building with stuff inside to show off. This was not the case for this museum, which was an outdoor collection of log buildings that depicts a mountain farm as it would look like in the past. I thought it was pretty interesting, and having a few farm animals was a nice touch adding to the experience.

Wood Shed

Pigs on the Farm

Corn Crib

It was now time to grab something quick to eat and explore the Deep Creek side of the Smoky Mountains. I had met a couple people from North Carolina while on business travel that told me their favorite fast food chain was Bojangles'. As we passed through Bryson City, we spotted one and gave it a try. I would say it was decidedly better than the ubiquitous KFC, but I'm not that much of a fast food guy.

It's BO Time!

After lunch, we make it to Deep Creek. We enjoyed some very peaceful and beautiful hiking while out there, and I remember thinking about how the fall colors there seemed to be so much more vibrant compared to some of the other spots in the park we had previously explored. We hiked to a couple small waterfalls, but while nice, they were not so impressive.

Great Smoky Mountains - Deep Creek Entrance

Some Sign Posts

Fall Colors

More Fall Colors

The afternoon hike would mark the end of our experience of the Great Smoky Mountains. We would soon be on the road to Chattanooga for food and then Winchester, TN for a final night. On our drive, we drove through part of the Cherokee National Forest and took a few pit stops to soak in the view. There were a few gorgeous spots along the highway to take some pictures.

Beautiful Spot off the Highway in the Cherokee National Forest

We hadn't planned on seeing anything in Chatanooga. We just figured we'd stop there for dinner. We grabbed a quick bite in their downtown at some random place called Taco Mac's. Nothing too special there, but I did get the chance to try out a beer called Jefferson Bluegrass that I really enjoyed.

However, after dinner we dropped by the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo Train, and shared dessert in the Dinner in the Diner train car.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo Sign

Dinner in the Diner -- Dessert Only for Us

Eventually, we made our way to Winchester. We woke up early and headed for Lynchburg to visit the Jack Daniel's Distillery. There's no way I was going to go all the way out there and miss out on seeing where Old No. 7 was made.

Anyway, we get there and it is an absolute madhouse. There are a ton of people in Lynchburg, and we're really a bit confused. There was no parking anywhere and we pay for parking at some bank parking lot. As we make our way to the distillery, we soon learn that we have chosen the busiest day of the year to visit. It is the weekend where Jack Daniel's hosts the World Championship Invitational BBQ Contest. Despite all the reasons to grab a quick bite of world-class BBQ, we hurry up and hop on a tour as our flight leaves in the early afternoon.

Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational BBQ Banner

Jack Daniel's Distillery Tour

Jack Daniel's Fire Truck

When the tour concluded, we grabbed a few souvenirs in the town while fighting off all the BBQ temptations. Then, we hopped back in the car and made our flight in time. It was a really cool trip. Definitely a worthwhile week of adventure.

When we made it back to California, we were starved. We quickly headed to Little Shanghai, our favorite nearby Xiao Long Bao restaurant, for a taste of what we missed in the last week. It's always nice to be back home after being away for a little while.

The End