We took our leave of magical Memphis and hit the road toward Nashville. First, we stopped at a Harvest Host on our way because we wanted somewhere peaceful and quiet to take in the lunar eclipse. @century_farm_winery didn’t disappoint, from the friendly and accommodating staff to delicious wine and sangria slushies to having this incredibly beautiful property to ourselves for the night (well, us and the resident cat Tippie). We were able to sit on the roof of the truck and watch the eclipse unfold, which was pure magic. This was easily one of our favorite HH stays, and we recommend checking them out if you’re ever in Jackson TN.
We made our final push to Nashville the following morning, where we intended to spend several days visiting family and getting to know the city. We made plans to go see our relative Garnette play her gig downtown at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, which was a treat. We took a little stroll beforehand to check out the neighborhood.
We stayed parked on the downtown street for the night and vacated early the next morning. From there, we drove to the waterfront park by the stadium and found free parking by the river. We figured that it made sense to leave KKBB here as home base since downtown Nashville was just a short walk away.
When we’d heard that there was a Dolly Parton-themed bar, we of course had to go check it out. White Limozeen is on the rooftop of the Graduate Nashville hotel and is as garish and over the top as you’d expect, complete with a Pepto-pink giant Dolly head crafted from chicken wire. It was a lot of fun to take in. As one lady gushed as we stood side by side, gazing at the Dolly head, “Dolly is just EVERYTHING!” We couldn’t agree more.
We then had to take in the sights of Broadway. Broadway is this cacophony of neon and competing sound systems but we did find an oasis inside of Robert’s Western World, where Brennen Leigh’s Western Swing called to mind some of the old-school country sound of the 50s and 60s. Award-winning guitarist Chris Cassello then amazed us all. Apparently even Sting is a fan, since he was spotted taking in the show by the front of the room. The drinks are very reasonably priced for an otherwise overinflated Broadway, and their balcony seats offer the best view of the house. We wrapped up the night by admiring the view of Broadway from our parking spot across the river.
We also explored some of Midtown, east Nashville, and Waverly Place, which offers up some really funky shops, bars and restaurants (and @_fillingstation is a veritable beer heaven for you beer enthusiasts).
We’re glad to have finally gotten to experience this lovely, lively city.
We ventured further east so that we could spend a couple of days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most visited parks in the States. We were shocked to learn that entrance to the park is free, all due to some loophole in the legislature around the handing over of the land to the fed gov. Or, as one website put it:
“In short, the Smokies are free due to Tennesseans and our deep and abiding distrust of the federal government.” Lol
The big highlight was riding our bikes around the Cades Cove loop, an 11-mile scenic ride through forests and open fields that offers up a bunch of historic churches and log cabins that you can walk into and explore. (In fact, Cades Cove offers up the most historic buildings to be found in any US park.) It’s one of the best places in the park to spot wildlife, and we saw so much of it! Horses, mama bears with their cubs, elk, deer and big, beautiful butterflies that looked straight out of a Disney movie. We afterwards camped for a night at the Cades Cove campground and just missed an impromptu visit from one of the bears.
The next day we drove the bendy, windy road to Clingmans Dome, the tallest mountain in the park. Fun fact: it’s located along the Tennessee-North Carolina state line and occupies both states. In addition to being windy, the road also becomes quite steep. We had to pull over a couple of times to cool off the engine.
We finally reached the parking lot for Clingmans Dome, a 45-foot tower that offers a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains. It was built in 1959 as a part of National Park Service’s Mission 66 program, which ran between 1955-1966 and birthed hundreds of buildings and structures. If the tower looks familiar, it’s because it was the model for the Shark Valley tower in the Everglades.
If you’re short on time, these two highlights plus the beautiful, scenic drive through the mountains will be a good intro to the park. We drove from west to east, and saw lots in just two days.
It was getting late and we decided to spend the night in the town of Cherokee, the capital of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Cherokee is a major gateway to the Smoky Mountains that sits on the North Carolina side. It’s also right at the intersection of U.S. Routes 19 and 441. We’d heard that we’d be able to park in the lot across from the Harrah’s casino without any hassle, and it was where we could stage ourselves before the next day’s journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a pretty, peaceful town with the Oconaluftee River flowing through it. There’s even a small bamboo forest to explore.
And then the next morning we began our journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This was easily one of the highlights of our US road trip. It even reminded us a little of the Cape Breton loop. The drive between the Smoky Mountains and Asheville is just over 2 hours, but you can honestly make an entire day of it by stopping along the way to hike, picnic or find all the little hidden gems.
We had stunning panoramic views of the mountains and plenty of places to pull off and drink in the views. Devil’s Courthouse was a highlight, as was our stop at the Graveyard Fields Waterfalls. We chose the third-of-a-mile-long hike down to Second Falls, which gave us a view of some stunning falls plus a swimming lagoon at their base. That water was so refreshing and cooling. The silver specks of mica from the nearby minerals added a magical shine to the place.
On top of all that, we were treated to a rainbow after a little sun shower. A perfect end to a fantastic day. We’re so glad we made this detour east.
We just had one more stop to make in North Carolina before pivoting back west, and that was to Asheville. We journeyed back down the mountain and into the mystical fog to get there. Right off the bat, were treated to Asheville’s whimsical ways via some encounters that really set the tone for our experience: We first rolled into town and spotted a mime lounging by the intersection. Then we parked and were greeted by a guy named Joseph, named after the biblical Joseph, who promptly told us a story about how the first Joseph was an Egyptian weatherman. Ok Asheville, we see you.
We toured the River Arts District and a couple of breweries and it sunk in that Asheville echoes some sort of Vancouver-Fernie-Nelson hybrid. All of these places are sheltered by mountains, get lots of rain, and are little worlds unto themselves.
We spent day 2 exploring downtown. There’s some cool art deco-style architecture and, of course, ever more breweries.
Asheville certainly has its charm, but to be honest, we kind of felt after a couple of days that we’d seen enough. Maybe, as mentioned before, it was just too familiar territory after spending so many years in BC. Maybe the relentless rain was also getting to us (another shared trait with Vancouver and the PNW). Whatever it was, we decided to bail a little early and start our last leg of our USA road trip. So back towards more exotic land we went. Next stop, Kentucky…