Gatlinburg is strange. Americana at it's finest, but strange. Let's explore its faces:
This is the space needle. Notice how it's empty. I love it when people don't show up to something awesome.
At night, there are a few more people, but not many. Surprising to me, since one ticket (for $9.50) gets you up twice in 24 hours, and it's well worth it. The town is gorgeous at night, too, though the empty platform, to me, was practically meditation-worthy. Especially with the mountains lining the background at all angles. I bet it's particularly beautiful at sunrise or sunset.
...Yet worse traffic than the Bay Area
I don't have pictures of this; just take my word for it. If you'd like to call Emily to testify as to my internal rage at the issue, that can be arranged. Traveler's tip: get a hotel along the "strip," park your car, and never move it. Just walk everywhere. Regardless of how far away your destination is, you will get there faster on foot. You'd get there faster on foot if you were a one-legged dwarf waltzing through molasses.
Okay, I'm sort of fudging the truth. The Smokies are minutes from Gatlinburg, though, and this particular shot is from Cades Cove, a particularly genius one-lane loop that's incredibly well-maintained, peaceful, beautiful, and not too packed.
Along the 11-mile loop are a number of cabins and churches, all with their original architecture in place. Cemeteries line the backs of the churches, and it gets a little spooky once you see the same names over and over and realize that you're walking through the lands of a very small community of real people that all knew each other and, better yet, existed. A small group of people that I am incredibly jealous of. In this Methodist church on the right, there's a particularly eerie vibe of life (or something like it).
...and Southern as hell.
At one point, I was stuck behind a parade of Confederate Flag-touting mega trucks. Luckily I got to waste time by staring into souvenir shop windows, wondering what baby I know that would like to wear the t-shirt that says, also underneath the Confederate flag, "I'll never apologize for being right." Oh, and that's next to the Paula Dean store. Deen, whatever. She doesn't deserve to be spelled correctly.
So much to do! Aquarium!
AQUARIUM. I'm going to make it my life's ambition to visit every aquarium ever. Feel free to join me.
But re: this particular one, I've been to some nice aquariums, and this one still qualifies as impressive. I'd go back tomorrow if I could.
Oh, there's other stuff to do, too. Other awesome stuff. But aquariums beat all. It's like water balloon over rock, paper, and scissors. Or is it fire?
...That even the children don't sleep.
In how many towns can you sip on margaritas well after sunset and watch children run carelessly back and forth across the street? I assume they got excited about their Confederate t-shirts. #ONLYINGATLINBURG
Seriously, though. Gatlinburg is weirdly awesome in that it's basically Vegas for children. There's a constant scent of fried food wafting between stores like "Magnet World" and Haunted Mini-Golf, there are a variety of places to sip on free samples of moonshine (if you've gotten rid of your children for the night), and the number of gimmicky things you can do must only rival kitschy Vietnamese theme parks. And yet, Ripley's Odditorium is surprisingly educational, the aquarium is really quite impressive, outdoor activities like zip lining are plain overabundant, and you're only minutes away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is nothing short of stunning. So is it beautiful and serene or Vegas for toddlers? Somehow, it's both. However, I'd say it's better than Vegas: Vegas has drunks, Gatlinburg has children (really, quite similar), but Gatlinburg is in a mountain-y, golden oasis that's easy to escape to...and did I mention I love aquariums?