Real life, art, and other fun stuff

Life is a journey, not a destination. Sure, we have all heard it before and it has become a cliche in our society. There is truth in that statement though. When one road is closed (and anyone that drives in and around the Toledo area can verify this), there is always another route waiting to lead you to where you need to be. I've learned a lot over the past few years and I plan to document both the good times and the bad. Hopefully, through it all, I can help some other poor, lost, lonely soul that is wandering on the road called life.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Around the Smokies in under 10 days...

Many of my friends have been patiently waiting for pictures of my latest adventure...

Here it finally is: All around the Smokies

I had the glorious chance, as a graduation gift, to take a vacation with my family to The Smoky Mountains. It actually all began as a trip to Maine and Canada; but, I had been talking about wanting to get a job and eventually move somewhere around the Smoky Mountains. My family decided that we should vacation around there, look at the areas, and even stop in to some of the local hospitals.

It all began when mom got home from work on May 30. The journey began:

We stopped for supper at Cracker Barrel in Perrysburg before getting under way. My mother, the constant joker, thought sitting in the Ohio State rocking chair would be funny... She may be pissed that I post pictures of her, but she is a pretty lady...

Anyway, I have gotten off track... We stopped for the night in Kentucky and continued on to Chattanooga the next day (which was her birthday by the way...)

 The bridge that goes between Ohio and Kentucky.....


The Tennessee welcome area... (aka potty break)

We stayed at a Hampton Inn just outside Chattanooga. It was gorgeous.

We had a few hours to kill until dinner time, so mom looked up possible places to go to dinner (she got to choose... it WAS her special day after all, and we weren't getting to eat lobster in Maine). After much deliberation and internet searching, she decided on a mexican restaurant called El Meson.

The website and the restaurant looked great....

It was a nice restaurant with a friendly atmosphere. The first thing that struck MY fancy was the margarita sampler (I know, right?). It was a sampling of their six most popular margaritas. in 6 oz glasses. Mom wanted to know if we wanted to split it, I said "No"'s your birthday, we should each get one! That was, in hindsight, not my best decision. 

Six ounces doesn't sound like a lot...and truly it isn't. When the margarita is horrible, it most definitely is a lot. Two out of the four margaritas were horrendous. The blue margarita and the strawberry margarita were barely drinkable. Not one to waste alcohol though, I started with the worst of the six. This was the beginning of my downfall. I am a sucker for enchiladas. Most of my family and friends are aware of this. There were some interesting sounding enchiladas on the menu (which are not on the website and I can't remember the particulars except that I did not like them). Mom and dad both got an interesting dinner sampler that had the Chili Colorado, Chili Verde, and a Chili Relleno (Also, not on the website menu...a description of all three items are however). The Chili Verde was out of this world fantastic.

After sluggishly swallowing down the less palatable margaritas and enchiladas, I couldn't finish. I had a couple margaritas left, one frozen and one on the rocks. The house margaritas. They were actually really good. I drank at least half of each and could go no further. Such alcohol abuse...

The next day, we decided to go to The Lost Sea Adventure. It was in Sweetwater, TN. Not far from Chattanooga.

"Your Lost Sea adventure begins with a guided tour of the caverns. This involves a ¾ mile round-trip walk on wide sloping pathways. While touring the caverns and underground lake our guides will tell of the cavern's exciting and colorful history. They will also explain the fascinating geological development of the immense cavern rooms and rare formations. At the bottom of the cave you will board a glass-bottom boat for an exciting trip on the Lost Sea, America's Largest underground lake." (Taken from their website posted above).
What this description doesn't mention (but does further down on the web page), is the frontier town that is also there. It was definitely a unique experience.

 A little fun with photoshop....

 One of several wishing wells on the property. All monies deposited went to a different charity...

 Many places in the Smokies had places to gem mine. You purchase a bag of dirt and pan for gems and rocks... It was pretty cool and just by looking in the panning area, you could find small bits of gems.
 Here is another wishing well.

 There was also a nature trail on the site.

  Finally, I see the entrance to The Lost Sea Adventure. The caverns, also called Craighead Caverns, are vastly intriguing. Read more about them here:

 Inside they had a gift shop... I picked up this gem.

 This one too!

 Tickets purchased, and down into the caverns we went. It's sooo cute to see mom and dad still holding hands after all these years.

 More fun with photoshop... There will be a separate blog just with photoshop fun at a later date.

 My pictures don't do justice, but in the caverns is a formation called Anthodites, or "Cave Flowers". They are a rare and unique formation. More about them here:

 As the story goes, a long time ago the earlier people excavating these caverns would burn their initials and the date into the rock. Nowadays, defacing the rock in any way could land you in jail along with a hefty fine (Which, I happen to know a lot about from my days at Ft. Irwin).
1863 is the earliest date they have found to date in the caverns.

 This hole is called the Devil's Hole. There is a local legend that says, if you look down the hole and see the Devil you've not been doing good deeds (to put it nicely). Just a FYI...I did not see the Devil.

 The tour is over....and back to the frontier town.

At this point, I will be uploading some of my mom's photographs of the caverns (she was able to get some great shots of the underground lake (which is after all, why we originally went on the tour).

 Mom's picture of the Devil's Hole is a little more foreboding...I believe she may have seen the Devil.

 Trout are abundant in the underground lake and were brought in. Each boat tour feeds them and with no other predators in the cavern lake, they can grown quite large. The water is so crystal clear and chalk full of minerals. You can see down to the lake floor and touching the water will soften your hands. I kept my hands in the water for a few minutes. Sadly, after returning to the regular daily grind, my hands are no longer as nice and soft as they were.

I found a blog by another gentleman that wrote about his experience and some of the history of the cave in case you are interested.

Along the way to Chattanooga we had noticed a billboard for Bradley's Pit BBQ & Grill. On the website they advertise all you can eat ribs. What stuck out to us was that on the billboard it said, "All you care to eat". In our opinion, those two statements mean vastly different things. Anyway, it sparked an interest so we decided to stop.

I am definitely glad that we did.
Personally, I am not a fan of ribs. I don't like getting my hands all messy and many times there is a lot of fat covered up by bbq sauce that I don't see until after it is already in my mouth. It makes me gag. I tend to just stay away from ribs all together. My parents love them though. They really enjoyed the rib feast. I got the brisket dinner. It was incredibly delicious. I do love brisket. The smokiness of the meat, and the chance to try out all the different bbq sauces they had available. Fan-freakin-tastic. It was a great find.

The next day we went to Ruby Falls.
It is a must see for anyone traveling to the Chattanooga area. It is home to one of the largest underground waterfalls. The link above has more information about it. It is on the National Registry for historic places and you can read more about it here:

 Leo Lambert, who originally discovered Ruby Falls, was forced to crawl a very long way before he was even able to stand up and get the views of the caverns that we have today.

 This cave is nestled between a fault line. In some parts of the cave you can see where the two plates touch and in some places you cannot. The above picture is a view of the ceiling.

 This is the only formation that we were allowed to touch. It was so smooth.

 The Donkey's Ass...It DOES look the backside of a donkey...

 Hard to see in this picture, but there is a formation called fish, because it does look like a fish.

 I would call it crocodile mouth personally, it looks more like the inside of a croc than a dragon's foot. I guess since I have never seen a dragon though, I do not know for sure.

 This formation was called bacon. It looked (once you got close to it) like a strip of uncooked bacon.

 It was rather difficult to get many decent pictures inside this cavern. The tour, while very informative, went too fast and if you stopped to take pictures too long, you held up the tour.
I know you all are expecting pictures of the falls, but my camera did not take great pictures of the falls. I did get a decent one on my cell phone and will upload my mom's pics of the falls in a few moments.

 Another opportunity to pan for gems...

This was the pic I posted to facebook from my phone. The falls were absolutely breathtaking and had lighting around it that changed color.
Here are the highlights of my mom's pics:

Ruby Falls is located on Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain has several other attractions on it. The next one that we went to, and my favorite of the whole trip, was Rock City Gardens. Rock City Gardens truly let my imagination roam free. Were there not so many tourists there I could have really felt like I had stepped through a time warp. It felt like a magical place set in medieval times.

"Located atop Lookout Mountain, just 6 miles from downtown Chattanooga, Rock City is a true marvel of nature featuring massive ancient rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, and breathtaking "See 7 States" panoramic views. Take an unforgettable journey along the Enchanted Trail where each step reveals natural beauty and wonders along the woodland path. Experience the magic of Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, visit one of our regional gift shops and dine at the Big Rock Grill. Rock City is splendid year-round - "Each season there's a new reason to visit!" (taken from the website above)

 See what I mean? I could totally imagine myself in a different period in history...someplace far, far away. England? Perhaps even the Emerald Isle? 

 Aptly named because walking through here you felt like a piece of thread going through the tiny eye of the needle.

 The view looking back....

 And every twist and turn on the trail leads to another wonderful area of discovery.

 Gnome Village... Also, more evidence to support the fact that I need to get a telephoto lens...

 Mom was playing peek-a-boo.

After this point, the trail splits (actually there are several different trails) through the gardens. Mom and dad went one way on our trail, and I went the other.

 Follow the arrows...

 Looking down at the Needles Eye...

 I had my choice at this point to cross the stone bridge or cross via the sway bridge. I opted for the stone bridge because it is very hard to take a steady picture on the sway bridge, and it was much more populated with people.

 Looking back from whence I came...

 Hehehe...Just a bit more photoshop fun.

 And now we are getting to the next portion of the gardens, the lookout points from Lookout Mountain.

 Lover's Leap is a famous spot...."According to legend, a young Indian brave named Sautee fell deeply in love with Nocoochee, a beautiful Cherokee maiden from a rival tribe. They were from two different tribes and their tribes were in the midst of a bitter feud. It seemed that they would never be together because of the feud between the two tribes. Finally, the lovers decided to take the problem in hand and ran off. Incensed by the affair, Cherokee warriors captured Sautee and tossed Sautee from the mountaintop here at the Lookout Mountain. Nocoochee, in deep despair and grieving for her lost love, leaped over the edge to her own death. The tragedy of the two young lovers have a great deal to do with the fascination of one of the most beautiful places in the United States. It is the Native
American equivalent of Shakespeare's tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet".
Check it out. The author saw some things at the gardens I did not. Now I really want to go back and explore it all over again.

 Here atop Lookout Mountain, it is possible to see seven different states. Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. 

 All seven state flags with the American flags.

 I have a fascination..what can I say?

 Another gem mining operation...

 Such a pretty lady...playing hide-and-go-seek among the shrubbery.

 What a gorgeous place. After visiting here, it is easy to see how I left my heart down south. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, but the people were all amazingly friendly.

The next day, we hit downtown Chattanooga and I visited some hospitals. But first I had to make a stop. I had packets prepared with my resume and letters of recommendation to take to the various hospitals, but I forgot a tiny cover letter. Oy Vey. Where else would I stop to print some out? But of course, FedEx Office. 

If you have ever been to any of the stores in Toledo or Bowling Green, this one puts them ALL to shame. First, it is larger than our two largest stores put together. Second it is decorated absolutely fabulously. I digress though...
I made a stop to one hospital and both nurse recruiters were out to lunch. I got a business card from the receptionist and was told to call after two pm. I gave her my resume packet and she said she would hand it to the woman whose card she had just given me. It was just past noon. With time to kill, we drove to another hospital on my list. The nurse manager was available and even spared a few minutes to meet with me (I had already applied for several positions online). He explained to me that there are even more nursing schools around Chattanooga that just graduated many large classes, so the job market at the moment was sparse. The positions that I had applied to all required experience. He told me not to give up hope and gave me some tips for the hunt ahead. I offered him a packet and he told me that he already had everything right there in front of him since all applications were done online now. Now it was about 1 pm and still had an hour to kill so we decided to drive around downtown and find a spot for lunch.
2 pm came and went and finally I called the card that I got from the first hospital. It went to voicemail. I left a message that I was in town on vacation and asked for a few moments of her time. I left my number. I never did get a call back from her. It was a shame, I really liked that hospital too. Actually I found it pretty flippin' rude that she couldn't even answer my message to say, I'm sorry but I don't have any free time to meet with you but keep applying...or even a fuck off we don't want you. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. All those beautiful folders with my resume, letters, and don't forget the cover letters....wasted.
Feeling like it was a total waste of my time because I only visited two of the 10 hospitals on my list and it was already going on 3 pm, I decided to give up the hunt and try and enjoy the remainder of our last day in Chattanooga. While driving around (and I recommend it highly) I saw many wonderful places that I would love to check out in the future. The artsy district is amazing. There is an entire walk across bridge (pedestrians only...ok maybe skaters and cyclists too..just no motorized vehicles) that crosses the Tennessee River. There are also two other bridges that go through Chattanooga and cross the river. While driving we found a quaint park called Coolidge Park. Read more about it here:

 This is the pedestrian bridge...

 Because, why not? That's why there is a rhino that lights up at night.

 This boat is The Southern Belle and offers different river boat cruises.

 The building with the triangle roofing is the Tennessee Aquarium. I wish we would have had more time to visit there.
Another time for sure!

 The Delta Queen. She has a fascinating history. Read more here: Now she serves as a floating hotel. Find out about it here:

 Our last night in Chattanooga we went to a restaurant called Sticky Fingers Smokehouse. It was here that I not only had the absolute BEST catfish I have ever had in my life, but I was introduced to an amazing drink. Jack Daniels Honey and Ginger-ale.
I also had my first experience with brunswick stew and banana pudding, which are staples on almost every menu I saw down south. Both were delicious.

If you ever have the change to try it, I recommend it.

The next day started the next leg of our journey. We traveled from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Murphy, North Carolina. Our trip took us through some amazingly gorgeous mountainside views through the smokies...

The following pictures are from various lookout points along the way.

 By the way, this spot is one of the spots that the US trains for the summer olympics....obviously not right now, since the water is down so low.

People are bound to ask, "Why Murphy?" There really isn't much too it. Well, sometime back two of my parents friends moved from Kissimmee, Florida to Murphy, North Carolina. My parents went to visit them and absolutely fell in love the place. They came home from their first trip and raved about it. They made a quite a few trips there over the span of time that their friends were there. Unfortunately tragedy hit their friends and after losing his wife, he moved back to Kissimmee to be close to his kids and grand kids again. My parents still love Murphy and the places around it. My mother says that of all the places she has ever been (and she has been quite a few) the Smokies are her favorite place to be. I can see why. Breathtaking panoramic scenery, quaint towns, friendly faces, and don't forget the sweet tea.

The first place we stopped after checking into the hotel to deposit our luggage,  was a restaurant/bar called Doyle's. We didn't go inside and instead opted to eat outside in the tiki bar area. I can only imagine how awesome the place is in the evening when the live bands are there (Another place I would love to investigate further...).

  How could you not have a good time here?

The next day had us touring around Murphy and surrounding area. We were attempting to locate a place that my dad had visited with his friend one time called Hanging Dog Lake. Garmin had no clue it even existed, or at least, not that we could find it. We ended up stopping at the Hiwassee Dam. Listening to my mom attempt to pronounce it was quite comical, but it was a great stop. Read more about the dam here:

 This has to be my favorite picture of my mom...


 Glad to see that the lights actually mean something...or even work. LoL.

 The roads are, as you can see, not traveled very often. You could see a car once every 10-15 minutes, every hour, or sometimes, even longer than that. Perhaps it depends on the time of day. I haven't been there during "rush" hour.

 I found this humorous because a mere 10 feet away (give or take) is the river.

 After visiting the Hiwassee Dam, we decided to just drive around and explore. Lo and behold, through our exploration we managed to find Hanging Dog Lake. It was a rather unique experience as I happened to stumble upon a very old cemetery there as well.

There is history surrounding this spot. It was where the last battle of the Civil War was fought. Read more about that here: or read about it here:

Other than finding a few websites that give the location of the cemetery, I was really unable to discover much about it online. Here are my pictures from Hanging Dog Lake.

 It was while I was getting a better look at this tree stump that I discovered an almost overgrown path.

 It led to a clearing that to the right went up... but if you looked straight ahead (as pictured below) you could see the lake. If you went left, it seemed to dead end into some trees. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided that I was curious about this out of the way trail. 

 I'm glad that I did. I seemed to have stumbled upon a very old cemetery. By the looks of it, no one had been there for quite some time to clear the weeds or grass. 

 But every once in awhile, I would find a fresh looking, fake flower. So, obviously someone had been there. But who? Such a paradoxical query....

Towards the backside of the cemetery, it appeared as if a storm had damaged parts of the surrounding foliage...

 More felled trees...

 Past this brush, there was also evidence of a fire, but I didn't get pictures of the char.

 There was also more access to the lake from the backside of the cemetery. Who knows? Perhaps even the dearly departed wanted to take a swim or go fishing every now and again. Or just as strangely, perhaps visitors like to fish near a cemetery. It adds the the paradox, shrouded in mystery, wrapped in a riddle that is this place.

 Heading back down the slope towards civilization...

And back to the stump where my adventure began...

After we left Hanging Dog Lake, we again just drove around looking at all the beauty surrounding us. Following the roads that twist and turn around the mountains....up and down.

We got back to Murphy and decided to visit the winery in town. Called Cherokee Cellars, it is a winery, gift shop, and art gallery all rolled into one pleasant building.
After trying almost every wine they made, we purchased some bottles to bring home. There were some delicious blends that you will not find other places. The wonders of local business. In addition to the winery we also went to a few other places in Murphy before heading to dinner in the swankiest restaurant in Murphy..Murphy Chophouse.

 Too bad it was closed..I was looking to take a gamble.

 This place made a sunday that was out of this world. A hot donut bite sunday. 

Cute lizard just chillaxin'

 The white building is the Chop House...

And some random pictures thrown in for shits and giggles.

Deciding to go home a different way than we originally planned (I-75 again..), we decided to leave a day early for destination home, and hit the road the following morning. We stopped at a few different lookout places and rest stops along the way and the rest is as they say, that.
Enjoy the photos of the trip home and thank you for coming on the journey with me. I hope to have many more vacation blogs in the future. It has been too long. Too long indeed. 

 The first real stop along the way home was at the Nantahala Outdoor Center...

 The next place that we stopped was in Cherokee...
I took more pictures of it on my cell phone and had already posted them to facebook.

We did stop in an amazing art gallery/gift shop called Qualla Arts and Crafts. I fell in love with so many wonderfully handcrafted pieces of art....
Yet another pan fer gold and gems stop....

Next stop: The Oconaluftee Visitor Center which housed a nice surprise... a mountain farm museum.

On the road again, there were many different places that were designed for you to pull of the road and take pictures or just enjoy the gorgeous mountain view....

 this one stop where dozens upon dozens of other tourists had pulled off to stretch their legs, and do whatever other tourists like to do, I came across this couple that had their dog on the ledge. I was trying to get close to the wall to snap some pictures, but this dog was on high alert and not thrilled that I was so So while his owners weren't paying any attention to him, I took a couple of pictures. He was a cute little fella...for a yapper dog.

This was the last actual place that we pulled over for photo ops and the rest of the pictures I took on the way home were with my camera phone and posted to facebook. It was an awesome vacation that would not have been possible without my family. I love you both. Thanks for the wonderful memories. Soon enough, I will be able to take my own vacations and make even more wonderful memories.