Yesterday I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a meeting of the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
Which way to go from Asheville? Because of a rock slide, I-40 is closed for a couple of exits before you reach the Tennessee state line. So through the park or around? I was concerned about ice and snow on Newfound Gap Road but I took that route anyway. Cherokee was quiet – even the Big Boys restaurant was closed.
The road was clear and even Newfound Gap (over 5,000 ft.) had no ice – see the photo above. This gave me a chance to stop at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, say “hello” and sign some books. The Visitor Center was quiet.
Over at Sugarlands VC, there was a lot of action. Many visitors were milling around and hopefully buying stuff. Now that I’m on the board of the “Association”, I’m eager to have people buy books and knick-knacks at the Smokies store. I bought 3,000 Miles in the Smokies by Bill Hart and Smoky Mountain Magic by Horace Kephart.
After the meeting, the Association hosted a Christmas party for park employees in the Gatlinburg Convention Center. I stayed in town and left very early this morning – so early that I was not going to drive through the park in the dark.
So I took the around the mountain route. Up US 441 to Sevierville, Dolly Parton‘s home town. Instead of going up to I-40 for a couple of exits, I turned right on US 411, the Dolly Parton Parkway. It was a slow road through some very small communities toward Newport.
Then I picked up US 25/70 and followed the French Broad to Del Rio, TN in the Cherokee National Forest – no Mexican restaurant in Del Rio, or much of anything else.
Finally I went through Hot Springs and now I was on old, familiar ground. This way was not much longer or slower than going through the Park. It just seemed that way to me because it was all new territory.
New information says that the I-40 closure might last as long as May. So what’s the verdict on the way to go?
I would go the Newport route at least once to see new territory. I went through terrain that I know I would never find an excuse to go to otherwise.
I got home early enough to unpack and go to Malaprops for my one-hour book signing. The store was packed with browsers and coffee drinkers. Lots of energy in that store.
I don’t have another book signing until March, giving me an opportunity to do some writing.