During our time here in TN, we have been able to gt out to many of the local parks, State Parks and even the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though the weather has been colder than usual (around 20 degrees colder!) and really rainy, we were able to get out to explore the areas we were in and can honestly say that TN is a beautiful place.
While staying in Monterrey at Belle Ridge Retreat, we were able to get out to several parks and explore the beautiful Cumberland Plateau. We found a wonderful little overlook, Bee Rock Overlook, which was named by the Indians for the bee hives that hung below the overlook. This place is an untouched beauty...and a bit dangerous. It is relatively easy to get to but once there it is a bit dangerous, especially for kids. There are no railings or warnings as this is not a public area, but there are plenty of signs at the trail head stating the dangers. You are literally standing out on the rock and could easily go right over the side. Even though it was a little unnerving to stand out there, it sure was beautiful!
Sergeant Alvin C. York State Park was another gem of a find. This state park is a bit different than most in that it is the homestead of one of the most decorated soldiers of WWI. The property included a visitor center that gave tours of the property, a grist mill, his home and outbuildings, hiking trails through the woods and a suspension bridge over the river to see his grave site. It also includes examples of life for a soldier in WWI, including a realistic replica of the trenches which were very well done with plaques explaining life in the trenches. Every year they have WWI re-enactments on the property to include ground and air troops.
Standing Stone State Park, Cummins Falls and Cumberland Mountain State Park reinforced how wonderful the TN state parks are. Nice roads, well kept trails and overlooks and great campgrounds, not to mentions beautiful views!
Another park we found was the Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville. This 315 acre nature center in the middle of the city has a wonderful visitor center and wildlife center, amazing trails for walking or hiking, access to paddling on the Tennessee River or Mead Quarry Lake and a treeline adventure park with zip-lines, tunnels and nets. We did not go on the zip-lines while were there but we did take a walk on their popular river-walk trail, which was a bit of a hike in areas. This property was owned by bird expert, Harry Ijams and his wife, Alice, known as the First Lady of Knoxville Garden Clubs. The area became a gathering place for bird and nature lovers for more than a century. In the 60's several Knoxville area clubs came together to turn the Ijams property into a public nature park and education center. Truly a gem in the middle of Knoxville.
Once we moved over to Anchors Down in Dandridge, north of the Smoky Mountains, we knew we just had to visit the first National Park that Rick and I visited while we honeymooned in Gatlinburg. The Great Smoky Mountains never get old for us. The area is just amazing and we wanted to see how the big fire of Nov 2016 affected the area. Throughout Gatlinburg area and the park itself, you can see remnants of the impact the fire had. There are some home and business sites that are just foundations still and mountainsides that are burnt. Even with that being said, the park is still beautiful and left us awestruck on our trip from the Gatlinburg entrance up to Newfound Gap.
On another rainy day we traveled the new, "Missing Link" of the Foothills Parkway. This is a picturesque 16 mile drive that runs from Wears Valley to Walland, just east of the Smoky Mtn Ntl Park. The road is of course new and the detail in the pulloffs stone parking area to the beautiful wooden guardrails is amazing. This section of the Pkwy was finally completed 52 years after the Pkwy construction was started. The ride is just beautiful and even though it was rainy and foggy, AGAIN, we really enjoyed what views we could see and the colors. Again, photo warning...they just don't do it justice.
We finished up our Smoky Mountain Park visit with a drive through Cades Cove. This area just shows how diverse the Park really is. With the various homesteads, fields, churches and cemeteries, it is a small glimpse into how people, many years ago, lived in the area. It's too bad the weather did not cooperate more these last couple weeks, but we still really enjoyed our time exploring these parks.
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