But wait, there's more fun to be had!

This is the last blog entry about my vacation, I promise.

Everyone kept telling us that we just had to check out Cade's Cove, which is part of the expansive Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So, we decided to head there on Thursday morning. We took one of my many nephews along (the one who is closest to our kid in age - they get along well). We somehow thought that Cade's Cove was about a half-hour from Gatlinburg, but it was over an hour.  It was a beautiful drive, though. I also learned a new term along the way: switchback curves.  We saw signs warning truckers of "switchback curves ahead" (and advising them to consider an alternate route).  I'm not sure of the exact definition but I assume it refers to a road that basically doubles back on itself (and we definitely saw a lot of that). When my Pop-Pop was still alive, he would drive around in the mountains of West Virginia and would often say, "You meet yourself coming back on these roads, doll."  I thought of him a lot as I attempted to negotiate the crazy mountain roads in my mom-mobile.

While on vacation, I had to do 99% of the driving because my other half gets queasy (his widdle tummy gets rumbly).  So, I drove to Cade's Cove. Part of the appeal is an auto tour, where you wind verrrrry slowly through the park.  This was a challenge for me, because I don't like to drive slowly. And it's not like you can look around too much while you are driving.  It was fun to see all the license plates from other states, though. It makes one feel quintessentially American to be in a National Park in the middle of summer. Anyway, the scenery was beautiful and I did my best not to rear-end the car in front of me.  We kept seeing signs reminding us not to feed or disturb wildlife. The only wildlife we saw was . .. butterflies. Lots of butterflies. And no, we did not attempt to feed them. Because the signs told us not to. On our way out of the park, we did see a black bear hanging out in the treetops. We didn't feed him either.  At about the same time, my sisters sent me simultaneous texts telling me how they had seen a bear right next to our cabin. I was tempted to respond, "Oh yeah? Do you have any idea how many BUTTERFLIES we've seen?!"

But back to the trip into the park. . . eventually we reached Cade's Cove itself, which consists of a visitors' center and lots of old buildings.  We poked around for a bit and enjoyed peeking inside the ancient barns and such. I guess I did not plan the trip very well because by then it was lunch time and we had no food. The visitors' center sold only water and candy bars. However, my nephew could not partake of the chocolate because he has a nut allergy and I was pretty determined to keep him alive during my watch. So, we walked around for a while, watched a guy grinding corn into cornmeal,  and then headed out. My GPS led me astray so we lost an extra half hour going down a dead end road, but eventually we got back on course.  We then drove to Gatlinburg, where we were scheduled to meet my sister and return her middle child to her.  On the long drive, P kept the kids busy by asking them trivia questions about superheroes. I quickly realized I was hanging out with a bunch of geeks. When did my daughter collect all of this random information about obscure comic book characters?

We were starving by the time we got to Gatlinburg, so we ate at the first restaurant we encountered, which was a weird little Italian place. The server looked at us like we were insane when we asked if the garlic rolls had any nuts in them. Again, my nephew wasn't eating a nut on my watch, mister. After lunch, we were supposed to meet my sister at Ober Gatlinburg, which is a huge tram that lugs people up a mountain and deposits them at an amusement park at the top.  The only catch was that my sister and her family were at the top and we were at the bottom. We somehow needed to get my nephew up the mountain. I talked to P and we figured, what the heck, we'll just buy tickets for the four of us and ride up. At about the same time, I learned (via text message) that my sister's fiance had purchased a ticket and was headed down the mountain to pick up my nephew.  It was like a bad sitcom.  So, I returned our tickets and received a refund.  When my sister's fiance arrived, he invited A to join them at the amusement park. Having received a better offer than hanging out with her boring old parents, she dropped us like hot potatoes. I bought her a tram ticket (the guy must have thought I was crazy at this point) and sent her up the mountain.

P and I hadn't planned on having a kid-free afternoon, but here it was! So, we walked all over Gatlinburg.  We went to the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum (keepin' it classy up in here, ya'll!), Ripley's Aquarium, and the Guiness Book of World Records Museum. P insisted that we take a gazillion photos of ourselves to prove to our kid that we exist even when she's not around.  We also stopped for a margarita and some ice cream (not at the same time, though).  Later, we all convened back at the cabin to enjoy some delicious lasagna that my middle sister made. 

Friday was our last full day. We decided to get our butts moving fairly early so that we could enjoy a pancake breakfast at one of the many pancake places in Pigeon Forge. I was afraid we'd choose the wrong one out of the multitude of choices, but it was pretty good. I bought a toy from the gift shop. Yes, for myself.  See photo below.

After breakfast, we went to a place called WonderWorks. It's basically a science museum.  It was a lot of fun and the kid definitely had a blast. After that, P dropped the kid and me off at joint called MagiQuest while he went to a comic book store. MagiQuest is probably more up his alley than mine, but it was really hot out and I chose this over every and any outdoor activity. In a nutshell, you get a wand and then you complete various quests. For example, you have to find a blue gemstone. When you find it, you cast your wand on it and the wand keeps track of your progress on the quest.  The kid seemed to love the whole scene.  Our wands expired after an hour, though.  We had purchased a package deal so we then headed for the other activities within the same building.

The first was a mirror maze.  The teenager at the door handed us disposable plastic gloves to wear, so that we didn't smear the mirrors with our hands.  When we got inside, I was completely disoriented (which is, I suppose, the point).  My daughter kept trying to get ahead of me. Then she would turn a corner and I couldn't find her.  I was having a minor panic attack because at times I could see her reflection in the mirrors but could not actually find her.  After that, I made her hold my hand.  We finally made it out after ten minutes or so.  At one point, I seriously thought they would have to send someone in after us. I was glad not to suffer that sort of embarrassment. Next up was a laser maze.  This involved a darkened room with green lasers strung across a la Mission Impossible. My kid went in first; I was able to watch her progress via a video monitor.  I watched as my teeny daughter deftly climbed over and under the laser beams.  Then it was my turn. I gave it the old college try, but all I could hear was the incessant beeping from all the laser beams I managed to break as my fat ass and I worked our way across the room. C'est la vie, I guess.  Finally, we played some miniature golf on a black-lighted pirate course.

Four our last night at the cabin, my cousin and her boyfriend drove in from Nashville to join us. It was also my middle sister's birthday, so we ate some cake and gave her a few gifts. It was a really fun evening. We stayed up much too late and drank a bit too much, all the while knowing we had to get up the next morning and pack, clean the cabin, etc.

For days I had been harassing my sisters about the need to take a photo of all seven of the kids. I was hoping to get a nice shot for my mom. This was the first time all of her grandchildren were together in one spot.  So, we quickly shoved all of the kids out on the deck and attempted to get a photo. About half of them were uncooperative. Damned kids, I tell you. However, we did get a photo!

Shortly thereafter, we all headed our separate ways. We sent Short Stuff back to Northern VA with her aunt. She'll fly back home on Saturday. A has been quite the jet-setter this summer!  It's actually a good thing she wasn't with us on Saturday. We ended up encountering some hellacious traffic on the drive home. I mean, the kind of traffic where people put their car in park and then get out and walk around.  It was that bad. When we finally arrived at our hotel room, we noticed that the room contained two beds. Having reached maximum togetherness (coupled with the fact that my beloved had a cold), we each selected a bed and went to sleep.

And that, my friends, is the story of our mountain vacation!

Look verrrry carefully. It's a bear, I swear.


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