Journey to the Goonies "Cave"
It didn't take us too long to pack up, and by 10:30 AM we were on our way to our next 4.6 mile round-trip hike: The Alum Cave Bluffs. The 4.6 mile hike could have become a 10 mile hike had we decided to make the journey all the way up to Mt. LeConte, one of the highest peaks in the Smokies. However, Tory made it quite clear that such an adventure would be without accompaniment. Plus, her ankle was hurting, so I wasn't going to press the issue. She'd been a trooper on the 8 miler on Wednesday, and I couldn't in good conscience push her to do more.
The first 1.4 miles of the hike were relatively flat, and the path wound next to a little river with countless small waterfalls. They were quite peaceful. We hadn't been next to a river or any waterfalls on the previous two hikes, so this was a welcome change. Two bridges made solely of a single tree trunk had to be crossed as well. They were each no more than 18 inches wide, and required good balance to traverse.
At the 1.4 mile mark, we encountered an unexpected surprise: Arch Rock. It's essentially a very large rock with the middle worn away be erosion, creating a natural arch in the rock. We continued our journey by ascending a man-made staircase of rock steps. A thin, steel wire was screwed into the rock to act as a railing, helping with balance up the narrow staircase. Very cool.
After Arch Rock, the inclination of the trail got much steeper. Less than a mile to go is what I kept telling Tory. Then all of sudden, we came upon an opening in the treeline and got to see another nice panorama of the Smokies. For a second I thought this was our destination, which led to this fun conversation:
Evil Big Brother: "I think this is it"
Little Sis: "Nope, it's not. I remember there being some kind of overlook"
Evil Big Brother: "Oh OK cool stuff, well let's keep doing then"
Little Sis: "Oh crap."
On we ventured. After about 15 minutes or so of steep hiking, we laid eyes upon our destination, and what a beautiful sight it was. The Alum Cave Bluffs don't actually have anything to do with a cave, but are a large rock overhang that gradually juts out 75-100 feet from the main wall, forming a "roof" above our heads. It was very hard to get a good picture to show what the Bluffs looked like because they were quite massive, but we endeavored to do our best. Brought back memories of The Goonies because of the colors of the rock, the way the formation was set up, and the fact that water was dropping down from the overhang. What a classic movie.
As we sat down and ate our lunch, all the while mesmerized by the shape of the Bluffs against our old friend, the Smoky Mountain Panorama, a little squirrel happened upon us, no doubt wanting food. He got extremely close on a couple of occasions, and Tory christened him "Blaze" for all the running back and forth he did while he begged us for food. We didn't give him any, but did get a really great picture since he actually got within a couple feet of us while he danced. He even got into a fight with another squirrel who tried to come up and see us as well. Some really horrible things were uttered in squirrel language between those two, that's for sure.
After a few more minutes in awe at the Bluffs, we decided to make our descent. This made Tory quite the happy camper. I tried once more to insinuate that we should continue the 2.7 more miles onto Mt. LeConte, as we were already half way there. This caused Tory to utter a two word, seven letter phrase starting with "F" and ending with "u" which made it very clear that Mt. LeConte would have to happen on another day :).Exploring Gatlinburg
2.3 miles later and freshly down the mountain, we set off for our hotel, the Microtel Inn and Suites, in Gatlinburg. To our surprise, it was right in the center of the city, within walking distance of everything. We figured the $40 price tag would have put us out in the boonies, but the hotel was really quite a steal. I didn't think you could get a nice room with a roof, bed, and shower for $40 anywhere in the US of A. Go Gatlinburg!
Right after checking in, a glorious phrase came into view: "Free Buffet". This piqued my interest. And what I found couldn't have been anything better. There was a Cici's nearby that was offering a free buffet with the purchase of another buffet. That was that. Copious amounts of pizza were to be had that night. We took a quick walk around Gatlinburg, realized that we wanted to buy every piece of expensive tourist food we saw, and quickly scampered up the nearby town of Pigeon Forge / Sevierville to eat to our hearts content. I had around 15 pieces with a token salad, and Tory had around 8. Can't beat that for a grand total of $12.04 including drinks.
Once we got back to Gatlinburg, we proceeded to walk all around the town and pick up a few trinkets here and there. It's really a nice, quaint place. Though it's crazy touristy. Every shop reaks of the bad parts of Ocean City. Regardless, we hacked around until around 10 and found such interesting stores as "Old Smoky Moonshine" and "The Beef Jerky Outlet". We would have gotten some jerky, but $8 + the 9.75% Tennessee sales tax for a quarter pound was too rich for our blood.
At around 10, sleepy eyes set in and we went back to the hotel to determine the winner of the War tournament. I quickly conquered Tory in the final game of the best-of-five, meaning I was the Official War Champion of the Solar System. Take that Tory. A few pages of light reading later, and both Tory and I were sound asleep, getting ready for our ~3 hour drive back to Lenoir the next day!
Waking up was bittersweet on this morning as it meant that it was time to take down our tent and leave the Smokemont Campground for the last time. You can't ask for more in a campground; it had a tent pad, fire pit, picnic table, and was nestled right at the foot of the Great Smokies. If you ever go camping in the Smokies, this is place is definitely worth it, and it's only $20 no matter how many people you bring!