Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Little Mountain Time in Georgia and Tennessee

After leaving Florida we wandered up to the little Georgia Mountain town of Helen. Our good friends, Kelly and T (and their three adorable pups) were traveling with us and suggested we make that our first stop on our road trip to Maine. Of course, we were totally game as it is always fun to visit places we have never been before and spend time with them.  Helen is a Bavarian-style town where the buildings make you feel like you are in the Alps (albeit such shorter mountains) and whose charm is a huge tourist draw which makes it the state’s third most visited city.  While the town was originally Cherokee, European settlers came to the area in search of gold and to exploit the rich virgin timber stands for the booming lumber industry.  When those two industries dried up, the town was in decline.  In 1969, city leaders and business owners set out to revitalize the economy and attract tourists by adopting the Bavarian theme.  Soon facades were painted with scenes from Bavaria, gingerbread trim was added and the city became a tourist draw.

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The downtown covers just over two miles but the surrounding area holds lots for outdoor enthusiasts as it is surrounded by Unicoi State Park and the Chattahoochee National Forest.  As our stay was only for two nights we had just one day to do all we could.  The beautiful Georgia mountains are home to many waterfalls and we started our day at Anna Ruby Falls (not to be confused with the famed “Ruby Falls.”)  The short hike up to the falls was pretty and was a hit with the two Labradors.  The double waterfalls are formed as two creeks, Curtis Creek and York Creek, tumble over a towering cliff below the summit of Tray Mountain.  The cascading water forms Smith Creek whose waters eventually make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is this quartz that travels from the Appalachian Mountains via rivers that makes the sugar sands in Florida’s panhandle so white and fine.

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Downtown Helen came alive while we were at the falls and was overrun with people by the time we arrived at lunchtime. The town's Bavarian theme is cute and reminded me (ever so slightly) of my days living in Europe. But, we were sorely disappointed that very few shops carried anything tied to that region of the world. Instead they were the same tacky tourist shops where you would find them full of airbrushed t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other souvenirs. The highlight was lunch at Hofbrauhaus Restaurant and German Pub where we indulged in potato pancakes, spaetzle, braised cabbage, bratwurst, knockwurst and a good selection of German beer.  Outside of Helen we found more interesting places to stop like Fred’s Famous Peanuts, a funky coffee roaster, antique shop, winery, and great grist mill where a new bag of grits was soon in my hand.

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Two nights in Helen was all we had planned for so we were off and headed deeper into the Appalachian Mountains to the ever popular towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  Our sights were set on Dollywood, Bush’s Beans and exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park (NP).  We arrived to cold and damp weather but that was not going to stop us from checking our eastern Tennessee boxes!  The dogs were loaded up, we donned our hiking shoes and headed to the park with my newly purchased trail map.  Only, to be sorely disappointed to find out that dogs are only allowed on basically two trails in the entire park. (Yes, they are allowed in developed areas like campgrounds and on roads but who wants to hike there?)  There was one dog-friendly trail which ran along a pretty stream so not all was lost and the dogs didn’t know any better.  We humans were a little bummed but we came to the conclusion that a moonshine tasting would rectify the day and off to Ole Smokey we went.  Downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are very tourist-oriented which is quickly apparent as you drive down the strip (or sit in traffic as is often the case).  Lots of eateries, go carts, dinner theaters, and shopping.

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Aside from Great Smoky Mtn NP the big draw to the area is Dollywood - attracting some 3 million visitors a year. Dollywood is an amusement park with a Hillbilly theme and a famous owner.  The sounds of banjos play in the background as you wander past rides, shows, exhibits, food vendors, and gift shops.  Our favorite part of Dollywood was “Chasing Rainbows” – a museum about Dolly Parton’s life and accomplishments.  We especially loved that her 1994 Prevost “home-on-wheels” was open for touring.  The bus features hand-tooled leather from Germany on the sofa and chairs, cherry cabinets, a bathtub, and brass fixtures.  In her bedroom are a guitar she used and a retired wig.


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Hers is a great story that has a young girls dream to be a singer come true.  One of 12 children, Parton has described her family as being “dirt poor” and that her father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of cornmeal.  She was a natural performer who started as a youngster singing in church, strumming homemade guitars, and later performing on local television and radio stations.  The day after she graduated from high school in 1964, she moved to Nashville chasing her dream of making it big in the country music industry.  After achieving success as a songwriter for other artists, Parton debuted her first solo album in 1967.  Her singing career bloomed in the 1970 and 80’s but her success has never stopped and today she is recognized as the most honored female country performer of all time.  But more than being a singer, songwriter, actress, businesswoman, author, and record producer she is a philanthropist.

In the mid-1980’s Parton bought an interest in the Gatlinburg amusement park known as Silver Dollar City and as part of the deal it would be renamed "Dollywood".  Why would she want a stake in an amusement park, you ask?  Well that goes back to her philanthropic spirit.  Parton said she became involved with the operation because she "always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.”  She has achieved that as Dollywood is the largest employer in the community with over 3,000 employees.  Whether you like Parton’s music, acting, boobs, and flashy clothes, and red lipstick or not you have to admire this woman’s accomplishments.  And at the age of 72 does not seem to be slowing down.  Go Dolly!  We had a great time.

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Before we left the area we had to put a check next to one of Betsy’s bucket list items.  Which meant we were headed to a place made famous by a bald guy with a mischievous talking dog named “Duke” who’s baked beans represent approximately 80 percent of the canned baked beans consumed in the United States.  That’s right we are talking about Bush’s Beans!

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Their story dates back to 1904 when A. J. Bush partnered with the Stokely family to open a tomato cannery in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.  The cannery proved so profitable that, by 1908, he was able to buy out the Stokelys' interest and establish his own business.  He entered into partnership with his two oldest sons, Fred and Claude, and the Bush Brothers & Company business began.  In the early days, the company canned a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and even pet food.  The year 1969 proved to be pivotal.  When overproduction and low prices were wreaking havoc on the canning industry the company started looking for ways to ride out the tough times and boost sales with a new product.  They reflected on the previous success 20180406_162042of their canned pork and beans and Condon Bush (A. J.’s grandson) decided to develop a “table ready” baked bean product based on his mother Kathleen's secret recipe.  That idea proved far more successful than they could have imagined. Sales of Bush's Best Baked Beans went from 10,000 cases in 1969 to 100,000 in 1970 and close to a million cases in 1971.  Ultimately, those beans would  prove to be the biggest success in the company's history.

In the 1990’s the company was looking to for a new advertising campaign for the baked beans.  Enter the bald Jay Bush (Condon’s son) who spoke of the “secret family recipe.”  A year later, the mischievous golden retriever “Duke” was introduced and sales exploded.  As a result of that ad campaign sales of the company's beans increased from 48% to 80% of the national market share.


Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are busy places and built for entertaining tourists.  The towns were a little too touristy for our liking so we decided next up we need a state park with a little more serene setting for some hiking and campfires and towns without stoplights.




















6 comments:

  1. What a fun visit.....a little touristy but, also great hikes! My kind of trip! We will be coming through Georgia on our way to Florida this fall. I figured Savannah would be be big draw, now I’ll have to check out Helen!
    www.wearethemillersblog.com

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    1. Savannah would get my vote if you had to chose one.

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  2. Glad you stopped buy for a visit in our mountains. You are right about Sevier county and tourists.

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    1. Crazy busy when wecwere there. Can only imagine what it is like in the summer.

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  3. seems like you guys are doing the tacky tourist tour that's ok but there is so much more to both areas Helen was wonderful back in the day but is ruined now and Dollywood well no I understand you did not have much time and I hope one day you can return and see more of North GA and the Smoky mtns

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    1. Would love to return. We were there 4 or 5 years ago and avoided the tourist stuff so, yes, the experience is quite different.

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