Leaving the urban sprawl behind, but not the heat we arrived in Appalachia. First stop was Sylva. A cute little town in the foothills. Destination: brewery. Heizelmachen was our first. Located in a small store front, the husband and wife team, the former from the Black Forest of Germany, own this tiny operation. Perhaps the tiniest brewery I've ever seen, a chill college student poured our eight brews and furnished us with great Bavarian pretzels. Filling our keg would be tempting, but we already have learned that beer doesn't keep too well in our trunk.
Sylva is apparently a budding brewery town. We also got a chance to try to new brews at Sapphire Brewing Company, which has the cutest setup that feels like you're hanging out at someone's house. (It probably is.)
Leaving our empty mugs, we headed into the park. First hurdle was the Cherokee Indian Reservation. No casinos here, just Bingo night, and a ton of tourist stands selling moccasins, tomahawks, and dream catchers.
You enter the southern end of the Smokies through a meadow, in a valley surrounded by lush, high mountain slopes. Our campground was just a few miles in. We realized we were back in the South with the number of trailers and RVs parked around our site. Gangs of children cruised the streets on bikes and generators hummed. Almost every license plate was from North Carolina. Cooking that night the neighbors, who were rarely seen outside of their RV, were super-friendly and gave us a whole plate of fried potatoes, hush puppies and catfish. How Christian of them!
Chris put it best when he said that Smokies was best on the macro level (and Shenandoah on the micro level). Drives can be long through the park, and sometimes you even sit in traffic, but the views are gorgeous. The first night we try to go to a ranger program in Cades Cove, which ends up being an hour and a half through the park. We give up half-way on the drive and just stop to watch the most gorgeous sunset I've ever seen that hasn't been over an ocean.
Afterwards we decide to keep going to Gatlinburg. Imagine: you drive for over an hour through complete wilderness. You look out on either side of the road and see nothing for as far as you can see. Then all of a sudden - boom - you're right in the middle of Hick-ville Disneyland. Stand-still traffic, neon signs, fat people in fanny packs strolling down the street, tourist traps like a wax museum and house of horrors. We park as soon as possible and started over to the one place that might be the one tolerable place in town: the Smoky Mountain Brewery. I get distracted by an outdoor bluegrass band accompanied by the chickenman.
I didn't get this one on tape, but we also saw the four curly-haired, pig-tailed, gingham-dressed tap-dancing children. But we finally did make it in. The sampler was $8 and an astounding 10 very creative beers. We walked off the buzz afterwards through the neon-lights and slowly made our way back to the other end of the park.
Our next day would include even more miles in the car, but a bit more adventure.