Gatlinburg wasn’t actually on our list of overnight stops as we made our way across Tennessee but a delayed lunch stop in Knoxville meant that we were a little behind schedule. We had originally planned to stop briefly to pick up a jar or two of moonshine but as we’d only reached the small town at nightfall and the place looked like it had enough to keep us entertained, we decided to vanp there and continue through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the morning.
We parked inconspicuously on a street and made our way to the crazily busy main strip – likely because it was Friday and a popular weekend getaway amongst holidaying families. We walked a little down the street to Ole Smokey Moonshine, a large distillery and retail store selling jars of all types of moonshine and apparently the first in Tennessee to legally do so. After a bit of a self-guided tour through their distilling process we saw that they offered tastings for a measley 5USD, so joined a group of eager punters as our shots were lined up and poured.
The tasting turned out to be thoroughly entertaining as the enthusiastic hillbilly performed a bit of a routine of quick-witted jokes in a yokel accent. Holding up the jar of 60% “Blue Flame”, she explained that “You can start a car with it, a relationship with it, even a family with it, but whatever you do – don’t start your day with it.” The hilarious jokes continued as we threw back shot after shot of moonshine. Thank god we were sleeping the night!
After picking up two jars we continued down the bustling street, greedily sampling all types of artisan sweets as we stuck our heads into store after store. There were a surprising amount of shirts and merchandise with the confederate flag on it, a symbol now synonymous with racism in the US although some Southerners would argue an innocent emblem of their heritage. Whatever the interpretation, I wouldn’t ever be brave enough to have it branded anywhere on me – especially as a seemingly ignorant foreigner.
The next morning we woke as the sun hit the sky, grabbing a quick coffee then heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway – one of America’s most secenic drives, especially through Fall. The colours of the trees as the sun hit them were mind-blowingly beautiful, all different shades of red, yellow and orange. The road wound higher and higher up into the mountains as the view became more and more incredible with every bend. I’m sure we were crawling at a snail’s pace as our jaws hung on the floor of our van.
It would have been after the quick stop to replace an indicator globe and somewhere around the highest point of our journey through The Smokeys that we finally crossed borders into the equally as beautiful tar heel state – North Carolina.