The last evening in Corbin was very chilly (not as cold as the first night, when it was about minus 5 or so degrees centigrade and unless I hid under the duvet, my face actually hurt) but it was made a lot more pleasant with the help from a couple of guys, Bern and Ed.  I had gone to buy some more wood from reception and poor Bern was trying very hard to deal with a large influx of customers, while trying to cope with the awful KOA computer system, without having any training on it.  The poor guy was highly stressed, his face was so pale that he looked like he had flu (Tim said he was probably in fight or flight mode and was at the end of his tether).  Some of the customers were not being very nice to him and I did my best to make light of the situation, by saying how the system had registered us in Canada and Kentucky so far, because it refused to recognise the United Kingdom/Great Britain/England in any form, although it could have allowed campers from any other country including Papua New Guinea (I suspect).

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Bern very kindly brought our wood over to us and even offered to start the fire for us.  I explained that it would be a very cruel and unusual punishment to deprive Tim of one of his favourite hobbies (lighting fires is just marginally better than damming streams as far as Tim is concerned).  A while later Bern turned up with Ed and Ed’s daughter, Marisa because they had seen how smoky our fire was (the campfire wood was pretty damp) and so they had chopped some extra small logs to get it going better.

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Such kindness and thoughtfulness seems endemic around here and in most campsites both staff and campers have often gone out of their way to ensure that we were comfortable and safe.

The next morning, just as we were leaving,  Ed came out to say goodbye and somewhat bashfully asked if he could sit in Camel’s driving seat. 

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He seemed totally in love with the car, but his lovely wife said there was no chance of him owning such a thing.  They were absolutely delightful people. 

We drove south back into Tennessee and towards the Smokey Mountains, as a very nice English couple we had met in Memphis had said that it was the best thing in the area.

We had loved the area around Corbin and the road through the Appalachians did not disappoint.

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We were quite amused with the way attractions were advertised along the way

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(although Tim misread this one as a shark exhibit, not the best way to get a manicure…)

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we were mightily impressed with this off-road wheel chair

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The scenery became steadily more beautiful and we started to catch glimpses of the Smokies in the distance. 

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It therefore came as a shock to pass through the monstrosity that is known as Pigeon Forge.  If you were to combine the tackiest aspects of Las Vegas, Bognor Regis and Blackpool and then put them on steroids, then you might well produce something like this town.  Add to the mix that there is a second Grand Ole Opry and another Dollywood (we thought we had gone back to Nashville by mistake for a bit) and you can probably get the idea. 

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We crawled in a traffic jam through the centre of the town and were somewhat glad to get clear.  By this time it was about 3pm and, decided that it would be better to tackle the drive across the Smokys the next day.  Having found out that all of the local campsites had no water, electricity nor toilet facilities, we decided to find a motel in Gatlinburg, a couple of miles from the Smoky Mountain National Park.  The place was highly commercialised, but much more pleasant that Pigeon Forge.  We managed to find a half-way decent place with a very pleasant room for $60 including breakfast.  We wandered out later for a drink in a local bar and a meal.  We were lucky enough to hit on the ‘Back Street etc’, where we were the only customers because the evening was so young. 

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This gave us a chance to chat to the wonderfully hospitable landlady, Barbara, who explained the local tax system to us.  The town of Gatlinburg is one of the top holiday and wedding destinations in the US with more than two million tourists staying there every year.  We had lucked out and caught them between the end of fall colours and the beginning of theThanksgiving/Christmas rush, as rooms often cost about $300 or more in the high seasons.  Apparently the local tax is set by the people in the town that are entitled to vote.  That is all very well, but there are only about 200 actual citizens of Gatlinburg and they hold every single post from marshal to town clerk between them.  This means that every town has a different tax rate; eg. Gatlinburg 12.5% and Pigeon 12.25%.

We went on to have a lovely meal at the local Cherokee Grill and were gobsmacked that the nice young waiter, Kameron, insisted the he could not serve us any alcohol unless we had ID. 

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Good grief, we really do not look under twenty one, no matter how much we try to pretend that we are good for our age, but apparently this is the state law.  Not only that but the letter of the law says that you must finish your drink before they will put another one on your table.  No pressure to chug them down then!

On Monday we drove up to the highest point of the Smokey mountains.  We didn’t see any bears but did catch a glimpse of the wild turkeys that seem to hang around all over the place in the USA

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We knew there was a nice road that ran right across the Smokys, but luckily, Barbara, the nice bar lady had told us to go right up to Clinsman’s Dome.  Boy, were we glad we listened to her (although it was quite chilly up there). 

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The view was magnificent, even from the car park,

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but it was sad to see so many dead Mountain Hemlock trees, victims to a non native species of beetle (from Europe, oops!)

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but by the time we had walked up the half mile (incredibly steep) path to the top

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(littered with rather unfit, red faced tourists, we were determined to walk up without a rest on the way…)(showing off? us?) we were entranced with the view.  The viewing tower lifts you up above the trees 

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and you can see up to a hundred miles away on a clear day.  I suspect that Monday was one of those days.

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It is a surprisingly well kept secret; we met a gentleman that must have been about seventy, who said that he had been visiting the Smokeys since he was a young boy and this was the first time he had been up to the top.  He also explained that this sign

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was actually in Cherokee, the written form of which was only a couple of hundred years old.  He was also cared deeply about how badly the Cherokee were treated in the area as their original agreement was overturned just thirty or so years after it was written.  Apparently a small group of them managed to hide out for long enough to form the local reservation/ town of Cherokee.

We met these two weary young men at the top of the hill

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who had followed the Appalachian trail right the way down from Maine, a journey of nearly 2000 miles so far.  It impressed us, particularly as we came across the other end of the trail right back in July when we began our American travels

The route down the other side  was also very lovely

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and poor old Tim had to hang about while I got a bit more practice with my camera.

We drove on through Cherokee, also a very commercialised town, but I did like this house.

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Just outside the Indian land, we came across this theme park

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which amused us, as it is only half way through November at the moment…

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