Friday, March 20, 2009

Staycation Day 2: Out and About in K-Ville

I started Staycation Day 2 by oversleeping and standing Jeannie up for the gym. I felt a little bad about it, but she's done it to me more than once, so it's not the end of the world. I felt worse about missing exercise when I really need it, though, so I was glad that my plans for today started with a hike.

After yesterday's trip to the Gatlinburg Tourist Trap and Roadside Fun Zone (which, as Stan agreed, is still somehow not nearly as awful as Pigeon Forge), I decided that the theme for Day 2 of Spring Break Staycation 2009 would be "free stuff closer to home".

Free stuff idea number one: I decided that since it's been dry for about a week, I would go back to Mead's Quarry and hike the half of the trail that was too muddy and flooded out last time. The trail guide said it was moderate, and I skipped my gym time this morning, and I never got to see the rest of the quarry, so really this whole thing seemed like a win/win.

Until I got on the trail:

tharp trace trail

The half I missed last time? It's a half mile straight uphill at a 40 to 50 degree angle, the entire way. Obviously the trail guide and I have different definitions of the word "moderate" in that my definition doesn't include the words "gasping", "sweating", or "thinking about flinging myself over the side and into the quarry", but theirs clearly does. Granted, I could have just turned around and staggered back down, but I'm kind of stubborn.

About halfway up the mountain I stumbled into the Stanton Cemetary:

stanton cemetary

According to the sign, it was formerly the Johnson Family plot, and then became a community cemetary used mainly by quarry workers, who also fashioned many of their own headstones.

fallen homemade stone

They stopped burying there in the 1930's, and the cemetary has fallen into a severe state of disrepair. Many of the stones have toppled or are weathered to the point of being unreadable, but some of the markers are in surprisingly good shape:

Rebecca Davis

This pair, the former Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, is notable because the stones face opposite directions:

the johnsons

This is a symbolic reflection of their divorce.

After the cemetary, there was more of this:

more tharp trace

At this point I was like, "Are you kidding? Seriously? How can there be more uphill? I'm on top of the mountain. There can't be any more mountain. No more. No more uphill," but then I came around the corner to the first scenic lookout:

scenic overlook

The quarry is beautiful in the right lighting.

from Pinkston Pointe (2)

I want to go back again in the summer, to see it with green trees and blue sky, even if the climb up and down kills me.

Once I got done hiking the quarry, I decided to head to Free Stuff Idea Number Two: The Knoxville Museum of Art. Parking is free and the museum is free, so this idea was another win/win.

The exhibit of work by Josh Simpson, a glassblower, was gorgeous:


small worlds

large world

They had some of his pieces for sale in the gift shop, but even the little tiny ones are expensive because, you know, it's art. I had a great time at the museum, though, and decided to leave my car there while I went to the Knoxville Convention and Exhibition Center to find and photograph Free Stuff to See Idea Number Three:

the world's largest rubik's cube

That's the World's Largest Rubik's Cube. It was a gift to the City of Knoxville by the government of Hungary for the 1982 World's Fair, and when it's turned on the sides move and turn. It wasn't turned on when I was there, and rumor has it that it no longer works, but there was no one around to verify that, and I couldn't find an on switch.

Before I moved to Tennessee, I'd only been to the World's Largest State and the World's Largest Cabella's Sporting Goods Store, but now in just three short years I've managed to add the World's Largest Ten Commandments, the World's Largest New Testament, and the World's Largest Rubik's Cube. I swear, I'm only a ball of twine away from winning some kind of award for the World's Largest Tacky Achievement.

After the cube (will I measure my whole life this way from now on, as B.T.W.L.R.C. and A.T.W.L.R.C.?), I headed out for Free Stuff Idea Number Four: Go Walk Around Downtown. Every time I go there is new graffiti on Wall Avenue, so this idea is also always a win/win.

My original goal was to head for Yee Haw, the printing press, to get some notecards. I know that doesn't quite line up with my goal of not spending money, but they're never open on Sundays, which is usually when I go downtown. The car was still in the free parking at World's Fair Park, and I was squeezing in more exercise, so I figured it balanced out.

henley street walkway

On my way to Yee Haw I passed a sign at J's Mega Mart that said they were having a closeout sale on wigs, and, while I don't need a wig, I was curious:


They have hundreds of wigs. Hundreds.

more wigs

They'll be closing out forever before they get rid of all of those.

Anyway, I got my notecards and watched them run the printing presses at Yee Haw. I wandered past Wall Avenue:


and onto Market Square:


to see the new graffiti. I walked over to the courthouse and saw a couple getting married, walked through the square and saw someone playing the banjo, and mostly just walked and soaked up the nice weather. On the way back to the car I stopped at the Chocolate Factory to look around at their tasteful goods:

dolly pops

and then I headed home.

It was a good day, and there are more pictures on my page.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Staycation Day 1: See Beautiful Gatlinburg (And All Of Its Beautiful Crap)!

It's spring break at school this week, so I took today and tomorrow off to give myself a four day weekend. Since I won't be off again until June (unless a holiday pops up in there; are we off for Memorial Day?) I decide that I'm going to pack a a whole bunch of stuff into these four days, but I'm going to stick close to home to save money. In short, I am on staycation.

Staycation kicked off last night, when Jeannie and family invited me to go to dinner with them at Chili's. I won't go into excessive detail, except to say that dinner reminded me that I should never have children and that I should have been more faithful to my New Year's resolution to leave the area when Jeannie's kid starts crying. Here he is with his kid's meal dinner, minutes before the explosion:

ticking time bomb

Less than ten minutes later Jeannie was walking around the parking lot with him and we were getting everything packed into to-go boxes.

Despite the poor beginning, I maintained a freakishly high level of excitement for "Staycation '09: Spring Break Joelapalooza!", because my plan for today was to drive down to Gatlinburg, to go to the Aquarium of the Smokies and to just soak up the town. While I've driven through Gatlinburg a number of times, I've never actually gotten out of the car there. Instead, I've spent a lot of time in Pigeon Forge, the incredibly tacky tiny Vegas five miles down the road. Pigeon Forge is on my "places to visit" list, but I know I would need to do an overnight trip to see everything and squeeze in a couple of shows. Gatlinburg, on the other hand, can be done in a day, because it's like Pigeon Forge concentrated.

Gatlinburg, unlike Pigeon Forge, is inside the boundaries of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This means that instead of building Dollywood's and Christmas Towns and outlet malls, Gatlinburg has had to do the best they can with limited space, and they've done their best to make it as touristy as possible. It's ten stoplights worth of sheer tourist trap awful, and it's wonderful! I walked around town all day with a huge dopey grin on my face, because there was something terrible and wonderful everywhere I looked. The whole town, with its cheap hotels and cabin rentals and resorts, is designed to separate you from your money.

In short, Gatlinburg is full of crap, both figurative, like this dismembered Marilyn Monroe jewelry holder:

the worst

or this racy sign with its strategically placed price tag:

Don't give a....?

and literal crap, like this barrel of crap:


It may be the best crap in town, and you may be able to have it gift wrapped, but crap is still crap.

The businesses in town fall into several types. They stick in your mind because nothing in town is unique. If you see a candy store or a candle shop, you can spot at least two other candy stores or candle shops from where you're standing. One of the main types, not surprising, is the gift shop. They come in "tacky", "odd":

classic blades

and "Southern stereotype":

damn it, tennessee

If they don't have what you like at the gift shops, you can always just get something airbrushed onto a t-shirt:


I passed sixteen airbrushing stores, and there were probably others that I didn't see. Not only can you get any possible design, but they cater to tourists of every size:

7 XL?

I can't even form a mental picture of how large an adult 7 XL shirt must be. I wanted to go in and unfold one, but didn't think they would let me. They also have preprinted, non-airbrushed t-shirts, and the odd cultural mixing of Bible Belt and Redneck Stereotype leads to some hilarious displays:


Yes, if there's one thing Christian girls love, it's t-shirts with jokes about rutting.

Another ubiquitous business is the Old Tyme Photo studio. I took no photos of these, but I passed at least seven, and noticed on the way out of town that one manages to stand out by being a combination Old Tyme Photo studio and Wedding Chapel.

The third major type of business, the mini golf course, has also diversified itself. There's Jungle Golf, Dinosaur Golf, Adventure Golf, themeless mini-golf:

Mini Golf

which manages to stand out from the others by having nothing special, Circus Golf, Blacklight Golf:

golfing mermaid

and several other varieties. Just down the road in Pigeon Forge, they also have Farm Golf, where you golf around cows. It makes me oddly homesick for upstate New York. You could spend all day in Gatlinburg playing minigolf, and it would be like a strange, tacky PGA tour.

The main thing that Gatlinburg is famous for, though, according to everyone around here, is pancakes.

pancake cabin

There are pancake houses, pancake cabins, pancake buffets, pancake pits, and this, the most famous:

the pancake pantry

The Pancake Pantry is the most famous pancake restaurant in Gatlinburg, but I didn't eat there because there was a huge line, all day long. Instead, since I was out being a tourist, I ate somewhere super touristy:

hard rock cafe, gatlinburg

I had the twisted mac and cheese:

twisted mac and cheese

It was good, but not spicy like the waitress warned me it would be. This was the first Hard Rock I've been inside in about five years, and nothing has changed. That's probably why tourists like them so much.

The other thing tourists like, at least in Gatlinburg, is the Ripley's family of attractions. They have a "Believe It Or Not!" museum, a "Mirror Maze", a haunted house adventure, a "Moving Theater":


and the Aquarium of the Smokies, the purpose of my trip:

aquarium of the smokies

At the aquarium I learned that a lot of people don't know how to turn the flash on their digital camera off and like to complain about it (my camera came with instructions, but I guess theirs didn't), that a lot of children run off even when their parents repeatedly say their name but don't actually chase them or try to physically restrain them, and that they might as well not put up those "don't tap the glass" signs because no one is going to tell their kids to stop doing it.

I also took a lot of pictures:

people at the tropical tank

gray and yellow fish

shark overhead

clownfish (2)

scorpion fish (2)



sea dragon

As always, more photos are on my flickr page.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

gardens in the rain

The rain pretty much shot all my plans for the weekend, and then poor planning finish the job. The poor planning was not checking the hours of the place I wanted to go to today to walk around and maybe take pictures, so I drove there only to turn around and drive home. On the way, I decided to stop at the university gardens. Not much is in bloom yet, so I decided to zoom way in on what was there.

holly berries (1)

green cluster

red buds

Since we had rain, there was also a lot of flooding:



There were also some randomly stacked cups and saucers in the herb garden:

cups and saucers (1)

cups and saucers (2)

Even though it wasn't my plan for the day, I still think I got some nice pictures. This one is my favorite:

blue cluster