Since we started this adventure (2 years ago), we knew we would be coming to Tennessee; we just didn't know when. So, once we were planted in Texas for the holidays, Mark and I plotted the route back to Washington, where we would be leaving for Alaska in July. We knew East Tennessee would be our first stop in our planning phase as Mark's younger brother (Marcel) and his wife (Stephanie) live here. We finalized the reservations starting with Pigeon Forge/Sevierville being the first stop.
We pulled into our campground, Riverside Campground, on April 1st for 2 weeks. We landed a nice spot on the Pigeon River. We were also able to connect with our very good friends Bob and Jolene. We met them while doing our Habitat for Humanity build in Hobbs, NM.
So for the next 2 weeks, we ventured out to explore this area, spending time with family and some very dear friends. I learned a lot about a state that I have never really explored. I think I have only been to Tennessee once when I had a connecting flight in Memphis when I was headed to Raleigh to see Andrew.
So, if I could tell you a bit about Pigeon Forge/Sevierville/Gatlinburg area, it's a little touristy; well, let me rephrase that, it's VERY touristy. It's seated very near the Smoky Mountains, and Sevierville is the home to Dolly Parton. Also, while we were here, they had a big car show that brought in a ton of people. To give you an idea, we were driving 9 miles one day, and it took us over 30 minutes. If I can give you any suggestions, visit but don't stay right in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area.
We ventured into Dollywood and spent pretty much the whole day. Mark and I are not ride people, well, at least I'm not. But you can't come to this part of Tennessee and not see Dollywood. The first thing you need to know is, it's not cheap. We went on a Sunday while everyone was in church, so the park was not too crowded. There was a lot to see and do that did not involve hopping on and off rides that go upside down and make you throw up.
We did the Heartsong Theater, where Dolly gives you about a 15-20 minute video of her life growing up in the Smoky Mountains. Even during the sound effects of a thunderstorm, you get the pleasure of being rained on by misting hoses hanging over your head. (I was not so thrilled about that – Traveler Tip: sit on the outside of the rows if trying to avoid getting wet.)
We took in two live shows of some country music. The first was listening to the fiddle (one of my favorite instruments), banjo, and guitar. It was what they call some real "hillibilly" music.
The other live performance we saw was a Christian Gospel Choir which was great, but I was recovering from a migraine, and let me tell you, the volume in there was turned up quite a bit. They were great, and it was delightful to listen to.
The highlight for me was touring Dolly's MH, a 1994 Prevost. If you know anything about motorhomes, it's a "top of the line" coach. Here are the facts that they listed.
Built in: 1994
Interior: Designed by Dolly herself
Size of the coach: 45 feet long – 9 feet wide – 13.5 feet high.
It had a self-contained 17,000-watt generator (Big enough to supply electricity to an average-size home.)
Her bus driver was Don Warden for 15 years.
The tank capacity allowed them to drive from Nashville, Tennessee, to Los Angeles without refueling.
Check out the inside~
She upgraded to a newer, bigger Prevost in 2010 at a price tag of 2.7 Mil. One of the tour guides told us she had just retired that one this last year, and they were trying to determine what they might do with it, including making it into a VRBO or Air BNB onsite at Dollywood.
HATFIELD AND MCCOY DINNER SHOW
We went to this dinner show with Bob and Jolene, and honestly, I had no idea what to expect. We were shuffled in, seated in a great spot, and served a great fried chicken dinner with all the fix' ins. This show was so fun, they had me cracking up, and their effects were terrific.
I had a family sitting next to me who had 4 small children, and they loved it. They set one guy's pants on fire during the show (on stage), and the kids could not stop talking about it. (It looked very realistic.) This show is very family-friendly, humorous, and highly entertaining.
Everyone talked about it (Cades Cove,) so we decided to take a drive. It's an isolated Valley in a section of the Great Smoky Mountains. This was home to many settlers before the formation of the Smoky Mountain National Park (SMNP).
The drive was beautiful, full of scenic landscapes with mountains, creeks, rivers, and wildlife. We kept looking for a bear, as we were told we would see some if we looked hard enough and sure enough, ahead of us was a traffic jam, many people out of their cars gawking at a poor cub that was injured. The Rangers were already there trying to get the looky-loos to leave, but you know how that goes. We just kept driving; they didn't need people there to make it worse. But overall, it was an excellent drive, and I highly recommend it (the best time to go for animal viewing per Marcel & Stephanie is early in the morning).
One night we sat through a tornado warning. Many locals told us they get them all the time, but they don't get the tornado ( I felt that a tornado would come and take us away with our luck the night we were there, but thank God, it didn't happen.)
THE REDNECK COMEDY TOUR BUS
This was another fun event that we did with Bob and Jolene – OMG, the comedian that hosted our tour was hilarious. We loaded this bus with about 25-30 others and took off for Gatlinburg for some moonshine tasting. Have you ever tasted moonshine? I want to know your thoughts.
She poured my first tasting into this little tiny thimble, and I took a small taste; Mark looked at me and said, "you need to just throw your head back and guzzle." Well, that's what I did.
When I came up for air, I thought, "my esophagus would be blistered." That stuff is potent, and it kind of tasted like acetone or turpentine. YUK!
After the initial "throat burner," we got into the flavors, and it started tasting much better. Not as good as my wine, but better than the first one we threw down.
After the moonshine tasting, we drove up to the SMNP, snapped a few pictures, had a few more laughs, and then went to dinner at the Paula Deen Restaurant in Pigeon Forge. It's located on the "Island," and we were given a window seat. You can't go to the south and not try Paula Deen's homestyle cooking "all you can eat."
While in East Tennesse, we experienced some Washington weather, that is for sure; it rained a few days, it was chilly and cold, and there were a few thunderstorms mixed in there too.
Then, of course, we spent quality time with Marcel and Stephanie, having the time of our lives being tourists. It was Marcel's birthday and, of course, celebrated that by spending the day with them and having a wonderful dinner (Thai Food) that Marcel chose. We also spent time just visiting, catching up, and hearing about their adventures since they moved out to Tennessee from Southern California. We loved the time and realized that it had been too long. If anything, I have learned from this, don't put things off, do it now. Family and dear friends are too important; spend quality time and enjoy every minute.
Bob and Jolene departed a few days before us, so we had a farewell dinner and drinks. I love them so much and enjoyed every minute we spent together. We took pictures, laughed, talked about our kids, and made a date to meet up again when we arrived in Pella, Iowa, in about a month.
Then, of course, we went over to visit Marcel and Stephanie to say goodbye; we did enjoy our time, and believe it or not, we have set another date to come back. The first thing on our agenda is playing "Cards for Humanity" and taking shots of Fireball. We tentatively made a date around July 4, 2023.
(Note – as we started planning our trip for 2023, it looks like we will stop back by in Tennessee more towards 2024)
Leaving Knoxville on April 15, our next destination was Nashville. Being raised by a mom that owned every Johnny Cash album he ever made and a dad that insisted on dancing only to country music whenever we went out; Country music was a big deal in my family. When we arrived at the Nashville KOA, the first thing on our list was to book our Trolley Tour.
OLD TOWN TROLLEY TOURS
We hopped on close to 11:00 am and drove all over Music City. One of the first highlights was….
Honky Tonk Highway - Nashville's Honky Tonk Highway, located on Lower Broadway, is a row of honky tonks pumping live music into the streets from 10 am to 3 am. One of the best parts: it doesn't cost a thing, which means no cover charge. Driving down this iconic street was chilling. Bars were open; music was blaring; the roads were filled with people. It was about 12:30 pm by this time, and the alcohol was pouring, and people were drinking.
We drove down Music Row - Home to record label offices, radio stations, and recording studios; music Row is at the heart of Nashville's country music industry.
RCA Victor Studio - Built in 1957, RCA Studio B became the birthplace of the "Nashville Sound," a style characterized by background vocals and strings that helped establish Nashville as an international recording center.
Starstruck Studio - Starstruck Studios is one of the most iconic buildings on Nashville's Music Row. The culmination of Reba McEntire & Narvel Blackstock's success in the music industry led to 2 state-of-the-art recording studios & a broadcast room.
Projects Include Kelly Clarkson, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, and Danielle Bradbery.
Oceanway Studio - WHO has recorded at Ocean Way Nashville? Blake Shelton, Beck, George Strait, Lionel Richie, Vanessa Williams, Bob Seger, Dierks Bentley, and Dolly Parton.
Belmont University – (School of Music) Famous Alumni include Frankie Jonas, Trisha Yearwood, DJ Qualls, Tyler Hubbard & Steven Curtis Chapman. We were also told that the Florida Georgia line members attended this University and met here before forming their band.
Bobby's Idle Hour Tavern – We were told that this is the Tavern where Garth Brooks created the idea for one of his songs. He went to this bar one night, forgot his wallet, and went back to the kitchen to ask someone working there if they would give him the money to pay his tab because of that incident; that's where the song "Friends in Low Places" was born.
Hume Fogg Academy – A very prestigious high school located in Nashville.
After the Trolley Ride, we walked down Honky Tonk Highway and ate at Jason Aldean's Restaurant. We had a beer and stuffed our faces, and then we were off to visit the….
Walk of Fame – This is just a tiny portion of a park dedicated to plaques placed in the cement where you can walk around and see who's "important" in the Music City. I snapped a few pictures of some big names that hold a special place in my heart.
One night, we went to a local bar and listened to some live music. We enjoyed some wings and a few beers and watched people as they became intoxicated, but it was a fantastic night.
NASHVILLE FARMER'S MARKET
When we did our trolley ride, we found a few places that we wanted to revisit. One of them being the Nashville Farmers Market. Since it was a weekday, there weren't a lot of vendors there. We still walked through and admired all the plants and how fantastic the setup was.
They had food vendors, vendors selling fun stuff, and a ton of plants. Also, a huge bonus was the parking lot that was out front that was FREE!!! Free parking is always a joy when coming to a place like this. We walked around and then decided to head on down the street to the Marathon Motor Works.
MARATHON MOTOR WORKS
Marathon Motor Works was an early automobile manufacturer based in Tennessee. It grew out of an earlier company called Southern Engine and Boiler Works, founded in 1889, making industrial engines and boilers in Jackson, Tennessee.
As you walked through, there were some original memorabilia from the past, but they have added some high-end stores and places to eat. Again, as we visited on a weekday, the area was pretty empty. However, we found a shop that sold a lot of cool stuff, and of course, I had to buy a few things. How cute are these?
Just a great place to walk through and look at everything.
We walked across the street to the car museum, strolled there, and enjoyed looking at the old cars and reading history.
GRAND OLE OPRY
The highlight for me in Nashville was the Grand Ole Opry show. Not sure what to expect, we headed on over, not far from our campsite—got our picture taken in front of a giant guitar and wandered in to grab our seat. There wasn't a bad seat in the whole place, even though we were way up in the nose bleed section.
But once the show started, time just flew by. The lineup was spectacular, and listening to everyone was indeed a treat. If you decide to go to Nashville, I recommend putting this on your "Must-Do" list.
On April 20, we pulled into Memphis, Tennessee. We had a few people ask us why we wanted to see Memphis? My answer was, "Why not?" Others tried to tell us that the area near the city was not great, we decided to see for ourselves.
We stayed at the campground Tom Sawyer's RV Park, located right on the Mississippi River in West Memphis, located in Arkansas. (Sound confusing? It was a little different to me, but O-Well!) I could take Izzy out for a walk and see the barges trudging up & down the river. One day I saw a Cruise Ship sailing up, not like the ones that sail the Caribbean, but it was one that you spent a few days on. Mark said you could get on it in New Orleans and sail up the river to St. Paul, MN. I didn't confirm that, but Mark is always right, so I didn't question it much! (WINK!)
I have always been enamored with this river; I'm not sure why after seeing it up close. It's a very dirty river; it's not a river you can swim in; the current is powerful, and the undertow is worse, so the primary use of the enormous waterway is what I call a "working river." There's a ton of money made on this waterway.
When we think of Elvis, we think of Memphis as his home. In Memphis, that is not how it's seen. According to the people here, Elvis was from Tupelo, MS, and migrated to Memphis. Even though he was 13 years old when he came, he's still not considered a hometown boy.
Touring Graceland was quite an adventure, and I am delighted that we did it. It is a giant tourist trap, but it was quite an experience to see the house and hear the stories. As you can see by the pictures, the home is still in its 70's style with the dark green shag carpet on both the floor and the ceiling. The dark wood and olive/yellow kitchen style.
There was a whole hallway of nothing but objects and gadgets in his home, and I snapped a picture of a TV remote that I remember one of my good friends growing up having the same one. I remember her and I (Tracy Bussabarger) lying on her mom and dad's bed, changing channels with a remote. Now you know, in the '70s, that was unheard of. So, Tracy, you can rate yourself right up there with the Presley family! (HA!)
Elvis and his parents are buried at the Estate in Memphis. Their tombstones were lying in the backyard near the pool. One fun fact that I learned about Elvis is he was a twin; did you know that? Neither did we. His twin brother (Jessie) was stillborn.
After viewing the Estate, you can go through the car museum that shows many of the cars Elvis owned. It was fun walking around and looking at them.
One of the most iconic streets in America. It is three blocks of nightclubs, restaurants, and shops in the heart of downtown Memphis and a melting pot of delta blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, R&B, and gospel.
We walked the street on a Friday evening. We went in and had dinner at the BB King Blues Club. We had some food, and a few beers listened to great music, and were home by 8:00 pm. I was not about to spend hours down there hanging out, drinking because I didn't want to pay for it in the morning.
I always wanted to do this, so we booked a 1.5 hr trip one afternoon and headed out. We had a narrator named Jordon, who was hilarious. He kept the adventure fun and light. We just went out on the Mississippi, leaving downtown Memphis. He gave us a little history of the river. He talked about the homes sitting up on the ledge overlooking the river and gave us some interesting facts about being on a Tug Boat chugging up the Mississippi River.
For example, there is a grocery store on the river that you can call your order into, and they will bring it out to your tug as you continue pushing your barge(s) on the Mississippi. The same goes for gas. They try to make it easy and convenient to keep moving but still get the things you need to keep making money.
BRASS PRO SHOP
You are probably asking why this is a big deal. Well, if you saw it, you would know why. It is shaped like a giant Pyramid. We met up with a friend Mark had met in the Navy (Brad), and along with his girlfriend (Sherry), we took the elevator to the top and snapped some pictures. My fear of heights always got to me, and I didn't walk out to the edge; I stood back except for the picture of us. We enjoyed the views and of course the company.
We then drove to Central BBQ, had dinner; it was fabulous BBQ, drank a few beers, and talked until about 8 pm. Then we went over to the Cheese Cake Corner and got the most amazing cheesecake I have ever tasted. Cheesecake is good, but I would never describe it as fantastic or amazing! Well, the cheesecake here is both. Try it; you won't be disappointed.
This was the location where Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. In 1991 this hotel was turned into the Civil Rights Museum.
Dr. Martin Luther King stayed in room 306 when he was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray. I was seven years old, living so far away, but today seeing the sight and realizing the meaning behind Dr. King and what he stood for makes me think he would be proud of his legacy in seeing how far we have come. Some may feel differently than I do, and that's ok.
We hung out for a few more days after our adventures. We enjoyed the campground; the weather was rainy and damp. On April 27, we loaded up and headed out for Missouri.
Our time in Tennessee was spectacular; some parts I loved, other parts not so much. But if you have ever thought of visiting this beautiful state, do it? There's a fine line between warmer weather and fewer people. I would not suggest coming before April. We did have chilly weather and the rain; that's for a different day. It does rain in Tennessee.
But you can't go wrong, there is a ton to see and do, and the overall vibe is pretty laid back.
Again, thank you for following along as we journey through this fantastic country, we call home.
The Mississippi River will always have its own way, no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise. ~ Mark Twain