Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, Gatlinburg TN

The Lodge at Buckberry Creek
Sunday morning after closing the restaurant the evening before, we were not in a big rush to get away from the house because we could not check in at our home for the next two nights, The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, until 4pm and it was only a 7-hour ride away south and west down Interstate 81. If the dogs were uneasy the night before first as Ann packed her things into the Jeep and then as I got home and packed my things, that was nothing compared to early Sunday morning. Both Grace and Charlie were moping around like it was the end of the world.

At 8:30am we got on the road and immediately had to return home to get Ann's purse. That was the only little hitch in our long ride south that proved uneventfully boring. We started with leaves just starting to bud out on the trees at home and hit fairly full leaves by Roanoke. Aside from lots of white dogwoods, swaths of yellow blooming cress in the medians, and thousands of tent caterpillar tents, there wasn't a whole lot to look at zooming down the interstate.

Road Food: Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches
As we cruised the length of Virginia, we snacked on sandwiches that I had made the day before, knowing that there aren't any places along the interstate that serve quick and decent food. The one in the picture is grilled squash, grilled red pepper, grilled onion, arugula, provolone, and pesto. I also made a couple with cream cheese and an olive salad made from olives, giardiniera, olive oil, garlic, and oregano all tossed in the food processor and roughly chopped. Every time I make sandwiches, Ann asks rhetorically, "Why can't we get a good sandwich like this anywhere in Winchester?"

Late afternoon, after crossing the Virginia-Tennessee border at Bristol, we continued down 81 until it seamlessly merged into I-40 heading into Knoxville. We hung a left just shy of Knoxville on US-441 heading through first Sevierville and then Pigeon Forge on the way to Gatlinburg. Although I had read a little bit about the stretch of 441 heading into Gatlinburg, nothing prepared me for the "Holy Putt Putt, Batman!" experience that is the 15-miles of tourist hell leading up to the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I just don't have words to describe the abuse that has been inflicted upon the landscape on this stretch of highway.

Trees, A Sight for Sore Eyes; Leaving Tourist Hell
Just after we passed the infamous Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, we quickly entered the park and the woods and some of our "What exactly have we gotten ourselves into?" doubts eased. It was an easy 7 or 8 minutes to the Lodge at this point. We checked in at the main building and then wound our way up the hill to the building where we were staying.

Viewing Mt. LeConte from our Balcony
The Lodge at Buckberry Creek is beautiful and styles itself as an Adirondack camp in the Smokies. It really is a beautiful property situated up on a hill bordering GSMNP with expansive views of Mt. LeConte. Only five minutes out of Gatlinburg, it seems worlds apart. Our room was extremely comfortable and well appointed and I would certainly go back. The staff were all incredibly friendly and we really felt welcomed.

After checking in and making a dinner reservation for the following evening, we tried a quick nap, but though tired from the road, neither of us could sleep. So we decided to hike down the hill to the creek below, just to get a little walk in. On the way down the hill we saw a trail to an overlook, so we followed it a few hundred feet to find a circular opening in the trees overlooking exactly nothing. It was proving to be quite warm, in the mid 80s, and we were getting hot.

Awesome Pavilion by the Creek
Thankfully as we descended the hill into the trees, it became much, much cooler. As we reached the creek, perhaps 200 feet below the lodge, we could see a path leading upstream towards a really neat pavilion by the creek, which turned to be a tiny little brook tumbling over rocks in the valley of two rhododendron-clad hillsides. Here and there, we found little patches of dwarf crested iris in full bloom, something we rarely see back home.

Buckberry Creek

First of Many Dwarf Crested Iris
Back up the hill and after a shower, we decided to have the cheese, salame, and wine dinner that we brought with us on the balcony watching sun go down playing on Mt. LeConte opposite, watching it go from green to blushed red to dark while being serenaded by an enthusiastic avian cast including a very insistent Rufous-Sided Towhee and a really loud warbler, probably a Yellow Warbler.

Chorizo, Soppressata, Grayson Cheese, and Barolo
Knowing in advance that the Lodge's restaurant is closed on Sunday nights and that dining opportunities in Gatlinburg are limited at best, I brought along a little feast for our dinner. When we checked in, the receptionist told us that the restaurant kitchen would be open that evening because of a special event and asked if we wanted to dine with them that evening. I demurred because at that point after our road sandwiches, I wasn't sure if we were going to be hungry enough to tackle a formal dinner. In retrospect, this was a wise move. More details in tomorrow's post. Fortunately, our room had a little kitchenette that I used to toast the bread for our dinner. It was a great dinner with great company with spectacular views.

Flame Azalea
Included in our spectacular view just below our balcony on the edge of the woods was this flame azalea in full bloom.  Just after the sun went down, I passed straight out at 9pm and slept like a dead thing straight through the night. Welcome to vacation!

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