The third day in Gatlinburg found us skipping breakfast at the HIE for a heavier brunch at the Log Cabin Pancake House across the street from the hotel. A small plaque on the door of the log cabin states some of the wood was reclaimed from pioneer homes elsewhere. Needless to say, on a Sunday morning, the restaurant was jam-packed with customers but we didn’t have a wait despite this. The menu offered a variety of pancakes and waffles so we chose to go with them. The service was very efficient and the food was good.

We left Gatlinburg to travel to a special 11 mile loop at Cades Cove. It’s about an hour away from downtown Gatlinburg. What made the drive interesting was the beauty of the road as we twisted and turned our way to the Cove Loop.

There was a small information kiosk at the entrance to the loop with maps, books, some basic information about the area. We got a map and tour book and took off. The Loop is 11 miles long and one way. There are two areas on the loop where one can cut across the loop. The setting is very idyllic blending nature with human achievement. A huge testament to the people who came before us and learnt to live with and on the land.

At the John Oliver house, the first stop along the way, set away from the road, we marveled at the ingenuity of the construction. The logs were stacked together with notched corners that needed no nails or pegs. Gravity helped to hold them together. Mud helped to fill the chinks in between keeping out the elements. The home boasted a loft reached by narrow stairs. The interior of the house was dark with a stone chimney on the lower floor. There were two doors leading from the home and a small patio on the back of the home. To think that this home had once held a large family that lived in the lap of nature was an eye opener. How difficult their lives must have been and yet how lucky they were to be surrounded by such beauty day in and day out.

The other homes that we visited as we traveled the loop showed progress, with addition of more rooms or better architecture, larger size, more windows and doors. The Elijah Oliver house even had a so-called “stranger room” to accommodate overnight visitors.

After visiting the Methodist Church, and the Elijah Oliver place, we stopped at the Cable Mill visitor center. The Cable Mill area waking tour is nearby and well laid out. The Mill itself is an original to this area whereas other buildings were moved here to give an idea of such a settlement.

The Blacksmith Shop was not accessible but Sonny JJ found the tools and the final products displayed very exciting. Guess one couldn’t get along without being on great terms with the blacksmith! He was such a vital part of the community.

The cantilever barn was a simple engineering marvel to protect animal and equipment. The mill is still in use today and very interesting to watch the huge granite stones grinding the grains into flour although it is a relatively slow process.

We enjoyed visiting the Gregg Cable house, the corn crib and the drive-through barn on the complex. The Sorghum mill where molasses were made is in the middle of a large clearing. As with other events like apple peeling, quilt making, molasses making was a social event involving the community. I could imagine the men and women gathered around with food, beverages, gossip and laughter making a fun day out of an otherwise hard life.

Recreated communities like the Cove loop are a great window into the lifestyle in the 1800s. Places like these makes one realise that a strong family and community contribute heavily to healthy, happy lives. That, at the end of the day, it’s not the size of the house but the strength of the hearth and heart that makes or breaks our life.

We stopped at the Dan Lawson Place and the Tipton Place before making our way back to Gatlinburg. The Cove loop is not only informative but a great way to bond with nature. There were many, many photo opportunities but it was the soul cleansing, crisp air and the blue mountains around that I carried in my heart. On some busy difficult day in the future, I can fly away to the Cove in my mind’s eye to relive the beauty and peace that this land engenders.

The family was famished by the time we returned to the hotel. After freshening up, we walked to the Smoky Mountain Brewery for dinner. We had tried to eat there on the first evening but the crowd was heavy and the wait very long. That Sunday evening, though, the seating was immediate. Mr. JJ tried the TN microbrewed Appalachian Pale Ale and liked it. The Garlic bread was soft and chewy without being overpowered by the garlic. We personalised a veggie pizza for us. Sonny JJ and Missy JJ shared a Margherita pizza.

With a sumptuous meal under the belt, we explored the little shopping complex in which the Brewery is located. Most of the shops were closed but I found the Smoky Mountain Dreams still open. The store carries natural organic candles and soaps, made in nearby Cosby, TN. The soaps, bath and body products and the candles are handmade and use all natural ingredients. I also bought two pairs of earrings that were simple yet elegant and cost under $5 each. The soaps have a natural heady aroma that scents our bathroom everyday.

Since it was still light out, we decided to take a ride up the SkyLift. The lift is an open two-seater that winds its way up nearly 1800 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain. I suppose for people with fear of heights, this would be nerve-wracking. My main concern was holding on tight to my sandals! Missy JJ and I shared a seat and it was great to have a few minutes to have my teenager to myself. For some reason, it seemed people going down were more relaxed than the ones going up. Wouldn’t you think it would be the other way around?

The views from the top of the mountain did not disappoint. The surrounding mountains have a magical quality in the evening sun. There are binoculars for a closer look. I felt that the souvenir/gift shop took away from some of the magical quality of the place. But such is the nature of our lives these days.

The ride is open until 11 pm in summer and 10 pm in the fall, for those inclined to view the lights. Personally, I felt part of the thrill of the ride was the climb up the incline, the way the lift crosses the streets, the river as it makes its way up.

Back at the hotel, we made reservations for a ziplining adventure the following morning before retiring for the day. The children helped us pack and we were ready to head out the next day.