Tennessee Smokies

Tennessee SmokiesThe Tennessee Smokies play their home games in Kodak, Tn and are the Double-A minor league affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs. Located between Knoxville and Sevierville, Tn in the small town of Kodak is Smokies Park. Smokies Park opened in 2000 and can hold up to 8,000 spectators. Fans knew the team as the Knoxville Smokies prior to 2000.

The “Smokies” nickname refers to the Great Smoky Mountains, which the town of Kodak lays at the foot of. The Smoky Mountains got their name because of its hazy mist that gives the appearance of smoke rising from the mountains. It was named “Shaconage” for the blue-gray haze by the Cherokee centuries ago.

Prior to 2005, the Smokies were the Double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals and prior to that were affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cardinals later purchased the El Paso Diablos, which had been the Arizona Diamondbacks’ AA affiliate, and the Diamondbacks retained the Smokies as their new AA affiliate. The Chicago Cubs reached a deal with the Smokies through the 2008 season on September 21, 2006. That deal was renewed before the 2009 season and ran until this year – 2012 being the final year of this current deal.

The Smokies’ 2013 regular season schedule was released recently and starts out with a road trip to Florida. On Thursday, April 4, the Smokies travel to play the Pensacola Blue Wahoos before opening at Smokies Park on Wednesday, April 10, in a series that matches them with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Tennessee Smokies

The team’s home finale is set to match the Smokies against the Mobile BayBears on Tuesday, August 27 before concluding the season with another divisional series against the Chattanooga Lookouts on September 2.

As for the best time to catch the team at Smokies Park this coming 2013 season, there are two 10-game homestands. One falls in April and the other in August. The Smokies will also stay out on the road for 10 days in row in May.

For all you fans that get holidays off, be sure to mark these dates on the calendar: May 27 vs. the Huntsville Stars on Memorial Day, June 16 vs. the Mississippi Braves on Father’s Day and July 4 vs. the Huntsville Stars for the Fourth of July Celebration. These dates are also usually promotion nights so be on the lookout for that information as well. As for other holiday dates, Tennessee will be in Jackson for Mother’s Day (May 12) and Chattanooga for Labor Day (September 2) respectively.

In all, 140 games will be played as part of the 2013 season with start times being announced at another time. For additional information, please call the Smokies front office at (865) 286-2300.

Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock is one of North Carolina’s most majestic state parks offering spectacular views of the North Carolina Mountains as well as Lake Lure. Chimney Rock’s 75-mile views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure attract visitors the world over seeking that perfect picture in the mountains.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock’s numerous hiking trails and natural attractions offer the best of the mountains in one place. Hickory Nut Falls trail offers one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern half of the United States with its 404 foot falls. Hickory Nut Falls was so thought of that filmmakers from the movie The Last of the Mohicans staring Daniel Day-Lewis filmed the movie’s epic fight scene at the falls.

The park also offers a number of amenities including rock climbing instruction, a gift shop and numerous events including bird walks, dulcimer workshops, homeschool programs, and much more. In more recent years they’ve even helped provide the setting for a number of outdoor weddings at the Hickory Nut Falls and atop Chimney Rock.

Chimney RockPlan on getting to the top of Chimney Rock? It’s a three-mile drive up a winding road to a large parking area and an elevator ride to the top. Or just do what most choose to do and climb 500 steps to Chimney Rock.

Want to throw your boots on and give it your all on some of the park’s hiking trails? Check out these three great hikes:

Hickory Nut Falls Trail: An “easy” trail, hike the path to the bottom of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls waterfall. It’s a 1.5-mile roundtrip in a forest setting with a handful of inclined hikes. Good for hikers seeking wildflower opportunities, birding and rhododendron. A great summer hike that leads to a cool falls.

The Outcroppings: Follow this network of stairs from the parking area to the Chimney. Along the way, check out the views from Vista Point. Strenuous with 500 steps, but all ages and fitness levels can enjoy the challenge with many places to stop along the way.
Skyline Trail: At the staircase leading up to the Chimney, find the beginning of the Skyline Trail. After climbing quite a few stairs, the trail levels out as you walk along the cliff with dramatic views. Stop at the Opera Box for great views of the Chimney and Lake Lure and continue up to see the Devil’s Head and end at Exclamation Point, the highest elevation at Chimney Rock, for breathtaking views.

Four Seasons Trail: Get your heart pumping on this short trail with a 400-foot elevation gain. The trail winds through hardwood forest, rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets and abundant wildflowers as well as rare and indigenous plants, some species not found along the Park’s other trails.

Great Woodland Adventure: This whimsical trail is perfect for kids and kids-at-heart. Twelve discovery stations along the ½ mile loop give a peak into the lives of the many animals that call the Park home. All sculptures were handcrafted by Western North Carolina artisans.

Ober Gatlinburg

Great skiing isn’t just found out west or in the northeast portion of the country… A trip to Gatlinburg, TN and the Great Smoky Mountains means you can enjoy skiing and snowboarding in the heart of the south as well!

Ober GatlinburgThe Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort has been known for years as a place to visit for ski-enthusiasts in Gatlinburg, Tn, offering guests numerous slopes with which to test their skills. In all, they can experience skiing or snowboarding on eight different trails, and at contrasting levels of difficulty. You’ll also get a bird’s eye view of the Smoky Mountains, with spectacular views of snowy peaks, wintry forests, and illuminated skylines around each turn!

Do you’re just starting out in the recreational sport, or have never skied; it doesn’t matter, the staff is here to help! The Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School, at the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, can provide guests with lessons for individuals or groups. This is a fun way to bond together as a group, or a family.

And if you don’t have a pair of skis, Ober has you covered. Their rental shop has everything you need – clothing and gear available for rental in a variety of sizes, for both kids and adults!

Ober GatlinburgDuring the spring and summer months, Ober Gatlinburg’s Amusement park is filled with fun and excitement for the entire family! Enjoy the Alpine Slide, indoor ice arena, and scenic chairlift. Who needs snow to have fun? Take a trip down the waterslide, push some quarters in the arcade, ride the bumper cars, and do some bungee jumping, Oh, and I failed to mention the velcro jump wall, the shooting range, and mini golf course!

Now, if you plan on skiing in Gatlinburg, Tn at Ober during your next vacation, then you have two options of getting up to the resort. You can either ride the aerial tramway (which happens to be the largest aerial tramway in America) from downtown Gatlinburg or you can drive up the mountain on Ski Mountain Road. Simply turn at traffic light No. 9 on the south end of Gatlinburg (closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and follow the winding road (Ski Mountain Road) all the way to the top. And be sure to bring some cash with you to park once you get there. The earlier you go the better. There are three tiers of parking lots at the resort and if you get there early, you have a better shot at getting a parking spot at the top near the resort. Otherwise, it’s a short hike from the lower parking lots, but the locals call that the warm up!


Corn Mazes

What’s better than the fall colors cascading down the mountains as summer slowly turns into crisp autumn nights? I know what most of you were thinking and that’s nothing really, especially when you’re talking about fall. And that’s OK, but for some fall brings the outdoor fun of corn mazes in all different shapes and sizes. In the Great Smoky Mountains, there are quite a few of these attractions beginning with the Kyker Farms Corn Maze in Sevierville. It’s a great way to enjoy the autumn air and snuggle up to fire with smores and hot chocolate afterward.

So on with our list, here are some of the best corn mazes, as well as haunted corn mazes, in the Smokies – Tennessee and North Carolina:

Kyker's Corn Maze

Kyker Farms Corn Maze – Located in Sevierville, TN, this 5 acre maze runs from September 21 – October 28 with a haunted portion opening in October, running on Friday and Saturday nights through the end of the month. Kyker also features a “Tater Tot” maze for small children, a pumpkin patch, hay rides and much much more. There is also a petting critter barn and straw crawl for the kids. Check out Kyker Farm’s Website for up to date times and events. Located at 938 Alder Branch Road, Sevierville, TN  37876. Phone: (865)679-4848

Fender Farms Corn Maze

Fenders Farm Corn Maze – Head northeast to Tennessee’s oldest town – Jonesborough, and experience the corn maze at Fender’s Farm. The maze opens on September 14 and runs through November 14. There, you’ll find a haunted maze, animal shows, playground, milking parlor, calf roping, a cow train, horseshoes, wagon rides, and a zipline. If you can’t find something to do and entertain you at Fender Farms, well, you’re out of luck. Located at 254 Highway 107 in Jonesborough, TN or visit their website at fendersmaze.com.

Blue Ridge Corn Maze

Blue Ridge Corn Maze – The Blue Ridge Corn Maze in Brevard, NC boasts 6 acres of “Corn-fusion”, opens in July and operates through the end of October. *By appointment only July – August. They claim that their haunted maze is one of the best in the western North Carolina area. Located at 1605 Everett Rd. in Pisgah Forest, NC, they have tents for large parties and pumpkins and Black Angus beef for sale. Visit their website at blueridgecornmaze.com.

Eliada's Corn Maze

Eliada’s Annual Corn Maze – Eliada’s annual corn maze is a 12 acre maze and Western North Carolina’s largest. Besides a maze, come play with corn cannons, take a hay ride, a cow train, play in the giant sandbox filled with corn, ride a giant tube slides, and so much more! The maze will open September 7th and remain open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October 28th. The maze will open from 4-9 on Fridays, 10-9 on Saturdays, and 11-8 on Sundays. Contact Nora Scheff at 828.254.5356 x 303 or via email at nscheff@eliada.org.

Miniature Golf

Davy Crockett Mini GolfThere is something about a good game of miniature golf that brings people together.  Whether you are looking for a day out with the kids or you are a local looking for a nice afternoon out with friends, there is just a togetherness that is formed when you take to the mini-links with friends and family.  The Smoky Mountain area has many options when it comes to your mini-golf needs.  Standard courses, themed courses and even some venues that have a lot more to offer than just golf, both sides of the Smokies have mini-golf and they are all fantastic.

HillBilly GolfGatlinburg – This is one of the oldest in Gatlinburg.  You start out taking a ride up the mountain to start your golf experience.  With two courses, Hillbilly Golf has been making history for families for decades.  Located right as you get into Gatlinburg, near traffic light 1, It is easy to find and easy to walk to.

Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure GolfPigeon Forge – Lost Treasure Golf is located in the center of Pigeon Forge.  Two courses of adventurous fun, this course is built around all the adventure movie fun that you ever saw in the movies.  This venue is easy to spot, look for the plane that hangs in the air over the courses and the train that takes you to the start of each course.

Tropical Gardens Mini-GolfAsheville – In Asheville you can step into a tropical setting as you participate in a great round or two of mini-golf.  Animals from the jungle dot the landscape as you work your way through the challenging courses.  The landscaping is fantastic and may actually be as big a draw as the courses themselves. Of course, you can’t putt with a plant.

Old MacDoanald’s Farm Mini-GolfSevierville – Right in front of Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall is Old MacDoanald’s Farm Mini-Golf.  This is a Ripley’s attraction and they have brought their knowhow in making family attractions into the creation of one of the best min-golf courses that you will ever play.  Three courses at one location means that you can spend the better part of an afternoon playing golf while the shopper sin your party shop and shop and shop.

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater RaftingIt is no surprise with the amount of water that flows out of the Smokies, that whitewater rafting is a hugely popular pastime in the Smokies.  Companies occupy almost every major river from the North Carolina side of the Smokies to Tennessee.  Find an outfitter in any of the towns or at shops like the Nantahala Outdoor Center that line the roads.  Here are some things that all of the whitewater rafting companies have in common:

  • Expert Guides – You are not going to be left to your own devices while you are on the river.  Each boat gets its own trained expert guide.  They are there to make sure that not only do you enjoy the trip in safety but to guide your boat so that you get to experience all that the river has to offer.
  • Some of the rivers are controlled by dams  – The whitewater rafting companies depend on the water control from those dams to make sure that you have a great trip.  These companies send boats down the river have been working with these dams for years, they know the best times to go so that you have an amazing experience.
  • Transportation – You park at their office.  They load you and your family and friends onto a bus.  The boats go on top, you go inside.  They drive you to the point that you will start on the river.  When you have finished the trip, soaked and out of breath from the fun that you have had, they pick you up again and bring you back to your vehicle that has been parked in security at their office.
  • Know what to expect – If this is our first whitewater trip or your first time down a new river, it is nice to know what to expect as you step into the boat.  You will know turn by turn, from the discussion you have in the outfitters before you start and from the guide in the boat what is coming next.  This knowledge won’t keep you from feeling the adrenaline surge of dropping into the rapids but it is nice to know what to expect.

Each of the rivers has its own nature and terrific qualities.  The turns, the rapids the structure of the river change day to day and at times if the water is right, the amount of adventure might be double what it was the last time you were on that river.  Find the whitewater company you like and try every river they have at their disposal.  Explore the rivers of the Smokies.  Get wet and have a blast!

Horn in the West

Horn in the WestHorn in the West,” created by Kermit Hunter, is the nation’s oldest Revolutionary War drama. It tells the story of Daniel Boone and the first people to settle the hills of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Since 1952, Horn in the West has told a story of struggle set against the backdrop of the American Revolution. It’s a struggle for freedom, family and country.

Throughout the years, thousands of cast members have taken part in the story. Three key roles – that of Daniel Boone, Dr. Geoffrey Stuart, and the Reverend Isaiah Sims, have come highlight the outdoor drama that takes place every summer at the Daniel Boone Amphitheatre in Boone, NC.

Horn in the WestThe settlers who ventured to the Blue Ridge Mountains seeking freedom and escape from British tyranny is the main crux of play and what the action centers around. Stuart, a British physician of note, is brought to the Carolinas in order to better understand smallpox and the beginnings of this devastating epidemic. Along with Stuart are his wife, Martha, and Jack, their teenage son.

In May of 1771, “Regulators” – a colonial gang, challenge the British authorities with violent resistance. These rebels are eventually captured, along with Stuart, who along with Regulators fought tooth and nail against the British. Now, it’s Stuart who must save his son and take back his family name.

Through scenes of romance, toil, and perseverance, the Stuart Family and the small Western North Carolina community begin to flourish behind the leadership of the doctor, and Rev. Sims. It’s the doctor who wages a friendship between settlers and the Cherokee Indians. With British officials pushing for war between the Cherokee and the settlers, Dr. Stuart’s medical training helps forge a bond between the native Indians and the villagers. Nane’hi, daughter of a Cherokee Chief, and Daniel Boone, also play vital roles in maintaining the freedom of the mountain settlement.

For Stuart it also becomes an inner battle he must wage for the love of a son and his loyalty to his home country of England. In the end, the doctor, Jake, and the entire community start out on the long trek to King’s Mountain. It’s there that the future of a new nation, and a free nation, begin.

Having begun in mid-June and running until mid-August, the Horn observed its 62nd consecutive production season this past summer of 2012.

Blue Valley Experimental Forest

The Blue Valley Experimental Forest was established in 1964.  The purpose behind this forest was to study the habitat and growth of the white pine that dominates the some of the mountain sides in the southern Appalachians.  Part of the reason this exact piece of land was chosen was due to the amount of decomposed granite that existed in the ground and what affects it might have on the white pine forests.  The Blue Valley Experimental Forest is still a haven for researcher wanting to do research and experiments in pristine forest land.

Blue Valley Experimental Forest MapThe white pine can be seen throughout the southern Appalachian mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains.  This hardwood tree is a native tree to the area that loves both the altitude and the climate of these mountain ecosystems.  The white pine has adapted over time to people moving into the area, heavy logging in some areas and changes to the precipitation and resources in the ground as well.

One of the reasons for choosing the Blue Valley Experimental Forest area was the amount of decomposed granite in the land itself. This decomposed granite has changed the chemical makeup of the land and it is termed as ‘infertile.’  In this area, the trees are suffering due to the harsh chemical content of the soil.  Researchers are seeing what can be done to save this forest, they are studying the effects of the decomposed granite and this ongoing research is bringing them closer to understanding the way that this hardy, hardwood tree has survived and flourished in other areas in the Appalachians.

Currently, the researchers of the Blue Valley Experimental Forest are studying the effects of single tree selection and cutting and underburning.  Single Tree Selection is the removal of trees that do not fit the structure of the forest.  In other words, trees that are much older, or much younger than the rest of the forest are removed to bolster the rest of the forest.  The theory being that a tree that does not fit the silviculture of the forest might be harming the forest as a whole.  Cutting and underburning is the act of removing parts of the forest and burning out the forest floor to give the trees a better area to grow in.  The Blue Valley Experimental Forest may, in time, prove to be the savior of the white pine forests in the state of North Carolina and in the southern Appalachians themselves.

Elk Knob State Park

Elk Knob State ParkElk Knob is one of the newer state parks in the state of North Carolina.  Located near the New River, the land for this park was donated in 2003 and was soon after given to the park service in North Carolina to care for the land.  This park, primarily, protects one of the amphibolite peaks in western North Carolina.  The park service now protects this area and keeps it from being developed so that generations to come can visit the resources of the southern Appalachians.

Elk Knob is named, obviously, for the elk herds that roamed the lands under its panoramic view.  Thousands of years ago, the native people of the area that would be called the Cherokee, hunted the elk that numbered in the thousands.  Though the elk has been moved on, the view over the surrounding valleys are still there.  Elk Knob is the second tallest peak in Watauga County, standing 5,520 feet.  It is easy to see when you stand at the top of this mountain the reason why it might have been an elk herd tracking point for the Cherokee.

While you are Elk Knob, you can go camping, hiking or bring the family for a picnic.  And there is even something a little different about Elk Knob.  Due to the altitude and the terrain, you will be able to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the frozen winter wonderland.  While many of the other parks are closed during the winter, the park service tries to keep Elk Knob open so that people can enjoy a winter time activity that is usually off limits in the national park.

Elk Knob State ParkAnother unique aspect the Elk Knob offers to the visitors that come to the area each year is the chance to take some great photos of the wildflowers that carpet the floor of the mountainsides.  Whether you are a professional photography or strictly an amateur, the wildflowers that come out in the spring will keep you guessing as to where you would like to point your camera.  And trust me, you will see professionals crawling along the landscape looking for tat perfect shot as well.

Pay a visit to Elk Knob the next time you are in western North Carolina.  It is a park that keep changing every time you turn around.  They are constantly improving the area and adding more and more activities.  Visit it at different times throughout the year and see how the season effect not only what you can do but the way that the landscape looks as well.

Indian Mountain State Park

Indian Mountain State ParkIt is no surprise that at one point the mountains in Tennessee felt the effects of strip mining.  Jellico Mountain, which towers over Indian Mountain State Park was once the site of a strip mine.  The state of Tennessee decided to reclaim this land see if they could make it a recreational area for the citizens of the state.  Today it is one of the most beautiful of the state parks in East Tennessee.  With plenty of activities and scenery galore, there is always something to do at Indian Mountain.

Jellico Mountains was transferred to the possession of the United States in the early 1880s from the Cherokee .  At this same time a high quality form of coal was discovered on Jellico Mountain.  This came to be known as Jellico coal.  Mining operations commenced.  Soon after, the railroad arrived and the strip mining of the area started.  Campbell County became the highest producer of coal in Tennessee.  By the 50s surface mining was the preferred method of mining, underground mining having been the best option before this point. At this time, Saxton Coal Company operated the mine that was located where Indian Mountain State Park is now.  Jellico was left with a strip of land that was virtually unusable.

Or was it?

Indian Mountain State ParkThe city of Jellico began to ask the question: what can we do with this land?  They worked with state and federal agencies and after they obtained the rights to the land, they started to make improvements.  They took an almost completely denuded strip of land and have turned it into a recreational area that is second to none.  They have turned what was once and eye sore into a place of beautiful scenery and outdoor activity for all the people of East Tennessee and the country to enjoy.

Today you can camp overnight in one of the 49 fully equipped campsites, you can hangout with your family and friends in one of the picnic pavilions, swim in the swimming pool or enjoy any of the hiking trails.  The ponds that were transformed from pits in the days of the mining company into ponds that are stocked and have become truly great fishing areas.  Stocked with bluegill, large-mouth bass, crappie and catfish. Indian Mountain State Park is a great place to come and hang out in the countryside, enjoying the sunshine and beauty or the natural surroundings in a place that has been brought back from the edge of nothingness.