The next day dawned much brighter. It was so lovely to watch the clouds roll over the mountains. We had a rough plan for the day, so got up and out fairly early.
Previously we had not noticed our closeness to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We visited the north of this park almost two years ago, when we went up to Pigeon Forge / Gaitlinburg. This time, we had to travel through Cherokee to reach the park from the south. Cherokee was not much to look at, particularly in the off season. A few tourist shops, but most looked quite run down.
We drove a couple of miles into the park, before coming to Ocanaluftee Visitors Centre. When we visited Cade's Cove previously, we did not stop at the visitor centre. We now realize what a mistake this was. The visitors centers are a wealth of information, and worth stopping at, even if we do have to make sure the boys don't wreck anything! As well as being a visitor centre, Ocanaluftee has a Mountain Farm Museum. This is a collection of historic log buildings from throughout the Smokys and preserved on one site (source). The boys had great fun running through the buildings and exploring. Thank goodness for wellies!
The boys exploring and plotting
Paul had been researching other things we could do in the area, and we noticed a waterfall not too far from the park. We took a little drive, and eventually found it. Mingo Falls can be found on the Cherokee Indian Reserve, just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We parked the car, and began the ascent.
There are many, many steps covering just under half a mile. I have since discovered that it is considered moderate in difficulty, but our 3 boys (2 in wellies) managed it ok. Seb was a little slow.
It was certainly worth it, absolutely beautiful.
We took a nice slow walk down, and the boys attempted to posed for some photos at the bottom. Ha!
We drove out of the park, and headed back towards Cherokee in search of some lunch. We hadn't passed anywhere that looked appetizing, so fast food was on the cards. I then noticed a sign for Johnny Rockets Restaurant, on the same sign as an advertisement for a casino, so we drove out to have a look.
Turned out the restaurant was in the hotel/ casino complex. This building is completely out of place here. It is quite an eye sore! I am sure it brings great revenue to the area, but looking at the buildings around the complex, I am not sure how well that the wealth is put to use.
We eventually settled on Burger King for lunch. Nice and easy, and everyone ate. After lunch we drove back into the centre of Cherokee. We visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. This was fairly well priced, and provided a couple of hours of entertainment. Admittedly the boys rushed around, but they did find it interesting
There is a lot of history here. A lot of wrong doing by the British and American governments. I am no historian, so will not even try and document it. The museum was originally opened in 1948, move in 1976, and totally renovated in 1998.
As I say, fascinating, if the boys had been a bit bigger, we may have been able to read the exhibits with a little more time. But we all enjoyed it.
We took a little stroll around town. Dotted all around are bear figures, decorated in different styles. The Bear Project started in 2005 with the intention of showcasing talented artists in the area (source). They are well cool!
We headed down towards Ocanaluftee Islands Park. Nestled in the centre of Cherokee, this is a collection of island in the middle of the Ocanaluftee river. The water is shallow, and looks fairly clean, so I imagine it would be good for wading in the summer. Not in January though! They have an amazing bamboo forest you can walk through.
Nice to see geese in the water, rather than a field!
Not long after, we headed back to the cabin. We had certainly enjoyed our time away. Going away over Christmas is a pretty good idea. I think it may be something we do again while we are here. Particularly when the boys are off for nearly 3 weeks. Maybe next year we will go somewhere hot. Caribbean cruise anyone?
You wouldn't get a view like this though.......