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Remembering Our Fallen

Recently a memorial came to town paying tribute to all the soldiers that have fallen in the war against terror since September 11th. The memorial Remembering Our Fallen moved me greatly, in fact it moved me to tears in many cases. I snapped a few photos, and then a few more and a few more. By the end of the evening I was touched by close to 100 photos of the soldiers and their families. Many of the photos were taken with tear filled eyes.

Every picture affected me in some way. From a cavalry soldier riding a rocking horse – Capt. Drew Russell, to the way only a mother holds her son –Cpl. Mark Kidd to Pfc. Melissa Hobart holding her 3-year old daughter Alexis, a funny face from 1st Lt Roslyn Shulte.  Finally, SPC Lee Allen Weigand, I had to stand there and process what I was seeing in the photo and it broke my heart. That’s the photo that finally broke me down from teary eyes into a sobbing mess. Ask anyone who knows me, I don’t get this way but this memorial Remembering Our Fallen touched me in a deep way.

I was so upset that a Gold Star father came up to console me and asked me my story. I told him I didn’t have one, I’m one of the lucky ones, my son came home from the war. We sat down on a bench and he told me his story.  Actually it was his son-in-law that was killed. He deployed in September and was killed in November. They received two letters from him in that time frame. The first said all was okay and there was nothing to worry about, the second letter stated that this was a hell hole. They never heard from him after that until they were notified of his death. His daughter and granddaughter gave the one of the keynote addresses at the ceremony that night. Just heartbreaking.

As I mentioned I took close to 100 photos that night but I didn’t know what I was going to do with them so I put them all together and made a video. With Memorial Day being right around the corner the timing seemed appropriate.

For many Memorial Day is just a day off from work. Many other people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. What really irks me is when people try to capitalize from Memorial Day; “In honor of our fallen soldiers pizzas are now buy one get one free!” – I really hate that.

I will tell you for some this video is very moving (get the Kleenex) but it’s appropriate for these Gold Star families. Please give these families 6 minutes of your time, they more that deserve that. If the “Remembering Our Fallen” memorial ever comes to your area take some time and view the more than 5300 members of the military and their photos. This was the most powerful memorial I’ve ever experienced. I’m not a great filmmaker but I gave this my best shot. A Gold Star family’s greatest fear is that their loved ones will be forgotten, please don’t let that happen.

I do have one favor to ask, if you find this video worthy please share the link. If this moves a few Americans to appreciate our Gold Star families and all they’ve given up it’s worth the effort. – Thank you.

Remembering Our Fallen

A Heartfelt Farewell to our Little Cabin in the Woods

We’ve all heard the saying “ It’s not for sale at any price”. Well, that was put to the test with us recently and what we thought we’d never sell….we sold. Our cabin, our business, the center of our world for the past five years is gone as of November 1st. We took a neglected, ramshackle pile of logs and turned it into a thriving rental business. We’ve endured, a wildfire, woodland creatures, unexpected repairs and a pandemic along the way. No matter how many zeros we added to our net worth statement they will never add up to the memories we’ve shared in this cabin.

We are especially proud of our charity work. The night of the Gatlinburg fire I told God that if he spared our cabin I promised I would make it a catalyst for good. Our cabin was spared and we lived up to that promise. A portion of every guest stay was donated to charity; Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) and St. Vincent de Paul Society. We also made donations to Friends of the Smokies and The Great Smoky Mountains Organization. We donated nights to ABR to auction off at their annual fund raising event. This little cabin generated thousands in charitable donations.

Our charitable work caught the attention of the prestigious Star Throwers organization who recognizes socially responsible rental owners trying to make a difference in their community. There are only 8 properties in the United States that have that certification, we were #4. Our cabin was also part of the keynote closing presentation at the World Vacation Rental Summit in 2019 in Italy once again citing our efforts to make a difference for the wildlife, the people and the park.

It’s pretty amazing how many wonderful people we’ve met along the way, Jan & Daryl – we couldn’t have built this cabin without you, Pat – you sound advice was always appreciated, , Tammy- you encouraged us to get into this business, Chastidyi & Ian at Chapel in the Hollow – you were great partners, it was only fitting that our last guest had their wedding at your venue.

So many others to thank from Sonia our cleaner, Will our repairman and the entire team at Natural Retreats. What an incredible collection of people that delivered finally the experience I wanted our guests to receive. You all are amazing! We were very fortunate to have hundreds of guests and some extra special guests like Lillian who took great care while staying in our cabin. She was the true voice of the customer letting us know what items needed attention. We will miss all of them.

One fun tradition we had was our signing log. We encouraged each of our guests to “sign the log” and they did. We will cherish these logs forever. The one thing I didn’t sell was the name “Dancing Bearfoot”. I just couldn’t let that go. Sorry for the long post, it’s not easy to say goodbye.


Leave No Trace

Garbage by collected by the smokies mountains national park sign.  Leave No Trace

There are some things in this world I will never understand such as quantum physics, Fellini movies, and people who throw trash out of their cars into our National Parks.  I’m a firm believer in the Leave No Trace philosophy – take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.

With the pandemic now looming over us for the second-year, record numbers of people are flooding into our National Parks.  Our beloved Smoky Mountains National Park saw record numbers last year with over 12.5 million visitors.  With them they brought record trash. Just look at the roadsides, littered with fast food bags, beer cans, cigarette butts and more.  I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life finished my Egg McMuffin, Hash Browns and Coffee and tossed the bag out my car window. Especially if I’m driving though one of our countries crown jewel parks.  Let me just take a moment and ask…WHAT ARE YOU THINKING YOU MORONS?

The roadsides are just part of it, just look at our trails again littered with junk food wrappers and plastic water bottles, beer cans and in one case a washing machine.  Yes, you read that right, a washing machine. 

Discarded washing machine in the back of a pick up truck. Leave No Trace

Back in the day (FLASHBACK!) when I was a Boy Scout leader.  We always hiked with a plastic bag and we’d all pick up garbage when we found it.  One of our Scouting principles was “Always leave it better than you found it”.

Leave No Trace is an organization that believes in that premise of leaving it better than you found it and is built around seven principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

 How nice it would be if everyone would adopt those seven basic Leave No Trace principles.

Save our Smokies Members
Members of Save Our Smokies

Through every storm there is a ray of light and in this case it’s a group of people that have formed an organization called Save Our Smokies.  These devoted people have been organizing cleanup efforts in and around the park. It’s astounding the amount of trash they are taking out of the park on a regular basis.

Let all of us do our part in keeping the Smokies clean, if you brought it in take it out…don’t litter.  If you’re an artist that’s great go home and paint something but don’t put graffiti on the park signs, structures, benches or landmarks. Be considerate to the other visitors, the volunteers and the wildlife. Let’s all do our part and Leave No Trace.

Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but footprints.

Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in?  Check out our sample itineraries:

If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.

Thank you for reading.  If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing


A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area

I probably should have written this blog post at the beginning and not a few years in, my apologies.  When coming to the area locals and frequent guests throw out some terms they just assume everyone knows like; the spur, the bypass, the parkway, etc. Let’s make you a functional tourist, here is A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area.

Exit 407 Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains

There are three “parkways” in the area The Parkway, The East Parkway and the Dolly Parton Parkway.

The Parkway, otherwise known as 66/441/321 runs from I-40 on the north down through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and ultimately continues through the National Park all the way to Cherokee NC.

The East Parkway is where 321 splits from the main parkway in Gatlinburg and heads out east towards Cosby and the Greenbrier area of the National Park.

The Dolly Parton Parkway (411) splits off in Sevierville and heads East towards well….really nothing, it turn into the Newport Hwy and takes you back to I-40.  You can take the Dolly Parton Parkway to Veterans Boulevard and head over to Dollywood, what’s also nice about this route is it also avoids the vast amount of traffic in Pigeon Forge.

Along with the parkways there is also “The Spur” this is a section of the Parkway that connects Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg.  It’s a pretty drive through the forest.

Next is “The Bypass” – this runs from the Spur on the Parkway to the entrance of the National Park at Sugarlands thus avoiding the traffic in Gatlinburg.

Continuing A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area, let’s talk about the towns themselves.

 Gatlinburg, is a quaint but bustling town nestled right up against the Smoky Mountains.  You do need to park your car and walk to most places or you can take the Trolley (highly recommended). What used to be many local shops and eateries, Gatlinburg has begun to see national chains start to move in and take away some of the charm the old town possessed. Still, there a lot to do and much to see in this town. Watch out for traffic during busy times, backups can be quite long.  Also pedestrian traffic has the right-of-way all throughout the town so no rubber-necking when driving.

Pigeon Forge is known for attraction, attraction, attractions!  Plus, hotels and restaurants.  If you want the action this is it.  The big attractions are all in Pigeon Forge; Dollywood, Titanic, Alcatraz, The Island and more.  Pretty much every restaurant know to man is located in Pigeon Forge. Traffic can be heavy at times and the road is three lanes wide.

Sevierville while not as popular as the other two towns has it’s share of attractions and restaurants but is has all the big box stores the other two towns don’t have.  Shopping malls, hotels, etc.  Sevierville is much more like a typical suburban town than the other two which are gears to tourists. The one don’t miss in Sevierville is the Dolly Parton statue which is located in the downtown area.

Ogle Cabin downtown Gatlinburg Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains

Continuing A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area, let’s talk about the area history.  You will see the name Ogle quite a bit around the towns.  William Ogle was the first settler to the area and his relatives are still present. William Ogle’s cabin has been restored and you can see it on the Parkway as you pass though Gatlinburg.  You’ll also see the name Gatlin for which Gatlinburg is named.  Radford Gatlin was the postmaster back in 1856 and decided to name the town after himself.  Well that didn’t sit quite so well with the other settlers who arrived in the area around 1805.  By 1858 a full blown feud had erupted between the Gatlin’s and the Ogles and Radford Gatlin was run out of town.

Let’s take our Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The park has three main entrances; Sugarlands, Cherokee and Townsend.  The main entrance is Sugarlands, this is located just outside of Gatlinburg and is probably the busiest of the entrances.

Mt LeConte (elev 6,594) is the third highest peak in the park yet when most people talk about it you’d think it’s the highest. There is a guest lodge up on top which makes the peak very endearing to most hikers.  Clingman’s Dome is actually the highest peak in the park at 6,643ft.  There is an observation tower on Clingman’s Dome which on a clear day offers spectacular views of the Smokies and surrounding states.

Other popular sites to see in the park are Laurel Falls, the most visited waterfall in the park and Cades Cove which is a settlement in a valley out near Townsend on the west end of the park.  I will be doing a Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area focusing on the park itself in the upcoming weeks.

I hope this Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area gives you just a bit of knowledge to take the novice tourist edge off your visit.  I will be doing follow-up blog posts around this same topic for the next few posts.

Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in?  Check out our sample itineraries:

If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.

Thank you for reading.  If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing


When not to visit the Smoky Mountains

There’s a small town in northeastern Illinois a few hours out of Chicago called Galena. Galena is a small quaint little town with antique shops, bed and breakfasts, and a variety of unique eateries.  This was also home to Ulysses S Grant for a period of his life. Because of this historical importance one weekend a year either in August or September Galena becomes the target for 3000-5000 Boy Scouts from Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa attending the Grant Pilgrimage. If you were heading to Galena on this weekend for a romantic getaway your plans were just dashed. Something similar happens in the Smoky Mountains area from time to time and it’s important for you to know when not to visit the Smoky Mountains if you want to avoid, endless traffic, crowds of people and really loud cars. Yes, I’m talking about the variety of car shows that occur all along the parkway especially the “Rod Runs”.

When not to visit the smoky mountains...the cars and the people

If you’re a car enthusiast by all means come on down and visit!  If you don’t want to be stuck in traffic behind loud smelly cars (some are really smelly) then you want to avoid the Rod Run Weekends that occur in April and September.

If you’ve been to the Smokies you’re aware of the parkway and all the parking lots along that strip, now imagine all of those parking lots filled with hot rods, trucks, people in folding chairs lining the street like a parade route.  The sidewalks are filled with people walking plus; scooters, electric wheel chairs (Rascals?), bicyclists all moving up and down trying to view the cars.

Long traffic lines heading into pigeon forge. When not to visit the smoky mountains

Then there is the traffic….it’s endless.  Trying to go from Titanic to the Aquarium is the time equivalent of flying from Chicago to LA.  Pack a lunch, you’ll need it.  Locate the recirculate button on your dashboard, you’ll thank me later. Put in ear plugs when going through the tunnel on the spur, that seems to the place to find out just how loud your car is.

So, when are the times not to visit the Smoky Mountains to avoid all this?  Here are the dates:

  • Pigeon Forge Rod Run- Spring: Fri, Apr 16, 10 AM – Sun, Apr 18, 8 AM EDT
  • Shades of the Past Car Show: Fri, Sep 10 – Sat, Sep 11
  • Pigeon Forge Rod Run- Fall: Sep 10, 10 AM – Sep 19, 8 AM EDT

There are other car shows but these are the big ones that really cause the most havoc on tourists who don’t share this particular interest. Here is a list of those other shows: Car Shows

Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in?  Check out our sample itineraries:

If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.

Thank you for reading.  If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing