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Hurray for Dollywood!

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The trucks didn't stop at Nashville. It was still a bit of a slog to Knoxville, then we turned off the Interstate. The roads to Dollywood were whoop-di-dos over a less busy road. Even in the front seat, I couldn't read, I couldn't embroider, and my husband wanted to talk (and since he was doing all the driving), I couldn't audiobook, either.


It's not just Dollywood that is in Pigeon Forge, TN. It's a whole town of vacation rentals, mini golfs, various one-off amusement thrill rides, and entertainment theaters. This area is Tennessee's version of Branson, MO meets Elitch Gardens, without the famous acts (as Nashville has cornered that market).


Pigeon Forge is a tourist destination, more so, I think, for families who live in Nashville and Knoxville -- second homeowners and timeshares. Dollywood was advertising the seasonal passes to her amusement & water park everywhere. Which makes me think it's their version of Vail or Telluride without the slopes. It was named after the Passenger Pigeon, now extinct, and the iron forge built in c. 1820. There is a famous Old Mill turned restaurant (who remembers Baby Does Mineshaft Restaurant?), and a quaint bevy of tourist shops. I had no idea it was such a trap. And, I have never researched the loss of the passenger pigeon, but I am sure it is human caused.


My daughter requested this destination. She is a huge Dolly Parton fan. She respects Dolly's down-to-earth kindness, body-positive eccentricities, and business acumen. The park itself, as I knew, was "just" an amusement park. It is set in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, as those whoop-di-dos were actually their version of mountain passes.


It was the week after their seasonal opener and it wasn't warm enough for the water park to open. I figured it wouldn't be too busy. Yeah, spring break, but... by mid-day it was elbows to assholes. And, most of those were wide-loads.


We got there at opening and the kids found a couple of rides before the lines grew too big. I offered to buy them an express pass, and they declined. However, the biggest line, at least at 9am, was for the cinnamon bread. We did eventually get one when the line was shorter, and it was okay -- but worth a line as long as a rollercoaster? Nah. It was sugary, and buttery, and a whole bunch of carbs. I can say we ate it, at least.


We actually hit some rides at really great times. We thought this true when we came upon the "Barnstormer" -- I found out the hard way why the line was short. It is a pendulum ride that takes you on a massive swing to vertical heights. My daughter and husband refused, and my son did not want to go alone, so I agreed. (I used to be a big rollercoaster girl.) Recently, now that I am over 50, I went on HRT (look it up if you don't know), and because of that, I have been having vertigo. Not exactly sure what I was thinking. Anyway, we strapped in and away we swung. Higher and higher. I closed my eyes so my vertigo didn't get the best of me. That wasn't enough. As my butt raised into the air in anti-gravity weightlessness, I thought I would pass-out. So, I reached my arm around my son's elbow, the only thing that I could focus on. Just connecting with his 6'2" 180# bulk was enough to feel safe. He laughed the whole time and so, I guess, it was worth it. By the time it slowed to a stop, I could safely get off and keep my cinnamon bread in my stomach.


What we didn't find as much was Dolly's eccentric touch. She bought the park already in existence, and has merchandised the place up to her wigs, with "what would Dolly do?" mugs, and coat of many color patchwork dresses. I had "Love's like a Butterfly" stuck in my head for days later, as it played around the Smoky Mountain themed-park.


It was hilly, and I worked off my bread with my step count, at least. There was a real coal-powered steam train that took us around the exterior. Which was kind of weird because it actually took us around the back entrances and dumpsters. However, when we saw a flock of wild turkeys, it reminded us we were in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. They're bigger than ours in Ouray. The area has a lot of thriving wildlife, mostly birds, but we saw

a muskrat looking thing near the river, too.



Despite the black smoke coming from the train, I will give Dolly credit that the shopping bags handed out were all paper, and she has a Bald Eagle and raptor preservation center. Would I go back? Probably not, but, like Graceland, it's an American pilgrimage that had to be made.


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