After camping next to noisy neighbors our first night in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we opt for a hotel in Cherokee, NC our second night. All night long, it rains hard. I wake up only once in the night and am confused by the sound of rain hitting the roof–I realize that it hasn’t rained since we moved to Chattanooga 3 weeks ago. I lay in the comfortable bed warm and dry, listening to the rain for a minute or two until my eyes close and I return to sleep.
When I wake up in the morning, I step out onto the balcony. The river behind the hotel doesn’t look anymore swollen than it did when we went to bed the night before. I’m puzzled by its ability to move so much water without rising perceptively, but it’s cold outside so I don’t contemplate for long before returning to the room. Even though I showered just before going to dinner the night before, I decide to shower again just for good measure. As the warm water wakes me up, I contemplate where we should hike today. When I get out of the shower, Pat is up and ready to go down for the breakfast included with our room. I get out the trail map and start pointing to different options on where we can go hiking. Pat gives me the “I didn’t think you were insane, but now I’m not so sure” look. Apparently he is not up for hiking in the rain. I’m disappointed and ask what are we going to do if we don’t hike. Pat responds with, “Indoor stuff.” I look at him confused, unable to think of anything we would do indoors that we couldn’t do at home. “Like what?” I ask. “I don’t know,” he replies, “we could go to a museum or an arcade or a flight simulator.” A flight simulator sounds interesting, so I do a quick google. There are no flight simulators open to the public anywhere within 200 miles. Pat suggests we discuss it over breakfast.
We walk downstairs and it has actually stopped raining just in time for us to walk over to the lobby entrance. We go into the breakfast room and I wait in line for the waffle maker. I think adding a waffle iron to the free breakfast buffet was the best idea in hospitality in the past 20 years. Once I get my waffle cooking, I sit down with Pat to eat yogurt. As I stuff a spoonful into my mouth, Pat says, “We cannot hike today. We’ll get all wet and end up driving home in wet underwear.” This strikes me as so funny that I nearly splutter yogurt all over Pat. Containing myself (and my yogurt), I swallow and am forced to admit that he has a point. There really is nothing comfortable about riding in a car in wet underwear for several hours. The timer goes off on the waffle iron and I go retrieve my hot, fresh waffle.
When we leave to return to the room, it has started raining again. We dive through the rain towards the walkway under an overhang and manage to get back to the room without getting soaked. Once in the room, we debate what we can do for entertainment. Pat votes for heading home. I propose a compromise that will take us to the Junaluska Museum in Robbinsville, NC on a scenic route home. Agreed that this is a reasonable plan, we pack up and get on our way.
I plug the address into the GPS and off we go. The GPS takes us to Robbinsville without any hiccups, but when it comes to the final destination, we end up on a dead-end road lined with depressing houses in various states of disrepair. We see a large building behind the houses on one side and think maybe that’s the museum. After going around the block, we determine that building is an Ace Hardware. But, we spot a brown road sign that says “Junaluska Museum” and points us down another road in the opposite direction. We follow that sign to another sign and then to another. But then the signs disappear and we’ve seen nothing that resembles a museum. We decide that we are not meant to go to this museum and head on towards Cherohala Scenic Skyway.
Even though the rain won’t stop and the visibility is poor, the Cherohala truly is scenic. We wind our way around tree-lined curves with frequent breaks in the trees that allow for views over a cliff. The mountains look like shadows in the clouds. As we go around one curve, Pat spots a painted box turtle (well, maybe–it’s definitely a turtle in any case) standing just on the other side of the double-yellow line. He sees it too late to stop, but finds a place to turn around about a quarter mile down the road. We return in the rain so I can hop out of the car and safely transport the turtle to the other side of the road. I’m not sure if he was grateful for the lift, but it makes my day in any case.
Continuing towards home, we pass a resort. Then, a mile further, we see an entrance to another resort with a drive that goes straight up the mountain. Pat slams on the brakes and pulls in, saying he’s hungry and maybe we can get something to eat. We find ourselves at the Snowbird Mountain Lodge. We pull up our hoods and head into the lobby. Across the parking lot, a large Bernese Mountain Dog lays on a slanting drive, oblivious to the rain. We go up the stairs to the lodge entrance and a Newfoundland mix lays just outside the door, looking at us nervously as we approach. We call to him in our high-pitched happy-puppy voices, but he doesn’t seem comfortable with strangers. We enter the door around him, trying not to scare him with the swinging screen door.
When we enter the lobby, we are instantly immersed in a sense of calm. The lodge is an old, log lodge with big over-stuffed chairs in a library-like room with a 20 foot or so ceiling and shelves of books lining the walls. A half a dozen guests look up at us when we walk in. All of them look like they are just too relaxed to go home. We approach the inn keeper at the desk and inquire about lunch. Unfortunately, they don’t serve lunch and the restaurant is closed until dinner, but he invites us to look around. He asks us if we’ve been in “the park” and when we tell him we’ve been hiking there, he says, “Well, maybe next time you’ll come and hike in the real mountains!”
We walk through the dining room and into the bar. The bar is full of dark hard wood and seems every bit as relaxing as the lobby even though it’s abandoned now. The dining room has a large screened porch off of one side with tables overlooking the woods. Back to the front of the lodge, we find a wrap-around deck with big adirondack chairs lined up facing what must be an incredible view over the mountains on a clear day. An elderly man is standing under a sheltered portion of the deck when we step outside beside him. He is watching the squirrels attack the bird feeders. He tells us we just missed seeing a squirrel get stuck on a feeder, sliding back down every time he tried to climb up until he finally slipped off and fell to the ground. His delight in the squirrel story is contagious and we find ourselves giggling. I grab a brochure and add this place to the list of places I want to spend a weekend at.
We pull up our hoods and dash through the pouring rain back to the car–it’s time to find a place to eat lunch.