Hello, friends! Here's part four of my long-overdue 2015 travel recap: our trip to Tennessee and the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina. Part one (Hawaii) is here, part two (Gettysburg) is here, part three (New York City) is here.
In August we headed to Bristol, Tennessee, to attend the Irwin Tools Night Race. Jarrod loves any and all sports, and the Bristol night race is his favorite NASCAR event, so I surprised him with tickets for his 30th birthday. It was my first NASCAR race and I had a surprisingly good time! The track is only a half-mile, so it was a pretty intense (loud!) viewing experience!
Bristol is in the eastern part of Tennessee, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a little jaunt to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit the Biltmore, the Vanderbilts' humongous, crazy opulent mansion, which was constructed in the 1890s. Pictures aren't allowed inside, but I can guarantee it was stunning. There's a bowling alley and a swimming pool in the basement (complete with old-fashioned changing rooms), tons of lovely artwork, and the library... sigh. It holds over 10,000 books and has the biggest fireplace I've ever seen! I was also fascinated by the upstairs/downstairs facet to the tour. It was so interesting to see the servants' quarters and domain compared to the family's lavish living arrangements (especially after watching "Downton Abbey").
I was particularly excited to tour the gardens, which were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and was in charge of the landscaping at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (which you can read about in the awesome book "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson). The gardens were gorgeous and I could fill up an entire blog post with flower photos, but I managed to whittle it down to just a couple.
In addition to the palatial residence and beautiful gardens, the Vanderbilts enjoyed an amazing view!
From Asheville we headed over to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we'd reserved a cabin for a few nights. We finally got around to doing the 5.4-mile roundtrip hike to Rainbow Falls, a beautiful 80-foot waterfall -- and we were lucky enough to see the rainbow!
Salamanders abounded at the falls, and we encountered a black bear on the trail when we were hiking back down. I mean, literally on the trail in the direction we needed to go. It even growled and hissed at us a few times. It was my first up-close-and-personal bear encounter and I admit that I considered running screaming in the other direction, or peeing my pants (luckily I did neither!). The Rainbow Falls trailhead is off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, one of my very favorite things to do when we visit the Smokies. The one-way road follows the Roaring Fork River through the mountains and the scenery is gorgeous, with beautiful vistas, the rushing river and the million shades of green. It always reminds me of being in an enchanted forest.
Cades Cove is another driving loop, and another place we visit each time we're in the Smokies. It's a a mountain valley filled with old churches and cabins to explore and lots of wildlife like black bears, deer and turkeys. We even saw a fox one time!