A Cliffhanger of a Cabin on Old Smokey (Beloved of a Mamma Bear)

A band of cicadas serenaded us as we got off our Outback Subaru. Their singing seemed to intensify as we hopped off the car, me casting nervous glances at the cliffs and trees around us, the thought running through my mind that a welcome committee of bears might be awaiting us in the dark.

The drive from North Carolina to this chalet in Tennessee, built into the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, had been one of unimaginable beauty. The sky, riddled with billowing clouds earlier on in the afternoon in Winston-Salem, was suffused now with a crimson glow that continued to intensify till it dissipated in pastel hues. The hills loomed large in front of us in the gathering gloom, clouds rushing in to envelop us at intervals. At others, they rose from the silhouettes of trees in wraiths of wispy white.

And then the spell was broken. We had reached Gatlinburg. Rows of flashy souvenir shops, ‘wine-tasting’ kiosks that doled out free fruity wines guaranteed to give one an unbearable insulin rush, barbecue diners, the crowds …I wanted to think, but I could not. Adi helpfully supplied the words, ‘It’s like Skegness on steroids?’ Skegness is a seaside resort town on the east coast of England – the lesser said about it, the better.

Gatlinburg’s flashiness evaporated as we drove higher and higher up into the mountains. How impenetrable the darkness seems in the hills. It presses in upon the mind. The desolate hairpin bends brought us at the foot of a road that shot up at a 35° incline, and lo and behold, there stood our rented chalet. No curtains inside to draw across the bay windows in the  living room? I was unsettled. But there was nothing to do but stash my paranoia away.

The chalet was a two-bedroom affair built in wood — to withstand the winds that sweep through these mountains. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had rhapsodised about ‘the winds that blow through the wide sky in these mountains, the winds that sweep from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic’ to ‘have always blown on free men’ at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that he declared open for the public in 1940.

Where Nature gives, she takes too. And man, he survives despite the odds. The cabin being proof of this indomitable spirit. The previous chalet had been gutted in wildfires towards the end of 2016. Yet here it stood, well-stocked and utterly homey with its rocking chair, hot tub and wraparound porch, rebuilt after the fires. There were pots and pans and everything we could hope for if we wanted to rustle up our own meals (how cosy it must be to hunker down within its warmth during the cold months).

In the morning, we woke up to views. The windows, which in the dark hours had given me the heebie jeebies, in the early morning hours opened up to a vision of smoky blue mountains and clouds rolling off their peaks (there are photos below to confirm that I do not exaggerate).

We did what any sane person would do — tuck into a huge breakfast and sit staring at the drama of the clouds and the mountains, wondering if mamma bear (previous visitors to the cabin had mentioned her repeated visits in the logbook) would eventually turn up with her cubs. But were we to be so lucky? Naturally, we decided to do what could be done next. We headed out, chasing bears and clouds in the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

56 thoughts on “A Cliffhanger of a Cabin on Old Smokey (Beloved of a Mamma Bear)

  1. Gorgeous! I’ve traveled that area many times in the past, and it never ceases to amaze me with it’s beauty. And your chalet looks incredible, though I think most Americans would say “cabin”, whether the definition fits entirely or not. When do you break out the s’mores over a campfire? 😉

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    1. It was a true-blue log cabin but the owners call it a chalet. Interchangeable terms or you think too pretentious? 🙂 Now for a holiday home like that! The thought of bears invading the territory for some s’mores had us on a back foot. For why should they denied, right? (Confession: We are such wusses despite our rants about not meeting bears yet)

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      1. No, not pretentious at all. Absolutely interchangeable. I was more meaning that “cabin” would be the more familiar of the two in the US. As for s’mores and bears, well, they’ll just have to make their own. Theft of s’mores is a serious matter! I’m sure Adi could take on a cub if necessary. Now, a mother bear? I’d keep my distance. S’mores be damned. In all seriousness, though, messing with bears is no joke. I’m still not over that horrifying story I read about that taxi driver in India who was killed trying to take a selfie with a bear. That happens in the US all the time, too, though it usually happens when people try to hand feed a bear. Not a good idea.

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      2. I missed this story of the taxi driver. People are insane to mess around with wildlife. I think they get their just desserts as a result. As for hand feeding, that is plain punishable. I read that bears lose longevity when people feed them. They get used to foraging for food in human territories and as a result become dependent on them, which is harmful in every way possible, apart from the fact they have to be put down often because they end up being aggressive during encounters. I would keep my distance too, you know. My talk is sometimes all foam — but that is about the length and breadth of it. I would love to sight one from a great distance.

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      3. I have to tell you about this adorable video we watched, of a mamma bear and her four cubs taking over the pool in someone’s backyard.
        Here’s the link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77dtqOOaGLo

        It was as if the human mother could empathise with the bear’s need to chill out after an entire day of shepherding her babies around. 🙂

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      4. Hah isn’t she cute to clobber her young ones out of the pool? 😀 It is one of the cutest ones I have come across.

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      1. We have been busy but we do enjoy reading your posts and seeing your marvelous photos. It’s kind of like taking a vacation from home 🙂

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      2. Nicest words to hear on this overcast Thursday. Hope your weekend is restful. xx

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  2. I cannot see your photos yet – internet is so slow here. One sentence in this post really stands out for me – ‘the less said about Skegness the better’. You are so right! I can’t believe you’ve been there! (It’s very close to where I was born, I know it far too well!)

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    1. Hahaha hmm Skeggy darling was something else. I must have reached it 20 years late. For a child it should be fun. I don’t even know where those photos are – reminds me to hunt for them.

      P.S.: I hope you can open the photos now. I did go and check all my updates to see nothing at my end was slowing it down.

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      1. Skeggy was never fun – for anyone. I know someone who lives there – can you imagine? Don’t worry it’s not your site – it’s just slow internet….

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      2. Skeggy was never fun – for anyone! I know someone who lives there – can you imagine? Don’t worry – it’s not your site – it’s just slow internet….

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    1. Thanks Tracey. But hey, you live in Amsterdam. It’s the epitome of open living. Every evening when we used to take a walk along the canal, I saw people sitting around the table for their evening drinks or reading in their couches, and I wondered aloud about how the Dutch live without curtains.

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  3. I’ve always wanted to stay in a little cabin overnight with friends or family – it seems like such a wonderful, if not at first unsettling, adventure! Especially as I’m a big fan of having breakfast with a beautiful view. Gorgeously written and photographed as always 🙂 xx

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    1. A cabin in the woods…you are right, Maria. It was our first and we daydreamed mightily about owning such a cabin one day. It was just so snug. May you soon have that view and of course the brekkie! Cheers 🙂 xx

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  4. Wonderful scenic photos , the hair pin bends must have been steep.The cabin looks so cozy and nice am sure the views were spectacular .Can’t wait to make a trip there soon!

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    1. Thank you lovely! They were and the entire place seemed charmed. Except for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge :-/ Hope you get to book a holiday there soonest. xx

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  5. I love that little cabin! Those views…remind me of the Alps? That sky….,such a beautiful place and how lucky you are to be able to go somewhere ‘a little different’. I watched a programme once about communities in the smokey mountains that lived off the grid so instead of bears, I thought you may meet someone with a gun saying, “get orff my propertee!” Haha. I think they ate lots of skunk……looks lovely. X

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    1. Isn’t it darling? The Alps. I am pining for a holiday in the Dolomites. You remind me of that wish.
      The Smoky Mountains are different and quite wild, Sophie. I love the fact that they spend energy on conserving it like they do. I will mention a bit more about it in the next post but then you are already aware since you watched a documentary.
      You are right about the communities there. We did our best not to incite violence. 😉 I am all too aware of the gun-totting tendencies of folk here! But the southern people, they are friendly and warm. A sea change from NYC and NJ. And skunk as a diet? Made me go a sick shade of green! xx

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    1. That steep road is the one we had to drive up every day to get to the cabin. I tried walking down it in my ballerinas and gave up. It presented opportunities for an awful tumble.

      As for the bears, we hung around the porch windows like little children hoping to catch elves and fairies. xx

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