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“It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” Dolly Parton often says to describe her unique style. I have always liked Dolly, her music and her “campy” looks.

When I think of her, I visualize a little sassy female singing her heart out up onstage. She is a cute blonde wearing a huge wild wig with overdone makeup. She often wears a low-cut blouse, a skin-tight dress covered with bling that glitters under the bright stage lights. Her talent comes first but her presentation demands your attention

Dolly is a smart cookie. There is much more to her than meets the eye. Underneath her wigs, she has a head for business and a fierce loyalty to her roots in the hills of Tennessee.

We called our recent road trip our “bucket list road trip.” We enjoy road trips and have made many. We are thinking this might be our last, so we decided to see things that we had not seen before. These destinations might not be spectacular but were things we always wanted to do. So it was time to go to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

We arrived there on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Traffic was lined up for 10 miles. It was the longest parade of cars we have ever seen. The only good thing was that they were leaving and we were just arriving. Locals told us that it is this way every weekend.

We were following our GPS through Pigeon Forge to the nearby town of Gatlinburg where we had rented a little log cabin in the Smoky Mountains. The GPS took us the roundabout way along winding country roads, through the mountains and over flowing creeks.

After settling into our cabin, we spent the next several days exploring this beautiful area. Philip was eager to take the Trike and drive through the Smoky Mountains National Park, a spectacular and popular all-day ride. We actually went on part of the Appalachian Trail, saw Smoky Mountain bears, turkey, eagles and deer.

We took a very interesting ride through a historical community called Cades Cove. This is where the first European settlers lived, farmed and survived in an isolated area during the 1800s. We rode over to Cherokee, North Carolina, on the Cherokee Reservation to tour a world-class museum dedicated to the history of the Cherokee people, many of whom were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma along the “Trail of Tears.” Of course, we did a little shopping and finished our visit with ice cream cones, my favorite lunch.

After touring into the past we decided to hit the towns. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are close to each other and both are dedicated to tourism. I was a little surprised at the large number of visitors. Both were swamped with people, cars and motorcycles. People were wandering all over looking, shopping and eating. There are rides for children and a wide variety of shops. The huge complexes of motels and hotels with family restaurants are everywhere. There are drive-up liquor stores with Baptist churches on the many corners.

We made advance reservations for the Pigeon Forge extravaganza known as the Dollywood Stampede. This was basically a horse show and a dinner. The entertainment never stopped. Dolly was not there in person but her voice rang out over the speakers. The guests were seated around the large rodeo ring in four levels with countertops on which to set our meals. College students served the 400 guests with sweet tea, buckets of fried chicken, salad, yams, beans, biscuits and dessert. They were efficient, fast and polite. I have never seen anything like it. The meal was good with large portions and I took leftovers home.

The next day we thought we were finally ready to tackle Dollywood, her theme park in the Great Smoky Mountains. When our children were young, we visited many theme parks, but now that we are “mature empty-nesters” these parks really do not draw us. But we had come all this way to see Dollywood and needed to check it off our bucket list, so off we went.

Well, we almost made it. We got as far as the parking lot. All we really wanted to do was drive in, park for an hour, take a quick look and leave. It wasn’t to be. Sure we could do all of that, but still it would be $60 per person and $25 for parking. It was early afternoon, getting warmer and too expensive. We said thank you and left without seeing Dollywood. But we were closer than we had ever been. At least we made it to the parking lot.

Dolly Parton was the grand marshal for a parade down the main street of Pigeon Forge that evening. Approximately 60,000 people were expected to line the streets. On hearing these numbers we thought it might be a good time to get out of Dodge. We had seen Dolly years ago.

Dinner, a warm soak in our hot tub and another game of pool sounded more relaxing to us. Secretly, I was eager to beat Philip and put another check by my name. I was ahead in our tournament.

Dolly Parton is a woman to admire. She is a one-woman tornado with her ideas, power, spirit and drive. She is successful and wealthy with a golden heart and is loved all over the world but especially in her part of eastern Tennessee.

Her foundation donates generously to local schools, students, the hospital and much more. She has provided thousands of jobs for people of all ages in her hometown and county. They must be carefully handpicked. As a group, I have never met such a friendly, helpful and smiling group of employees.

Dolly not only talks the talk but walks the walk. I am sure there is a place in heaven for Dolly Parton, her big wigs, gobs of makeup and all.

Our next stop will probably be Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart. Or, it might be a visit to Scottsboro, Alabama, the home of the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

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