After Franklin we'd head an hour north towards to an area near both Maggie Valley and Cherokee. As silly as it sounds, our favorite theme part was devoted entirely to Christmas. Tucked away in the Smokies, just outside the city limits, Santa's Land centered around everything Christmas. Everything you could possibly conjure up from a picture-perfect childhood Christmas was there. Nothing ever changed; you think we'd get bored with the same petting zoo, the same reindeer and Santa Claus and caroling elves. We never did. My family loved Christmas (still do!) and we just had to go. It was a tradition about as hokey as they come but we just had to go.
Not that our parents minded. They enjoyed it to. But why? Why did my sister and I feel the need to visit this tired old theme park year after year after year? Well, here's a bit of a confession: it was the roller coaster. Laughably named The Rudicoaster, this kid-friendly contraption whizzed up and down hills and zipped around hair pin turns with a certain, famous, red-nosed reindeer leading the way. The cars looked like sleds and we always jostled for the front. Round and round it went, two corkscrews and dipping and plunging hills. We laughed, we screamed, we rode it multiple times in a row. Once we arrived and there wasn't a crowd to be seen. The Rudicoaster was ours for the taking! We commandeered! I think we were finally evicted after the 42nd ride, but that may be a slight exaggeration (and an adult propensity toward Douglas Adams' references...).
Anyway, this was our yearly pilgrimage to North Carolina. I haven't been back there in years and I mean more-than-two-decades years. Whenever I Google "Santa's Land North Carolina" it seems a bit ambiguous as to if it's still there. The pictures look more like a ghost town, a memory of laughter. I'm sure people still pan for gem stones. I've seen billboards on the few journeys to North Georgia I've made in the past few years. Those did seem a bit faded as well. But my memories are vivid red and green and the sound of screams from corkscrewing reindeer and the splashes of freezing cold mountain water on old sneakers.