Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tennessee Day 8 and 9

Day 8 - On the Tail of the Dragon
Horse graze in Cades Cove

We had set aside Friday as the day to do the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Kathy had a plan that would take us on Highway 321 out of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and over to the entry past Townsend.  The idea was to do part of Cades Cove loop.  The cove area was home to Cherokee and later pioneer families for generations until the area became part of the national park. Today it has been preserved to look much the way it did in the 1800's, with original pioneer homesteads, barns, businesses, pasture and farmland, set in the midst of the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.

Parson Branch Road
However, our agenda for the day had plenty of miles, so Kathy's route was to break away from Cades Cove about a third of the way in on Parson Branch Road.  I wasn't worried about the fact it's not paved since we didn't have the camper in tow, but when we reached the warning sign I knew this would be one of Kathy's back road adventures. "Warning, no trailers or RV's allowed, Enter at your own risk, one way, you may not re-enter, no emergency services, etc".  8 miles of unimproved road that leads from the Cades Cove Loop toward North Carolina.  The road was originally a main artery among a complex of roads feeding the smaller coves and hollows with Cades Cove, with these highland coves home to several mountaineer farmers who stood against Confederate raiders during the Civil War.

It really wasn't as bad as some we've been on, but definitely one for high clearance vehicles only.  We wound up and down the road over creeks and pot holes until, after what seemed like an eternity (gratis exaggeration) we finally came to the highway on the other side.  "What the heck is that?" I questioned, as a large piece of black material, wound in branches along the side of the road, caught my eye when we pulled up to the intersection.  I looked closer and realized it wasn't just a pile of branches, but an entire tree that seemed to be mangled and busted to splinters where the material was positioned.  "That's part of a car!"

Windy roads abound
This wasn't just any highway we had come to, as we would learn later this is the Tail of the Dragon.  An 11 mile stretch of highway 129 that crosses Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, this road is considered by many as one of the world's foremost motorcycling and sports car roads.  With nothing to slow you down, other than the rapid fire of curve after curve, we could see why this would be a favorite for Cyclists, and it was only a few seconds before we started seeing them, so many of which it took me a moment to get onto the highway.

Once I was on though, the testosterone levels increased almost immediately.  I just couldn't help myself, as I steadily picked up speed trying to keep up with the motorcycles in front of me. Completely ignorant of the fact that now both dogs had jumped from the back into Kathy's lap and all three of them were hanging on for  dear life. I don't know if Kathy finally said something or if it was just the looks on their faces, but something told me to go ahead and pull over at the state line to let everyone regroup.   This highway isn't for site seeing.  Yes it is beautiful, but you are there for the road, and you have to pay close attention as you drive it. Locals call this "that damn road to Tennessee",  with very little elevation change along the stretch we were on, and many of the curves banked like a racetrack, I could see how it got it's more popular name "Tail of the Dragon."

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
After entering North Carolina, we had exited the most exciting (or terrifying depending on who you were in the car) part of the road, but of course it was still plenty curvy.  Beautiful area, as we made our way onto highway 28, running along side Lake Cheoah, across Fontana lake and into Bryson City.  We stopped at this quaint little touristy town to take pictures of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, a train that takes passengers on a scenic rail excursion from their historic depot.  With 53 miles of track that includes two tunnels and 25 bridges, the train takes you on a journey through the Carolina Mountains, which comprise over half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Although there are several different train rides you can take, varying in length and time, we opted to move on down the road on highway 19 toward the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Cherokee, NC
The city of Cherokee appeared to us to be a great stop for families and tourists into all the trappings that entails.  Complete museum, visitors center, outdoor theater, artsy and tourist shops lining the highway and more, Cherokee is the headquarters for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. It's economy got a big boost back in the mid 1990's after Harrah's opened a casino there, as before that the tourist season only provided work for half the year.  We took time to stretch our legs and walk part of the way along the shops, contributing a little to the economy, before getting back on the road into the National Park. We could have done a portion of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, as it ends here, but we were pressed for time.

Mingus Mill, NC
We needed at least one more historical building along with a great scenic view to make our day a success for our purposes, so our next stop was the Mingus Mill back in the Park.  Built in 1886, this historic grist mill is a little different from others we've seen, as instead of using a water wheel to power the machinery inside, it uses a water powered turbine instead.  Here you will find a miller on site to demonstrate the process of grinding corn into cornmeal, and they even have mill related items available for sale.

Newfound Gap, Smoky Mountains
Continuing on we made it to Newfound Gap.  At just over 5000 feet, this stop along the North Carolina/Tennessee line provides spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains, and is on the Appalachian Trail.  We enjoyed the stop for sure, and took in the beauty only a pass like this could provide.  But time was running short on daylight by now, so we didn't stay long and soon headed back toward Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Gatlinburg is a popular mountain vacation resort city, surrounded on all sides by high ridges. Officially established around 1856, the town is named after Radford Gatlin who had started a general store there in 1854, however there were trappers who had called the site home since the early 1800's.  Radford Gatlin was a controversial figure in town who was at odds with many of his neighbors. When the civil war broke out his confederate leanings got him kicked out of town.  Gatlinburg tried to remain neutral during the war, but Confederate Colonel William Holland Thomas would occupy the town for a time, protecting the salt peter mines nearby.  Union forces forced Thomas and his troops to retreat back in North Carolina, and they never returned.

Gatlinburg, TN from the bypass
We knew we still had to get past the traffic at Pigeon Forge, so after a quick picture from the bypass overseeing Gatlinburg, we made our final trek back to my Aunt and Uncles in Sevierville.  Kathy would call this day somewhat of a bust as far as our travel mission, but considering the views and history we did encounter, I was very satisfied with the days journey.  Most normal travelers would be well served to spend several days around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as there is plenty to see and do.

As we discussed our day with Aunt Peg and Uncle Dan, my testosterone levels rose again as they told us about the Tail of the Dragon we had been on.  Secretly I wanted to leave the dogs and Kathy at the camper and ride the road the again, but thought better after remembering the mangled tree and piece of car along the side of the road.  If you would like to experience the Tail of the Dragon yourself through video, our good friend Cole Deister strapped a camera to his helmet and did the trip the opposite direction. You will see him pull off the road just a little at the state line.  This was the same spot we stopped to "regroup" and let Kathy and the kids get their stomachs back.  Just click HERE to watch.

Day 9 - Hooking back up and moving out for Chattanooga
 Thanks Aunt Peg and Uncle Dan!

Saturday morning it was time to say our goodbyes to the kind folks at Fort Kautzky. Family time was great, and our hosts were tremendous, but this is a working adventure and onward we must go.  Kathy had us coming out of the Sevierville area down highway 411 to Maryville, then on toward Vonore and Fort Loundon State Historic Park.  This 1200 acre site was one of the earliest British fortifications on the western frontier. built in 1756.  Much of the park lies on an Island of Tellico Lake, making this a fun stop for boaters and history lovers alike.

Fort Loundon, TN
The fort was built during the French and Indian War, as British were nervous about French activities in the Mississippi valley. The garrison built here helped to ally the Overhill Cherokee Nation in the fight against the French and guaranteed trade would continue between the Brits of the South Carolina Colony and Cherokee. However, relations soured and in August of 1760, Cherokee attacked and captured the fort, after which it would never be used for military purposes again. In 1917 a commemorative marker was placed at the site of the fort ruins, and in 1933 the state purchased the site.  Since that time they have reconstructed the fort and provide a visitors center complete with history and a movie about the area.  Very nice state park and great history we recommend to anyone in the area.

Right near the fort you will find the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum.  Sequoyah, born in 1776, wasn't literate in any language, yet he perfected a system for reading and writing in Cherokee.  His desire to do so was born out of his time under General Andrew Jackson during the war of 1812, as there was no way for the Cherokee to write letters home, read military orders, or write about their experiences.  After returning home from the war, he began to make the symbols for words, finally reducing thousands of Cherokee thoughts to 85 symbols representing sounds.  After being introduced to the tribe, the Cherokee people became literate and awarded Sequoyah a silver medal created in his honor and a lifetime literary pension.

Memorial to Tanasi
Not to far down the road from the museum, we found ourway back to a memorial for the site of the town Tanasi, once the capitol of the Cherokee Nation.  It's also the origin for the name of the state, however nothing remains as it is now under the waters of the lake.

We pushed on toward Chattanooga with plans of staying in the area a couple of days to visit the numerous historic Civil War sites.  Landing on the other side in Georgia, we found a nice KOA campground in the woods complete with everything we need and then some.

Next up, our tour of Chattanooga. In the meantime, enjoy the tour in photos in our Smoky Mountain National Park and More Tennessee Facebook album HERE

 KOA Campround, Trenton GA

1 comment:

Homefolk said...

You went right by my House (log cabin) We live near Tellico Plains right off the Cherohala Skyway. Next time Ya'll come out this way we can give some History lessons about E.TN