Monday, May 5, 2014

SPRINGTIME IN THE SMOKIES...

From Amicolola we head up into North Carolina to the town of Cherokee, the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We stay at the The Flaming Arrow Campground. This time of year it’s comfortable and quiet.  The road in is narrow but not a problem for us.  We have a back-in space among the trees and the WIFI works great.  The owner Joanie is super friendly and is a great ambassador for the area. 

Appalachian Trail Posers
Since it’s a bright sunny day, she suggests a trip to Clingmans Dome for a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains and five states. At 6,643 feet it’s the highest mountain in the Smokies, highest point in the state of Tennessee and highest peak on the Appalachian Trail. (AKA the AT)  So as soon as we unhitch and set up we head over to the The Great Smokey MountianThe Great Smokey Mountains National Park  for our second stop on the Appalachian Trail.

Great Smokey Mountains


At Clingmans it’s a good news - not so good news situation.  The park service provides a parking lot a half-mile from and 300 feet below the top of the dome. The not so good news, it’s straight up (no switchbacks here) and once you reach the top it’s another 45-foot climb to the top of the observation tower.  Once we reach the top of the tower the views are worth every step.  Below the tower the AT runs along the North Carolina /Tennessee border.  We laugh and hike a bit along the trail with a wide stance so we can be in both states at the same time.
On the way back to camp, we stop at Paul’s Family Restaurant (a Joanie recommendation.)   First impression: Service is not a high priority here.  When we finally order the Indian Taco, Fry Bread with Chili and the Corn Nuggets, they take forever to arrive and every time our waitress passes she apologizes and rushes off. (How can anyone appear to be so busy and accomplish so little?)  The Fry Bread dishes are OK, but we’ve had better.  But the Corn Nuggets – Ahhhhh…. a huge basket of little fried balls of cornbread and corn kernels super yummy!  The patrons here are a mix of locals and tourists. At nearby tables:  A group of middle aged Ducati riding road warriors, decked out in motorcycle leathers bitching about local police issuing tickets for driving 10mph over the speed limit, a Native American family laughing and teasing each other, and across the way a family that looks like cousins of the Duck Dynasty who are also laughing and having fun.
Paul's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

With over nine million annual visitors, the Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country.  The entrance from the south is through Cherokee, the capital of the eastern Cherokee Nation.  It’s a bit touristy, with some souvenir shops and a casino, but it’s also a charming town with parks, public art and open spaces.  The northern entrance is through Gatlinburg a tourist destination on steroids, celebrating hillbilly roots, bumper to bumper traffic and mobs of sightseers.

Cherokee Bear
While in Cherokee, we visit The Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The first exhibit is a film about the Cherokee creation story and then we meander through the exhibits. This is a well-designed museum that tells the history of the Cherokee Nation from the Paleo Period to the Trail of Tears. It’s both educational and moving.

Mingus Mill
The The Mingus Mill at Oconaluftee was built in 1886 and is still operational today.  While the mill's turbine is not as photogenic as the overshot wheels that power other mills, it is more efficient and requires less water to operate. The turbine generates approximately 11 horsepower (8.2 kW) turning at 400 rpm.  We stop to tour the mill, take some photos and purchase a bag of freshly ground corn meal.  Maybe I can figure out how to make those yummy corn nuggets?

No visit to this area is complete without a drive along at least part of The Blue Ridge Parkway. The views are great since the trees are just starting to sprout.  In summer this will be a sea of green and the variety of trees create great fall colors.  Hmmm… we may have to come back here in autumn.

One of the things we have to watch in this lifestyle is the weather.  We have weather aps and a weather radio.  Things aren’t looking too good right now.  A huge storm is headed our way so we pack up and head northeast into Virginia.  Two hours outside of Cherokee, our weather radio sounds the alarm… Tornado watch in Cherokee… looks like we got out just in time… hopefully it will be a bit calmer in Washington DC?
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