Friday, October 18, 2019

DESTINATION: Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina

The last leg of our journey through the Smoky Mountains took us east back towards Asheville, N.C., and through the Cataloochee Valley.

Love anything Bigfoot like this awesome sculpture at one of the entrances to a home near the valley

Entrance sign to the Cataloochee Valley

Information sign about the valley

TK's parents stretching their legs at one of the valley's overlooks

The entrance to the Cataloochee Valley is almost non-existent!  It is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guard rails.  The road is narrow, so drivers may be required to stop or back up their vehicles to allow oncoming motorists to pass....something we had to do several times!

The Cataloochee Valley is nestled among some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States.  Surrounded by 6000 foot peaks, this isolated valley was one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Some 1,200 people lived in this lovely mountain valley in 1910.  Most made their living by farming, including commercial apple growing, but an early tourism industry developed in Cataloochee with some families boarding fishermen and other tourists who wished to vacation in the mountains.

Caldwell place barn

You have to cross this creek to get up to the Caldwell home

The old Caldwell home

A variety of historic buildings have been preserved int he valley.  Structures include a church, a school, and several homes and outbuildings.  This is the best place in the park to see historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The valley's old school house

Inside the Cataloochee Valley school house

Methodist church

Inside the old Methodist Church

Bear, elk and turkey roam freely in this valley so you are advised to keep your distance from the animals.  Although we saw no bears we did see numerous elk and turkey near the valley's old school house.

Herd of elk resting in the shade near the old school house

Thursday, October 17, 2019

DESTINATION: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Tennessee

From Gatlinburg, Tennessee, we made our way to our VRBO rental in Cosby, Tennessee.

Cosby is a small town located 40 minutes outside of Gatlinburg and right on the edge of the National Park.  Cosby has a few attractions and places to stop that need to be on the bucket list for any frequent visitor to the Smokies.  Quiet and peaceful, Cosby will surprise you with everything it has to offer.
Like most of the Smokies, the Cherokee had made this area their home early in the life of their massive civilization.  European settlers soon were making trips into the area that would be Cosby and established settlements and forts. 
We stayed in this quiet, clean, cabin we found on VRBO while in Cosby, TN

The fun jeep we rented to drive during our Smokies tour!

Cosby is famous for the moonshining that took place in the early 20th century.  To East Tennesseans, Cosby has been known as “The Moonshine Captial of the World.”  The farmers of the area grew corn and to supplement their income they began to turn some of that corn into moonshine.  The moonshine industry grew due to the fact that the coves and valleys of the mountains helped to hide the moonshiners and their stills.
A little night time photography from the porch of the cabin we rented in Cosby, TN 

After checking into our VRBO and getting some rest we traveled back to Gatlinburg and through the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  The name derived from a “roaring” mountain stream, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail twists and turns for six-miles, forming a one-way looping scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains. The narrow roadway only allows cars—trucks, trailers and RVs cannot fit on this road.

The drive along Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail begins at the Noah “Bud” Ogle farmstead, where you can take a walking tour of the historic buildings and pick up a tour map of the roadway sights. The trailhead for Rainbow Falls can be found just beyond the farmstead, a moderate hike to a stunning waterfall. It’s a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike to Rainbow Falls (it’s less than 3 miles one way!) and your reward is the 80-foot high waterfall, the tallest single-drop waterfall in the national park.

The Ephraim Bales Place, another cabin within the Smoky Mountains

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail also provides access to the Trillium Gap Trail. Hike the Trillium Gap Trail to reach Grotto Falls, the only place in the Smoky Mountains where you can stand behind the falls as the water cascades to the pool. If hiking to a waterfall is not your thing, the Place of a Thousand Drips can be reached by car. It’s one of two waterfalls in the park accessible by car—find it at stop 15, near the end of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Small waterfall seen from the car along the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail

The next day we made our way towards Asheville, NC, via way of the Catloochee Valley.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

DESTINATION: The Great Smokey Mountains

After a great night's sleep in Dillsboro, North Carolina, we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains by way of the Newfound Gap Road.  The day was cold, cloudy, and misting so we stayed in the car as much as possible.  Our first top was the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.

The Mountain Farm Museum and Oconaluftee Visitor Center are located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on U.S. Highway 441 / Newfound Gap Road near Cherokee, North Carolina. 

The Mountain Farm Museum includes farm buildings, most dating around 1900, that were moved from their original locations throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to create an open-air museum. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. It's a beautiful setting for a stroll.

Most of the structures were built in the late 19th-century and were moved here in the 1950s. The Davis House is a rare chance to view a log house built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut in our forests during the 1930s and early 1940s. 
About one-half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center lies the Mingus Mill, a large water-powered mill for grinding corn.

Built in 1886, this historic grist mill uses a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power all of the machinery in the building.
A miller is on site to demonstrate the grinding of corn into cornmeal, which is available for purchase. 
From the Mingus Mill we continued on to Clingmans Dome.  At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome boasts the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The “Dome” refers to the mountaintop, not the man-made observation tower. The Dome actually lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina and is the highest point in Tennessee. On clear days, visitors may see as far as 100 miles.  Unfortunately, the fog and wind kept us from seeing the observation tower or the dome, at all.

With colder temperatures and more rain/fog rolling in we decided to head into Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for lunch.  After lunch we completed a self guided tour of the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery but our excitement to be in Gatlinburg faded as we battled the cold wind and crowds.  We decided to leave the Gatlinburg area and head to our VRBO cabin rental in Cosby, Tennessee.  On the road to Cosby we saw a sign for Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community so we detoured and spent an hour roaming around the crafters' shops.

Tired from a busy day we went straight to our cabin in Cosby to get some rest before hitting the road, again, the next day!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

DESTINATION: Ashland, North Carolina

By October 2019 we were ready for another travel adventure so we packed up TK's parents, booked a flight, and headed to Asheville, North Carolina, to start a tour of the Great Smokey Mountains.

We landed at the Asheville airport and picked up our rental car which, to our surprise, turned out the to be the perfect mountain touring ride, a Jeep Rubicon!

We spent the night in Asheville at the Holiday Inn Biltmore West.  This hotel had an attentive staff and clean, spacious rooms but was desperately in need of a renovation. We understand that by spring they will start their remodel.  We ate at the Cracker Barrel near the hotel.  Our waitress was the first, of what would be many, friendly people we met in North Carolina and Tennessee. During our trip we lost count of how many times we were called southern pet names like... sweetie, honey, baby, or sugar!  

Friends and family that had already visited Asheville prompted us to go to the Biltmore Estate but we rarely do what people tell us and don't enjoy overly priced tourist traps.  Instead we found the Riverview Station Art District.  This unique 1902 historical building houses 60 local artists.  One of them our favorite potter, 
Akira Satake.

The next morning we traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway towards our next destination of Dillsboro, NC.

This beautiful drive had many tunnels and scenic view points. We passed on scenic over look after another along the parkway so we decided to venture off the main road and visit Looking Glass Falls.  This waterfall is literally right off the road making it an easy adventure for TK's parents.

In Dillsboro we stayed at a Best Western Plus River Escape Inn & Suites that overlooked the Tuckaseegee River.  This amazing hotel did not disappoint us!  Not only is is beautifully decorated with quiet rooms but the outside walkway and deck spans the entire length of the hotel and gave us an amazing view of the river.  We didn't use it but there was a community fire pit sitting along side the river for guests to use.  We grabbed a bottle of wine and enjoyed cocktails on the patio before we headed to dinner.

Take it from two self proclaimed Texas BBQ experts when we say that we found the most amazing Texas Style BBQ right in the middle of Dillsboro, North Carolina, at The Haywood Smokehouse!!! Portions were so big that we shared platters and dined on their delicious burnt end beans, perfectly smoked, melt in your mouth brisket and mac-n-cheese!

Leaving fatter and happier than when we arrived we had a good night's sleep and were ready to hit the road again the next morning!