While journeying, I’m always listening (and often making notes) when people suggest places I should see along the way. The pile of notes, in fact, became so overwhelming that I put together a notebook… organized by state… of places to see and people to visit across the country. The notebook also includes literature and notes from places I’ve been. It’s a very BIG notebook, and about to become a two-volume set!
One place that was mentioned more than most is Cade’s Cove in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I figured if that many people were telling me about it, it would be well worth seeing. The trick was getting it on my route. As I was leaving Georgia I had plans to visit my new friends Trish and RD north of Asheville NC (last post) which is on the east side of the Smoky Mountains. Cade’s Cove is farther south and on the west side. That meant crossing over the northern end of the mountain range and backtracking southwest to get there. Oh, but let me tell you… I knew the extra miles were well worth it before I even arrived at the park.
My route took me through the town of Gatlinburg, a very popular “tourist destination” with very busy and snug streets, which are always a challenge to navigate a monster motorhome and tow car through. Beyond there I was in my kind of paradise. The route up Little River Road/Old State Hwy 73 was breathtaking. The entire 34 mile drive was dense with fresh spring foliage, with a beautiful river on one side, and sheer mountain walls draped in fern, and moss and vines on the other. It was also VERY narrow and VERY windy. [I have to insert that I’m frequently frustrated that windy (blowing winds), and windy (crooked roads) are spelled the same, because both situations add greatly to the difficulty factor in driving a “big rig” and often occur simultaneously, making it even tougher. In this case I mean VERY crooked road.] The kind of drive that makes me want to stare out the window, but the kind of roadway that requires my undivided attention in order to keep “The Beast” upright and between the lines.
Driving “The Beast” into any populated campground usually generates the same result… a lot of head turning. I think any big rig would turn a few heads in most campgrounds, but when they see a woman behind the wheel they just stop… and watch the entire routine, from unhooking the car and backing into my site to leveling, putting slides out and hooking up any utilities. Where I once found that a little uncomfortable, now it’s simply amusing. And it always leads to the number one question asked of me on my journey… “You drive that big thing… by YOURSELF??”
No different in Cade’s Cove. As soon as I was settled, two women who were sitting in the campsite next to me asked me that very question. Clearly amazed, they said “We were waiting to see another set of legs come out of there.” (My door was on the opposite side.) The resulting conversation was my introduction to a delightful group of fellow campers from several surrounding states who met in this very campground and have been reuniting here every spring and fall for a number of years. They immediately made me feel welcome, and invited me to sit and visit every time I rolled back into the campground from my adventures.
The weather drifted between overcast and torrential rain much of the time I was there, but the beauty of this cove shined through regardless of the weather. It wasn’t until the following morning that I first ventured around the 11-mile loop. The “cove” is a lush valley between mountains, filled with fields of horses, abundant wildlife, and many historical buildings. More details here… Cade’s Cove.
In addition to nature’s splendor, there are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored eighteenth and nineteenth century structures around the Loop Road.
At the suggestion of one of my new friends in the campground I made my way out of the cove to Tremont Road, which parallels the middle prong of Little River. I stopped several times to enjoy the sites. When it comes to rivers and streams I do find a way to appreciate the nearly constant rain that would otherwise become annoying.
One absolute “must do” hike in Cade’s Cove is the five mile (round trip) trail to Abrams Falls. It’s very rocky, and slick with mud during my hike, but otherwise not too strenuous. And worth every step once you get there!
That evening I took a drive up and over the windy (as in extremely crooked again) and rugged, Rich Mountain Road. I believe this one-way road is closed part of the year, but it offers a few unique vistas along the way and brings you into the small town of Townsend. From there I got to enjoy the drive back up to the cove along Laurel Creek once again.
With the light constantly changing and the animals constantly moving I knew I wouldn’t be bored driving the loop again the following morning.
And who should I happen upon along the way, but a momma black bear and her three cubs. They were difficult to photograph while in the woods as they were moving in deep underbrush, and I wouldn’t consider advancing on them, but they did make themselves available for a few photo ops. Unfortunately never together at one time.
My last day in the park brought me once again to the beginning of the loop, but I was stopped at the gate. By tradition, the loop road is closed to motor vehicles every Wednesday and Saturday morning until 10:00am. This has got to be a major blessing to the many people who enjoy the loop on bicycles as well as on foot! Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth! I parked my car and walked a large portion of the loop with the dogs.
That afternoon I headed out for the drive up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Smoky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately as I stepped out to capture this vista of the mountains the sky behind me (up mountain) grew dark, let out a load crack and opened up with yet another downpour. If there’s one thing I know, the top of a mountain peak is NOT the place to be in a thunderstorm. Clingman’s Dome would have to wait until I return. And I will return one day… this I also know.
In closing I will say that when I wrote My Favorite Places Revisited from my first fifteen months on the road, had I already been there, Cade’s Cove would have been a strong contender!
Please remember that I welcome your comments here! Also… if you would enjoy more up-to-date pics and simple posts my Journey In Focus Facebook page is the place to go. So go! And “like” us while you’re there!