Sunday, August 22, 2010

Destination: SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK IN TENNESSEE

Destination: SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK IN TENNESSEE
By Marilyn Elmore Bragg



The Great Smoky Mountains State Park is a destination for many visitors of the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge tourist area. From my front door to the park plus a ride down Little River Road and back home put 276 miles on the "LIL GIRL": my 1993 Anniversary Edition XL Sportster.

I did my homework for this ride. I wanted a mountain ride that would include some wildlife, curves, history and solitude. I got most of what I was looking for except for the solitude. Cades Cove 11 mile Loop Road appears to be a favorite destination for locals and travelers alike. I knew this from my studies so I elected to be up and out of the house by 5:30 AM. According to the maps this ride would be slightly less than three hours. I guess it would be except I was riding though fog until I came to the Douglas Dam area.

Douglas Dam and Lake, near Pidgin Forge TN.
IMAGE CAPTION: Douglas Dam and Lake, near Pigeon Forge TN.

My gloved hand was my windshield wiper. The extended pointing finger of my left hand moving left to right over the lenses of my riding glasses, back and forth: wiping the mist from my sight only to be blurred seconds after the pass of my "blade".

This slowed my passage. Well the fog and the fact I decided to take a slightly deviated tour from the one planned for me by Google Maps. I never was good at taking directions. NEVER.


View Larger Map
My route from Johnson City to Cades Cove and back.

See, I took this to prove to myself
IMAGE CAPTION: ALMOST THERE

This park is very large. Once through the gates the visitor will ride through several miles of beautiful, mountain country rich with history. You will ride with a small river running beside the road for your visual and auditory enjoyment. The mountains are covered in Mountain Laurel. This ride would be beautiful in June when these plants bloom, that's certain.

The road is not tight with twisties nor is it fast. The speed limit inside the park is limited from 25 MPH to 35 MPH. That's OK. I'm not in a hurry. I'm a sightseeing fool. I arrive at the ranger's station just before the Motor Tour of the Loop Road. Here you can pick up books and maps of the area...for a fee of course.

It was 10 AM, much later than I planned to arrive. The cars were starting to roll in. I was disappointed but what to do? Get on the bike and do what you came to do. Ride the Loop Road. The 1st 2/3 of the road was unencumbered by traffic, but at each stop to photograph or tour the site, I fell further behind the new arrivals of stinking four wheelers...ah well, life is a trip. Just get on with your business and don't fret the small stuff.

I stopped to photograph churches of the early 19th century, with the graves of the people who lived on these lands before the Government was able to save it from the timber companies.

Early 19th century church and yard.
PHOTO CAPTION: Early 19th century church and yard

Inside the Primitive Baptist Church of Cades Cove
PHOTO CAPTION: INSIDE THE PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH OF CADES COVE

As I ride the Loop Road, I realize this is a flat "valley" surrounded by mountain walls. To the left of me as I ride is this table of land full of a large variety of wildlife, living side by side with man's tamed beast of burden, the magnificent horse.

Horses grazing: Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains State Park TN.
IMAGE CAPTION: HORSES GRAZING: CADES COVE

On the loop as I was driving I stopped to watch a group of Wild Turkey as they pecked and poked their way across the fields to my left.

wild turkeys
IMAGE CAPTION: WILD TURKEYS

I saw a black bear as he ambled across the road ahead of me. I couldn't capture his image though...so sad for that fact.

To my right is a forest whose floor near the roadway is carpeted with Black Eyed Susans and other wild flowers.

EDGE OF FOREST CARPETED W/BLACK EYED SUSANS
IMAGE CAPTION: EDGE OF FOREST CARPETED WITH BLACK EYED SUSANS

THE FOREST IS COVERED IN BRIGHT COLORFUL FLOWERS
IMAGE CAPTION: THE FOREST IS COVERED IN BRIGHT COLORFUL FLOWERS

I know why this area is such a draw. I have proof taken from my own eye. I’ve captured for you, my readers to behold. This is just a token of the beauty these old mountains provide. OUr mountain ranges in the east. (including the Great Smokys)
are the oldest mountain ranges in the United States. This is why we have trees covering the entire mountains. The canopy of green is hiding the shrunken state of the old men standing with bearded faces as well as their knobby heads covered with the same greenery as their faces. The mountains have faced eons of weather and storms, shrinking the old men down until they are no longer the sharp hardened young visages like the Grand Tetons in the west.

AN UPWARD GAZE BEYOND THE COVE
IMAGE CAPTION: AN UPWARD GAZE BEYOND THE COVE

MAN IN THE MIRROR, GOD AHEAD
IMAGE CAPTION: MAN IN THE MIRROR, GOD AHEAD

Moving on, I've come to the "SETTLEMENT". Here is the original mill for the area, as well as a farm house that has been moved to help represent the settlement. The house is a native of the Cove, just not from this particular site. I was impressed with the observance the Park personal took to give us the feel of a true settlement.

The old mill at Cades Cove
IMAGE CAPTION: CADES COVE

This mill is a working mill, here are the gear works...fascinating to me. How about YOU?

LARGE WHEEL GEAR...CONNECTS TO MORE GEARS...TURNING GRINDING STONE
IMAGE CAPTION: LARGE WHEEL GEAR CONNECTED TO WATER WHEEL TURNS GRINDING STONES

Here is a shot of a typical styled mountain barn behind the home at the settlement. Also shown is the beautiful grounds. I doubt it had grass like this back in the day, but it sure makes for a beautiful shot.

BARN ON THE GROUNDS OF THE SETTLEMENT
IMAGE CAPTION: BARN ON THE GROUNDS OF THE SETTLEMENT

I liked this old buckboard. An extreme example of "modern" transport in the mountain regions. Its age showing: just like the old man Mountains this piece resides in.

Old Buckboard wagon, Cades Cove, TN.
IMAGE CAPTION: OLD BUCKBOARD WAGON

SHOVED IN THE BARN, FOREVER WAITING....
IMAGE CAPTION: SHOVED IN A BARN, FOREVER WAITING

Now I've noticed the crowds are building. I needed to get out of the park. It was a long slow torturous crawl out of the park from here; the engine was heating up between my legs. Cars were stopping in the roadway to gawk rather than pulling off to the side. It was like pissing in the wind. Be sure to not fool around on your way to Cades Cove. Be there early before the crowds build up.

I'm off the Loop Road and heading back the way I came. On this trip back, I ride past the road I came in on and ride the Little River Road. A must ride for you. It will help you to decompress after the loop. The Little River runs beside most of the winding and twisting road with stone outcroppings to your right and the Little River rushing over boulders and strewn rock...ah it's heaven all over again.

I enjoyed my trip through the Park. If you go on a weekday...avoid weekends and go early enough in the morning, you too will enjoy your ride through the park!

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