Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010-21 Cades Cove, Tennessee and Kentucky


Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mountains, Tennessee
Lexington Kentucky

Campground:  Camp Nelson, near Lexington Ky.  A Recreation USA campground, $10 per night, full hookups.  Sitting low along the Kentucky river, this campground was completely underwater in May after being hit by the 5th largest storm in the area in 100 years.

My last day in the Knoxville area, I decided to drive through the foothills of the Smokey Mountains and right into the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  Thanks goodness for gps as there was no straight route getting here.  A know the kudzu vines that can grow 3 feet a day are bad, but to me they’re also beautiful.  Climbing up and over huge trees and the sides of mountains, draping over cliffs and walls, they create the most magical scenery.  Like giant green drapes over the landscape.  Natures own Cristo at work.

My adventure today is about a 130 mile journey to Cades Cover.  A large cove nestled in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains.  Tennessee and North Carolina started buying up the land in 1927 hoping eventually to encourage the Government to create a national park.  The last resident moved out I believe in 1999, leaving the cove in a permanent state, frozen in time.  A park ranger told us that many of the descendants still come back to the cove for reunions and a few remember growing up in a home in the valley.

Climbing up over into the valley, my eagle eye spotted wildlife right away.  I’ll tell you my secret for seeing wildlife.  First, look for a group of cars on the side of the road.  I immediately stop and get out with camera in hand as the cars will have attracted wildlife to them.  In this case the people and vehicles had obviously attracted a mother black bear and two baby cubs.  The mother bear intent on eating grubs and foraging for food.  The two baby bears played with each other and climbed every tree they could. Occasionally tumbling and rolling down the side of the hill. (I’ve posted two short movies on the Picasa website)

The land continued to rise and the road wound around and over the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains.  The mountains layered in there characteristic blue haze, enhanced by the early morning fog hugging the deep valleys.  Hickory, ash, chestnut and pine trees creating a canopy over the roadway.  I entered Cades Cove and continued along a 12 mile loop road.  A single ribbon of asphalt skirting the mountains surrounding the most beautiful valley I’ve ever encountered.  I felt as if I’d entered paradise on earth.  Note:  most of the chestnut trees were killed by a disease a number of years ago.

 At one of the first stops I was able to pick up a booklet describing all the remaining homes, churches, gristmills, cemeteries and open pasture lands, once farmed here in Cades Cove.  Electricity never came to the cove while the residences lived there.  I didn’t want the slow 12 mile ride around the cove, with mesmerizing views around every corner and turn to end.  A steady stream of vehicles traveled around the ribbon of road.  Lots and lots of pullouts to view the scenery and log cabins.  A number of sites had park volunteers who provided really great stories about each building and life of the settlers.

Hint:  Over 2 million visitors come to Cades Cove each year.  I recommend going early in the day, or much later in the day to avoid the crowds.  Note, the park is closed two days a week, check their schedule before going.

Amazing that Tenn. and N Carolina realized so early on that this place was special and needed to become a National Park.  See Picasa Photos.

I can’t emphasize enough the impact that this most beautiful place has made on me.  I’m sure I’ll dream of it’s magical charm for a long time to come.  That mix of man made fields and pasture lands, the simple log cabins, the stark white churches nestled in a glen, surrounded by the natural beauty of the land.  It appeared to me that well over 80% of the land had never been touched.  The Great Smokey Mountains draped in their blue haze surrounding and protecting the cove.  What a day, what an adventure.
Kentucky.  I’ve been through the state before, but thought I’d check out a few places along the way.  I found a campground that’s part of the Recreation USA group and was able to get a campsite for $10 a night.  What’s interesting though is this is one of the campgrounds that was flooded not more than 6 weeks ago.  When Kentucky had a storm cell stay over the eastern part of the state for days and days and days, creating a deluge.

 The owner told me how the river was supposed to stop at the flood stage of 2003.  It didn’t, and kept right on rising.  First the campsites were underwater.  Then the bathhouse, swimming pool and office building. Next came the homes higher up.  At one point a mobile home floated down the river, side swiped the office building, took out the fence on one side of the pool now underwater and landed on top of the bath house.  All the picnic tables which had been stacked and secured, floated away.

Quite a story.  More so if you could see the park and all they’ve done to restore it to use again.  All the campsites have been cleaned up and functional.  The large swimming pool is open and enjoyed much as a community center for the locals, as it is open for their use with a charge of course.  We campers have it included with our stay.  All of the homes on this lower river level have been destroyed.  Windows wide open.  I can see they’ve striped all the walls to bare studs and are in the process of rebuilding.  So much trash had to be disposed of, the county permitted them to have a huge bonfire to burn it.  And even with that they still had a couple dumpster loads hauled away.  And all within the past 6 weeks.  Amazing.

Oh and her son, now 26 got in a wooden canoe along with a 19 year old and paddled out into the raging river at the height of the swollen river.  His Mom calls him an idiot.  I had to agree.  They got dumped out of the canoe, which got caught in a swirling current.  Both guys and canoe were rescued.  People do dumb things.

This is beautiful farm country by the way.  Most of the barns and outbuildings are painted black.  Found out after asking many questions of the locals that the black is creosote and helps to preserve the wood longer. Up to 10 years longer.  A practical solution to ordinary paint.  Another question I had of the locals was, what is the name of all the blue wildflowers along the highways, both here in Kentucky and Tennessee?  It’s chicory.  Most folks didn’t know.  Of course I had to know for my readers… and my own curiosity.  You might remember from a past posting of mine, that this is the area where they paint large squares on the barns of quilt patterns.  How cool.  I understand the idea started in Ohio, but has caught on big around here.  Anyone interested in quilting should love exploring the back roads around here just to see all the quilt designs.

A few more days and lunch with former co-works Nancy and Jerry.  Good people.  We toured Berea, a small artisan town with a college that’s tuition free.  The students work for their tuition in local establishments like the Daniel Boone Tavern.  And more touring, as I drove down scenic byways and ended up at a restored Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill.  Enjoying a walk through history, communal living and an unusual take on religion by the Shaker people.

A final note, just so you don’t think I don’t do any work at all, I spent a day washing the camper.  (note to myself, get a pressure washer) It really needed it and another morning doing laundry and vacuuming the camper.

More pictures available at my Picasa Web site.

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