Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

We’ve been in Tennessee for 12 days, and we are still here!  What a lovely state Tennessee is.  We spent most of our time in Sevierville which was a very nice town at the foothills of the Smoky’s, about 20 miles away.  Sevierville celebrates Dolly Parton and claims her as their own.  There is a statue of her in the town and everything in Sevierville begins with Dolly!  She is much loved and comes from these parts but lives over near Nashville.

We have been staying in a lovely RV park in Sevierville on the river.  Usually when we stay in a campsite on a river or mountain top etc we have to back in and we don’t have a window in the back of the coach so we can’t see out, but this campsite designed their sites to pull in front ways so we can sit in the lounge of the coach and look out at the river.  Very nice.  Typically, we sit outside most evenings but it’s nice having a view out of the front window.

 

We visited the Smoky Mountains twice, once for a drive over the mountains to Cherokee, an Indian reserve.  It was a very scenic drive but took us into the clouds which meant a white out at the top.  However, the drive was good and we got a feel for the environment.  The road through the Smoky’s would have been a hard road to engineer with such rugged terrain but was completed in the early 1930’s.  It wasn’t environmentalists or politicians that pushed for the road over the mountains but a car enthusiast group.  They thought that motorists had the right to enjoy woodland areas in their automobiles!  Over the ridgeback of the mountains at 6644 feet lays the South Carolina/Tennessee border and back in the 1930’s an engineering group started the road from South Carolina and the other from Tennessee and they met in the middle and opened the road. I can’ help thinking it was initially the wealthy that got to enjoy the road-the lady in this photo looks to be wearing a fur coat and nice shoes, not long after the great depression…

 

Along the way we took a look at Mingus Mill.  This is a mill that has been kept in its original state and is still in good working order.  Water is diverted into a race that is elevated towards the mill where the water drops down, powers a turbine that turns the mill stones that grinds the corn.  Cornmeal was a staple diet back in the late 19thcentury when this mill was built.  The cornmeal was supplied to all the families in the region.  It’s still grinding corn today but due to modern day health and safety regulations they are not allowed to sell it-shame!

 

 

Further along the road we came to a clearing that had Elk grazing-always a lovely sight to see.

 

Down the North Carolina side into Cherokee had us in a reservation with lots of tacky tourist shops selling ‘Indian made Minnie Tonka’ products from taffy (toffee) to moccasins.  I thought I would buy some authentic moccasins until a close inspection of the box said ‘made in China’!  I gave it a miss.  The Smokys are protected as a National Park and is the most visited park in the whole USA, so I guess you can’t blame the Indians for wanting to make some tourist dollars!

 

Back over the ridge in the wet to our campsite for a quick swim, then we’ll make plans to go back and hike a track in them there hills.

 

I found a website and researched hiking tracks in the Smoky’s.  I thought I’d hit on a great hike that described it as few other hikers, hilly in places etc, until I read the bit about this chap looking out to see where he thought a bear was while he almost stepped on a Copperhead snake!  I decided that a hike less travelled might not be for us, so we went for one of the popular walks where the odds of a bear attack and snake bites are greatly reduced!  The Smoky’s has the largest concentration of black bears in eastern USA, about 1500.  There are 23 species of snake but only 2 are poisonous.

There are 30 species of salamander in the park, but we didn’t see anything on legs all day except people.

Back in the hills the next day we were lucky to get a clear weather day which made the outlooks worth stopping at compared to the day before where the view was obscured by cloud!  The mountains are beautiful with towering redwoods, firs, spruces etc.  As you look into the distance the mountains take on a blue haze and this is why they are called the smoky’s.

In 2016 18,000 acres of the smoky’s burnt down in wildfires. 14 people were killed and hundreds injured.  It was thought the fires were started by two arsonists.  The burnt trees from the fires can still be seen today, but most of the tracks are now open.

We walked the Alum Cave Bluffs walk which was a gentle ascent for about 90 minutes until we reached the caves which were impressive and must have made a great shelter for the Indians over the centuries.

Two things struck me about this walk, firstly the lack of bird song.  I’m always disappointed with the lack of bird song in NZ, but none here.  We saw some birds, but not many and they obviously aren’t any good at singing!

Secondly the under growth for the entire walk was towering rhododendrons.  I’ve never seen any so big, and I’ve never seen them in the wild before.  Apparently, they and some azaleas have always grown here-they were first documented around the mid 18thcentury.  There are actually over 1500 flowering plants here. In the spring the mountains take on a purple and white canopy as the rhododendrons flower-it would be a sight to see, but very cold then.

From where we were staying in Sevierville to the Smokys we have to drive through the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg-these are very popular tourist towns that draw huge crowds.  We thought these towns, especially Pigeon Forge looked tacky, kitschy and unappealing.  It’s all geared up for children and is probably great for them, but we didn’t stop to explore-just drove through.  Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge, a country themed Disneyland with Dolly’s stamp on it.

 

Gatlinburg looked nicer, Germanic in style and settled in the wooded foothills of the Smokies, but still with the same tourist crap that doesn’t interest us.

We are still in Tennessee but have moved away from the Smokys now.  We are back near Nashville as we head towards Red Bay Alabama where we will take a look at the Tiffin factory and get a few small jobs done to the coach.