This post was updated on December 8th, 2017
The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. this morning. Not the fire alarm, but our alarm watch. We have to get up now so we can get early into Cades Cove. Where we want to have a bike ride before the masses arrive and the Loop Road get’s too crowded with cars. But I would so want to sleep a few more hours, heaven I am tired. Yet there is no way out, we have to get going.
Solo still counts on cycling Cades Cove, but I woke up with a headache that won’t allow for much movement by myself. I am just weaseling around, hoping to not look into the bright light. No, that’s not a hangover, but the consequence of dehydrating yesterday. Hopefully, breakfast can get me over with most of it, but I doubt I will be in any shape to ride my bike today.
After breakfast at the motel–we need to save time, so this has to do it–we are ready to get going. It is still dark outside when we leave the motel; the sun will rise while we are on our way to Cades Cove. Already a few cars are one the same route as we are. So there won’t be solitude in Cades Cove for us, not even this early in the morning. There is something else though: Fog. And while Solo is concerned that this is ruining my experience, I love it. Fog in Cades Cove was one of the things I had on my wishlist. Of course, you can never control the weather, but fog as long as it is not too much is great to have. So I am reassuring Solo that I am finding what I wanted to find is no big deal.
The fields of Cades Cove were hunting grounds for the Cherokee who lived close by before the European settlers arrived. There has so far been no evidence yet that the Cherokee also used Cades Cove as a settlement. So the first settlers of Cades Cove are supposedly the European immigrants in the early 1800s. Their old farms and churches are still part of Cades Cove. Their residents, however, had to leave when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was founded in 1934. It amazes me that the funds to create the park were raised by the public. This despite the shadows of the economic crises from 1929 from which the U.S.A. still suffered. Today it is one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S.A. and the most visited one east of the Mississippi.
I love visiting Cades Cove, the historic buildings make the stories I read as a child come more alive in my memory. The sizes and styles of the farmhouses must be similar to those Laura Ingalls Wilder described in “Little House on the Prairie.” So, up that ladder might have been a bedroom for some of the children of the house once upon a time. The landscape of the Cove with the wild deer and, if one is lucky enough, bears, is relaxing. Even though the early crowds are out on the slow drive around Cades Cove Loop Road, it is relaxing. Well at least for me in the passenger seat.
The road is a narrow one way street with a lot of parking lots on the side. I am glad there are so many places to get out of the car, if only for a little while. Around every corner, the view seems to change, so every turn opens for new photos to make. I was looking forward to maybe finding some of the buildings to be half hidden in the fog as well, but with this wish, I am out of luck. Once we arrive at Dan Lawson’s farm, the fog has lifted too much. Next time, maybe. For now, it is getting late, we have already spent some hours getting here and getting around, so it is time for lunch.
Townsend is on our way out of Cades Cove and just a short diversion from the road we need to get back on later. It proves to be not as crowded, so good for a stop for gasoline and lunch as well before we are back on the road.
This time we are taking the Park’s road through the National Park and toward Newfound Gap Road. Once more we are stuck in slow traffic, but that gives me a good excuse to ask for stops every now and then. Not to mention this is a holiday, nobody forces me to arrive at point X at some given time. But of course we do want to make it onto the Blue Ridge Parkway before dark…so while we do not hurry too much, we still have an eye on the watch. Yet that does not stop us from adding another stop at Newfound Gap. The parking lot is crowded. After we have made the first round without the luck of finding a spot, Solo tells me to hop out of the car and take the photos I want, while he continues to drive in circles. Yes, I was here only yesterday. But today the colors are finally changing. By the time I am done with my photography Solo has vanished. I am trying to look everywhere, but I cannot spot the car driving loops. Eventually, we find each other, he found a place to park and got out too. But now we have to get back into the car and onto the road again.
Maybe we are going to be lucky and find some beautiful fall foliage farther north on the Blue Ridge Parkway as well? I hope so.
During the drive up to Newfound Gap, I mentioned to Solo that we should turn into Oconaluftee Visitor Center. This to see if they had some brochures of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He had me repeat that name three times. Not because he could not understand me but because he was surprised I could pronounce a Cherokee word pretty well. “Massachusetts” still breaks my tongue though. The Visitor Center belongs to the Great Smoky Mountains and not the Parkway, but it is worth trying after all. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the information at the Visitor Center, we were looking for. It was a long shot after all.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Turning onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, shortly after leaving the Visitor Center, the colors are so much more vibrant than what we have seen so far. It seems the Eastern Smoky Mountains got more rain recently, while the Western Smoky Mountains were suffering from a drought.
I am busy taking it all in, it is almost too beautiful to get it processed in my brain fast enough when we make it through the first tunnel of the Parkway. Solo mentions how beautiful the light and the colors were just there, so gorgeous indeed he says he is surprised I didn’t ask him to stop for some photos. I just had missed the spot completely. We will see if the conditions are as good with the next tunnel nearby and go on. But once we arrive at Big Witch Tunnel it is evident the conditions are not as good here. Solo just looks at me and starts turning the car. We are going back to Sherrill Cove Tunnel so that I can take all the photos that I want. I just feel lucky to have such a good friend, making sure I can get the most of my holidays. He has never ever complained when I added yet another stop, even if the stops are ten meters apart. The only thing he would complain about is when I do not ask for the stops to take the photos…
Compared to the traffic we endured in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there aren’t many people around on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But there are so many spots to take photos from, we don’t make any miles after all. It is a relaxing ride. Since we still haven’t got any useful information on the Parkway, we decide to turn into Waterrock Knob Visitor Center as well. They have some interesting looking books, but my bags are already more than filled without any souvenirs to start with…no books for me. They also have an excellent display, with some animals common to the area–including the poisonous snakes. Now Solo’s explanation of Arrow-headed snakes being vicious in Tennessee from yesterday makes sense. I will be able to figure it out when I see one.
Time to call it a day
The time has passed so fast. We only have made 26 Miles (39 km) of the 469 Miles of the parkway, but it is time to call it a day and find a place to stay for the night. This means we are leaving the Parkway behind us to find a hotel in nearby Asheville. This turns out to be harder than expected. The first decent looking hotel is completely sold out. They are even telling us that the chances are high that this counts for the entire area as it is tourist season.
Thankfully the staff at the first hotel was wrong. We find a good place to stay at, though more expensive than I would have expected, with the next hotel. The room we get is really cozy and beautiful, no comparison to the motel we have stayed at the last two nights. But then it also is almost double the price… But yes, hearing that it is tourist season for the Parkway as well is a bummer. Neither Solo or I am made for crowds. Our wallets aren’t made for five-star hotel prices, which might as well be the only ones to have rooms left in the next few days. So what are we going to do? Are we going to continue on the Blue Ridge Parkway, covering all the 469 Miles of it? It would for sure produce some great photos. But taking the miles we made today in consideration, we would spend about eight or nine more days before making it to Waynesboro, Virginia at the Northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a difficult call…
Little did I know when we drove up toward Newfound Gap today, passing the entrance to River Prong Trail, that only a couple of weeks later a fire would destroy not only parts of the forest but homes and companies all the way back down to Gatlinburg, killing 14 people. The ongoing drought which I experienced laid the foundation of the fire spreading so far, though the fire itself was caused by some teenagers. To this day I do not know if they caused the fire by accident or on purpose. Nevertheless, the view up to Chimney Tops is different now, yet nature will eventually heal.