Day 5 – Cherokee and Great Smoky Mountains

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Today was our first day of ‘local’ exploration from which we would return to the same bed for a second night. Nevertheless we expected to drive a bit more than an hour each way to visit our targets for the day.

We were awake at our usual time around 7:00 am, showered, ate the hotel breakfast – juice, coffee, scrambled egg, sausage, crumpet with cream cheese and jam – and in the car before 8:30 am. Our first stop was the local laundromat which I’d located on Google Maps last night. It was just around the corner and across the highway. As we expected there was an attendant and rather than sit about for an hour or more to wash and dry we happily paid $0.79 per pound for the minimum 10 pounds (plus tax, of course) to be washed, dried, and folded.

From there we followed the highway north west toward Cherokee. We drove for about an hour before exiting onto a secondary road that wound through the forest and mostly down into a valley. We stopped once along the way to shop at Bearmeats Indian Den where we bought a bottle of Scuppernong (a wild grape we were told) Cider. We stopped again briefly at a souvenir store as we entered Cherokee and then turned toward the visitor centre. That road ran beside the Oconaluftee River and by a park. Majella had spotted the Museum of the Cherokee Indian across the road so after a quick look at the visitor centre we headed there.

The museum is an impressive modern building with display sections arranged so that visitors walk through them in sequence. There is a short video introduction in a theatre with some traditional stories of creation. From there the sequence runs from paleo through archaic to Mississippi ages and then to the arrival of Europeans. The story is one of a moderately advanced society overwhelmed by a more technologically and economically advanced people with elements of betrayal. The presentation was well done and made a strong case that the Cherokee had been treated unjustly. We could have done without the final few sections that focused on details of the visit to England by three Cherokee in 1762. Pieces of fine china, portraits, and stories of meetings with the rich and famous seemed an unnecessary anticlimax after the drama of removal and the Trail of Tears.

Our museum visit had taken a bit less than two hours so it was lunch time and we wanted something quick so we could move on to the national park. We drove in the direction of the park and almost immediately spotted a row of shops. One of them appeared as though it might offer food so we went in. They had hot dogs and chilli that the woman who served us thought might be warm enough – it had been heating for 30 minutes or so. We had the hot dogs with chilli. I think it’s obligatory to have a hot dog most times I come to the USA so that may be my quota for this trip.

After we had eaten we drove further up the road to the National Park visitor centre and checked what might be possible in the time we had. We opted not to head for the top of the mountain, thinking that the Blue Ridge Parkway drive tomorrow would be more than enough winding roads on mountains. We walked around the mountain farm exhibit which had a collection of old buildings gathered from locations around what later became the park. It was interesting to see the structures and learn something of the history of farming in the area. We also walked part of the way along the Oconaluftee River trail which headed back to Cherokee.

From there we headed for the Deep Creek park area via Bryson City, less than 20 km along the valley road. When we decided to head in that direction I tried the GPS for a POI named Deep Creek. It offered me Deep Creek Tubes. At the time we had no idea what that might mean so we headed for Bryson city and hoped to find signs to Deep Creek. Once at Deep Creek we realised the significance of the ‘tubes’. There were several businesses at the part entrance specialising in renting tubes at $5 a day. The tubes were used by visitors for floating down the creek on the current. We drove into the park, intending to visit the falls, but the lure of the tubes was too much for Majella and we had to return to the entrance to rent one so that she could ride the river. The woman we spoke with gave us directions about where to put the tube in the creek and sat it on the roof of the car, assuring us that it would sit there OK if we went slow enough. It did, we parked, Majella removed spectacles and some¬†other items, we walked up the trail, and Majella set off on her voyage down the river. There is video but it will need to be edited before it is shared,

Majella managed to get wet on her ride so to give her time to dry out we took the 0.3 mile walk up hill to Juneywhank Falls. She had dried out a little, but not completely, by the time we walked up and down but we climbed back in the car and headed back to Asheville with Majella driving. We collected our laundry and went back to our hotel.

Once Majella had changed and rested we headed out for dinner. We wandered around the downtown area for a bit until Majella asked a woman where might be good to eat. We ate at the Tupelo Honey Cafe which had also been recommended when we checked in at the hotel and asked yesterday. It was crowded and had no tables but we were offered seats at the counter. We expected that to be the bar but it was in fact a bar style structure set against the kitchen which provided an interesting floor show as the several cooks managed the hectic business of filling orders quickly. Majella stuck to water but I had beer. We ordered two of the specials – a peach of a salad (salad with peaches and chicken) and the sassy chicken (chicken cooked with a garlic and spicy sauce served with asparagus and swiss chard on macaroni with cheese). Both were good but very filling.

The distance today was a little less than 270 km but we covered a lot more than that in history, scenery and fun.