Friday, August 5, 2016

Chapter 37 - Gatlinburg to Hiawassee, Georgia

Aug 4th, Day 62: Our drive today may have been the most beautiful drive of our entire trip. The first hour or so we drove through the high mountains of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where we reached a high elevation of 5,046 feet above sea level at a point known as Newfound Gap. The road from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap, a total distance of around 15 miles, was all up a steep and winding mountain road. This photograph above was a typical view as we passed through the heavily forested mountains. The photograph below shows that as we neared the highpoint, the tops of the mountains were in the clouds.

Immediately upon exiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park we found ourselves back at elevation 1,500 in the Village of Cherokee, North Carolina located in the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Cherokee caters to tourists with hundreds of Indian arts and craft stores and to their great benefit financially, a huge hotel and casino. We have been through Cherokee a number of times in the past and considering that we were towing a trailer on this visit, we elected not to stop.

The highway as we dropped down the mountain side into Cherokee followed a rapidly flowing creek by the name of the Oconaluftee River. The river obviously famous for trout fishing, was also a beautiful sight and we could not resist stopping and taking this photo.

Soon after leaving the Indian reservation our highway started to rise again in elevation as we soon entered the Nantahala National Forest. Once again the mountains views were spectacular even though they were often shrouded with cloud cover. We found ourselves on several occasions also passing through rain showers as we continued south.

We took this photograph above on a pull-off spot located in North Carolina about twenty-five miles above the North Carolina - Georgia state line. The rains had stopped and the sun was finally shining.

Our destination today is a campground named Bald Mountain Camping Resort located just south of the City of Hiawassee in North Georgia. The campground got it's name from a nearby mountain by the name of Brasstown Bald which happens to be Georgia's tallest mountain rising to 4,783 feet. While we have no plans to drive to the top of Brasstown Bald during our short stay, we have done so in the past several times over the six years we summered here in Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Not surprisingly our camping "Resort" is surrounded by mountains and we are sheltered from the sun under tall maple trees. We arrived at our destination around 11 am after a very wonderful 3-1/2 hour drive.

After getting all set up at our campsite and having lunch, we decided to once again drive up into the mountains. We knew from past experience that the southern end of the Appalachian Trail is located in North Georgia and we thought that it might be fun this afternoon to revisit an old store located right on the Appalachian Trail at a point known as Neel Gap at 3,109 feet above sea level. The old stone building that now serves as a store and information center was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps around the same time that the trail was constructed.
The store features supplies of all types for the many hikers that pass through the area as well as a gift store for tourists like ourselves.

While the weather was not particularly inviting when we arrived at the store (also known as the Walasi-Yi Center) as it had just stopped raining, we did take this long range photo looking southeast from the back deck of the store. Kathy and I have hiked a very short distance on the Appalachian Trail a number of years back, and I now wish we were younger and had more time because the spender of these mountains is beyond description and walking the trail has to be the best way to take-in the experience.  We returned to the campsite around 3 o'clock and relaxed for the rest of the day. When one is on the road for over two months, time has to be found to relax.

Aug 5th, Day 63: As I previously mentioned, we used to spend our summers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia and today our plan is to revisit our old "summer home" located just outside the City of Blue Ridge, Georgia. We were pleasantly surprised as we drove by our old cabin as the many forms of landscaping that we had planted around the cabin were now fully matured and looked wonderful. We kind of miss the old place. From our front porch and our bedroom porch we had long range views of the mountains both in North Carolina as well as in Tennessee.

After visiting our old neighborhood we drove into the City of Blue Ridge to see what if anything has changed over the past two years. Not surprisingly not much had changed although we did notice some new construction on the main street and it was clear despite the early hour (most stores did not open until 11 am) that the Blue Ridge area is still a very popular destination.

At one point we thought that we might have lunch on the outside porch of the restaurant Harvest on Main since we had eaten there many times in the past and we knew that Cabo would not be ostracized. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it was well before the lunch hour when we drove by this popular Blue Ridge restaurant.

We took many photographs of our old stomping grounds and it would be pointless to include most of them in this chapter. For example a photo of our old library or the community theater where we used to volunteer, would be pretty boring to view. One thing that we did enjoy revisiting however, is the Mercier Gardens where fresh fruits and vegetables and even junk food can be purchased from their huge indoor store. These kinds of places we do miss and cannot really be found in Florida.

We returned back to our temporary home, which incidentally was located about 35 miles east of Blue Ridge, around 1 o'clock.  Tomorrow we are headed south again probably to a campsite somewhere in southern Georgia.  We have now for the most part decided that our trip has culminated by our visit to the Blue Ridge Mountain area of North Georgia and our travel goal now is to get home. We will make only two more stops, each however, for a period of only one day. The scenery such as seen in the photo above, will now be a thing of the past.  Unless of course, we do travel again next summer somewhere else in our great country.

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