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This ‘Olympic’ Event Has Gone To The Dogs

Zoey, a seven year old ‘dock dog’ leaps more than 20 feet chasing a float toy thrown by owner Stephanie Prock of Canel Fulton, Ohio. Zoey was just one of the dozens of dogs of all breeds competing for trophies at this weekend’s ‘Cherokee Dock Warriors’ canine sporting event. The two day event is produced by Carolina Dock Dogs as part of the 11th annual Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby.

Dockdogs is a fast growing dock jumping and dock diving sport for dogs that’s been featured on ESPN and The Outdoor Channel. The sport is comprised of the three disciplines: ‘Big Air’ (long jump); ‘Extreme Vertical’ (high jump); Speed Retrieve (jump, swim and retrieve); and ‘Iron Dog’, when a dog competes in all three disciplines.

By consistently jumping 22 foot distances Zoey is considered a ‘master’ in the Big Air event.

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Dinosaur Train Comes to the Mountains

Michael Kumpf, from Indianapolis, gives daughter Mazie a close-up view of ‘Laura Giganotosaurus’, one of the prehistoric characters in the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s special ‘Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train™’ excursion. After departing Bryson City, the train stops in Whittier at the ‘Nature Trackers Adventure Area’ where the fields and woods are inhabited with the lovable monsters from the popular PBS Kids Television series. Budding archaeologists can identify dinosaur tracks, assist in a dinosaur dig and play miniature golf with dinosaur ‘eggs’.

This year’s Dinosaur Train excursions conclude next weekend with departures on Friday and Saturday. August 4 & 5. For more information, visit GSMR.com.

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Bryson City – A Railroad Town Since the 1880s

This image of a railroad locomotive parked on a downtown side track has been a familiar Bryson City scene for well over a century – since the Murphy Branch first connected our rugged mountains with the rest of the world. Initially it was copper ore and later lumber that used these tracks. And today it’s the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad that treats tourists to a leisurely ride through the mountains, over Fontana Lake and along our scenic rivers, the Tuckaseigee and the Nantahala.

Photo by Aaron Morgan – website and Facebook

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It’s Not Quite The ‘Dragon’ But It Is One Continuous Curve

The ‘Twister’ — one of the two go-cart tracks at Cherokee Fun Park  — is a multi-level figure-8 spiral that winds its way up one side of the “8” and back down the other. The park’s other track is a more traditional road track with two overpasses. There’s also miniature golf and an indoor arcade.

The Cherokee Fun Park is located at 1897 Tsali Boulevard (US 441N) at the Acquoni Road intersection.  Hours are 10am to 10pm seven days a week throughout the summer season (Memorial Day — Labor Day).

This is our fourth birthday — Since May 26, 2008, we’ve published 216 Postcards From The Smokies. If you’re relatively new to this blog, you may enjoy browsing through our past posts… a composite picture of living and playing in Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains.

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The Annual Gathering of ‘Minis on the Dragon’

The tenth annual gathering of the ‘Minis on the Dragon’ group drew more than 800 Mini Cooper enthusiasts from all across the country. The early May event, centered at the Fontana Village Resort, benefitted a number of charitable organizations in Graham County. $6300 and 3000 pounds of food and beverages was donated to local food banks, and an additional $3500 was donated to the Graham County Chapter of the NC Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program.

On their website, the group describes the spectacular 11-mile Dragon section of U.S. 129 as “one of the best, if not the best sport car and motorcycle touring road in the country”. In addition to the legendary road, drivers said they were equally impressed by the beauty of the area. Most took advantage of the near perfect spring weather to explore everything around the Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park during their stay.

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Soco Falls – An Easily-Missed Cherokee Treasure

Driving the serpentine US-19 from Cherokee to Maggie Valley across Soco Gap requires a driver’s undivided attention, which explains why so many never notice the small sign that says “waterfall .5 mile” (which means ‘keep driving another half-mile’). UPDATE: New, more informative signs have been installed.

It’s also easy to miss the gravel roadside pull-off with space for maybe a half-dozen vehicles. But that’s where you’ll find Soco Falls, a beautiful double waterfall where two separate branches meet for spectacular 40 and 50 foot drops into a dark gorge.

The short trail starts at the break in the guardrail and descends about a hundred feet over some steps to the viewing platform. Some people scramble down the bank to the base of the falls, but it’s extremely steep and not recommended.

Soco Falls is on the Qualla Boundary about eleven miles east of Cherokee, on your right. Coming from Maggie Valley, the pull-off is 1.5 miles west of the Blue Ridge Parkway, on your left.

The photo is by Rich Stevenson, an Asheville photographer with a passion for Western North Carolina waterfalls. If you love waterfalls, Rich’s website NCWaterfalls.com is a must-see.

For more about waterfalls in the NC Smokies, visit this page on GreatSmokies.com


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In Bryson City, One of the South’s Largest Model Train Collections

Some kids never grow up, particularly when it comes to model trains. And next door to the Bryson City train depot, there’s a special treat for model train lovers of all ages. Smoky Mountain Trains, a museum dedicated to model railroading, houses a vast collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, rail cars and accessories, some dating back to the early 20th century.

The museum’s centerpiece is a large diorama with more than a mile of track on three levels where up to six trains run simultaneously. The layout includes a freight yard with more than 400 cars. There are tunnels, trestles, houses, factories, a five-foot waterfall and 12 animated scenes. The miniature maintenance area includes a turntable and roundhouse (above).

There are also smaller train layouts just for kids, with child-friendly buttons that operate the trains and accessories.

Admission to Smoky Mountain Trains is $9 for adults, $6 for children; and free for riders on Great Smoky Mountain Railroad excursions.

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A ‘Model Citizen’ in More Ways Than One

The late P.R. Bennett was ‘Bryson City’ through and through — mayor for nine terms, firefighter for 51 years, business owner, town clerk and member of the Swain County Planning Board. And after retiring, his love for Bryson City took him in a new direction: meticulously creating small-scale replicas of Bryson City landmarks — the train depot,  Jenkins Mill, the Presbyterian Church and the iconic old Swain County Courthouse. He also built a model of the Davis House, the late 19th century chestnut log cabin that the National Park now has preserved in its Mountain Farm Museum in Cherokee.

All the models but the church are now on display at the Swain County Genealogy Society above the Police Department on Main Street. Hours are 8 am to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 8 am to 4 pm Tuesday and Thursday; and Tuesday night from pm to 8 pm. As Bennett wished, the Presbyterian Church model lives at the church on North Everett Street.

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The Nantahala’s New Wave Shaper Made Its Debut on Friday

A day of drizzle did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for Friday’s grand opening of the new wave shaper on the Nantahala River. It was the first major event leading up to the 2013 ICF World Freestyle Kayaking Championships and the World Cup of Freestyle Kayaking less than a year away — two events that will place Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge on kayaking’s center stage.

The playboaters above were demonstrating the wave for the grand opening crowd and will continue to practice their maneuvers over the coming weeks, providing feedback to the wave’s designers and engineers. The submerged high-tech structure has adjustable concrete components that allow fine-tuning of the wave’s flow pattern. The goal is to create a freestyle kayaking venue that will continue to attract the world’s top athletes for years to come.

For more information, visit FreestyleKayaking2013.com. And for even more reading, check out the Asheville Citizen-Times’s great article on the Nantahala wave shaper.

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Polar Express Dress Code — Pajamas, Robe and Fuzzy Slippers

Wearing pajamas is part of the fun and tradition of riding the Polar Express train, although the practice is normally reserved for the children. Normally.

Based on the popular book and movie, the 1-1/4 hour Polar Express excursions continue thru Christmas Eve. And after Christmas, December 26–29, four additional excursions will be taking Santa back to the North Pole.

For more information, visit the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad website, or download this PDF flier.


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Santa Is Closer Than You Might Think

More than likely, you’ve never considered visiting the North Pole. It’s too far away and there’s a lot of snow and ice. But there’s a much faster and easier way… through Bryson City.

Each year, throughout November and December, the Polar Express departs from the Bryson City depot on a round trip journey to the North Pole where riders are greeted by Santa (above) who joins them on the return trip to Bryson City. Children are encouraged to wear pajamas to hear the story, meet Santa, enjoy caroling, hot cocoa and games.

Based on the popular book and movie, the 1-1/4 hour excursions continue thru Christmas Eve. And after Christmas, December 26–29, four additional excursions will be taking Santa back to the North Pole.

For more information, visit the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad website, or download this PDF flier.

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Cherokee’s Street Chiefs, in the Tradition of Chief Henry

It’s a marketing technique that’s uniquely Cherokee — street chiefs and dancers perform on curbside stages outside retail shops and souvenir stores, attracting crowds of shoppers. The shows, often featuring the traditional, ‘friendship dance’, ‘eagle dance’ and ‘hoop dance’, are free; yet tipping is encouraged, particularly when the “chiefs” pose for photographs. It’s a tradition that began years ago with the late Chief Henry, who was once billed as “The World’s Most Photographed Indian.”

And yes, their Native American regalia often represents indian nations and traditions other than Cherokee.

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Hear Smoky Mountain Ghost Stories on a Ride Through Haunted Woods

Swain County’s history chronicles a number of tragic deaths — like poor Andrew Jackson Lambert, who on July 9, 1886 became the only man to be hanged in Swain County. He was an innocent man.

Lambert is one of the seven ghosts that haunt the woods beside the Tuckaseegee River in Whittier. Tim “the storyteller” Hall relates each of their stories (all true) on his “Tuckaseegee Terror Tales Tour”, a spooky covered wagon ride through those Whittier woods.

Tim normally spins yarns at his Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachian on Everett Street in Bryson City.  But in the spirit of Halloween, he’s offering the ghostly wagon rides in Whittier every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening in October. The rides ($5) begin at 7 pm and last about 30 minutes. For more information, call 828-488-5705 or check out Tim’s Facebook page.

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Around the bonfire — Tales of Cherokee folklore

For centuries, tales of Cherokee history and folklore have been passed from generation to generation in spoken form, most likely at day’s end by the light of a campfire. And that tradition is carried on today at the Friday and Saturday evening bonfires at Cherokee’s Island Park.

Above, storyteller John John Toineeta entertains his audience with a scary story. He and other storytellers and dancers teach traditional dances and Cherokee legends each Friday and Saturdays starting at 7:00pm. There are free marshmallows to roast and you might be invited to join in a Cherokee dance. Storytelling runs through October 1 and then takes a few weeks off before moving to the Haunted Indian Village October 21-31 with all scary stories.

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It’s One Of The Nation’s Most Popular State Lines

Like these two travelers from Germany, most people visiting Newfound Gap can’t resist standing with one foot in Tennessee and the other in North Carolina. They were riding one of Cherokee Transit’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park shuttles connecting Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. On nice days, the drivers make a ten-minute stop at Newfound Gap to let passengers enjoy the view …and straddle the state line.

Cherokee Transit’s shuttles run back and forth across the mountains several times a day March thru October. Riders can then transfer to local transit systems in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Cherokee.

Photo courtesy Cherokee Transit

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Something is Brewing in Bryson City

Against a backdrop of gleaming steel fermenting tanks, Jen Huston draws a beer for Joe Rowland at the Nantahala Brewing Company’s new tasting room, which had its grand opening Friday. For several months, the Bryson City craft brewery has been supplying area restaurants with kegs of their IPA, Brown, Stout & Pale Ale and seasonal ales. And now, customers can enjoy the local brews at the 61 Depot Street brewery.

Jen, Joe and brewers Chris and Cristina Collier are initially opening the tasting bar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 4 pm to 10 pm and Sundays 2 pm to 6 pm, with an expanded hours April thru mid-November. For more information and hours of operation, visit their website.

Updated 3/6/2011 with expanded March hours


Low Tech and No Plastic. Making Toys The Old Fashioned Way.

Before boarding the Polar Express train, Chloe and Owen LaVigne of Midlothian, Virginia paid a visit to the Appalachian Toymaker’s shop, located across the street from the train depot. Tim Hall has transformed his Bryson City Storytelling Center into an old-fashioned toymaker’s shop for the holidays, making hand crafted Appalachian wooden toys and spinning yarns. Above, Tim uses his Barlow knife to put the finishing touches on a ‘ball and cup’ toss toy.

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In the Smokies, Life Will Imitate The Movies

In the popular film, “Night At The Museum”, all the animals and characters in the exhibits come to life. In the Smokies next week, another museum will come to life when the Mountain Farm Museum hosts the annual Mountain Life Festival.

The Mountain Farm Museum is a collection of 19th Century farm buildings moved from different sites throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and assembled in a grassy field alongside the Oconalufee River near Cherokee. Throughout the summer, the museum is a sleepy 19th century farm, with crops such as squash, corn and tomatoes cultivated in the garden and live farm animals grazing in the fields.

And on September 18, the farm will come to life with live demonstrations of soap making, hearth cooking, hominy, apple butter and cider, plus a working cane mill and wood-fired cooker used for the making of sorghum syrup — activities that typified rural life in the Smokies during harvest time.

Mountain Life Festival (free)
Saturday, September 18
10 am – 4 pm
Mountain Farm Museum
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Oconaluftee Visitors Center
Cherokee, NC

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Virginia’s Smoky Mountains Birthday

Virginia Hill came all the way from New York to celebrate her birthday in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Her father, Garius, snapped the above photo and provided the following caption —

“This was a wonderful moment for Virginia and our family. Bryson City and the Nantahala area provided an amazing 12th birthday for Virginia. In one day, we camped in the Smokies, rode on a scenic train through the mountains, whitewater rafted, zip lined through the canopy of giant trees, ate a fabulous dinner in a mountain resort and slept that night in a yurt.”

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Fly Through The Trees With The Greatest of Ease

Last year, a new outdoor adventure got off the ground — literally — when the Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours began offering rides on their 1/2 mile-long network of ziplines throughout the treetops in the Nantahala Gorge. Part eco-tourism, part adventure tour, zip lines provide an opportunity to soar through a forest with a unique perspective of the land below. Today, it’s one of the most popular outdoor activities in the area, with their three hour rides routinely selling out. Above, a group of riders await await their turn on a sky bridge.

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