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Archive for the 'Drives' Category

Masonic Marker Built With Special Stones from All Over The World

High in the Smokies, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a large stone marker that pays tribute to the world’s Freemasons. It was built in 1938 with with more than 400 unique stones contributed by Masons all across the US and in 41 countries. A catalog (PDF) published at the time lists the origin, significance, and the contributor of each stone.

This year, as they have done for 75 years, York Rite Masons will assemble in the Smokies for an event that always includes an address at the marker.

A plaque reads “The scenic setting of this marker, surrounded on all sides by national park lands, was chosen to signify the universality of the Masons. Their ideals of equality, morality, charity, and a brotherhood of humanity are symbolized in the cement that binds these stones and bricks.”

You’ll find the marker just off the Parkway between Cherokee and Soco Gap. Near milepost 458, turn onto Heintooga Road and drive 3.6 miles to Black Camp Gap. There’s a parking area on your right, and two short trails to the marker. One trail is wheelchair accessible and the other skirts the edge of a small field where Elk love to graze.

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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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A Band of ‘Iron Indians’ Tours Cherokee and The Smokies

Motorcycle touring is popular in the North Carolina Smokies. Our curvy and scenic mountain roads are nothing short of ‘biker heaven’. Yet one group of riders drew a lot of attention when the “Blue Ridge Iron Indian Riders” thundered into the Gear Head Inn near Cherokee recently. The Whittier motel caters to motorcycle and classic car enthusiasts.

The riders were not indian, but the bikes were. They all were Indian Chief motorcycles, with their signature deeply valenced fenders.

Considered ‘America’s First Motorcycle’, Indian Motorcycles were popular from 1901 until World War II, when production shifted to supplying military and police vehicles. After the war, the company struggled to recapture its market and eventually closed its doors in 1953. The company was resurrected in 1999 and today Indian Motorcycles are manufactured in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

Photo by Andy Jay, editor of Dashboards and Saddlebags magazine

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It’s not really a ‘swinging’ bridge, but it can be a little ‘bouncy’

Patricia and James Fields of Crossville, Tennessee explore the 275-foot, double-span Needmore suspension footbridge over the Little Tennessee River. It’s one of two suspension footbridges in Swain County. A smaller one spans the Nantahala River west of Wesser.

Suspension bridges were originally built to allow children from local farms to cross the river to catch the school bus in the days before good roads lined both sides of the river. The Needmore bridge is now part of the 4,525-acre Needmore Game Lands, located in Macon and Swain counties and managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

To visit this bridge, from Bryson City drive west on US 74 approximately ten miles. Turn left on Needmore Road at Smoky Mountain Jetboats (just before Hwy 28 North). Continue south on Needmore for about four miles to the bridge. The GPS coordinates are N 35.32544, W 83.52328.

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Annual Ice Cream Run Brings ‘Minis’ to Bryson City

Downtown Bryson City was literally overrun with Minis. On Saturday, April 30, more than 100 of the sporty British compacts made the annual “Ice Cream Run” to Soda Pop’s Ice Cream Parlor on Everett Street. The Saturday side-trip was part of 9th annual “Minis on the Dragon” rally which brought more than 500 of the cars to Fontana Village for the four-day event.

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Carpets of Trillium Throughout The Smokies

If you’re a Trillium-lover, now is the time to head for the mountains. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll see them carpeting the wooded slopes along Newfound Gap Road (US 441), which runs from Cherokee to Gatlinburg. They are especially abundant near Collins Creek on the North Carolina side and Chimneys on the Tennessee side.

The Large Flowered White Trillium (above) is the most abundant of the Trilliums of the Great Smoky Mountains. The big, bell shaped white flower, which usually turns to a delicate pink with age, is on a stem 10 to 15 inches high. When started from seed, Trilliums take 6-8 years to have their first bloom.

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Galbreath Creek, The Backroad To Deep Creek

If you’re driving from Cherokee, Galbreath Creek Road is a convenient shortcut from Highway 19 into the Deep Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The unpaved portion within the Park is a quiet country road that hasn’t changed much in decades.

Linda Stephenson shot this handsome portrait of Galbreath Creek Road last Fall. She says “Deep Creek is and has been a very special part of my life for many years.” And a lot of people must share that sentiment because Linda’s photo won the People’s Choice award at The Marianna Black Library‘s “Life in Swain” amateur photo contest last year.

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See The Little Tennessee River Up Close on Needmore Road

Robert Davis says he’s “lucky and blessed to have the most beautiful drive going to work and home again that anyone can have”, a drive which leads alongside the Little Tennessee River. One foggy October morning, he stopped long enough to capture the above image, which later won second place in the Marianna Black Library’s annual “Life in Swain” photo contest.

Some of the best views of the Little Tennessee River in Swain County are along Needmore Road. From Bryson City, drive about eight miles west on US 74. At Smoky Mountain Jet Boats, turn left on Needmore Road. Proceed about two miles to the river.

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Get a Load of This Curvaceous 75 Year-old Beauty!

BRP75The Blue Ridge Parkway turns 75 this year and it’s as gorgeous as ever, with unmatched views of Appalachia. “America’s Favorite Drive” stretches 470 miles from the Shehandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. We’re a little prejudiced of course, but we believe the rugged southern section is the most scenic. In fact, the 90 mile drive from Cherokee to Asheville will take you to the highest point on the Parkway at Richland Balsam. It’s a great day trip from the Bryson City / Cherokee area.

Download a pdf map of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Photo by Shari Jardina, an Indianapolis photographer who’s captured many images of the North Carolina Smokies.

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Snowy View From the Top of Alarka

Julia Thompson photographed this winter scene at the top of Deep Gap Road in the Alarka community south of Bryson City. At 3000 feet, the scene includes a spectacular skyline view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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Blue Ridge Parkway 75th Anniversary Kicked Off in Cherokee


BRP75Just as the 75th anniversary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws to a close, the neighboring Park’s anniversary has just begun. Last week, the Blue Ridge Parkway kicked off its 75th year with a ceremony at the Ravensford Overlook near the southern end of the 469 mile scenic roadway. The Cherokee NC location was significant for several reasons — it’s where the two parks and the Qualla Boundary share borders, and it acknowledged the Cherokees’ major role in bringing the Parkway through the reservation and into Swain County.

Jerry-WolfeThe kick-off ceremony included a “passing of the torch” from one Park to the other, ceremonial dances by the Warriors of AniKituhwa and a Cherokee blessing from 85 year-old tribal elder Jerry Wolfe, who was born and raised only a mile from the Ravensford Overlook in a cabin where the parkway now runs.  View video.

More about the Parkway’s 75th Anniversary here.

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How to Enjoy an Early Morning Fog


With temperatures dropping in the Fall, early morning fogs are fairly common in the Smokies. Obviously, when clouds are touching the ground, there’s not much to see. But if you head for the higher elevations, along the Blue Ridge Parkway or Newfound Gap Road in the National Park, you can enjoy a spectacular sunrise above the clouds.

Photo by J.R. vanLienden

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When is the Peak Fall Color in the North Carolina Smokies?


It’s the question of the month from callers to the Bryson City Chamber of Commerce. And the answer is “You can see fall color just about anytime from early October through early November. You just may have to drive to see it.” That’s because the arrival of peak color varies with the elevation, which ranges from 2000 to more than 6000 feet in Swain County.

Autumn’s annual color show is already making its way down from highest elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the climate is more like New England’s. And over the next three weeks, the above display will be repeated throughout the the Smoky Mountain landscape with the grand finale coming around the end of the month. The only spoiler could be a heavy thunderstorm, which could bring down the curtain early.

But right now, it’s shaping up to be quite a show.

Photo by J.R.VanLienden

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Is It Spring Yet? Well That Depends On Where You Are.


Over the past week, the valleys around Bryson City have turned lush green and the Spring color is just beginning to creep up the hillsides, providing stark contrast with the still-wintry mountains above. It will be a few more weeks before the “greening up” of the mountains reaches the highest peaks of the Great Smokies.

This makes the next few weeks a fascinating time to drive in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can literally watch the seasons change with each change in elevation.

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The Deal’s Gap Dragon — An Adventure on Asphalt


The Dragon — the curvy stretch of US Highway 129 connecting North Carolina and Tennessee at Deal’s Gap — elicits contrasting responses from visitors to the Smoky Mountains. “Flatlanders”, unaccustomed to serpentine roads, have been known to turn several shades of green after negotiating the road’s 318 continuous curves in just eleven miles. But motorcyclists love it, and consider it one of the best motorcycling and sports car roads in the world.

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A Clouded View From Newfound Gap


Early morning views from the top of the Smokies often look down on a blanket of clouds. Then, as the temperature rises, the cloud cover slowly lifts – at first completely shrouding the view and then dissipating to reveal the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Autumn’s Annual Guessing Game — When is “Peak” Leaf Season?

October Color in the North Carolina Smokies

Fall visitors to the Smokies often try to plan their visit around the “peak season” for autumn color. Yet no one except Mother Nature knows when the “peak” will occur …and she’s not talking.

Fall arrives first at the higher elevations, suggesting early-to-mid October drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway (above), Cherohala Skyway, and US 441 across Newfound Gap. Yet at the lower elevations around Bryson City, the best color usually arrives mid-to-late October …sometimes as late as early November.

Truth is, if you visit the Smokies just about any time in October, you’re certain to find Fall foliage. Just look high and low.

Photo by J.R. vanLienden, Masterpiece Portraits

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They Came to Slay the Dragon. And the Dragon Won.

The Tree of Shame at the Dragon, Deals Gap NC/TN

Motorcyclists from all over the world come to the Smokies to “slay the Dragon”, the infamous stretch of US Highway 129 at Deal’s Gap in western Swain County, NC. With 318 curves in just eleven miles, the Dragon is considered by many as one of the best motorcycling and sports car roads in the world.

At the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort, the “Tree of Shame” is covered with broken parts and pieces of the bikes that crashed on the Dragon — a makeshift shrine to those who faced the beast …and lost.

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