Thursday, July 1, 2010

Texas to North Carolina

Day 1 - Dallas to Nashville - Thursday, July 1, 2010

It was just a long day spent driving. We pulled out of our driveway at 07:25. Drove up I-30 to Mount Vernon, where we gassed up. Crossed into Arkansas and drove thirty more miles up to Hope where we stopped just after 11:00 for an early lunch at Taco Bell. Back on the road we made it to about 45 miles east of Memphis before we had to fill up again. Next stop was Nashville, where we arrived around 19:30. We had had trouble with the A/C blower motor a lot of the way. It started off fine, but after a while the fan stopped blowing on the low settings, and would only blow on high. I checked the fuse, but it was fine. Will have to get it checked when we get to Waynesville.
Used the Yellow Pages Ap on my phone to find a Cracker Barrel in Nashville, and called them from the road. They told me that there were three hotels near them, but when we got here, there were about seven. Checked into the EconoLodge for 60.00, deposited our stuff in the room, then went around the corner to the Cracker Barrel for dinner. Spent the evening catching up on e-mail, and phone calls. Sorry, but no pictures from today.

Day 2 - Nashville to Waynesville - Friday, July 2, 2010

We left the EconoLodge in Nashville about 09:25 and had a rather uneventful trip over to Knoxville. I felt we needed some cash, but couldn't locate a branch of my bank. We decided instead to stop at Wal Mart for a few items, and do a debit card cash back transaction. We found a Wal Mart on the western outskirts of Knoxville, but it was hard to get in and out of it, with all the holiday traffic and the convoluted interchange. Drove on over to the east side of Knoxville and stopped for lunch at Wendy's, then filled the gas tank, and hit the road again.

From Knoxville over to Asheville, NC the way gets steep and curvy. There are usually a lot of big trucks on this highway, and today was no exception. You have to really pay attention to your driving along through here, what with the four-wheelers wanting to drive eighty miles an hour and all the trucks going very slow up the hills and very fast down the hills. I had the cruise control set on sixty-five and had to do a lot of negotiation to get through there.

We finally made it to the state line, and started a long gradual descent, following the course of a river off to the right. Up near the state line on the west bound side, there was some construction. They had one lane shut down, and the creeping back up this caused was more than fifteen miles long. Very nasty to be going west bound today.

We exited the interstate highway at exit 20, and made our way over to Waynesville, and the Super 8 Motel. We had reserved the room a few days ago, so they were expecting us. We got checked in, unloaded the luggage, then headed up to Cataloochie Valley in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Cove Creek Road leads up to Cataloochie Valley. It cuts off of Hwy. 276 in a valley floor near the interstate, and starts off pretty strait and level. There are houses and farms along the way, and the road gets steeper and more curvy as you go along. After about five or six miles the pavement runs out and it's a gravel road. It keeps going up, steeper and steeper, and the turns get tighter 'til you get to the top of the pass at what's called the Cataloochie Divide. This is the ridge top that encircles Cataloochie Valley, and marks the boundary of the National Park. There is a National Park entrance sign there, but nothing else, no guard shack or ranger station. From here the road starts going down, and is about like the road coming up. After about four miles of gravel switch-back you come to a paved park road, and the going gets easier. It's about three miles from this point down to the valley floor. Every now and then there is a break through the trees and you can see some very spectacular mountain scenery.

Cataloochie Valley is a long, narrow valley, almost isolated from the surrounding countryside. Up until the 1940's there were about 200 people living here. They were farmers and hunters. When the National Park Service bought up all the land for the park, they left a lot of the buildings intact, to serve as examples of the life here before the park. There is a school, a church, several cemeterys, farm houses and at least one very nice barn. These buildings are maintained by the Park Service, and you can go in them to look around.

The main draw in Cataloochie Valley seems to be the elk. The federal government re-introduced the elk to this part of the park a few years ago, and now there are over a hundred living in the valley. There are some naturalist volunteers who keep tabs on the elk, and know exactly how many there are. Somehow they get a count each year after the calving season. All the females have ear tags with a number. The males, with their massive racks of antlers are amazing to see. There are several large open meadows in the valley floor, and the elk like to come down there in the late afternoon to graze. They come right up to the road sometimes, and visitors can get very close to them. Visitors are not allowed to get within fifty yards of the elk, but sometimes they are grazing on the lawn of the ranger station and you can park there and get pictures from just a few yards away. It's pretty incredible.

We spent about two hours there, and got some great pictures of the elk. We were a bit unprepared, and Ok Hwa's camera battery died. She forgot to bring another one, so her picture taking session was cut short. I promised to bring her back tomorrow. We'll get an earlier start, and make sure we have everything we need.

After we left the park, we drove over into Maggie Valley, a beautiful, small town where there are a lot of tourist hotels, RV parks and such. We found a great place to have dinner, The Grizzly Grill. It is attached to a great, rustic hotel, Smoky Falls Lodge, nestled into the trees by the little creek which flows through town. Their specialty is slow smoked BBQ. We had the buffet, which had most of the BBQ items on it. The pulled pork was amazingly good. I think we'll be going back there for dinner again tomorrow night. That is if we have room left in our bellies after all the good food at the family reunion.
Here is the link to today's slide show: