tail of the dragon

Tried to leave Great Smoky Mountains National Park yesterday. Eventually made it out, but not without having to expend a little effort.

We were camped in Cade’s Cove, north and west of, and, coincidentally, in an entirely different state from, the place we wanted to exit the park (near Cherokee, North Carolina). To get back south and east we’d planned to simply reverse the scenic route we’d taken days earlier. However, the universe conspired against us… or perhaps it’s better to say it pushed us in a different direction.

We knew the road out of our campground had been closed our last night there, so I walked up early in the morning to check to gate and see if we could even begin the trip. It was finally sunny after a week of rain so we were looking forward to seeing more of the sights the drive had to offer. When greeted with an open gate and a couple returning front-end loaders, I was happy – we could get get moving and if the loaders were headed back the road was likely clear of any storm debris.

Didn’t see any rangers to inquire about the sections of road past the first gate, didn’t really even think to do so, kind of forgot there’s a series of gates and that the single open one permitting us to start our trip was only the first.

After twenty minutes or so of amazing, gorgeous driving, we arrived at the “Wye,” where two downhill sections of the Little River were angrily crashing together, swollen and churning with a week’s worth of rain. Unfortunately, continued westward passage was not possible, the road blocked with another, unanticipated, gate.

Being a little closer, now, to civilization, though, we could catch enough bits from outer space to check the National Park Service road conditions Twitter feed, where we learned that not only was the section of road immediately before us closed due to downed trees and a rockslide, but the entire southerly section across state lines was also closed due to hazardous high winds in the elevations.

So we had lunch and I played with Google maps. We were intending to get all the way to Northern Georgia, and the route through the park wasn’t just desirable for it’s sunny-day scenery, but it was actually the most expeditious route to boot. Turns out, though, that it looked like we could go north and west, around the outside of the park and down through the Nantahala National Forest, and arrive only about forty minutes later than intended. Not bad.

After a twenty minute delay due to another, thankfully temporarily, closed road, we were on our blissfully ignorant way.

And that’s how, serendipitously, we ended up having two really cool experiences: (1) We got to drive the amazingly scenic NPS Foothills Parkway, and (2) We unwittingly drove our 30ft RV on a section of road called “The Tail of the Dragon.” Sometimes dubbed “the most exciting road in America,” it’s a route we most certainly, had we known any better, would not have chosen.

But, in the end, moving on average about fifteen miles per hour, we survived and, although we ended up pulling into our campsite are dark, it was memorable day.

Hugs and kisses.

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