Monday, June 11, 2007

Rich Mountain Road/Foothills Parkway/Happy Valley

Today's excursion started as a scouting mission for sunrise locations in Cades Cove, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As such, this mission was a failure. I just couldn't endure the full 11 miles of tourons taking tiny pictures of deer with point and shoot cameras. I've seen a deer before, and I don't find it any more exciting than seeing a rat or raccoon. I try to avoid hitting them with my car, but beyond that, I have no particular interest in them.

I ditched onto Rich Mountain road when I encountered it, rather than looping back when I finished the full Cades Cove loop, which had been the place. Rich Mountain Road is a one-way, one-lane, narrow and winding, mostly gravel, climb from Cades Cove over towards Townsend. I was expecting switchbacks, but I was impressed to see the road I had looped around tw0 turns below still visible beneath me.

There are a few cut-out views on Rich Mountain road (small holes, much like on Balsam Mountain Road, which is a similar ride) that show Cades Cove from above. I took a few (lousy) pictures in the drab conditions, showing a church down in the cove.

After about 45 minutes of slow travel in 1st gear, I hit the park boundary, and the road quickly switched to rough pavement, and many houses in various states of existance began to line the road, including one nestled into a switchback. Eventually, I emerged on the road that led back to US 321, and after several three-point turns to get going the right direction, I found US 321 and headed towards the Foothills Parkway.
The Foothills Parkway is one of several "Roads to Nowhere" in the SouthEast, and one of two in the Smokies. In reality, the two completed segments do go somewhere, but the road itself is not complete, so it doesn't really go where it is supposed to. The progress of the road has been stymied by environmentalists and budgetary issues, and it currently runs from US 321 to US 129 (Walland to Chilhowee) on the west side of the Smokies and from Cosby to I-40 on the north side. I was travelling the US 321 to 129 segment. The road is very quiet, calm, and lightly used by tourists. Like the Cherohala Skyway, it actually has sped up local commute times considerably, so it does serve some purpose other than being a scenic route. From its overlooks you can get an excellent view of 5000ft+ peaks, and the Tennessee River Valley. It is also a great place to see wild turkeys. On my last visit I saw no less than 20 turkeys, including several juveniles.
I was planning to head over to Fontana Dam, but a mileage sign at the 129 terminus of the Foothills Parkway made me decide it was too far. I've driven down US-129 before, and I had no desire to vomit today. The road is a favorite of motorcyclists, but large sedan drivers will probably be carsick within minutes due to the twisting nature of the road. Along with the Cherohala Skyway it forms a massive loop that contains some of the most winding roads in America, hence why there are so many motorcycles around. I decided again to head down Happy Valley Road which is on the opposite side of the lake inlet (huge and secluded lake here) from the Foothills Parkway terminus.
This road runs through Happy Valley, which I imagine is what Cades Cove would have looked like had the park service not taken possession of it. Lots of nice cabins, lots of not so nice cabins, open fields and some forest too, lots of old cars collecting rust in yard collections. Neat place.
My return to Knoxville (where I am temporarily staying) on US-129 was uneventful and unremarkable.

1 comment:

JPS said...

That picture of the church is so blurry because I forgot the lens was in manual focus, not due to atmospheric conditions.

My bad.