Mountain Farm Museum
This was our last outing in the state of Tennessee for this trip, unfortunately. We got up relatively early because we were headed “over the hill” to Bryson City, NC for a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. To get there, we had to drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but we told ourselves we had to wait until our way back to stop and gawk at the views since we were on a time schedule for our train ride. Since we usually leave lots of wiggle room in our timetable, we didn’t listen. I’m sorry, but once we got up toward the views, we had to stop. That’s the whole reason we come here – for the views! The earlier hours and the fog made the view somewhat subdued compared to a bright and sunny day, but that had an up-side too.
Once we arrived at Newfound Gap, we pulled over again, but decided the views weren’t that great and decided we’d check them out on our return. You know we’ve seen some beautiful views from this vantage point more than once, when what we saw today was “not that great”! I guess we’re spoiled.
Years ago we decided to get up at 4am to see the sun rise over the mountains at this spot. For one reason or another, all of that was not worth the effort when the views were “not that great”. We did have some excellent pancakes for breakfast upon our return to civilization, so the trip was not a total loss. Usually 4am is way too early to rise while on vacation, but if we could have caught an awesome sunrise, it would have been worth it.
Speaking of the views over the Smokies – again years ago, we had a family get-together where my cousins rented a 5-bedroom house way up on a mountain in Gatlinburg just before the entrance to the Park. We arrived in town after dark, but decided to visit them that evening anyway. The road to the cabin was frightening in the dark, with zigs and zags we’re not accustomed to in Wisconsin, but we arrived in one piece and the cabin was absolutely beautiful, with wrap-around decks off each of its three levels. We didn’t realize until morning when we returned for a big family breakfast, that the views off those decks – especially the top one – were absolutely breathtaking! I would highly recommend renting one of those cabins, although I didn’t have the nerve to ask how much they paid for the two- or three-night stay.
“Anyone who has visited the Great Smoky Mountains can confirm that the Smokies certainly live up to their name! The mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are blanketed with a smoky haze that gives the region an almost magical quality. Indeed, the Cherokee considered the mountains to be a sacred place and referred to the area as “Shaconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey): land of the blue smoke. When European settlers arrived in the early 1800s, they took inspiration from the Cherokee language when they named the Great Smoky Mountains and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.” – READ MORE about what makes the Smokies smoky and blue at visitmysmokies.com
We arrived in Bryson City right on time to check in at the train, grab a cup of coffee and split an awesome cinnamon roll at the train station. Our options were limited with our November 2 departure. In fact I think our only option was the Tuckasegee (tuck-uh-SEE-jee) River Excursion.
“Departing from Bryson City, this 4-hour excursion travels 32 miles round-trip to Dillsboro and back to the Bryson City Depot. Pass by the famous movie set of ‘The Fugitive’ starring Harrison Ford!”
Opting for Crown Class which had assigned seating in a climate-controlled car, we had large picture windows all around for great views of the countryside. It was a nice ride along the Tuckasegee River, even with the not-so-vibrant colors of this fall and no wildlife sightings – other than a bald eagle. We struck up a conversation with a family from Santa Barbara that was amazed at how friendly, safe and spacious everything was in Tennessee, and some folks from the state who had never been in this area. I think everyone had a wonderful trip.
With “more than 50 shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and country inns”, I was expecting a wonderful shopping extravaganza on our 90-minute layover in Dillsboro, NC. While we did find a few shops that were filled with good stuff, most were a little touristy for our taste. Being glass-half-full people, we strolled around and enjoyed the absolutely fabulous weather for this early November excursion.
With such an influx of patrons from our train, we weren’t sure if the restaurants would have gotten us in and out in time to catch our ride back, so we grabbed one of the BBQ sandwiches offered for an extra cost on the train. It was very tasty and we enjoyed another free refill in our souvenir cups while we explored the train a little more. As we returned to our seats, we were instructed to switch sides, so we could see things from a new perspective on the way back along the same route.
Next trip will bring more exploration in the area around Bryson City, NC and Cherokee, NC. There is lots of beautiful country around there and definitely worth another look, but it was getting later and we had some organization to do to prepare the next leg of our trip to Charleston.
As we neared the Park to head back “over the hill”, we saw some historic old buildings and of course we pulled in. This ended up being the highlight of my day and some of the best photo opportunities of the whole trip!
Formerly the site of a Cherokee village and Appalachian community, the river valley of Oconaluftee is now home to the main entrance to the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this area is the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Mingus Mill and the Mountain Farm Museum.
“The Mountain Farm Museum is a unique collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. Most of the structures were built in the late 19th century and were moved here in the 1950s. The Davis House offers a rare chance to view a log house built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut in our forests during the 1930s and early 1940s. The museum is adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
The site also demonstrates historic gardening and agricultural practices, including livestock. An inexpensive, self-guiding tour booklet is available.”
Two excellent walking trails start here – each about 1-1/2 miles long. Next time we will definitely be checking those out. We somehow missed Mingus Mill, but if you click on the link you can see a great photo and some history. It looks to be even more beautiful than the working grist mill we saw on our visit to Cades Cove yesterday, but I’ll let you compare.
As we made our way back, we were reminded of Yellowstone. When a lot of cars are pulled over, it can only mean one thing – wildlife! And this time it was elk. There were five or six depending on how much you squint your eyes – and a youngster. They were across the river and I didn’t have my zoom and it’s out of focus, I know. People were swarming everywhere and it wasn’t a great situation given the way folks were parked on the curve on a road with no turn-outs, so I shot a few photos while Jim tapped his foot, and we quickly got back into the car. Unfortunately the quality of that photo was the best of the bunch.
We continued back to Newfound Gap in hopes of some better views. Although still not ideal, we didn’t mind. There are a few climbs to get better views and a hint of “the forest” in the air. I found a real sense of peace at this elevation – looking over God’s beauty. I was particularly enamored by the trees with the red berries (there are more photos below) but I’m sure the birds will be around soon to clean those off.
“A trip over the Newfound Gap Road has often been compared to a drive from Georgia to Maine in terms of the variety of forest ecosystems one experiences. Starting from either Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, travelers climb approximately 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at Newfound Gap (5,046′). This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada.” – READ MORE about Newfound Gap
The road to Clingman’s Dome leads to a large parking area with great views, restrooms and a gift shop. We got several photos of the viewing area (above), but click on the link to see some photos taken at the top of the tower that has spectacular 360° views. It is only about 1/2 mile trek, but steep and strenuous and worth every step – if you’re physically able to make it. Since we had made that hike twice before we decided to skip it this time, but those photos are a great advertisement for doing it again.
I’ve read on clear days you can see more than 100 miles from the tower. The first time we visited our views were fantastic for a while, but deteriorated fast. Before we left, we couldn’t see a thing. Temps can be 10-20 degrees cooler than in the surrounding lowlands, so bring a jacket even on a hot day. The road to the summit is closed in winter with an average snowfall of 80″.
We couldn’t help feeling sad that today was our last day in this area. It had been many years since our last trip and judging by how much we enjoyed it again, I don’t think it will be as long next time. Tomorrow we head to Charleston, SC. We have been there before, but only for a couple days, so this will be a treat!
Next up: Charleston, SC