Enjoy a Drive on Scenic Highway 129 near the Great Smoky Mountains and Experience the Tail of the Dragon!

Scenic Highway 129 starts in languid Chiefland, Florida, a far cry from the blue haze and cooler temperatures of the Great Smoky Mountains. Hundreds of miles from its inception, this iconic highway enters Tennessee west of the Smokies near the banks of Chilhowee Lake. The stretch of Highway 129 between Knoxville, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina winds through some of the best views and most exciting, motorcycle-friendly curves in the world in an 11 mile stretch known as the “Tail of the Dragon.”

Scenic Drive in the Smokies along Highway 129

Just before the start of the world-renowned “Tail of the Dragon,” drivers are treated to a stunning view of the majestic Tennessee hills rising behind Chilhowee Lake. Year-round, the blue of the water reflects the mountains in a display that makes drivers instinctively stop for photographs. The famous Foothills Parkway may be accessed to the left of Lake Chilhowee. This parkway offers stunning vistas, including some that span a hundred miles or more. There is no commercial development on the Parkway, which allows for the visitor to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature unfettered by urban clutter and noise.

In the few miles leading around Lake Chilhowee and prior to the start of the “Tail of the Dragon,” outdoorsy types can take a left onto Happy Valley Road and follow the signs to Abrams Creek Campground, a National Parks Service campground under the lush canopy of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Convenient to Look Rock and a variety of park-maintained hiking trails, Abrams Creek offers a great place to set up camp prior to enjoying the amazing “Tail of the Dragon” by car or motorcycle.

Motorcycle and sports car owners from all over the country pack this portion of 129, especially on weekends, three seasons out of the year, with a steady, but much thinner, stream making the drive in winter. The route, also known as Deal’s Gap, features a Harley Davidson store, other stops geared toward feeding and selling souvenirs to the cycling set, and at least three professional photography companies set up along the way, snapping away and then offering the weekend’s photographs for sale online.

The eleven miles of the “Tail of the Dragon” pack 318 curves with names like “Horns of the Dragon” and “Copperhead Corner.” Passengers are the only ones who can enjoy the view of surrounding forests and mountains as the road, while beautifully banked in the turns, forces the full attention of the driver. In the last ten years, 28 people have lost their lives in this short stretch, 27 of these were on motorcycles.  This year, in the month of September alone, 177 traffic citations were issued and seventeen crashes took place. Sport bikers roar around Goldwing cruisers out for a Sunday drive. Sports cars of every make and model meet scooters and trikes, sometimes traveling in small entourages as friends make a special event out of the Dragon. The highway is alive with visitors with an appetite for fun.

The Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort offers motel and camping amenities on the North Carolina end of the Dragon, where 129 meets Highway 28. The resort, which also features a restaurant and store, is a hub of activity in every season except winter, when it is temporarily closed.

Check out this video of the world’s fastest rider, the Dragon Slayer, who is part of the USA129Photos.com Race Team!

If you choose to head south to Robbinsville, North Carolina as you exit the “Tail of the Dragon,” you’re in for a real treat. The community has a tucked-away feeling that makes one instinctively grab for real estate tracts. Lake and forest vistas and small-town charm foster a sense that all is right with the world. The Native American community of citizens in Robbinsville reminds the traveler that these hills have a history longer than our nation. The area around Scenic 129 has seen buffalo stampedes, British troops and Civil War intrigue and angst. It’s wonderful to know that the area is now devoted, by and large, to the joys of nature and the fellowship of family and friends.

The Clingmans Dome Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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…feeling great at CLINGMANS DOME!

 Clingmans Dome is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This high elevation oasis in the clouds is the highest peak in Tennessee at 6,643 feet above sea level.

Getting There

From Gatlinburg: Take Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Hwy 441 South) for 14 miles to Newfound Gap. Just past Newfound Gap, turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road and travel 7 miles to the parking area.

From Cherokee: Take Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Hwy 441 North) for 19 miles and turn left onto Clingmans Dome Road and travel 7 miles to the parking area.

Be sure to note that Clingmans Dome Road is closed to motorists in Winter.

The parking area for Clingmans Dome is large but is often full due to the popularity of this beautiful spot. Composting restrooms can be found adjacent to the parking area.  Be sure to check out the kiosks along the walkway to learn more about the mountains and the people who have called them home. Near the parking area is a Visitor Center with maps, books, souvenirs, and volunteers to answer questions.

Take the drive to Clingmans Dome and discover why this high elevation, spruce-fir forest is one of our favorite spots in theGreat Smoky Mountains. Any time of year, any kind of weather, you will find inspiration in these mountains that will call you to return again and again.

Climbing the Dome

The paved trail is a half mile to the summit. It is a steady, uphill walk so be sure to take advantage of the benches provided along the way when you need a moment to catch your breath.

Once at the summit, take the final climb up the handicapped accessible observation tower for a breathtaking 360 degree view of the park and surrounding mountains. On a clear day, visibility can surpass one hundred miles. Not every day is clear in the high country of the Great Smoky Mountains and temperatures can vary by thirty degrees from the low lands.

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Be Prepared

Temperatures and weather can vary dramatically from the valley below. Hypothermia is a REAL possibility year-round if you are caught without proper gear. Have a fleece jacket and raincoat handy for any visit to Clingmans Dome no matter the season or your skill level. A hat and gloves are always nice too!

Hiking Trails accessed from Clingmans Dome

  • Forney Ridge Trail  – can be found just below the Visitor Center and provides a lovely 1.8 mile walk to Andrew’s Bald.
  • Appalachian Trail  – at the base of the observation tower the trail intersects the famous Appalachian Trail. From this intersection a hiker may walk two hundred miles south to Georgia or two thousand miles north to Maine. No matter which direction you choose a little time spent on the AT is always time well spent. The views are magnificent any time of year.

What’s up with all the dead trees? Under attack!

Notice the “graveyard” appearance of dead Frasier Fir trees along the path to the tower. These lingering sentinels are a sad reminder of the threats our National Park faces every day. These trees were decimated by acid rain and an invasive species of insect known as the Balsam Wooly Adelgid. These pests literally suck the life out of the firs by drinking the trees sap. With no natural defenses the trees were sitting ducks when the assault began. Note the fir saplings sprouting up for they probably will not be here when you return. Few reach maturity before the insect strikes. Park biologists have been working hard to find a sustainable way to preserve this important part of the biosphere with mixed results. We are hopeful that a solution can be found to ensure the forest to the diversity it has had for centuries.

How did Clingmans Dome get its name?

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Brigadier General Thomas Lanier Clingman

 

Clingmans Dome is named after Brigadier General Thomas Lanier Clingman. He was a pioneer, explorer, soldier, scientist, and statesman. Clingman won the competition to accurately measure this peak in the 1850’s. General Clingman had a colorful life and was given the honor of having this peak named after him by the Swiss geographer Arnold Guyot. While the awe inspiring grandeur of the Clingmans Dome view will endure forever, sadly General Clingman died alone, penniless and institutionalized.

The concrete observation tower at Clingmans Dome was constructed in 1959.

Smoky Mountains Fall Red Beauty Mountain Ash!

The high altitude scarlet beauty Mountain Ash is exhilarating!

Smoky Mountains Fall Red Beauty Mountain Ash! Who wouldn’t love a beautiful ornamental tree, not too large or too small, with an abundance of leaves, pure white buds and blossoms in late spring followed by bright red edible berries in the fall, a tree that lives for up to 200 years and has the added (albeit folklorish) benefit of protecting us against evil spirits?  Then meet the mountain ash, also known by its more romantic European name, the Rowan tree.

The first thing to know is that the mountain ash is not an ash tree at all.  While the ash is a very large tree, the mountain ash varies greatly in size, according to the growing conditions, but tends to be much smaller (no more than 10 – 20 feet tall) than the towering ash and belongs to a completely different botanical family—namely, the rose!  Indeed, the mountain ash is often so small that it is thought to be a shrub instead of a tree.  It does, however, have a compound leaf similar to that of the ash (only smaller and with fewer leaflets), which is the apparent source of confusion.

The variety of mountain ash that grows in the Smoky Mountains is the American mountain-ash (Sorbus americanus), which is very similar in nearly every respect to its European cousin (Sorbus aucuparia).  The berries of both varieties often last through the entire winter into blossom time the next spring and thus provide an important source of food for wildlife, especially birds which play an important role is spreading the indigestible seeds of the mountain-ash.  In England the berries, which are inedible raw, are cooked into a jam or combined with apples in a chutney and served with wild game and other meats.

The tree itself is very rugged and adaptable thriving in the Southern Appalachians.  While it prefers a rich, well-drained soil, it will grow in nearly all soils, including our stubborn East Tennessee red clay, compensating for any lack of nutrition it encounters by simply adjusting its size.

In the British Isles the rowan tree is associated with many aspects of Celtic folklore and Christian traditions.  Both Celts and Christians believed that the tree provides those close by with protection against various evils, especially witches.  Hence, rowan branches were often fastened to the lintels of cottage windows and doors as well as over barn doors (for witches especially loved the prank of souring cows’ milk).  Rowan trees were also planted in cottage and church yards for protection.  The fact that rowan trees often grow in mountainous areas was also thought to drive witches from their favorite habitat, although the real reason seems to be that browsing animals, especially deer and elk, love rowan saplings and so devour those growing in the valleys.

During Candlemas (February 2—the traditional midpoint of winter) residents of the English Westlands (Thomas Hardy country) place crosses made of rowan twigs tied with red yarn about their houses to banish the dark of winter and welcome the coming light and warmth of spring.  In Ireland the rowan tree is associated with St. Brigid, the patroness of Ireland, whose feast day is February 1st.

The mountain ash lives so long, at least in part, because it has no pests or diseases that assail it.  Deer, however, do browse on its leaves—a point to keep in mind if you plan to grow a mountain ash in your yard.

Whether for cultural or botanical purposes, the mountain ash is a native tree well worth considering for our own properties, both to add beauty and provide for wildlife.

Mountain Ash can be found be found in many popular high elevation destinations in the Smoky Mountains such as Mount LeConte and Clingmans Dome in addition to our sister national park the Blue Ridge Parkway.

HeySmokies.com is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.

 

Sources:

http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/mtnash.html

https://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythology-folklore/rowan2/

Smoky Mountain Full Hunters Moon

Smoky Mountain Full Hunters Moon. Most of the time, the full moon isn’t completely full. We always see the same side of the moon and part of it is in shadow. When the moon, earth and sun are perfectly aligned is the moon completely full and this alignment produces a lunar eclipse. Occasionally the full moon appears twice in one month and this is called a blue moon. The next full moon will occur on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 at 10:57 a.m. EDT (14:57 UTC), but the moon will appear full the night before and after its peak to the casual stargazer.

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Public Input Requested for Smoky Mountain Proposed Air Tour Management Plan

Public Input Requested for Smoky Mountain Proposed Air Tour Management Plan. The National Park Service (NPS) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are asking the public to comment on the draft Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) proposed for Great Smoky Mountains National Park through October 13, 2021. The agencies encourage anyone with an interest in or concern about air tours over Great Smoky Mountains National Park to review and comment on the draft ATMP. The proposed plan would authorize up to 946 air tours per year on defined routes. There were on average 946 air tours per year conducted by two air tour operators reported at Great Smoky Mountains National Park from 2017 – 2019.

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