Not everyone who visits Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, goes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They go to attend conventions, conferences or to just enjoy the many attractions in the area. But I contend that if they do not go into the park for at least a drive, they have really missed out on the whole reason for going to the mountains. In the park the sheer beauty of nature soothes the soul. And man has only disturbed that beauty a little – to provide the public access to its wonders.
Of course, driving through the park in bumper to bumper traffic is no fun. And these days, if you go in the summer or in October when the leaves are turning, the traffic is horrendous, or so I’m told. I haven’t been there during those congested times for many, many years. When you go, choose a less popular time, like September or May, if you can.
Our most recent visit to the Great Smokey Mountains was in September. The weather was gorgeous and the crowds thin. There was steady traffic on the drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove, but not enough to slow us down or interfere with our enjoyment of the drive. There were no big RV’s or semi’s to block the view. Along the way we pulled over more than once just to smell the clean, damp air and soak up the peace and quiet. A camera is a must-have – to capture the scenery and the memories.
On this visit we found a new-to-us drive through the park. A one-way loop above Gatlinburg that didn’t take too long to drive and provided some history of the area. Just turn at Red Light #8 (Yes, they number the lights to make giving directions easier) and head up Cherokee Orchard Road until it forks. Take the fork on the right. This leads to a one-way drive called the Roaring Fork auto tour.
At other stops we glimpsed the primitive homes and difficult terrain where families struggled to make a living and raise their families. Ephraim and Minerva Bales raised nine children in a two-room log cabin. They somehow found 30 acres of land among the rocks that they could cultivate.
Alfred Reagan was an enterprising entrepreneur along the Roaring Fork. Not only did he farm, he also ran a store, a blacksmith shop, a carpentry shop and a mill where he used the tumbling waters of the Roaring Fork to grind corn and wheat. He prospered enough to build a “Sears and Roebuck” house for his family.