On Wednesday morning, another glorious sunny day, we were up early and after a quick breakfast on board, we were headed for Cades Cove, a short 9 miles from Townsend. As mentioned in our last post, we had been here in 2000 and had visited Cades Cove – we remembered it being quite nice so it was a definite must do again visit.
The Smoky Mountains are part of the Appalachians and are among the oldest mountains in the world, having been formed 200-300 million years ago. Before I begin telling you about our day, you might be wondering about why these mountains are named “Smoky”. Well, the name actually comes from an Indian word “shaconage” meaning “land of the blue smoke”. Obviously it is not actually smoke but the haze is a result of the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is caused by the vegetation exhaling volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a high vapor pressure and easily form vapors at normal temperature and pressure.
Now to the subject at hand….nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove has a rich history first as a hunting ground for the Cherokees and then as home to numerous settlers during the early 1800’s, prior to the establishment of the national park. Today it is a popular tourist destination, attracting more than two million visitors a year because of its well preserved homesteads and churches, scenic mountain views and abundant wildlife. The historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 11 mile loop road normally opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. But a word of warning – on Wednesday and Saturdays the road is closed until 10 am so bicyclists and hikers can enjoy the loop without worrying about auto traffic. Well, unfortunately we didn’t know that when we picked Wednesday to go there.
When we arrived shortly before 10 am, there was a long line of cars waiting to enter the loop road. Oh, oh! Maybe we should come back another day? But it turned out okay so glad we decided not to leave! I’ve read that during the peak season, it can take as much as 12 hours (usually 2 – 4 hours depending on the number of stops you make) to do the loop due to all the traffic congestion.
Since there was so much traffic, we decided to explore a couple of other areas to let some of the congestion dissipate. First stop, the picnic area which was quite lovely and a place where you can enjoy your lunch beside the bubbling brook. But beware, apparently bears are a major problem – there were signs everywhere. But bears can’t read English as far as I know, so perhaps what I should really say is that humans that feed the bears are a major problem.
From there we headed to the Cades Cove campground – we were curious to see if it was big rig friendly. The campground which is open year round has 159 sites (no hookups) suitable for up to 40′ RV’s. Hmmm, we probably could squeeze into a site but there were only a few mega-beast sized sites. We did see one big rig, but most of the RV’s were tents, popups, small Class C’s and smaller trailers.
By the time we finished exploring, the traffic had eased up a bit but we did stop to buy ($1.00) a Cades Cove tour book so we would know what we were looking at. We hadn’t gone very far when there were a number of cars parked every which way along the road. People were out of their cars, pointing their cameras towards the woods, yelling “a bear, a bear”. Guess seeing bears is pretty common especially in the early morning hours or at dusk. He certainly wasn’t disturbed by all the commotion! He/she was so far away it was hard to get a good photo of him/her. This was the first of several we would see that day.
Next stop was the primitive Baptist Church established in 1827 and spent some time walking through the cemetery where there were a lot of very old gravestones. I’ve always found reading the inscriptions on tombstones somewhat fascinating, always wondering who they were and what they did. A short distance from the primitive Baptist Church were two other churches but we didn’t stop to go in. The photos of these two churches below were taken from the car.
Our next stop was at the Cable Mill Area which is a historical complex consisting of a visitor center, blacksmith shop, cantilever barns, millrace and dam, a working gristmill and several homes. Neat place to explore! See photos at the end of this post. Rob was really interested in the gristmill and this day they were actually grinding corn. The water to power the mill comes from a nearby river and is fed by a long and cleverly crafted sluiceway built of wood.
If you want to “tour” the loop yourself, go to this website where you can read about the history of Cades Cove, the families that lived there and learn about the construction of each building along the loop.
After passing by several more homesteads and more magnificent scenic vistas, we reached the end of the loop and headed back to the hacienda where we relaxed for the rest of the day. But don’t be alarmed, we had more sightseeing planned for the next day!