Destination: Great Smokey Mountains National Park and The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

NPSGreat Smokey Mountains National Park

So, yet another National Park destination, and this one is not only in the Appalachian Mountain Range, but also is at the south-western end of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  But instead of being in Virginia, here we’re located in North Carolina and Tennessee, with more wilderness in the park.

Cades Cove (Elev 1807), Elkmont (Elev 2150), and Smokemont (Elev 2198) are the only campgrounds that can accommodate an RV as long as our 35′ bus, but there are others that can fit smaller campers and RVs.   All of these are “frontcountry” campgrounds located around the edges of the park, with trails leading in farther.  But even with these edge locations, there are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park (except for a few 5 amp sites for those with medical needs).  All the sites farther into the park are hike-in “backcountry” sites.

The 360 observation tower atop Clingman's Dome, on a nice, clear day.
The 360 observation tower atop Clingman’s Dome, on a nice, clear day.

One of the places I want to hit here is Clingman’s Dome,  which at 6643 feet, is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.  There is a seasonal road to get up there, but the Appalachian Trail crosses over Clingman’s Dome as well.

The night sky at Clingman's Dome.
The night sky at Clingman’s Dome.

There is a 45 foot observation tower to make sure that you get a chance to see as far as you can (on some days over 100 miles).  Just seven miles from the Newfound Gap Road (Route 441) (Newfound Gap is the lowest altitude drivable pass through the Great Smokey Mountains) that traverses the park from south-east to north-west.   Just along this road to the south-east is the Smokemont campground and the start of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway that runs from there to Charlottesville, VA (Right up along by the Shenandoah National Park).

The 'Tree of Shame' at Deal's Gap motorcycle resort.
The ‘Tree of Shame’ at Deal’s Gap motorcycle resort.

On the western end of the Park is the (infamous) ‘Tail of the Dragon’ road (Route 115) from Chilhowe, TN to Cheoah Dam, NC.  This section of road has been seen as a ‘proving ground’ for motorcyclists and sports car drivers as it borders the Park and has thus stayed undeveloped.  This 11 mile section of roadway has nearly 320 curves to it, and even with the reduction of the speed limit from 55 to 30 miles per hour, there are numerous accidents, commemorated at the ‘Tree of Shame’ at Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort, decorated with bits of wrecks.

So lots of scenic drives and hikes through the area, but just over 100 miles to the south is the:

 

The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History
The General
The General

An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History of Kennesaw, GA, houses The General, a famous locomotive stolen by Union spies during the Civil War who tried to run it to Chatanooga, TN, a story that inspired Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent movie The General.  And while much of the museum is apparently built around preserving the historic locomotive, it also focuses on how important the supplies and mobility provided by railroad networks were for both sides during the Civil War.  They even have an machineworks exhibit that details the process of building a locomotive, from casting to assembly.

 

And, because it’s available, here is the full-length comedy classic:

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