October 22 – November 5, 2019: checking out the hip vibe of Asheville, North Carolina and environs; a visit to Greenville, South Carolina to take in the burgeoning food, culture and arts scene; a sobering visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian; much waterfall chasing and hiking in pristine forests; a glimpse of Georgia’s “Deliverance” country; and indelible memories camping on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River.
“Wonder. Go on and wonder.” – William Faulkner
From Knoxville, Tennessee, it’s on to Asheville, North Carolina – 108 miles distant, a sign just outside the city limits indicates. We’re eager to see what all the fuss is about in what has lately (and quickly) become one of the country’s top destinations to relocate to. Our itinerary will take in a large swathe of the Blue Ridge Mountains, several National Forests, dozens of historical sites and landmarks, beautiful creeks, rivers, waterfalls and hiking trails, and small artsy towns contained within a 205,000 square mile area defining Appalachia USA: 13 states, from northern Mississippi to southern New York. Our circuitous route will wind through parts of four of the Appalachian states: Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. And all points in between, surrounding, abutting and leading to beauty and history.
We’ve got a few hours to burn before settling into our accommodations for the next two nights at “Mark’s Place” in Canton. Judging from previous guests’ appraisals, “Caroteo” is a highly touted Airbnb. After several nights in hotels in the big cities of Tennessee (see Part I), we’re looking forward to a “place of our own” in a tranquil, rural setting.
First things first. A quick internet search turns up a promising hiking area near Sylva – Pinnacle Park, located in the 1,088 acre Fisher Creek Watershed. Though we don’t see a single pinnacle, the gentle, woodsy setting offers a perfect respite, truly a breath of fresh air, for a couple hours’ worth of leisurely hiking along a sing-songy brook beneath a colorful canopy of trees. Not a bad first introduction to the wonders of Mother Nature in North Carolina.
But only later do we find out about the famous “must-see” Judaculla Rock located a few minutes away in some farmer’s field. How on earth in the atlas of strange places did we manage to never hear of the Judaculla Rock? For centuries the eroding soapstone boulder has been a sacred and enduring spiritual marker to Cherokee Tribal people. Lost in the mists of mythological memory, little is known of the hazy origins of Judaculla Rock and its mysterious inscriptions of bizarre hieroglyphic like symbols, estimated to be perhaps 4000 years old.
According to Cherokee legend, Judaculla, known as Tsul’kalu, was a fearful beast who leapt from a mountain top and left its 7-clawed imprint in the rock. Many spooky stories have been handed down through generations about ghosts and bizarre energy associated with Tsul’kalu. Tom Belt, a Cherokee Tribal native and educator, says the ancient symbols, which remain undecipherable, are sacred and important, connecting the Cherokee “not only to our own people in the past, but they connect us to that time, the element of time, and it makes it all then like we’re still here. We’re still here and we never left.”
Tom Belt is referring to the spiritual imprint of place and sacred sense of belongingness that the Cherokee still feel and deeply reside in karmic memory – despite having been “relocated” as a Tribal people nearly 200 long painful years ago. “Relocated” really means forcibly removed (in 1838) from their homeland to Indian Territory on the Oklahoman frontier by the fiercely anti-Indian Andrew Jackson administration in the historic tragedy known as the “Trail of Tears” . . . a multi-pronged land and water course trajectory that swept the Cherokee homelands clean of their presence, the Trail of Tears overlapped with our roundabout itinerary, serving as a constant reminder of what poet Edgar A. Guest described (in another context) as a “winding trail of wrong that time may never right.” Today the Trail of Tears is memorialized in monuments, plaques and museums dedicated to a resilient unconquered people. (More on this down the road when we visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.)
Back in Canton, we pull into Caroteo, our Airbnb for the next two days and base from which to launch forays into the surrounding area to hike, explore, see what’s what and where’s where in this part of the country we’ve never been to before. A master carpenter, Mark designed his functional home with a zen-like sensibility, including guest lodging upstairs to take advantage of the many travelers passing through seeking a cool place to stay.
Though we have a private room, all other areas are shared common spaces. While garrulous and needy for attention during our common time together preparing meals or watching a movie, Mark proves to be an amiable host and charismatic person with lots of knowledge to impart about places to go and things to do. Hilariously, he’s also a dead ringer for, and talks just like, Woody Harrelson! Yet despite encouraging usage of his “shared space” with guests, he’s a hair on the proprietary side, as we learn our first morning on waking when he’d arranged all of our dry and refrigerated food and kitchen items in a manner more to his suiting.
There’s also a woodworkers studio attached to Mark’s property, and one day as we’re leaving to go on a hike, we stop to chat with one of the craftsmen who gives us a friendly wave. Turns out he’s a Native American elder from Minnesota by way of Canada who regales us with a stories of his traditional upbringing and later activism with the American Indian Movement, joining in on the occupation of Alcatraz Island among numerous other acts of protest. He also is Leonard Peltier’s cousin, so we get an earful about Leonard’s plight before thanking him for sharing his personal story, knowledge and wisdom with us. (Wish we’d taken a photo.)
The next day, October 23, dawns crisp and clear, heralding blue skies and perfect hiking weather, so we pack a lunch and drive the short distance to the Big East Fork trailhead off Highway 276 in the Pisgah National Forest – wilderness designated land boasting sparkling streams, steep ridges and rugged 6,000 ft. peaks draining two forks of the Pigeon River.
Hiking along the Big East Fork could last for a couple of hours, take all day, or occupy several days of backpacking, depending on your timetable, inclination, and abilities. We choose to saunter along a leaf-splattered, stream-side trail, one of those slow-moving, take-it-all-in outings where one “distraction” after the next prevents us from covering much ground, but, oh, what little glories and supremely heart-felt accomplishments, to witness such beauty in our midst, and take in the small miracles of creation oft-unnoticed in the speedy hiker’s impatience and rush to move through the landscape in search of bigger and better views. That insatiable yearning to forge ahead at breakneck speed we knew all too well in past days of long-distance hiking prowess.
But today, it’s enough to just discover the simple sights and sounds of what’s around the next bend. Right where we are: “Deep in the quiet wood“, as poet James Weldon Johnson reminds us. Where we find our better self. Where crap melts away and mental detritus dissolves. Where the carnal incrustations of life’s oppressive weight are shed, and society’s rude demands made a bit more bearable. Deep in the quiet wood, rife with birdsong and the soothing melodies of water running over rocks, and the gentle rustle of leaves tickled by a fair breeze, “Filling earth for you with heavenly peace and holy harmonies.“
In our less hurried mind frame, in more attuned moments of slowing down, we are able to stop, look, listen, and see things, at once more mindful and mindless; when we make every effort to sharpen the senses in order to fully appreciate “the daily and hourly miracle of the usually unnoticed beauty that is close at hand” as Joseph Wood Krutch says. Maybe all this lyrical talk is just our way of making up for no longer being physically capable of engaging in those rollicking, strenuous pursuits of youthful days, when we were forever in search of the bigger, the longer, the farther, the better . . .
Next up, a day and night in Asheville at Julie’s place, a sweet Airbnb in a walkable neighborhood. Come to find out, most of Asheville is walkable, and we spend the entire day proving that point to ourselves. We check out hoity-toity galleries in the arts district; tool around the cozy downtown area people watching; poke our noses into shops and more galleries; and enjoy a spell of shopping and chit-chat with locals at a bustling farmers’ market in a quintessentially Southern Americana scene. That night we dine at a fabulous vegetarian restaurant (The Laughing Seed Cafe) and have just enough energy to slog back to Julie’s place and collapse with aching feet, too tired to even watch a movie, hitting the hay early to refresh for the next day’s hiking adventures in the glory lands of the Pisgah National Forest.
So much to see and do in Asheville for such a big little city! One day we tour the historic Omni Grove Park Inn. Construction on the mega-hotel complex was completed in 1913, instantly attracting the rich and famous, including presidents, movie stars, and assorted luminaries for its hot springs and spa-resort appeal.
Over the course of two summers in 1935 and 1936, the woebegone F. Scott Fitzgerald rented a pair of suites (one for writing) for a triple dose of the R’s: “rest, relaxation and respite”. (His bipolar wife, Zelda, was institutionalized in 1936 in Asheville’s Highland Hospital.) Recovering from tuberculosis, Fitzgerald holed up to concentrate on reclaiming his writing skills, and rehabilitate his declining reputation. His time at the Grove Park Inn was neither happy, fruitful nor restorative, according to reports.
Probably drunk, given his legendary intake of “fifty ponies of beer a day” (trying to wean from a gin addiction), he broke his shoulder while diving, preventing him from accomplishing much in the way of writing. A New York Post reporter paid a visit for an interview, and described Fitzgerald as “a very broken man, who’s physically feeble and mentally very pathetic.”
A tainted legend and dark chapter, indeed, in the life of the the once nonpareil writer and soul of the jazz age, but a somewhat happier ending was in store when he returned to Hollywood, moderated his drinking excesses, and wrote his unfinished masterpiece, The Last Tycoon before dying in 1940 at the ripe, young age of 44.
Another day in Asheville. We stroll around the beautiful manicured grounds and woodsy paths of the North Carolina Arboretum adjacent to the wide, lazy French Broad River, one of the oldest waterways in the world judging from the ancient rock through which the river carved its course. We follow a sinuous path that takes us to the Arboretum, and then veer onto Bent Creek Road to admire the National Native Azalea Collection and a most impressive Rhododendron thicket, while exploring the small, intimate charms of little old Bent Creek.
No superlatives here, only a lovely little place, nothing of outstanding grandeur or magnificence, mind you, just more of the same: an abundance of small miracles and simple beauty, hidden in plain sight there for the looking. Native trees in colorful foliage. Riparian flora abloom. Moss-carpeted rocks begging to be caressed, and painterly streaks of bark-splotched lichen, inviting a curious gaze such as one would cast upon works of art in a museum. Odd-looking fungi popping up all over moist creation.
Leaving Asheville temporarily, we extend our “deep in the quiet wood” reverie for two nights camping down a little-used Forest Service road off the main Highway 276. We maneuver Homer over a couple of puddles and muddy ruts to find a perfect site situated amidst sylvan splendor far from any other campers in the peaceful bosom of the Pisgah National Forest. As far as we can tell, we’re the only ones encamped along the six mile stretch of backroad the Forest Service allows for camping specifically for people like us to escape the noisy, party types crowded together in smoke-choked “official” National Forest Service campgrounds with their fire-rings, hook-ups, stinky pit toilets, etc. (If you can call that “camping”.)
Elated to have the entire surroundings to ourselves, we settle in for forty-eight hours of pristine solitude, a complete break from all the hustling and bustling around. The only people we encounter are other cyclists when we hop on our bikes and ride along a flat service road, through a beautiful painted leaf forest, a few miles to the desolate trailhead at Wash Creek Horse Camp where a few cars are parked, all mountain bikers.
A friendly, fresh-faced Forest Service ranger is attending to duties and we engage him for a few minutes, curious to learn more about the sign posted near our camp screaming in capital letters, “WARNING CAMPERS! The Forest Service is considering closing this area to all camping. Why?”
Yes, why? WHY ARE PEOPLE SO RUDE AND IGNORANT? Why do they despoil the water in their own well? Why must they bring their depraved city ways to tarnish and debase the purity of wild areas? Why must they leave their trash, toilet paper and garbage strewn about – not like animals, that would be an insult to animals – but like the disrespectful morons they are? At our site, we actually have to clean up a nasty mess before we can even set up our tent – enough crap left behind to fill a garbage bag! We report it to the Ranger, who duly notes it with a kindly nod and a knowing sigh of disgust, and then gets to talking about what type of odious people are responsible for such blatant bad behavior and disrespect for nature. And it turns out, not just bad behavior and disrespect, but potential danger. The ranger tells us how he’s constantly harassed and threatened in the course of his rounds when he must approach and fine scofflaws and evict squatters, often not the friendliest of individuals.
“It’s difficult,” he laments, “because we are not law enforcement, and they see us as powerless. And calling for an officer is useless because we’re so remote and the radio connection is shaky, and these guys know it. But I love what I do, so it’s worth it for me to try to educate people without angering or alienating them, but legally, there’s not much we can do to enforce the laws. Our only recourse is to close down these dispersed camping sites, which then punishes all you good people who obey the laws and respect nature.” The ranger then points out on a map he unfolds a half-dozen camping sites that have been shut down recently. “Site # 8 – your site – is next on the list, probably, so count yourselves fortunate you got it when you did” We shake our heads in sad resignation, thank him for his service, commend his bravery and dedication, and resume our bike ride.
The next day, as we’re leaving the way we’d come in, we recall having spotted two beater vehicles illegally pulled in the thickets, defacing the earth with muddy tire tracks and uglifying things with their course presence. The occupiers had sheared branches from trees and slung up ratty old tarps. Coming in we’d caught a glimpse of these sketchy characters the ranger had warned us about later on – two sleazebag chicks and a mean-looking dude – swigging Miller’s and smoking cigarettes. They begrudgingly waved as we slowly passed by trying our best to ignore their stares. During our conversation with the ranger, he’d told us about his tense confrontation with them earlier, and had given them 24 hours to vacate. Driving by, we notice they were gone, but, true to poor form, they’d left a bunch of garbage for the ranger to clean up.
Another day, in pursuit of countless wonders yet discovered, like Annie Dillard at Tinker Creek, we “wake expectant, hoping to see a new thing.” So off we go in search of it, cruising scenic Highway 276, stopping along the way to admire heartrending beauty right off the roadside, the kind of sights you’d normally have to hike in ten miles to appreciate. Thundering waterfalls. Majestic creeks. Pretty forests. Far-flung views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and its lonesome backwoods “hollers”, filled with old growth trees and the specter of sauntering bears, prowling mountain lions, lost Cherokee paths traced by the quiet ghosts of hunters and trackers.
Our imagination runs wild envisioning Appalachian Trail through-hikers slogging their way toward their final Valhalla, the wind-whipped, rugged Mount Katahdin in far wood-shrouded northern Maine. And with a longing in our hearts to be there, there, there! Before realizing the importance and necessity of being here now, here, here, here! Right where we find ourselves in perfect harmony with our incomparably beautiful surroundings. Despite the hordes in our midst, we find a way to achieve harmonic balance with being caught in the clutches of a madhouse situation, and finding escape to tranquil pastures untrodden by the masses.
In tow with a mob of other gawking sight-seers, we pull off the road to pay homage to Looking Glass Waterfall, fed by a beautiful creek of the same name tumbling out of the rugged hills. It is stunning. As the crowd begins to thin out, we linger to soak in the magic and revel in luxurious isolation, fully appreciative of the miraculous nature of water that nourishes and sustains all life.
We give thanks and praise, and can’t help but wonder: what is it about water? Especially water gushing over rocks and down cliff ledges. Precious, sacred water that draws us to it, that fills us with surges of primal energy, envelopes us in pristine ecstasy, hijacks our central nervous system for the day. Writers, poets, mystics and philosophers throughout the ages have attempted to understand water.
D. H. Lawrence observed that “Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing that makes water, and nobody knows what that is.” Helen Keller referred to water’s “mystery of language” revealed to her in an epiphany when she suddenly realized that W-A-T-E-R meant “the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, joy, set it free.” Hermann Hesse understood water to be “the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming.” Rumi suggested we use “wisdom’s water” to “wash the dust” from our souls and hearts.
And so, before leaving this magical spot, we close our eyes and let the splish-splashing song of the creek fill our souls with peaceful energy, losing ourselves in a blissful reverie, internalizing the sound of W-A-T-E-R and feeling every bit ONE with the precious substance that makes us, and the Earth, a unified whole. Enveloped in rapturous sensations of earthly delight, we stop to hear “the voice of the wood” and the song of W-A-T-E-R, welcoming the soft caresses and blessings of the Undines come to titillate us in our dreamy, timeless idyll by W-A-T-E-R’s edge . . . whenever we can, we bathe and baptize in its sweet cleansing, healing wisdom. To wash the dust from our hearts and souls.
What adventure awaits now? What next up on the bucket list of exciting things to check off? Just down the road from Looking Glass Falls is another W-A-T-E-R wonderland: Sliding Rock Recreation Area showcasing a year-round beautiful creek, and because it is “off-season”, sans the namesake’s Recreation part of screaming kids and slap-happy adults in their big amusement park. We have the run of the place. A true luxury to have it all to ourselves, to just revel in silence and beauty, the purity and simplicity of things. We stroll down a lovely path to a pool at the base of the slide, breathe in the fresh mountain air, hug a tree, caress a velvety blob of moss, and dip our feet in the chilly water. Another soulful respite from all the driving and rushing about to see everything we can pack in – when it’s all right here, right now, right under our feet.
Same with our little stroll on the Andy Cove Nature Trail, at first blush not “much of anything” but as we immerse in the deep, quiet wood, we realize we’ve been transported into an inner sanctum of precious and delicate beauty. We opt for a short loop, less than a mile, that takes us three whole hours to traverse. Not that we’re in a hurry! It’s just that every little thing along the way commands our attention and focus. The key to all such sensory attuning being what the old naturalist John Burroughs called “the art of seeing where things escape us because the actors are small.” Long ago in another time, Burroughs exhorted us “to look closely and steadily at nature” and take pleasure in the “minute things” about us. As we’ve gotten older, and a bit creakier, gone are the days of gallivanting about like billy goats, so we’ve become more adept at taking such advice – stopping to smell the roses – enjoying the small miracles and quiet reveries, the happy notes of bird song, and meditations of gurgling brooks, the satisfying, sensual communion with animist nature spirits that our earth-loving ancestors – and oh, don’t we, too! – worshipped.
Can’t miss Greenville, South Carolina, next up. We’ve heard a lot about Greenville, another appealing scene on the rise – another get there while you can place to live on the growing list of formerly down on their heels small cities being transformed by a diaspora of techies, entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, young people and retirees, an inexorable influx, all ditching expensive and overcrowded, formerly desirable places, seeking more livable and lively communities to settle in. We’re off to have a look-see for ourselves, discover the recipe of what makes Greenville the new Asheville.
We arrange to stay a couple of nights to give Greenville its just due. We sense the cost of living is less expensive and the city equally appealing in terms of all the “KPIs” (key performance indicators) that rank in desirability: proximity to nature venues chief among them. Forbes Magazine rates its downtown as one of America’s best. In the midst of the Blue Ridge mountains, Greenville boasts a thriving music and arts scene, superb restaurants and boutiques, festivals, historic architecture, sites and museums. Not much to not like, we’d say.
Yessiree, Greenville appeals to the aesthetic sensibilities of the young and old alike, everyone flocking from everywhere to find the next great place to turn into the previous great place lately overrun and too costly to live in. Get there while you can, we keep saying to ourselves. Because like in Bend, Oregon and a dozen other once sleepy communities, the time’s they are a-changin’ – the times they have a-changed! – and soon you’ll be on the outside looking in, wishing, hoping you’d made the move sooner than later, if ever.
One day we hike the beautiful trails around Lake Conestee Park, spending the better half of a long day doodling around the Nature Trail Loop circling through a swampy backwater and the Reedy River, a classic deep south lazy “old man river” that captivates us at every bend with pretty views of lush scenery and magical reflections of colorful foliage in the river’s surface.
And more simple walking, walking, the meditative exercise of the soul, where nature comes alive beneath our feet and in our hearts. Zen poet Gary Snyder tells us that “out walking, one notices ecology on the level where it counts.” So true, we slow moving walkers find out with each and every step we take in our soft and loving tramping upon sacred ground.
There really is a ton to see and do in the Greenville area, and we try to pack it all in, which is not possible given our limited time frame. See, to backtrack a bit, we’re on a mission to return to Asheville to hook up with Shannon and Meg, two friends of Mary’s brother and sister-in-law, Kurt and Jane. The lovey-dovey pair graciously had offered us lodging in their room for a night before our Greenville intermission (they were out of town), and departing that morning for Greenville, we’d forgotten a phone charger cord, plus we had left on their bed a small token of our appreciation – a card with three peace cranes Ora Lora had hand-crafted – that their dog, adorable Tulsi, had ripped to shreds in a fit of anxiety or jealousy, or who knows what, but Shannon and Meg returned to find a mess all over their bed! So, it was swell to return to Asheville and actually meet them and present them with three more of Ora Lora’s peace cranes (we had a ton of them from her memorial back in August). Plus, we had a small window of time to visit with a former Yoga student and friend of Mary’s, the sweet southern Tennessee belle, Jen Aly.
But we still have a couple of days in the Greenville area to tick off a few more bucket list items: Lake Jocassee, a big blue reservoir, no doubt a complete maaaaadhouse during busier summer times. We notice a group outfitted in scuba diving gear preparing to submerge in the lake, and approach a guy at the parking lot stripping out of his diving gear to ask what the story is with all the diving. He tells us Lake Jocassee is one of South Carolina’s hidden treasures, an especially great diving spot with deep, clear water holding secrets of submerged graveyards, wrecks and reefs. His enthusiasm almost makes us us want to try our hand – or lungs – at scuba diving!
As October gives way to November, we find ourselves on one of our wandering explorations at several more delectable waterfalls, but not first without a detour to check out Oconee Station and the William Richards Stone Block / Traders Brick House. Beginning in 1792, until 1799, Oconee Station served as a garrisoned outpost, erected to defend the westernmost frontier from “savages”. Make that indigenous Cherokee and Creek peoples defending their homeland from invading hordes of white Europeans (perhaps the real savages, after all).
In 1790, Creek Chief Hopotble Mico traveled to New York to negotiate a peace settlement but he was rebuffed in a failed treaty attempt, and returned to Oconee country to carry on the fighting, the raiding of settlements, engaging in skirmishes, and disrupting as much as possible further encroachments onto their sacred lands and hunting grounds that had sustained their cultures for millennia. Well, guess what. Time to scram. As Andrew Jackson so cold-heartedly put it a few years later, in his shameful campaign that precipitated the Trail of Tears, “Build a fire under them, and when it gets hot enough, they’ll move.”
By 1799, disease and warfare had decimated most Cherokees in the area. Eventually, the Oconee outpost went from being an armed garrison to a vital trading post, further sealing the disruption of a millennial-long lifeway. The two-story Traders Brick House, which Irish immigrant William Richards built in 1805, was an anomaly in a frontier inhabited by poor settlers dwelling in rustic log cabins. Richards stoked his wealth on the backs of eleven enslaved workers and eventually amassed thousands of acres of land and was known to be a “go-to” guy for flints, furs, bear and deer skins, ginseng, and valuable sundries hard to get in the frontier.
Today the site is illustrative of a complex and changing history revealing strained relationships between southeastern Native Americans and expanding white Christian settlers driven by “manifest destiny” to colonize the “untamed” lands. You get the picture: subdue (= eradicate) the native peoples (= savages), make the land “productive”. The sad history of U.S. / Native American relations in an rotten acorn nutshell.
Our last night in Asheville we enjoy a lovely dinner at another wonderful vegetarian restaurant downtown on Lexington. Rosetta’s Kitchen is a cozy scene on a rainy night, with excellent food and atmosphere, including a Kombucha bar in the center of the space. Mary’s so enamored of the place that upon leaving she forgets her purse slung on the back of her chair. Of course, despite momentary panic, the lovely wait staff takes care of it until we can return in the pouring rain to retrieve it!
An absolute highlight of our peregrinations in and around the South Carolina / Georgia border is primitive camping for several days along the stunning Chattooga River in the heart of Appalachia country. Established as part of the historic Wild and Scenic River System in 1974, the Chattooga wends its way through the Andrew Pickens Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest (South Carolina), alternating between wide, lazy stretches and roiling white water tumbling through rocky channels suitable for rafting and kayaking adventures. Or just kicking back and enjoying the views.
In late October / early November, the trees along the banks of the Chattooga come alive with color, flaunting their polychrome regalia in glorious reflections in the placid surface of the slow-moving river. We while away many hours strolling up and down the streamside paths mesmerized by the sublime mirror image effect of this tree-lined pageantry of dazzling autumnal beauty.
Nights are colder than expected, in fact so chilly that we’re forced to crawl in our sleeping bags and tents by around 7 pm, which makes for very long but cozy nights huddled together, but the horrors of having to rouse and crawl out of our slumber on all fours like bent over nocturnal creatures to relieve ourselves in the dead cold of night is a laborious effort repeated twice nightly, at least for one of us. Such are the things to complain about when encamped on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River with no one about except a friendly fisherman dude from Atlanta set up in his sweet Teardrop rig about a hundred yards down the road who invites us over for beers and schmoozing one night.
We squeeze in a few more hikes in and around the ultra-scenic mountain hamlet of Highland, NC (population about 1,000; elevation 4,118 ft.). This part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment encompasses three states (Tennessee and the Carolinas), all within easy driving distance of at least a dozen major waterfalls dotting the area.
The fabulous Glen Falls is a short out ‘n back hike up and down a steep switchback trail to take in majestic views of a stunning 200 ft. tall triple-decker falls originating from the East Fork of Overflow Creek in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.
Three prime attractions in South Carolina’s Sumter National Forest are well worth the effort: Yellow Branch Falls is a beautiful, easy hike through lush forest leading to a huge rocky outcrop with a tickling cascade of rainbow spray flowing over it, easing the eyes and soothing the soul.
As judged by the presence of many people come to gawk, the can’t miss 100 ft. tall Issaqueena Falls is a real stunner, giving us a glimpse into Creek Indian folkloric history amid a gorgeous sylvan setting. Issaqueena Falls is named for a Creek maiden who feigned her death by “jumping” off the falls to avoid capture by Cherokee warriors, who did not pursue her, scared off by their belief that “evil spirits” inhabited waterfalls. We feel no such thing – only supremely beneficent water spirits pouring their delightful cargo over the cliff face and spraying refreshing mist into the air.
And never enough and not too much, we can’t resist cramming in a third waterfall of the day – the 60 ft. high cascade of Station Cove Falls tumbling out of the Blue Ridge hills of the Oconee District, a lovely vision of Mother Nature’s handiwork in what ecologists call a “spray community” creating perfect conditions for organisms such ferns, moss, liverworts, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insects to exist and thrive.
And so idyllic days come and go, and more still to come, a constant push, push, push forward in an ever-changing itinerary, always moving and seeking our next destination, plotted out by lines on a map representing alluring territory, but representing so much more than a mere topogeny of place names we longingly wish to experience and know. There’s always next time, right . . .
If only it wasn’t turning into winter, though, why then we could venture forth into the Great Smoky Mountains, which we’ve barely skirted. Or get on the Appalachia Trail and do some real backpacking for once. Ah, if only . . .
Gearing up to kiss Southeast Appalachian country goodbye – before heading deep into Alabama and on to New Orleans by way of an unexpected detour to Destin, Florida – we tack west to Cherokee, North Carolina, and end up spending two nights in Franklin at the High Country Haven Camping and Cabin (Ashlie’s Place). We love our rustic little scene, as you can see how cute and darling it is.
We’re back on the road to check out the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains which will have to wait for our next visit. Someday, but not another 65 years that’s it’s taken to get here the first time!
On a rainy day, a museum tour is the perfect activity, though as you can imagine, a somber experience given the tragic history photographically and physically documented throughout the museum, a vivid accounting on full display of the horrific treatment – crimes – against the Cherokee, and by extension, against all Native American peoples.
Exhibits, murals and dioramas focus on social and cultural history / legacy, and artistic accomplishments, with a heavy emphasis on the period of time referred to, in the Cherokee language, as Nvnohi Dunatlohilvhi – “The Trail Where They Cried”. Now a National Historic Trail, The Trail of Tears, as it is known in English, was a fanning out network that included land and water routes to forcibly march and transport 16,000 Cherokee people westward to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
It’s shocking to learn about the true history and fate of the Cherokee and so many other Native Americans throughout the Southeast (and the decimation of indigenous peoples throughout the Caribbean and all of the Americas). A vicious, bloody tale of betrayal, sabotage, war, disease, and cultural disintegration. The museum’s exhibits are unsparing in their presentations and depictions of callous, inhumane, genocidal mistreatment of the Cherokee by “God’s chosen people”
In 1811, though, Tecumseh branded the invaders as anything but. Earlier, in 1775, the “wicked white race” conned Cherokee leaders out of 20 million acres of ancestral lands in what is now Kentucky and Tennessee in the sham resolution known as the Sycamore Shoals Treaty. And that’s not the half of it, with much more deception, duplicity and malicious flim-flam to come foisted on Cherokee leaders. Evil windbag Andrew Jackson’s hollow deceitful words remains the epitome of a liar’s creed when he proclaimed to the Cherokee people, “your white brothers will not trouble you, they will have no claim to the land, and you can live upon it, you and all your children, as long as the grass grows and the water runs, in peace and plenty. It will be yours forever.”
Well, “forever” lasted just a few years, leading up to the 1830 Indian Removal Act and the subsequent 1836 decision by Congress to ratify the Treat of New Echota (passed by one vote) which mandated the forced removal of all Cherokees from their homeland within the next two years.
It’s a sad, sobering, and moving experience – enough to leave our own little trail of tears as we make our way from one diorama and mural to the next depicting unimaginable savagery and brutality heaped on the Cherokees at the hands of white conquerors and settlers. Certainly, African-Americans shipped over from Africa as chattel slaves bore the brunt of inhumane barbaric treatment seared into memory like a firebrand, as did the Jewish people who collectively suffered a nightmarish history and ineffable atrocities at the hands of the Nazis, and in no less painful terms the Museum of the Cherokee Indian likewise forces us to confront the sorrowful reality of genocide of Native Americans in order to establish “this great nation” of ours. The legacy of tragedy continues to this day in the form of cultural impoverishment, high crime rates, drug and alcohol addiction, and a general feeling of hopelessness, dissolution and despair on many Indian reservations. All in all, the exhibits are a powerful reminder of a big fat lie and wrongdoing perpetrated, a concerted, conscious effort to exterminate “savages” blocking the way to “progress” in settling the great American continent and upholding its “liberty and justice for all” ennobling ideals.
Finally, winding things down, a quick swing-through in Georgia, stopping long enough to get a taste of Helen, the touristy but dead-empty at this time of year German-themed town, and get a feel for Clayton, Rabun county, home of Billy Redden, the banjo playin’ backwoods mountain boy in John Boorman’s 1972 film Deliverance, who, left embittered and broke, claims to have been shafted by everyone out of his rightful share of profits and future movie deals. Probably truth spoken by the famous fiddler reduced to an indigent life working at Walmart.
And gasp at the beauty of Tallulah Gorge and Falls State Park, on whose vertiginous cliffs Jon Voight scaled in said flick, and where the tightrope walker stuntman Karl Wallenda famously made history tippy-toeing across the gorge on July 18, 1970. The detritus of his daredevil endeavor lies strewn about near the lookout at the top of the cliff.
We wind up our drive-about / walk-about Appalachian Tour with yet another hike along a gushing creek to see Raven Cliffs falls near Dahlonega, Georgia (for the record), and spend one final cold-ass night camping down some lonesome “hunter’s” road in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The cold foretells winter about to bear down, a sure sign we need to start heading south to warmer climes. And so, back on a major freeway, we’re headed to Selma, Alabama, to take in some more sad, sobering history in the city of “Bloody Sunday” made famous in 1965 for its violent civil rights marches led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, among many other brave protesters. Read our account in the next chapter of our journey along America’s Trail of Tears.
For now, it was adios, goodbye, see ya later, it’s been good to know ya, Appalachia Country. Hope to do it again sometime soon.
BONUS LIVE FOOTAGE
COMMENTS FROM PEOPLE WHO DID NOT POST DIRECTLY TO THE BLOG:
Hey Tom, Thanks so much for brilliant Appalachia blog, so near and like the rural Kentucky of my roots. Thank you so much for sharing the Cherokee perspective as well. All of this beauty and wonder is their birthright murderously stolen from them and ravished. Despite America’s best efforts, some small pockets of little disturbed beauty and majesty can still be found. My great grandmother on my moms side was half Irish and half Cherokee and I am blessed to still hear at times the ancient voice of the Grandfathers. The human being is puny and deluded, a blind fool measuring itself against the vastness of eternity and the majesty of the cosmos. Long after man is gone and forgotten the Glory of nature will resound. This certainty gives me some peace. All of truth and mystery, all of understanding and healing constantly surrounds us and supports and sustains us. It requires heart and courage to bear the weight of the Glory. Thank you for sharing. As ever, Matin (Frank Lawrence)
Wow. What an amazing time you had. I’ve never been to Appalachia, but thanks to you and your write-up (and photos), I feel like I have! Now I can’t wait to visit one day. Thanks for sharing this. I’m so glad you guys had such a great time. Cheyenne Richards
Perused your Appalachia trail blog and as usual enjoyed the photos – soooo much – yes the water water – you know I can’t imagine going camping if not near it. Boadiba
Oh my Tommy, what a super trip!! Thank you for sharing with me! So glad you are still able to do all that hiking and biking! Alice Williamson
Thanks for sharing another increment of your epic search for America. Started reading it last night, gorgeous photos. Ebou Camara
Love this! Thank you for the adventure. WOW! Dahlusion
Thank-you, Tom, most enjoyable pictures. I do love that mountain range. Spencer Brucker
Great writing as usual. Perhaps you should self-publish a travel guide with a collection of your adventures. As you may recall I grew up in the Baltimore area and I spent a fair amount of time in the Appalachians, particularly as a boy scout (my troop hiked all the Maryland and Pennsylvania sections of the Appalachian Trial over the years I was in it) and I worked summers at a boy scout canoe base in Western Maryland on the Potomac. I still have a fondness for Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers join up. In my younger years, my parents took us on trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway and I know we covered Virginia and North Carolina. The last time I was in Asheville was for a niece’s graduation (she went to Warren Wilson). Your journal reminded me of how awesome it is there, so I have added to my mental list of places I want to re-visit. Andy Oppel
Oh my my my! I loved this. As a kid I lived in West Virginia from about age 5 to about age 10. My dad was a chemist and got his first job after his doctorate at Union Carbide in Charleston. My stepmom and I wanted to do the Blue Ridge a few years ago but life got in the way. I’m going to forward your wonderful story and totally awesome images to her as a worthy substitute for our dreamed-of trip. Thanks Tom and Mary…for taking us along with you! Mary DeShaw
Your blog is fantastic! Annnd you were spot on: Tulsi sure did have an anxious episode. We still have those wonderful peace cranes from Ora Lora and an open door, for whenever the world reopens again. Meg ‘n Shannon