After a nice sleep-in and late breakfast on Sunday, October 1, 2017 we headed out towards Telico Plains, TN, about 1 1/2 hours from Harrison Bay State Park. The focus of our day was to drive on The Cherohala Skyway which runs 43 miles between Telico Plains, TN and Robbinsville, NC.
A few miles down the road, at a day use pull-off near Harrison Bay, we stopped to take photos of another part of the lake.
Suddenly one of us noticed a nuclear warning sign and glancing around, we saw why! Upstream was the tell-tale vapor stacks of the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in operation.
It was just unexpected to see the serenity of nature juxtaposed with potential man-made mayhem. A jolting reminder that the mind’s focus may filter out a great deal of surrounding information. As we left the area in our car, we made nervous jokes about what the sign could actually say! (After our return in the evening, we saw we had even missed the same warning sign posted by the campground’s bathhouse.)
Traveling on towards the skyway, we traveled beautiful rolling countryside that included parts of the original Trail of Tears and onward through a major rural industrial park area. Added to the fact that Harrison Bay State Park, the oldest in Tennessee, was initially segregated (plus the looming nuclear plant): it seemed history and science were entwined in our experience of the day.
As we reached the main drag of Etowah, TN, I saw a parking lot sign for The Hiwassee River Rail Adventures. We swung around at the post office and returned to check out an information board.
Across a walkway was the town’s large historic depot which houses a train museum and offices. There were a few seats available on a train about to leave the station, but since we had not had lunch we did not feel ready to take it.
After checking our schedule, we bought tickets to return for a train excursion three weeks away. This season has been dry in the area and autumn foliage colors are not expected be the best, but we still look forward to experiencing the train route.
Further along, we swung into the downtown square at Tellico Plains and saw people sitting under bright green umbrellas on a patio at The Cotton Pickin’ Inn that also claims a Diner and Pickin’ Hall. It was a pleasant surprise to see a local restaurant open on a Sunday.
We enjoyed a nice lunch and friendly service there in the pleasant outdoor seating and learned that the pickin’ begins at 6 PM on Saturdays. So, we may be able to return for the music after our train trip in three weeks.
Leaving Tellico Plains, TN, we saw a beautiful covered bridge next to the highway on private property. We pulled into a Harley Davidson’s store parking lot to stop to take photos of the bridge. Interestingly, the store had a park-like walkway to a tidy wooden building that is a restroom provided for Motorcycle riders starting or finishing The Cherohala Skyway. There were also electrical posts in a grassy area, which seemed to me to be there to accommodate tents or market stalls.
After taking bridge photos from the little “Harley Park”, Earl wanted a different angle. I u-turned our car and pulled into a gravel area directly across the street from the bridge.
While Earl walked down the road to take more pictures of the covered bridge, I took a closer look at signs along the edge of the parking space. They turned out to be Civil War historical markers.
We were starting The Cherohala Skyway in lush greenery, driving along the Tellico River. There are numerous waterways coming down the mountains, so it gets difficult to keep track of their names along the route. At this point, in a dry season, the river had a shallow flow through a wide rocky gully.
The skyway is known for its many curves, for cutting through both the Cherokee and Natahala National Forests, and for views that compare to those along The Blue Ridge Parkway. Its designations as National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway are well deserved!
We expected the skyway to be crowded with motorcycles, bike riders and vehicles on a Sunday afternoon, but The Cherohala Skyway is not as well known as, as long as, or as crowded as, the Blue Ridge Parkway.
As the elevation climbed, there were overlooks for valley views and distant mountains vistas. We made it to 4,470 feet, at The Unicoi Gap Overlook, and decided turn around to head back to our campsite long before the darkness of evening made mountain driving difficult. We will just have to plan to enter the skyway from its North Carolina side to complete the route one day.
There was time and daylight left to stop at a couple of overlooks on the way back down. Our overall favorite was our last of the day, which overlooked a valley dotted with a few lakes. In the past the valley was home to the Cherokee.
To top off the beautiful view, before we even had time to react with dropped jaws, we were buzzed by a military jet zooming through the valley and banking sharply in front of us,
On the last few miles of the skyway, we were behind a beautiful little covered wagon.
Then back through the town of Tellico Plains and right to the farmer’s gate, we followed the covered wagon to its home.
Later I read about the role that townspeople and covered wagons played in bringing The Cherohala Skyway to fruition. Read the story here.
Our return trip to Harrison Bay State Park continued to be interesting as we noticed photo ops of local color along the way.
Entering the park, we decided to head to the marina to catch the sunset. We watched from the cafe’s deck until lackluster colors faded.
As we walked to our parking spot, there was a glorious burst of vivid colors as the sun’s finale.
Sighting deer on the road back to the campsite was a nice calm touch to close our day’s outing.
Sadly, Monday morning as I reviewed this post’s rough draft and double checked names of locations online, I came across news that explained the police, fire and ambulance vehicles we pulled over to let pass while leaving Tellico Plains, TN on Sunday evening.
I struggled a bit over whether or not to add our memory of the military jet we saw to this post, but decided that the last moments of the pilots’ lives and their service to our country deserve to be remembered and acknowledged with our deep appreciation. Rest In Peace.