2009 Spring 2 Fall travel blog

campground at Indian Boundary Rec. Area

campground lake

the grass is tall here

as tall as Madolyn

who is taking this picture




ground cover

the road out of the campground

valley overlook

another overlook


North Carolina state line

the sky makes a great background

arial sentry


another view of the valley

and another

and another

new buds at the higher elevations

some of the trees are still bare here

the sky was getting more and more threatening

the flowering trees are still in full bloom up here

my favorite photo of the day

all day we were passing bikers

groups of motorcycles were going both directions

on the way down the hill it started to rain

check out this pipeline

that one will move a lot of water

the first dam we passed

this one is an old one

and the water behind it is coming from another lake higher up

running the turbines of this powerhouse on the way down

typical of the powerhouses in this area

the forest is criss crossed with power lines

Fontana - the biggest of the big

Geese and Family

powerhouse at the base of the dam

the penstocks are buried in the face of the dam

this is a warning you don't want to ignore

excess water released from the dam comes out of these tunnels at...

deflectors shoot it 150 feet in the air

and it hits the surface 450 feet down river!

every river of any consequence is dammed here - the diagram shows...

industrial abstract

rusty old turbine on display

a lot heavier than a steam turbine

the water is discharged here after turning the turbines

miles and miles of wires

tower pollution

the lake and the Visitor Center on the left

view of the powerhouse and substation from the top of the dam

face of the dam

a TVA dollar sign


there are four spillways that lead to the tunnels - two for...

the giant valves control the releases

looking down the spillways can make you dizzy

this pictrue gives an idea of the size of the tubes

we walked out on the top of the dam

the dam is almost half a mile wide

view down the valley from the top of the dam

the Visitor Center and our RV

this is a sight we won't forget

tops of the spillway valves

island in the lake

the Visitor Center

a last look down the valley before descending to it

it was raining again as we drove to the Tail of the...

the 'Tail' starts here at the state line.

one of the 318 curves

sports cars racing into the turns

these bikers pulled over where we did - the wet pavement kept...

we had this view at the turnout

what do you know - another dam!

the weather was still with us

back in the valley the road followed the Tennessee River

view from the Foothills Parkway

the Great Smoky Mountains

view from our campsite

our campsite at Look Rock Campground

through the trees we can see the smoke of the Smoky's

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(MP4 - 1.58 MB)

Motorcycles on Cherohala Skyway

(MP4 - 2.68 MB)

Tail of the Dragon

in the Land of the Dammed - Friday, May 15

Today was ‘Tail of the Dragon’ day and the thought of it hung over me like a dark cloud. The Tail of the Dragon is an intimidating stretch of Tennessee highway known for it’s challenging conditions. It boasts 318 curves in 11 miles, and everywhere you go here you see ‘I Survived the Tail of the Dragon’ tee shirts and baseball caps and bumper stickers. It’s a destination for bikers and sports car enthusiasts who come by the thousands to test their skills against it’s winding terrain.

And this is where we were headed in our Winnebago motorhome! I could only imagine the reception we were going to get from the go-fast crowd as we lumbered along spoiling their fun. If we survived the curves ourselves, that is. It was shaping up to be a lose/lose situation. Madolyn seemed blissfully unconcerned about the impending threat, and she had a whole list of things she wanted to do first. That gave me all day long to fret about ‘the Tail’ - but I live for days like this.

We started the day with a two mile hike around our campground, then we set out to see the rest of the Cherohala Skyway. The Skyway is advertised as ‘A drive above the clouds’ but today the clouds stayed above us. And that was fine because they were some of the most beautiful clouds you’ll ever see. Sometimes they billowed up in towering mountains of white cumulus. Then they would turn dark and rumble ominously. But white or black, they provided a spectacular background to the mountains around us.

The Cherohala Skyway climbs steadily to a summit that is over a mile high. All the way up we passed bikers and they passed us. There were even a brave bicyclist or two. The three old bikers we met yesterday told us to expect cold weather at the top, and indeed we began to see a distinct change in the trees. As we climbed higher and higher we were taking a trip back in time, to an earlier spring where the flowering trees were in full bloom and where the rest of the trees were either still bare, or were just beginning to bud out.

As we left the summit and began to descend the season caught up again, and it also started to rain. The clouds that had been threatening for a while, now opened up and got us wet. They got the bikers wet too, and the ones we saw now were pulled over in the turnouts. Motorcycling in the rain is no fun - no matter how much you like biking otherwise. This gave us a chance to get down the hill without much traffic.

At the end of the Skyway we turned our Winnie toward Fontana Dam. This is TVA country, and in the interests of rural electrification, the Tennessee Valley Authority has dammed just about every river in the country. The ones they missed were dammed by Alcoa to provide power to their aluminum plants during the war. The result is no wild and scenic rivers here, but a lot of lakes and electric transmission towers. Many of the rivers have been dammed multiple times so the water could be used and re-used on it’s way to the sea, which is actually the Gulf of Mexico via the Tennessee, the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers.

Fontana Dam is the tallest of the tall, and since we crossed Fontana Lake on the train Wednesday we wanted to see the actual dam for ourselves. On the way to it we passed another dam and lake, and then the penstocks and powerhouse of still another lake above us. We finally found the turnoff to Fontana Dam, and a few curves later the dam itself. What a sight!

At 480 feet high it is TVA’s highest dam, and has the distinction of being the highest concrete dam east of the Rockies. It stretches half a mile across the valley and looms over the river, dwarfing the large powerhouse and substations at it’s base. Two huge tunnels stand ready to release excess water into the river, and when they do the water is said to leave the tunnels at 95 mph, shoot 150 feet into the air and come crashing down into the river 400 feet down stream!

We stood and stared, we took pictures of everything we saw and then we headed up to the Visitor Center where we walked out on the dam and saw it all again from the awesome height. It was an experience never to be forgotten.

Now for the tale of ‘the Tail’. We backtracked from Fontana Dam to Deals Gap, North Carolina. This is where you pick up the Tail of the Dragon, and there at the gas station on the corner were at least fifty bikers. It had been raining most of the way down from the dam, and I was hoping the rain would continue until we got safely through the Tail, but the rain let up and as we turned onto the famous road the bikers were gearing up to make the run themselves. If we could only stay ahead of them!

We climbed the hill to the Tennessee line, where the Tail of the Dragon actually begins, and we plunged in. The road behind us was empty (so far) and there were few bikes or cars going the other way. The curves were many and varied, but they were easily driveable and we weren’t experiencing any problems. To make a long story short, this good fortune continued, and we never encountered any serious problems the whole way.

Often there would be a Slo painted on the pavement at the entrance to a curve, and once someone had added the word ‘Oil’. On this one you could see where someone had wiped out and left an oil slick on the curve as they slid across it. Occasionally I would see a few sports cars in the rear view mirror, but then they would disappear as they pulled over to let me get farther ahead. A few bikes came up behind us, but we were always able to let them by, and with the pavement still wet and slippery they weren’t going all that fast anyway.

The best moment came when we passed a photographer. He was obviously set up to photograph someone coming the opposite direction, and as I entered the curve here they came - two bikers in full leathers, lying down on their tanks and leaning into the curve for all they were worth. The ultimate biker photo of two daredevils shredding the Tale of the Dragon - and there at that perfect moment we go tooling through their background in our dorky Winnebago motorhome - ruining the picture. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and it still makes me laugh every time I think about it!

We passed one more dam overlook, and then we were down in the Tennessee Valley, out of the Tail and following the river. From there it was a short drive to the Foothills Parkway and we were back in the Great Smokey Mountains. We scored a campsite with a gorgeous view, and we settled in for a night of blissful peace after all our fun of wagging the Tail.

Note: Nearly every curve on the Tail of the Dragon has been named, and here are some of them:

Rocket Corner, The Whip, Pearly Gates, Triple Apex Corner, Guard Rail Cliff, Hog Pen Bend, Shaw Grave Gap, Copperhead Corner, Killboy Shadetree Corner, Mud Corner, Grace’s Esses, Brake or Bust Bend, Carosel Corner, Swift Corner, Busa Bash, Parson’s Corner, Thunder Road Bend, Toll Booth, The Hump aka Gravity Cavity, The Chicanes, The Dips, The Wall and the ever popular Crud Corner (every tail has one!)

On next years map we hope to see a new Winnebago's Revenge but that’s probably wishful thinking.

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