Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 13, 2011. Cherohala Skyway.

When Mr. Hawthorne and I were planning this trip, we really didn't know where we wanted to go. We just knew we wanted to get away for a week. When I saw my October issue of Our State magazine, I had our destination. The Hawthornes would travel the Cherohala Skyway. We love the mountains. We've traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway a few times already, so the Cherohala Skyway seemed like a plan. The Cherohala Skyway connects Robbinsville, NC, population roughly 700, with Tellico Plains, TN, population about 900. The 43-mile road crosses through both the Cherokee and the Nantahala National Forests, hence the name Chero...hala. Eighteen miles of the Skyway are in North Carolina; the rest in Tennessee. The two-lane mountaintop Skyway, covering portions of what was once a Cherokee trading route was completed in 1996, after being under construction for about 35 years at a cost of $100 million. The Skyway, beginning at Santeetlah Gap on the North Carolina side (elevation 2660 feet) quickly twists and winds itself through the mountains, ascending to an elevation of 5390 feet at Santeetlah. There's nowhere to stop along the way, except for a few overlooks to view the extraordinary scenery. There are no gas stations. There are no roadside stands selling mountain crafts. There's nothing up here except scenery and that's the best part. Click to enlarge so you can see our route.
We left Robbinsville, NC, Thursday morning under gray skies, which quickly turned to rain.
Surviving In These Rugged Mountains For thousands of years, people lived among the sharp ridges, steep slopes, and narrow valleys of these rugged mountains. They hunted, fished, and gathered chestnuts, acorns, berries, mushrooms, and other plants. In fact, the forest provided all their shelter, food, clothing, and medicines. Sometimes survival depended upon eating snakes, lizards, snails, and insects. Imagine sipping on soup made from yellow jacket larvae or crunching on locusts. From deer came meat, clothing, and blankets. Bones and antlers were carved into combs, needles, fish hooks, and other tools. Sinew was used for thread or cord. Nothing went to waste. Mountain Coves Early settlers carved their homesteads out of the dense forests in mountain coves. The moist, fertile soils here produce a lush diversity of wildflowers, ferns, and huge trees. A hundred or more plant species provided inhabitants a pharmacy of natural remedies, wild foods, and wood for tools, furniture, and shelter. In most places, loggers cut the old-growth trees, and a second-growth forest returned like the one you see here. The rugged topography prevented permanent conversion of these lands to other uses. Today rich coves remain one of the most biologically-diverse sites in the mountains.
Forced From Their Mountain Home Do you enjoy the beauty of these mountains? Imagine living here with your family when all-of-a-sudden soldiers explode into your house and force you out at gunpoint! That is exactly what happened to 16,000 people when, in 1838, the U.S. Government ordered the Cherokee removed from the only home they ever knew. The Cherokee were gathered and marched all the way to Oklahoma. Even a Supreme Court decision in their favor could not prevent the wrong-doing. During the winter of 1838-1839, nearly 4000 Indians succumbed to starvation, disease, exposure, and even murder. Many were children. This tragic removal of the Cherokee Indians from their beloved homeland is referred to as the "Trail of Tears." Prior to their forced exodus, Cherokee leaders fortified their people with a prayer. It began: "I will lift my eyes unto these hills, whence comes my strength." (Psalm 121:1) Nearly one thousand escapees and refugees hid in the dense forest of these rugged mountains. Cherokees currently living in western North Carolina are descended from those who avoided removal and remained in their ancient, native homeland. As written above in the own syllabic language, Cherokee called themselves "Ani -Yunwiya," meaning "The Principal People." Modern archeology proves they were the "principal" occupants of these mountains for nearly 10,000 years.
At this point, we can't see anything. Visibility is about 50-75 feet.
Finally, some breakthrough on the Tennessee side.
How The Mountains Were Formed The picture above is a depiction of the buckling and folding of rocks that produced the Appalachian mountains. Geologists say that these mountains are the product of geologic uplift, the bending and folding of underlying rock formations, and continued erosion which has occurred over millions of years. But the Cherokee know how these mountains were formed. At the beginning of time, when most of the earth was covered with water, all the animals who were living on a small piece of land, sent the Great Buzzard to search for dry land. The Great Buzzard flew until he found this place. The land looked dry, but when he repeatedly tried to land, the Great Buzzard found that the ground was spongy and his great wings gouged out the valleys and piled up the mountains as you see before you.
Fire on the Mountain Natural lightning-caused fire has always played a critical role in the ecology of the forest. While the shaded slopes and the wet coves located around the rivers and streams below rarely burn, the dry, sunny upper slopes and ridge crests are naturally subject to ground-running fire caused by lightning strikes. These differences help produce the great variation in the types of trees which grow in these areas. As a result, fire-intolerant trees, such as white pine, grow prolifically in the coves and fire-tolerant species, such as the oaks and yellow pines you see before you, grow on these dry, upper southern slopes.
Nothing But Good. Enacted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created for the conservation of the nation's natural resources and to provide work and a desperately needed salary for millions of unemployed young men and their families. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC worked on thousands of projects which included road building, erosion-control, firefighting, the construction of recreation areas and stream and forest restoration. Men of the CCC quite literally brought this and other abused and degraded National Forests back to life. Above: The first CCC camp in Tennessee, and one of the first in the nations is located in the cove below. It has been restored and is now the Tellico Ranger Station.
The Cove Apart from the Amazon Basin, the Southern Appalachian Mountains represent the richest and most biologically diverse ecosystem on earth. The richest part of this ecosystem is the mountain cove. Situated on shaded slopes and at the bottoms of narrow valleys, watered by streams, possessing rich, deep soils, protected from fire, and yielding a variety of changing econiches provided by the activities of the beaver, coves produce a complex component of plant and animal life which is not found even on immediately adjacent forest slopes. Given the ideal growing conditions, coves naturally produce a dense, closed canopy of trees, which include poplar, white pine, hemlock, white ash, and buckeye. Some of these trees, especially poplar, white pine, and hemlock, often grew to immense size and great age, until all were cut down, along with all other merchantable timber over the entire forest, early in the 20th century.
I've never seen rock formations like this before.
Yup. I'm working on that shutter priority thingie. Action shot!
We're off of the Cherohala Skyway and on our way to Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
Pretty clouds. Stay tuned for Bald River Falls, a side excursion off the Skyway. Also, we'll be traveling the Cherohala Skyway back from Tellico Plains to Robbinsville in SUNLIGHT!

1 comment:

notmuchofacook said...

Stunning beauty, Rosie.