Not covered with snow on this New Year’s Day, but still quite beautiful. I finally got my chance to retrace US441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was winter, and it was a holiday – but traffic was relatively light, and boy was it a great ride.
I’d been wanting to do this one for a long time. Old US 23 in North Carolina. Of course, there’s lots more of the old highway yet to do, but this particular stretch – Skyland Drive – was just sitting there waiting, and for the longest time, blocked by a “road closed for construction sign.” This winter, that sign was gone. And so, I turned off the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway and headed up.
This is the road I lived on for nearly all of my childhood. It’s now called Warrensburg Road, presumably because it ran between Russellville and Warrensburg, a town I never knew existed until the road was named for it. That’s been fairly recently. It was called either Three Springs Road or Fall Creek Road back in the day.
Back before Interstate 40 followed the Pigeon River over the mountains, our annual or sometimes semi-annual trip to the beach started with a trip over a narrow, winding road over Viking Mountain in Greene County. Still known as the Asheville Highway, it is State Route 70 in Tennessee (not to be confused with US70, which crosses the mountains near the French Broad conjoined with US25E) and changes to State Route 208 in North Carolina.
Here’s a look at one of the oldest roads in Tennessee and Kentucky — the one that goes through Cumberland Gap. Yes, that Cumberland Gap. The one Daniel Boone used. The Wilderness Road. Of course this is from 35 miles away, but the deep cut in the mountains is pretty clear.
So I was heading home from my dad’s in Tennessee, trying to avoid the under construction Interstate 40 bridge over the French Broad. I decided to take US25E through Newport and over the mountains, to pick up 40 over in North Carolina, not realizing the Wolf Creek Bridge was being rebuilt and road was closed. […]
Prior to 1882, it was really, really hard to get to Tallulah Falls. After that, you could take a train, and if you did, you’d see quite a show — a 1,000-foot deep gorge with a series of six waterfalls over a one-mile span, the roar of the falls so loud you could barely hear yourself talk, and a constant mist rising from the depths. Georgia Power ruined that in 1912 when it built a dam over the Tallulah River, flooding half the gorge with one of a series of lakes and reducing the great river to a trickle.
I haven’t found the provenance of this road just yet … the one by the river, I mean. I’m pretty sure the one I was on after that was just a meandering track up into the mountains. There are a couple of “towns” back in there, and maybe this road just connected them to Newport. I don’t know. But here’s the video of the trip.
I remember going up to Cumberland Gap in the 1960s. There was no 4-lane highway, no tunnel, and US25E went straight through the gap, right along the Wilderness Road. That’s all changed now. There is a tunnel, and the concrete of the highway has been replaced by crushed limestone, which, while not exactly period — Wilderness Road was often described by early travelers as a muddy mess — makes for a nice walk along an historic road.
One of the spots I’m sure to get to is Newfound Gap, the point where US441 crossed the main ridge of the Smoky Mountains and the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. I visited there many times as a child, and my parents did the same long before I was born. For the most part, US441 in the park follows the old road, which followed the old Cherokee trail, coming out of Gatlinburg.