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.
The very first post on this website was called “Edge of the Gorge,” and it included a trip on the northernmost section of old US441 in Georgia, from near the North Carolina state line down to Tallulah Falls. This time, I picked up 441 south of the gorge and wandered on down until 441 left my route to pass through Homer and Commerce and Athens and points beyond.
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.
Sometimes I find old roads quite by accident. Just today, in fact, on a return trip from a dental appointment, driving west on US78. There it was, a hard right turn and the street sign said — “Old Highway 78.”
Eufaula, Alabama, a quaint town once known as a major inland port on the Chattahoochee River. It’s known for North Eufaula Avenue, a quintessential southern boulevard if there ever was one. And it’s the only section of US 431 between Insterstate 85 and Dothan, Alabama, that isn’t a four-lane highway.
Before Morris Boulevard or even First North, an aunt and uncle and a couple cousins lived in a small house there on 11E/Main Street just east of downtown on Thompson Creek. It was a favorite stop. I played many a game of baseball there on the oblong diamond the cousins and I created in the side yard, and it was always the stop on Christmas Eve.
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 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.