The Smoky Mountains & I-40 West

We left Asheville midday Tuesday, June 5th after a delicious pear butter and toast breakfast and Snickers walking into that same pond again. I figured it would be about a 4 hour drive to my Aunt’s house in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

While chatting with my Asheville hosts, I learned about the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a National Scenic By-way that runs along the tops of the Appalachian Mountains. This same trail is popular among hikers, campers, bikers and a variety of road trip enthusiasts. Upon learning of it, I filed it away as a trip that I would likely travel someday and didn’t think anymore about it.

Traveling along I 40 West, the main highway running through North Carolina and across the state of Tennessee, I suddenly saw a sign for the Cherokee Reservation. I am somewhere between 1/8 and 1/16 Cherokee, and though I am unable to register as an official citizen (that’s a story in itself! Another time though…) I have great pride in this part of my ancestry and have a passion for First Peoples’ Rights. The main reservation is in Oklahoma, but my ancestry is from the North Carolina tribe who have their own reservation lands. Then I saw a sign for Smoky Mountain National Park. I took both signs as a sign that I should take an impromptu detour, not knowing where it would take me or even what direction I was heading!

After about 20 minutes on this other secondary highway, I saw a small brown sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turning right off of the highway (I wouldn’t really call it an exit) I found myself on a windy one lane road heading up a mountain. I pulled over at the first “scenic view stop” I could. Getting out of the car I gasped at the view. The air was so quiet, even the birds seemed distant. Yellow wildflowers waived around my feet and I just stood there taking it all in.

I decided to climb a bit higher up the Blue Ridge Parkway and see what the next scenic stop would bring. Well the next one was completely blocked by overgrown trees, so we headed up to the third stop. Pulling over, I once again admired the view and decided it wasn’t worth getting the doggies out of their crate for just one picture. I stretched a little, and then slowly came to the realization that I had no idea where I was and my phone wasn’t getting any signal. Luckily, Ashwin had a stash of AAA maps in the driver’s side door and one of the was for Kentucky/Tennessee. I found my approximate location, far South of 40 West. I had two options– continue climbing up several thousand feet with the Blue Ridge Parkway going over at least 10 mountains before connecting back up with 40 West, or, go back the way I came.

My brain knew that the way I came would make this an hour and a half long detour total, with 4 hours still do go before arriving at my Aunt’s house. But my heart thought driving through the mountains at 35 mph and going directly through the Cherokee Reservation was an adventure to good to be true. I started up the car, about to turn back onto the road heading up. Then it hit me. Am I crazy? Do I want this car to die on me with only a quarter of my cross country journey completed? Ethel was working so hard already that I couldn’t even make her go the speed limit of 45 mph. I admitted defeat, and the possibility of a slight smoky smell coming from the car, and headed back down the mountain.

I’m still sad that I couldn’t take the road less traveled, but when your car is not in mint condition I think it’s better to play it safe and do what is best for the car. Which is not trying to drive along the tops of the Smoky Mountains. Who knows, if I end up in a graduate school in the South, perhaps I will get another chance at the Blue Ridge Parkway and visiting Cherokee Nation.

Location: Tennessee

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