Earlier this week, Laurie took one look at the blue sky and abundant sunshine and said, "Let's go for a drive". Now, while we have been known to take 8 to 10 hour 'drives', along back roads in a single day, (i.e., St. Louis MO to Land Between the Lakes KY), we had other plans later this day, so our drive time was somewhat limited.
So off we went. The intention was to take TN Highway 360 from Vonore to Tellico Plains Tennessee. So much for intentions! After passing parts of the upper reaches of Tellico Lake, we noticed a side road, and, after consulting my trusty map, I decided that we'd follow a more circuitous route to Tellico Plains.
A view on down the road... Everything is starting to 'green up'! Eat your hearts out back up in Chicago, St. Louis and Cleveland!!
Many, if not most back roads in East Tennessee, lack identifying road signs so it can be challenging when you need to figure out where you are at any given point in time. One of my maps showed our initial back road as being Chestnut Valley Road, which then turned into Buck Highway, but as per my other map, the second part is King Gap Road. Parts of this latter road made us feel like mountain goats...but it was still mostly paved.
So, after winding around ridge tops for awhile, we found ourselves at a "T" in the road. I deduced that since this crossroads was at a nice sized river, this had to be Citco Road...which runs along Citco Creek for several miles. The road soon turned to gravel...and in some places dirt...but it was very scenic...and deserted! In the hour or more that we meandered along the road, we saw 3 other vehicles and one of them was a U.S. Forest Service truck.
So, why the Forest Service truck? Most of the portion of our drive from up on that last ridge until the end of our adventure, took place in the Cherokee National Forest. This 650,000 acre National Forest is in Tennessee and it stretches from the border with Virginia to the border with Georgia, interrupted only by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park between the north & south segments of the National Forest.
The Cherokee National Forest contains 600 miles of trails, 150 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, 7 white water rivers, 3 large Tennessee Valley Authority lakes, 11 designated wilderness areas and a multitude of campgrounds. Fishing and hunting are also prime activities in the National Forest. The Forest Service employee that we chatted with told us that last year, about 36 black bear were taken in the Citco Creek Zone of the park alone. (I can't envision shooting a bear...but the good news is that because they're hunted, they are very wary of humans. Less interaction equals less conflict...
We kept stopping and taking photos all along the way... I should say, we kept stopping and Laurie took photos along the way. She doesn't trust me when it comes to photography...
The Forest Service employee told us that this is a great time of the year in the forest. In 2 weeks, traffic will pick up as the creeks and rivers are stocked with trout. Then comes summer...and all the problems related to crowded campgrounds and those visitors who just don't behave well.
He told us that much of his time earlier in the week had been spent clearing fallen trees and limbs from the roadway and campgrounds. With all of the rain we had, it had to be a mess back here. Some of the roads were still partially blocked by fallen trees and here and there we came across half dried ruts in the dirt road, especially as it wound back up the mountain to the Cherohala Skyway.
Once we were back on pavement on the Skyway, it was a quick drive on into Tellico Plains. We were running a little late and we were hungry, so we skipped our normal side trip off the Drive up to Bald River Falls. In Tellico Plains, we were greeted by these beautiful blooming crab apple trees. It was here in Tellico Plains that we stopped for lunch...but that's the subject for another blog!