It was just a short easy run. Our big race was over and we were enjoying a few weeks of easy. My friends and I, having just finished a swim, set off on a 5 mile run. We ran together, joking and reliving all the fun moments of the Ironman 70.3 we had all completed just two weeks earlier. On a long flat section of sidewalk, I stepped on a rock and slipped off of the sidewalk which was raised about three inches off of the ground. My ankle twisted off the sidewalk and I fell, seemingly in slow motion, down. All the way down. And in that quick few seconds, my life changed.
Lakeside Drive. It was a typical enough road, climbing out of downtown as it took us past a school and houses and farms. Typical enough, at least, until we rounded a corner and saw the sign that let us know we were on the Road to Nowhere.
Fontana Lake is beautiful. Mountains drop straight down to its’ tourquoise-green waters while fish jump and bald eagles fly overhead. It twists and turns through 30 miles and is so remote that you rarely see another boat. But, it’s what’s underneath the lake that is the most interesting.
In the 1940’s, WWII had finally reached America and an increase in aluminum was needed for wartime efforts. The rugged and remote valley of the Little Tennessee River was chosen to create a dam to produce electricity for the ALCOA aluminum plant in Tennessee as well as for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manhattan Project.
The valley was filled with small towns. People who had been there for generations, working in mines or for lumber companies. People who loved the beauty and isolation of the area. Old Highway 288 connected these communities to each other and to their cemeteries. But, because of the war, things moved fast and, before they knew it, more than 1300 families were forced to leave the area. The TVA built the dam, the tallest in the east, in a little over two years and Fontana Lake was formed, submerging the towns and Highway 288 far below.
The towns were gone but the Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road. The road was to hug the north shore of Fontana Lake from Bryson City to Fontana, providing a way for the former residents to have access to the generations that remained behind in the old family cemeteries.
Construction began on Lakeview Drive in Bryson City. The road entered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and everything was going well until an environmental issue halted construction. The issue was eventually resolved, but construction of the road never resumed.
The road now follows the lake about six miles into the park and abruptly ends at a tunnel. It truly is a “Road to Nowhere”. You can now park at the tunnel and hike through it. Once through the tunnel, the asphalt ends and half finished guard rails give way to hiking trails that continue around the lake.
And the cemeteries still remain, more quiet and isolated than ever. The only way to access them is by hiking in or taking a ferry that the Park Service offers during the summer so former residents can visit their ancestors. One of the only reminders that this was once a valley filled with small towns bustling with activity.
Below is a map of the area. You can reach the tunnel by taking Lakeview Dr. East (aka the Road to Nowhere) out of Bryson City. The road ends at a parking area near the tunnel.
It’s difficult to find a more beautiful place than the Smoky Mountains in June. Spring’s lush green is everywhere. Colorful wildflowers blanket the hillside. The sun sets late, slipping slowly behind the mountains as lightening bugs flicker in the evening sky. The heat and humidity of later months has yet to arrive. And, best of all, the rhododendrons are in full bloom.
Catawba Rhododendrons, native to the Southern Appalachians, bloom in late-May at lower elevations and in mid-June higher up. The purple-pink bloom lasts only for a short time but is beautiful. One of the best places to view them is at the Roan Mountain Gardens on the North Carolina side of the NC/TN state line.
Here you can wander through a naturally occurring rhododendron garden high up at an elevation of over 6000 feet. The main path is paved so it is accessible to most people. The bushes are dense and, when in bloom, make for a magical hike.
But the best part are the picnic areas. Tucked away in corners of the park are picnic areas. Moss covered tables nestled under pines and the rhodendrons. As the flowers fall they cover the ground creating a pink carpet. A fairytale setting for a romantic picnic!
You can find more information about Roan Mountain Gardens, including its exact location, here.
My favorite month of the year is June.
June is a month of possibilities. It’s when all is new. Bright green leaves, colorful flowers making even the stubbornest weed look a thing of beauty, newborn deer covered in spots peak up from their grassy hiding spots. And summer; summer is new. Stretched out before you seemingly endless. Anything can happen in June.
But my favorite time, my favorite part about June, is the evenings. Day slips into a never ending twilight. Darkness never comes. The day’s heat leaves yet the air is still wam, wrapping around you like a blanket. This is the time of many of my favorite memories and a favorite time to create new ones.
So get out there!
Catch a sunset. June seems to have some amazing ones and the lateness of them means there’s time.
Catch an outdoor concert. Music always sounds better outside watching the sun go down and the stars pop out one by one.
Build a campfire. Invite friends over. Make s’mores, drink wine, tell stories, bring out the guitar.
Take a walk. The world seems different in the twilight as darkness falls. More mysterious. You’ll notice things you never would see in daylight.
And, or course, if you live east of the Rockies, catch fireflies. Let them light up as they crawl around your hand and then watch them fly off. Blinking, heading higher and higher into the sky.
There’s still time! What will you do this June?
Summer was over. Our carefree days were about to end. Soon all of the busyness of the season would return. School, sports, activities, meetings; all would fill our days. But we had time for one last road trip. One last trip to explore and discover. One last trip together with no need to rush.
We choose one of the most out of the way places we could find for our adventure. A place so difficult to get to that it is isolated from its own state and, as of the 2000 census, only has 17 people living in it. This area is called Kentucky Bend and, while it is part of Kentucky, it does not touch Kentucky at all and the only way to enter it is by one rural road.
The bend is a notch that was created from a tight loop of the Mississippi River which surrounds three sides of the bend. The bend is tucked entirely into Missouri except for the bottom, which is connected to Tennessee and the only way into the area. Not a single part of the Kentucky Bend actually touches Kentucky!
Thanks to a layover in St. Louis the other day, I was able to meet up with my best friend from middle school through college. We had not seen each other in years but, as best friends can do, picked right up where we left off. Our friendship had always been drama-free. Just the two of us facing the world together no matter what. I’m sure we annoyed others with our inside jokes and crazy schemes, but we never cared.
My flight was delayed, so we had a few hours together. We grabbed dinner and sat discussing our lives. Continue reading “the summer before life changed”
Summer is flying by and we haven’t done anything particularly exciting this year. So, I decided that every Friday during the month of August is Fun Friday. We will have an adventure, big or small, on Friday!
So, today I got together with my sister and we did a 3 state whirlwind tour. New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania all in one day! Okay so I live within 15 minutes of those states, but it is very adventure-y sounding.