On our second day in the park we decided to see Cades Cove. Again I had been warned by Jeff that this was an overly used area but from research it seemed it would be worth it. And it was. The secret being going as early as you can in the day and early in the week.
The drive out to the Cove is a long one, 24 miles each way from Sugarlands Visitor Center. The road is paved and two lane but is narrow, following Laurel Creek. The drive in is well worth it and is very scenic. As you enter the Cove you suddenly encounter the first real build up, the campground and the commercial horse stables (carriage rides? yes, I kid not). The 11 mile loop that is a driving tour goes around the Cove, exploring where so many lived before it was a park. The feeling one gets is that tons of people come out, drive around quickly and blast out. The first real stop is the John Oliver Place and it was packed. Every stop after that though the crowds got less. Almost like people felt the need to stop, jump out and jump back in. The sheer volume of people taking dogs on trails was jaw dropping on this trip. Nearly all of the main tourist areas there was at least one violator and John Oliver’s cabin was not missing the dude walking his dog in the fields.
But it is definitely obvious why they picked such a place to live and homestead. It is incredible, a massive valley surrounded by ridges.
Walker happy in his carrier:
John Oliver’s cabin:
We visited the Primitive Baptist church, down a rutted and muddy road that showed a side of visitors. Walker was being a little fussy so he and I walked the cemetery while Kirk attended an interpretive ceremony that talked about the history of the Cove. During that time I saw car after car drive up, turn around and immediately leave. It was a pretty church with an active cemetery, well taken care of. The most recent burial was from the previous fall. It was a sad area though with how many babies had been buried, one baby was buried next to her sister who lived a long life. Two babies born, one died, one lived. A 21 year old woman buried next to her infant son she had born when she was 17. I have long felt if you want to feel an area you must walk in their cemeteries.
Born in 1744, he served in the American Revolution and lived to be 96 years old. That was a thought provoking head stone for me. In the Northwest history doesn’t go back that far.
The Methodist Church was just down the road and was for the most part deserted. It is right on the road and so few even stopped. One grave in its cemetery was heart breaking. A mother who had lost 3 baby boys in 3 years. Very hard to look at while holding a baby.
We visited the Missionary Baptist Church and saw no one. A quiet place built into a hill:
As we drove into the back end of the Cove we stopped at the trail to Elijah Oliver’s place. The trail follows an old road.
The views of the valley are fantastic in this area and in the general area you can see nearly all the way down it.
We met a couple and their twin boys (maybe around 3 or so) from Germany. The kids didn’t speak English but were fascinated by Walker and followed us the whole way, getting Walker to giggle the entire way. Pretty funny that kids can get along just fine even with language barriers 😉
On the way back we stopped at the barn, which was built not long before the area became the park. It is considerably younger than the home.
The wood and its coloring was quite interesting:
We drove on eventually and found that all our dawdling and hiking had meant the crowds had finally shown up (I am guessing they finally got filled up at the said pancake houses mentioned in Part 1….) The visitor center/historic area/cable mill was packed full of vehicles. It was not a pretty sight. We avoided it as much as we could and carried on. What we found instead was a lovely set of Pecan Wild Hickory trees (thank you lovely reader Susie who caught that!) next to a tiny cemetery. The trees were dropping nuts like crazy:
Kirk showed me how to crack open one using rocks. Pretty neat! I had never seen a Pecan tree before and before this we had seen a lot of Acorn trees as well.
Not long after that we got caught in a traffic jam due to a small bus from a church out of West Virgina who thought it to be a brilliant idea to chase a bear into the woods…..ugh. To get out of the traffic we stopped by the Dan Lawson place which was a fun one to walk through. He had in his time a lot of land that extended back into the ridges. Here I got to see a group of wild turkeys, a bird I hadn’t seen before in person!
The weather had tried to be nice that day but was cold as soon as the sun went behind clouds or the wind came up. As the afternoon tired it got colder. The day before it had been so cold/snowy that the road to Clingmans Dome had been closed most of the day. Since we were done with Cades Cove Kirk suggested we drive back up to Newfound Gap and then head out to Clingmans. We got there around 6 pm and were treated to 35° temps and a wind that chapped your face instantly.
The clouds were whipping over us. We took turns going out into the weather and let Walker stay in the warm van.
Yet one could still see Fontana Dam way below us.
It was an odd feeling being at above 6,600 feet and it not being alpine. Sunrise at Mt. Rainier for example is alpine at 6400 feet. Yet the temperatures and wind felt the same 😀 We stayed up there till almost sunset and then headed back down. As we came through one of the tunnels on the road we pulled over. The sunset above us was incredible and only lasted a few minutes:
It had been a good day with many short hikes and a lot of views.