Friday, May 4, 2012

Where Airstreams Fear to Tread


Moving Day.  Patty sought out perishables in town and Al cleaned up and packed up.  Neighbors/campers who lived nearby and knew the roads, shook their heads, then scurried over to tell Jim, the camp host, what we had planned and the many reasons that was not something they would do.
Jim sent us off with with a hearty invitation back and did NOT add “if you make it.”  Thanks, Jim.
The climb up Scenic 276 was a repeat of last night, but downhill  was into Haywood county where the road is a tad bit steeper, more twisty and much rougher.  The sign warns “15 MPH next four miles.”  We were in low range, listening to the engine try to brake us, craning our necks around the too-wide window pillars to see if  a vehicle was approaching through our side window…No other traffic behind us…curious. 
When we flattened out, the valley road was pastoral until we passed through the active Main Street of Waynesville.  Now we were on familiar ground.  We slipped out to Cove Creek Road with some Zen-like Satellite Radio soothing us. Climbing steadily up the paved part of the road, we recalled our first trips into Cataloochee Valley when the road surface was not nearly so good.  We noted the National Park signs was unobtrusive, but present.  (In times past, the locals would remove a sign within hours, to keep the secret place secret.). No paving can straighten the curves which are incessant, like a quick paced slalom, but the overhanging edges have been cut back over the years providing a sense of elbow room.  There are great views from the points and there are a couple multi million dollar homes on the prows.  The pavement continues to these places, but stops soon after the double switchback so steep that a dislodged rock would fall through the roof of the home you just passed.

The pig farm isn’t active any more …

and it’s a pity because at this 170 degree climbing turn, there was just enough room for the faint of heart to turn around in despair of ever finding a National Park out THIS road.
Past the junkyard of all heavy equipment ever used in Haywood County and up to the absolutely, we mean it, don’t doubt us five-mile-an-hour turn (where the dog is sleeping in the road), the road turns to gravel.  It’s nicer gravel now, widened in past years, but the drop offs at the edges fall away hundreds of feet and little sticks and makeshift flags mark the cave ins. Here the inside has been tapered back giving a comforting feeling that if you hug the hillside closely and your wheels fall into the drainage, your vehicle will lean cushioned gently against the ferns.

The blind turns start here…

…and remain the main focus of your attention from here out except for the dusty corduroy downhill twisting ever narrowing surface. Soon you crest the Cataloochee Divide marking the entry to the park.  Appropriate warnings are posted, but the promise of pavement ahead leads us on “happily, bumpily, noisily down winding dusty country roads” as the children’s book reminds us. These turns require all your attention, since there is No way to pass in the corner, so it is an act of faith that two vehicles, especially big vehicles or vehicles with elderly sedan drivers won’t enter the turn simultaneously in opposite directions.  We met two, and in both cases we just stood there, a hulking mass of steel and Aluminum,  until they mustered up the courage to creep by our extension mirrors and beyond.  At last, in the middle of nowhere, the smoothly re-paved park road leads us downhill three miles through verdant green, across the creek and into the Campground.  

In seven more days…the return..


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