53° at 6:00, batteries at 45%, fresh water tank 0%
I went to the Museum of The Cherokee Indian. The town of Cherokee is in the middle of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, 57,000 acres of land, known as the Qualla Boundary. Their land covered large parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky and measured in square miles before President Jackson threw them out, marched them on the “Trail of Tears” and took their land.
It is a large and excellent museum. It walks you through history starting at the Archaic Period 9,000 – 900 BC, showing relics from that period. In the Mississippian Period a new kind of corn was introduced, which changed things for the better. I was very interested in how they fired pottery when there were no ovens.
The history of basket-making was detailed with some huge baskets, at least one surviving from its original time. Also interesting were the tools they were able to make with wood, leather and stones. Hammers, picks, axes and of course, arrows and spears.
Their games were described, some with serious competition. Stickball was huge as well as Chunkey. Hunting and fishing would have been incredible in this area. There are so many streams and rivers.
And then the Europeans arrived. One sign describes it perfectly. At first they prospered with new tools, new ways to farm and guns. King George forbid whites settling i”n the Appalachians and all parts West. We thought we would be safe…..but then came the American Revolution.
Unimaginable today, a book I am reading compares “The Trail of Tears” to the “Bataan Death March”, along with the lies and dirty deals Andrew Jackson made. Some refused to go. Some hid in the mountains, so there became a “Western Band” and an “Eastern Band” of the Cherokee Nation. Thousands died along the trail, many by diseases spread by the Europeans. $3 million was given for their land, but the seller did not want to sell. It was called The Indian Removal Act, and involved not only the Cherokee, but the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Seminoles and the Choctaw, virtually all of the Native Americans in the southeast.
Like most museums, you can’t take it all in on one visit, but it is very well-managed and displayed.
Charlie Roberts, the fly tier I met at Chasteen Creek, told me to try Kephart Prong and to start fishing where the stream makes a big turn away from the trail. My plan was to fish this all day. I’ve been distracted by other things, and the fishing has taken a back seat. I have fished every day, but today, that was all I was going to do. Two cars were parked in front of me when I arrived at 8:00. Now maybe that sounds late, but the sun doesn’t come up until 7:20, and it was only 50°. My guess is they were hikers. There are lots of hikers in this park, and why not? There are tons of trails that are well-marked and maintained. There are backcountry campsites all over the park. If you are a hiker, this is paradise. Of course the Appalachian Trail goes right through the center of the park along its highest ridges.
I didn’t bring the Garmin GPS, telling myself, “Why would I need it?”. I did bring the InReach, which is a satellite device that allows me to send messages and track where I go. Martha had sent a message on it asking where I was. It also has a map I can access with an app on my phone. Trouble was it wasn’t giving me any detail. Seems I need to download a map. OK, I was going to walk up the trail until I could see the stream turning away from the trail (a road really).
After crossing the beautiful stream a couple of times, I thought it turned away from the trail, so I started fishing. I came here for 9 days of fishing because I had seen so many beautiful streams on my previous trip, and this was another one. It’s the perfect size. With huge boulders, plunging pools and crystal clear water, I could see why Charlie recommended it.
I had on the purple fly with white hackle that had at least produced some interest. I don’t know what it is – maybe a purple haze. I got some small fish splashing at it, but after 40 minutes of that, I decided to switch. There was a serious hatch of tiny brown bugs, yet I didn’t see any fish rising. I was not going to fish anything that small, but I put on a # 16 brown Caddis. 20 minutes later with zero interest, I went to a Royal Wulff. Nothing. Climbing this mountain through one beautiful pool after another, there HAD to be fish in here!
It was not easy going, climbing over and around boulders, going up a steep mountain. I had to get out once to get around a waterfall, but that wasn’t so easy either. Wandering around the forest, climbing over logs and fallen trees, I watched every footstep for a moving stick. I don’t hear so well, and with a pounding stream beside me, I would never hear a rattlesnake trying to warn me. At least I didn’t want to step on one. I was relieved to get back in the stream.
I have never seen so many hatches – constantly, all day long, and different kinds. I switched to a Light Cahill. First cast a hit! A voice said, “And now the fun begins.” Like the Purple Haze, little fish hit it, but not much else. One nice fish took it as the fly went under a rock. I thought I was caught on something, but it moved, wiggled and then it was gone. It was probably a good thing, as I would have kept it for dinner. It would turn out to be the only keeper I caught all day.
“What’s the deal?” I thought. Are they full from eating all these bugs? Certainly, I have never seen so many hatches on an eastern stream, and with such variety. Was someone fishing in front of me? I didn’t think so. I hadn’t seen any footprints, although it’s all rocks, and most of those are covered with beautiful, soft moss. Or were there just too many fishermen and women in this park. I mean it’s the last place I know of where you can keep five fish over 7 inches. When I was growing up, five was the limit, but they had to be 8 inches. We used to catch and keep our limit every time out. But then, we only fished April 1st until June when the snakes came out. Summers were for smallmouth fishing or golf.
Hardly anyone walked 45 minutes up a mountain and fished all day for five 8-inch fish. The vast majority fished lower down, where the fish were stocked. Then a movie changed everything – A River Runs Through it. Now everyone fishes for trout. Still, most people are attracted to the bigger fish – trophy fish.
The stream was getting smaller and steeper with fewer pools, so I got out when I could see the trail and walked up. The shelter couldn’t be far. Usually shelters were for the Appalachian Trail, but I wasn’t sure the Trail came through here. When i arrived, two men and a woman were talking and welcomed me. They were all hikers. One man was staying at Mile High Campground “where they have showers”, he said. He likes to stay there and hike a variety of trails.
The husband and wife were staying in a hotel where they have showers. He had knee surgery just 8 weeks ago! He said two fishermen came down earlier and hadn’t caught anything either. One said he had been fishing this stream for 30 years, and had always caught fish. He noted there are now over 100 fishing guides in the area, and it has hurt the fishing. I must say I felt better hearing that. I had worked hard all day, and although I am not the greatest fisherman, I thought I fished fairly well today. I had changed flies, tried to match the hatch and cast pretty well, but hadn’t produced a thing.
There have been articles questioning, “Are We Loving Our National Parks to Death?” Certainly, this park gets a ton of visitors. There are really only two roads in this huge park, and the traffic is heavy. The trails I have been on are well-traveled, and the campgrounds are booked solid. I could not get a site at any other campground in the park. They are booked solid, and the leaves are just starting to turn. In two weeks it will really be busy.
I love it here. These are beautiful mountains with lots of gorgeous trout streams. Yet, I caught two keepers in nine days. Kelly would have caught a lot more, but still, it is not what I expected. I had read stories of catching 50 or even 100 trout in a day. Hell, I bought a counter so I could keep track! I admit I don’t fish rainbows well, mostly because I’m not good at fishing under water. I prefer dry flies, and I prefer brook trout. I mean they smash the fly, then leap out of the water several times, run all around until you think you have a monster. Then it turns out to be an 8-inch fish. There is no better eating fish. You can clean one in 30 seconds. All you need to cook them is a pan and butter, and they are done in 5 minutes. They have a handle on each end, and when you are through eating, there is nothing left but a skeleton. Simply delicious! It has been a long time since I ate one. Even if you catch one, you can’t keep them – except here, and after a week of fishing here, I wouldn’t keep one if I did catch it.
My opinion is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should join the rest of east coast and make the park catch-and-release, barbless fly-fishing only.
Batteries at 56% Sun only effectively hits the panels one hour a day, and it’s at a big angle then.
Charlie Roberts had told me to fish a stream up 441, the name of which I can’t remember, but he said there are two parking lots and to park on the right. Start fishing where the stream takes a big bend away from the trail. I passed Kephart Prong and stopped to check it out. I walked up the path for 10 minutes in my boat shoes before turning back. Crossing a bridge over the Oconoluftee, I wondered why I wasn’t fishing that.
I drove up the mountain, almost to the top without seeing any place with two parking lots. I did stop at several overlooks for some spectacular views. By now the crowds were out. 441 is the main road across the park, and it is also the most direct way to get to towns on the other side without driving all the way around the park. This is a popular place for motorcycles. It looked like a convention.
Coming back down the mountain I kept wondering why I wasn’t fishing the Oconoluftee, so I stopped at an access point, geared up and walked down a steep trail to the stream. I hate to be repetitive, but what a gorgeous stream, and what a gorgeous part of it. It’s smaller up here, but with big holes. I’ve never seen anything like it. There were pools, like big hot tubs as far as I could see. Sometimes there were three across the river, with little waterfalls filling them, then plunging down to the next one. The parking lot was rather large, and now I can see why. In the hot summer, what a place to come and cool off in your personal pool.
There was plenty of room to cast, and the stream is relatively easy to navigate and cross. Fishing each pool, I had a few strikes, but caught no fish in an hour before coming to a log jam. I could have gotten around it, but I wasn’t catching fish, and I remembered the book saying the fishing wasn’t good in this part of the Oconoluftee, for what reason I cannot imagine.
I went back to camp, had lunch and took a 30-minute nap. By then the day was fairly well shot. I cleaned up and thought about going to the Cherokee Museum in town, but they would probably close soon after I got there, so I opted to relax and read my book.
I went into town for a few things. Primary was to call Out of Doors Mart Airstream Dealer in Greensboro and see if they could help me with the leaking fresh water tank. Their first appointment was the first week of December, which is similar to what the dealer in Tennessee said.
Sitting in a parking lot where I could get cell service, I found a couple of Airforum posts on replacing their water tanks. They had pictures, so I could see how the system works. There is a pan that houses the water tank, protecting it against road damage. It is likely that a fitting is the source of the leak. What I was seeing was the pan draining. The cost of a new water tank is about $300 or less, but I didn’t have time to search.
At the Food Lion, I bought two gallons of water, since the water in the park tastes of chlorine. Also bought some fruit and checked out. While I was out, I decided to go check out Bryson City, just 10 miles away. It’s a cute, little town on the Tuckasegee River. It has the feel of a Fernie in British Columbia. There are lots of outdoor opportunities from here – Fontana Lake, the river, white water rafting and many trout streams across the lake. Martha would enjoy poking around the shops here, and there are interesting places to eat.
It took me a while to find it, but finally found “The Scenic Drive”, Rt. 91 along beautiful Tuckasegee River. It would be a nice river to kayak or canoe or fish. I passed a lot of RV camps in all flavors. Arriving back in Cherokee, I went to the hardware store and got the propane tank filled. The man looked frazzled. He said he couldn’t find or keep any help, so he is working six days a week. We agreed people are making more money not working. These are crazy times!
Back at camp, I had lunch and a cup of coffee and read my book for a while. I could have done that all afternoon, as it is very good, but if I was going to fish today, I had best get going. My options were to go lower on Bradley Fork that runs into the Oconoluftee at the end of the campground, or go up the mountain to Chasteen Creek. I opted for the latter. It is listed as a small stream, lightly fished, with brookies in it. I thought dinner might be coming my way.
I walked 1.2 miles up Bradley Fork Road and turned on the Chasteen Creek Trail. I have seen the horses take this loop every day. I turned to go into Backcountry Camp #50. I could see this would be a pleasant place to camp. A sign said the camp was temporarily closed due to aggressive bear activity. I checked to see where my whistle was. I had not brought my bear spray. I was carrying enough stuff as it was.
This is a tiny stream, choked with fallen trees and rhododendrons. I would have thought this unfishable, but the book said it was a pretty good stream. Now I wished I had reread the book. There was a foot path beside the stream, so I followed it up a bit to a nice, little pool, although casting would be tough. I caught a little brookie on the first cast and two more. OK, I was awake now.
I got out and walked the path to its end, where there was a very nice pool. I got caught in the laurels and moss before getting a fly in the pool. I missed a big hit and caught another little one. Well, maybe this was worth it, but I questioned that as I crawled over two logs to get upstream. There was no more footpath. I very slowly worked my way upstream to a bridge where the horse trail crossed. If I could get my fly into a pool, a fish hit it about 60% of the time. No wonder there were fish here. It’s a bear to fish. I worked my way upstream, with similar results, but it was like doing some kind of Army obstacle course. It was also a test of all your trout fishing tricks. I hadn’t bow-lined in a long time, but that one was useful. Dabbing into a hole was good, but the rhododendrons and mountain laurels were so thick, you could not walk beside the stream. Flipping the fly worked a few times, and every now and then I could cast, but not very far. I caught on laurels, bushes, briars and moss, but just had to try to be patient because the fish were here.
By 4:30 I did not have my fish for dinner, but I did not want to be caught in here in the dark. There were no trails into the stream, so the only way out was to beat through the thick laurels. I knew the horse trail was on my right, but didn’t know how far. A voice had told me to bring the GPS, but I didn’t. It would have told me how far the trail was from the stream, or if there was another bridge ahead.
I picked a spot and picked, ducked and climbed my way through the laurels, ever mindful of snakes. Luckily the trail wasn’t far away. I walked up it a ways to see what the stream was like, but I couldn’t really see it. Sometimes the rhododendron and laurels thin out up the mountain, and it looked like they thinned out a bit ahead. As I walked back down, I took a picture toward Chasteen Creek in a sea of mountain laurels. Maybe I would try this again up higher and start a lot earlier.
There are also three forks of Bradley Fork up higher, but that’s 4.5 miles up the road. That’s why there is a backcountry camp there. Maybe I am too old to backpack 4.5 miles, but it MIGHT be worth the trouble. I have seen a lot of people of all ages walking up this road, some with backpacks. On the other hand, I fished my way almost to that camp a few days ago.
Batteries at 79%, 82% last night (There are no hookups in GSMNP)
It’s been sunny every day, but sun only hits the panels from 2:30-4:00. The rest of the day I’m getting 1.5A. Takes 10A to run the furnace in the morning set at 58 deg. I’m getting 300WH/ day with a max of 13.7 and min of 13.1. All charging is on bulk.
Since I had seen so many fishermen yesterday, I decided to walk further upstream on Bradley Fork. I would walk an hour and start. I debated about taking the big or small rod, but opted for the big one. It will cast further, casts streamers better and is long enough to flip or dab a fly.
I started walking at 7:30 in waist waders, felt-soled boots, two shirts, a fleece and a fishing vest that weighed too much. At 8:00 I removed the fleece as I was beginning to sweat. I didn’t see anyone along the way. With plenty of time to think, I realized there are two backcountry campgrounds up here. fishermen could be camped up here and already be on the stream.
At 8:30 I got in the stream and started fishing. By 9:30 I had changed flies 5 times with no action. Maybe it was too cold for them. The sun was just now getting into this hollow. This part of the stream is steeper and smaller, but the pools are deep – really deep. It’s like the Hughes River in Virginia, but on steroids. This is bigger and more powerful. Sometimes it sounds like an airplane. Cicadas added to the sounds, which can be eerie in the relative darkness. Once the sun lit everything up, the mood of the hollow changed. Pretty in dim light, it is gorgeous in sunlight. Plunging down the mountain into deep, clear pools that were sometimes blue, framed by bright, white 3-foot waterfalls.
Looking up the stream, I recalled a quote from Fly-Fishing The Great Smoky Mountains, “ I could look up the stream and see where I would be in an hour.” I was fishing from the right side of the stream, which means I had to cast back-handed. I am not as accurate that way, and it’s tiring, but I was doing OK. I used a hopper, blue wing olive, a mayfly, a something-or-other and a Wulff and caught one 10-inch rainbow on the first cast with the Wulff.
I was surprised to see so many hikers walking up the mountain. It looked like half the campground were hiking this morning, and why not? It is a spectacular fall day. Several waved as they passed. One group took a picture of me casting into a beautiful pool. I didn’t notice any fishermen walk past, although you can’t be looking around while fishing this stream. I fell one time, but fortunately didn’t hurt myself or the rod. By 1:30 I was spent. If I was catching fish, I would have continued. It took me about an hour to get back to camp.
After some rest, I thought I should replace that drain cock since I was at 6% in the water tank. I removed two screws and pulled, twisted and pried, but it would not come out of the hose. Finally I broke it off and drilled out the rest. There was a hose inside the tank and it had a tightened metal ring around it. There was also a spring inside! Now how the heck did they do that, and why? I managed to remove the ring, but I should have slid it back on the hose. I put the new drain cock on, but would it hold without the tightening ring. If I had internet, I would have looked up how to replace this thing and learned how this tank works.
I patched two leaks that I could see, hooked up and went to the dump station to dump and fill up with water. Maybe at least I would just have a slow leak. Two wet tracks followed me back to my campsite – not a good sign. I poured a glass of wine, took a shower and shaved. I had already lost half of the water, although I hadn’t filled the tank completely. I filled a few bottles of water and the coffee pot, sure I wouldn’t have water in the morning. My guess is the hose, under pressure, popped off the drain cock, so all these leaks I have might be intentionally placed drain holes. There must be something else inside holding the water.
As I lay in bed, slowly waking up, I thought it unlikely the fresh water tank was leaking in two places, although possible with all the bumps and jolts I give it driving rough highways at 70 mph. At Highland Haven, I had trouble closing the drain cock after draining the tank so I could fill with fresh water. I had to use a screw driver to leverage it. Maybe I cracked it, or maybe it was just worn out. At any rate, it appears to be a simple thing to replace. If it still leaks and is the tank that’s leaking, I may have to go to Charlotte to get it replaced.
I went into Cherokee with a list. Call Martha was first. I wasn’t sure she was getting the InReach satellite messages, as reception here is spotty. It’s an easy 15 minute drive into Cherokee. Martha was doing fine, playing tennis and going to the UVA football game tonight. I told her about the leaking fresh water tank.
I went to an auto parts store in Cherokee. The plug for my forward-facing video camera had come apart, so I was looking for the parts that screw into the end of a plug that goes in the cigarette lighter. I consider this an essential piece of equipment. If I am in an accident pulling an expensive trailer with an expensive truck, I want evidence to show what happened. Since I have already had one expensive issue, the insurance would probably drop me if I had another.
A very nice gentleman said he didn’t have anything like that, but if I was going that way, there is a Walmart in Sylva, with several auto parts stores near it. I was going that way anyway, to Fallin’s RV Repair for a water tank drain cock, wishfully thinking the leak was coming from a faulty drain cock. This was a busy, little place with RVs in every available place to park. There was one man inside the small store. He was serving one customer while he talked on the phone to another. I wandered up and down the isles looking for a drain cock. I turned to a voice asking, “Can I help you find something?” He went right to it. There were two designs, so I bought both and thanked him. As he checked me out, he answered the phone, while another man came in. How he kept his pleasant demeanor through all this, I don’t know.
Now on to Sylva, about 17 miles away. I thought my GPS was taking me a crazy route, winding my way around this old railroad town, but that’s just the way it is. As I headed to Walmart, I envisioned walking around there for an hour looking for something they probably didn’t have. I spotted an auto parts store…… and turned left across busy traffic.
Three service people were helping customers, so I started wandering around when a kind female voice said, “Can I help you?” I showed her the screw and cap, telling her what they went to. She went right to the electrical isle and scanned plugs, selecting one, asking, “Will this do it?” Staring at it while rearranging my mind, I thought all I needed was the button. Then I looked at the price tag – $6. I smiled and answered, “Yes, thank you very much.”
Walking to the truck, I looked at the plug with two wires coming out of it. OK, I would have to cut my wire and connect these. I can do that, I thought. Staring at it in the truck, I realized I could just unscrew the end, take the button and put it into mine. I headed back to camp, optimistic I was going to solve both problems. Just out of Cherokee, I stopped at a pullover beside the Oconaliftee River. There is a well-traveled foot path beside the river. Across the river I saw three fishermen beside a huge pool. In the reservation, they stock the river with trout. Entering the park, cars were pulled over next to a big field where elk grazed.
After eating some lunch, I decided to go fishing for a couple of hours. I didn’t have time to go far, so I started at the end of the campground where Bradley Fork comes into the campground. I got in at a beautiful pool. Fishing a hopper, nothing was interested, so I started for the next pool. Someone was standing in the middle of it.
I walked up the road, heading up the mountain. I gave him what I thought was enough room to fish the next two hours and got in at another beautiful pool. Having no luck, I changed to a Royal Wulff. No luck. After fishing a gorgeous pool without moving a fish, I changed to a nymph. No luck, so I changed to a big streamer. No luck. I was changing again when the young fisherman who I thought I had given enough room, camp tromping past asking if I had any luck. I shook my head. I think he said he was doing well, but I couldn’t hear over the roaring river.
Bradley Fork is a beautiful trout stream – big, powerful, crystal clear water still flowing hard after the rains. Sometimes I heard airplanes flying over. Sometimes it was the river making a similar sound. Cicadas were also singing their mating song. Frustrated after a few more pools, I decided to head back. It was Friday afternoon, and two more fishermen passed me, going up the mountain. Then I saw two fishing their way up. What’s it going to be like on Saturday?
After the heavy rains Bradley Fork was up, running hard and brown. My guide is The Ultimate Guide to Fly-Fishing The Great Smoky Mountains by Don Kirk and Greg Ward. It’s a good book, woven with stories to keep it interesting. In this watershed (the Oconaluftee River) they discuss many streams, but have had good luck on Collins Creek. It’s a small stream, so my pick of the day. I was in the Smokies a few weeks ago with Martha, Karen and the kids, staying in Cades Cove. We so many gorgeous trout streams, I came back to fish some of them. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the number one most visited national park in 2020, and the third most visited park, the Blue Ridge Parkway being #1.
I drove up to the Collins Creek Picnic area and walked down to look at the creek. Small is right, and it has lots of trees across it and mountain laurel hanging over the edges. I went back to the parking area where a guy was getting out of his truck. Somehow he looked like a fisherman, so I went over to ask if he was going to fish. This stream is not big enough for two. He said he was not fishing. He and his friend Charlie were over the mountain at Big Creek, but since the temperatures were dropping, they were going into town to get propane. He suggested I talk to Charlie, who was in the bathroom.
Charlie Roberts introduced himself and began talking about the creek. He said he usually walks down to the road and starts, fishing back up to the car. He sometimes fishes up from here, but it has a lot of timber down and the laurels are thick. He said it opens up after a while. He is commercial fly tyer. There was a long conversation about what flies to use, but in the end said he usually fishes a Royal Wulff.
I put hip waders on and set up my small rod with a Yellow Sally. There were two beautiful pools to start with, but I didn’t move a fish. From there, the going got tough, and tougher the further upstream I went. I hit a few more pools without any luck, then decided to get on the trail and walk up. The path had been rerouted due to fallen trees, and the going was rough, especially after all the rains made the going slippery. I heard a ghostly voice behind me saying, “The Hell with this!” I turned around and walked back to the truck, drank some water and ate some peanuts. It was only 10:30, so I decided to walk down to the road and fish up.
The pools were bigger, the first two being beautiful. Didn’t move a fish, so I switched to a Royal Wulff. As I fished my way upstream, the going got tougher until again I heard that voice. I got out and beat the bushes back up the mountain, luckily ending up at my truck. There are a lot of streams in this area, so I am moving this one to the bottom of my list. Now maybe if I had put on a different fly the results might have been different. When you are catching fish, it’s a lot easier to put up with the impediments.
I went back and had lunch and a cup of coffee. I read my book and relaxed for a while. At 3:00 I drove to the the north end of the campground, geared up with the bigger rod and walked up the well-traveled gravel road for a half hour before walking down a path to Bradley Fork. It was completely opposite from this morning. This is a pretty big stream and I was standing in front of a gorgeous pool with more upstream. Amazingly, the water was clear, still running a bit hard, but very fishable. I had been hearing cicadas all day. I know I have cicada flies, but couldn’t find them. I opted for a hopper (grasshopper).
This 9’ 5wt rod with a 9’ leader might be a problem. I got hung up five times before I ever got the fly in the water! On the third cast I caught a 10-inch rainbow. Two casts later a smaller one. It’s amazing how that energizes you. Now to move. This was bigger water and I had on hip waders, but it wasn’t particularly slippery. Finally I made my way the other side so I could cast to the next three pools. Two fish missed it. Maybe the water is moving too fast for the fly to sit long enough. A few more chased it, so I wasn’t going to change flies. It’s a beautiful stream with lots of pools and room to cast, although with this big rod I managed to get caught on limbs several times.
I had only fished an hour and a half, but decided not to push my luck. Now, where to get back across the stream. Finally I found a reasonable place to cross without filling my waders, but there was no path on the other side. Again, I beat my way through the mangled laurels until I came to the road. My legs were tired now. I know I’m out of shape. 10 days of this should help.
When I got back to camp, I noticed it was wet under the trailer, so I peeked underneath. The fresh water tank was dripping in two places. GEEZ! All those thoughts went quickly through my head. New water tank? Where would I get that done? There’s an excellent Airstream place in Charlotte. Could I make it through the trip with this problem? Could I fix it myself? Always something!
It’s a 7-8-hour drive to the Smokies from Charlottesville, depending on how you go and where you are going, but Martha wanted me to break it up, so I booked a night in Highland Haven Campground outside Roanoke. I went down 29, which is pleasant enough. You just have to be alert to turns. Then 220, to 221 up the mountain. It is not an easy drive to Highland Haven, especially in the rain, but I arrived and met campground hostess, Nancy, and pulled into site 26. This campground is known for its spectacular sunsets, but I wasn’t going to see it tonight. It was hard to see anything.
I drank a half bottle of wine listening to music of Andrew Loyd Webber turned up loud while making a salad. Hope I didn’t wake the neighbors.
I got up at 4:00, read for a while until daylight, then hooked up, filled the water tank and got on the road at 8:00. It was raining lightly as I followed Rt. 221 south through the cute little town of Floyd, famous for its country music.
I thought about Virginia Highland Haven Campground, which is an Airstream only campground that is owned by its campers. When someone is not there, you can rent a site for the very reasonable fee of $35 with full hookups. It’s a beautiful spot with wonderful views looking west.
I have never driven 221, but it’s beautiful country with lovely, mountain farmland and quaint, little towns. Surely it would be more fun to drive when I have more time and it isn’t raining. At Hillsville I got on 77S. The rains became harder and would continue the entire drive, sometimes hard, sometimes light. One hand seemed to be constantly changing the windshield wiper speed. Still, I could see the majority of the big storm was to my west. Traffic was busy, but not as bad as I81. Still, it winds through the mountains to Statesville, where I turned onto I40 west, and into the storm I went.
Sometimes the rains were so heavy, traffic slowed to 45mph. My strategy is to get behind a tractor trailer and follow at a distance that allows stopping, but where I can see his lights. If you are a car driver, you curse the trucks that are slow uphill and fast downhill. If you pull a trailer, you appreciate their professionalism, their knowledge of the roads and their ability to drive in all kinds of weather. They move into the left lane when passing a disabled truck on the shoulder. They blink their lights to let you into their lane. If you let them into your lane, they flash their brake lights to thank you. Actually, they put on their flashers for a second or two. It took me forever to learn how they made those brake lights flash, but without slowing down.
I have the greatest respect for truck drivers. They deliver to every store, merchant, gas station and post office. They are the life blood of our economy. They drive at night or in daytime. They put up with poor car drivers entering the highway at too slow a speed, or changing lanes right in front of them. Whenever I am driving through a city, I follow a truck. It’s like a running back getting behind a 6’6. 360 pound lineman. They run interference for me. When I am in heavy rains like this, I follow a truck, and when I stop following, I flash my headlights or tap my brake lights to thank them for their help. At a rest stop, I laid down for a 1-hour nap. Whew! Renewed energy.
I turned onto 220 south with the rains still coming. In Asheville, I missed a turn and had to go into a Home Depot to turn around and get new directions. I’m still not sure what I was supposed to do. Then onto 221 in heavy rains, then Rt. 19 through Maggie Valley. I’ve been in the mountains all day, and the rain wasn’t helping. When I could barely see the road, I ended up behind a pickup pulling a large water tank on a trailer. In front of him was another truck pulling a trailer with a front end loader on it. They were obviously working together, and they knew these roads, so I continued to follow. When they pulled into a rest area, I did too. Then back out on the road, following. These guys were excellent drivers. When I turned onto 441, I flashed my lights to thank them.
441 is called “The Smoky Mountain Parkway”. Driving through Cherokee, NC I stopped to fill up the gas tank – well the diesel tank in my case. This is a nice little town, not far from the campground. I thought I would be climbing up a steep mountain, but was surprised to see it was fairly level, following the Oconoluftee River. The rains had lightened up, and people were watching elk graze by the Visitor’s Center. I could feel my blood pressure ease.
At 3:00 I pulled up to Smokemont Campground and said my prayers, thanking God for guiding me safely in a difficult two days of driving. In a light rain I parked and leveled the trailer for my 9-day stay. I put the awnings out as it drizzled rain. By the time I finished, the rains stopped. I went for a walk around the campground to get my bearings straight.
It’s a nice campground that would be entirely full by the weekend. Bradley Creek runs through the campground, joining the Oconoluftee River just below the campground. I was interested in fishing both of these, so I walked right over to the stream. High and muddy, as I suspected. It wasn’t terrible, but also not fishable. I wondered how fast it would run out of here. At the north end of the campground, I found the Bradley Creek Trail, which looked more like a highway. I could easily drive my big truck up it, except for the locked gate. As I read the fishing regulations sign, I noticed a yellow caterpiller walking up it. An odd looking creature, it’s black head had four antennae, and there was a black tip on it’s tail. Was this a Yellow Sally nymph? I have no flies that look anything like this. I reached for my phone to take a picture, but had left it in the trailer.
Walking back down the other side of the stream, I talked to an Airstream couple who were dumping rain from their awning. “Did it rain a lot here?” the lady asked. “Oh yes!” I replied. They had gone home for a few days. They were in a nicely shaded spot, but that wasn’t good for their roof covered with solar panels. The husband was deploying two portable panels, aiming them at the sun that was now peeking through the clouds. “One amp”, he noted. “Well” she said, “that’s the end of the rains for a while.” It was nice to see sun peeking through the trees.
As I walked along the stream, I looked tor yellow bugs, but didn’t see any. Back at the trailer, I got the Garmin InReach and turned it on. Without cell phone reception, it is my only means of communicating with Martha. “No signal” the device indicated. I took it up to a clearing, where i could get clear access to the sky. No signal. I waited 15 minutes before giving up. I set it on my little ladder in a clearing behind the trailer, leaving it there while I cooked dinner – ratatouille and chicken. Checking it again, I was happy to see the message and tracking were sent.
We went for the wildlife drive. It was very foggy, but the forecast was for a sunny day and the rest of the week was just afternoon showers. We saw the herd in the field. Some were lying down, some in the road, but all were fat and happy. We drove to the other end, a bit disappointed we haven’t seen any bears. There are also no deer. Ginger said the elk have driven the deer away. Still, there seems to be plenty of room for deer.
We turned around at the far end. The adjacent stream has gone down considerably, and looks like it would be fishable in a day or two. Through dense fog, we were surprised to see a single elk, because the herd was a half mile away. As we got closer, we could see it was big, with a huge rack. He was half again the size of the other bulls. He was eating fallen apples around a tree across the field. He bugled twice, the first time we heard that. Ginger would later tell us the big bulls stay on their own until time to mate.
At camp, we made pancakes for breakfast. I went over to offer some to Ginger, but she had eaten. She said she had to go to town. Her home town of Canton had historic flood levels. The Pigeon River had flooded several towns, and her mother was without water. I told her we might have to leave today, since our batteries were getting low. She said the road out was fine, but with all this rain, we should stay off the shoulders that might be soft. She said to stay in the middle of the road and make other drivers move over. I asked if she drank wine, and she said she did. I took her a bottle. She is simply the best!
I went to the “phone booth” and called Greg at Autostar. He said he didn’t know when they could see me. His technician’s home was flooded. I thanked him for their help and paid only $100 for all their efforts. They have been very kind in these crazy times.
I went back to camp and we packed up our wet, soggy stuff. Putting the camp chairs in the truck, there were three yellow bugs on them – Yellow Sallies!
I had driven this road a number of times now. It is no doubt a bit scary, but I went slowly and honked at every blind turn. As we headed down the other side, a man stopped to tell me there was a big tractor/mower coming up the mountain a quarter mile back. “You won’t be able to pass him.”, he said. “Thank you. I’ll wait here.”
After waiting 30 minutes, Martha walked down the road to meet him. She texted me to come on, as he pulled into a driveway to wait, but I didn’t get the text. Walking back up the mountain, she yelled at me to come on. We passed him and waved happily.
The GPS took us north to Asheville. Martha had some views of the flooded Pigeon River, and it looked bad. After Asheville, we got on interstate 26, which was very nice, not too crowded, winding through the big mountains. By the time we got on 81 and passed Abingdon, I was getting a bit sleepy. Martha declined driving on a busy 81, so we looked for a place to stay the night, finally deciding on Raccoon Branch, a cute, little campground where we had stayed before.
When we got there, Raccoon Branch was closed. We didn’t know where Grayson Highlands was, but we thought it was close, so we continued up the mountain. It wasn’t close. By the time we got to the state park, no one was at the gate. Driving to the campground, a ranger met us and said that campground was closed because they had no water. GEEZ! It made for a difficult place to turn around, but we made it.
Driving to the Equestrian Campground, I thought, we could have been past Roanoke by now. Thankfully there were lots of campsites. We chose #8, thankful to have a place. Martha took a shower for the first time not in the trailer.
We enjoyed a quiet evening sitting by the fire playing some music, and discussing the trip. All I could think about was when I could go back to fish the Smokies.
So how is the possessed truck you might ask. Thankfully, when driving, there are no problems. If I don’t lock the truck, there are no problems. Then I learned if I lock it with the key, there are no problems, so I removed the electric fob and removed the battery. When I get home, I will change the battery and see what happens. I am happy to not carry the bulky fob in my pocket anyway. If I lock the doors with the button inside, and then unlock with the key, the horn honks until I put the key in and turn it on. If I lock the door with the key, then unlock with the key, there is no honking. So I think it’s all the fob’s fault. Whether it just needs a new battery or not is soon to be determined. Whether is is possessed by the spirits of Cataloochee will be determined when I go back to fish. Right now I am just happy to be relieved of flashing lights, horn honking and very spooky doors rapidly locking and unlocking. And what the heck was that message about opening and then closing the driver’s side window??? As Willie commented, Gayle would have loved that kind of prank. I can hear her laughing to tears now.
Waking up early to a dripping rain. I made coffee and wrote up yesterday’s blog. Everything itched from the yellow jacket stings and my lip was still puffy. All-in-all it wasn’t too bad. I would wait until 8:00 to reconnect the truck batteries so I didn’t disturb Ginger. There were only two other campers and they were at the end of the camp. I guess everyone else knew it was to be a week of rain with a hurricane on top.
I walked over to Ginger’s to see if I could get a cell phone signal, but nothing. I had to check messages from Autostar Chevrolet to see what the solution was for my truck. Maybe I really need a priest. I pulled the horn fuse and connected the batteries. It’s getting easier now, but I don’t like working with batteries in the rain. I kept the hood as far down as I could to keep the rain out. I thought about putting a tarp over it, but dismissed it as too much trouble.
As I went for a tool, the hood closed. Since I had tools in there, it didn’t close all the way, but I couldn’t reopen it. Possessed! The spirits are messing with me. I could barely get to the latch, but couldn’t open it, nor could I force it. Finally squeezing the hood onto my fingers, I could open it. Whew. I finished and double checked to make sure I hadn’t left any tools in there.
I gently knocked on Ginger’s door to see if she had cell service. “No”, she said, “but if you drive up the mountain, over the bridge, past the curves sign and past the reflectors, you will see a gravel pull-off where you can get cell service. We call it the ‘phone booth’”
The phone booth! I never saw the reflectors, but I saw that I instantly got four messages from Ed and Diego as I drove past it, but nothing from Autostar. I drove to the overlook, but no service, so I went back down, monitoring my phone as I went. I remembered two pull-offs, and I guessed it was the first one after the curves sign. Creeping past the second one, there was no signal. I pulled into the first one and had one bar, flashing two, then back to one. No message from Autostar. I tried to look up a phone number, but not enough cell service.
I went back down the mountain and turned right through the old farms and the Palmer family’s house with the breezeway in the middle. Those are cool, and I guess literally cool in the summertime. I didn’t see any elk or bears in the cherry or apple trees, so I drove down to the group campsite that sits in a nice field with tent sites along beautiful Cataloochee Creek. I envisioned fishing this shallow, fast-running stream, deciding it could be good with dry flies, maybe a Yellow Sally. I need a month of fishing here. With so much rain this week, it looks like I won’t get a chance this time.
As I parked the car, there was a camper fixing a hole that used to be his driver-side window on his van. He said he opened the door and the window just dropped down into the space in the door. He had put some kind of plastic over it and had taped it up. Ginger was quickly on the scene with a roll of duct tape. I have been in hundreds of campgrounds, almost all with campground hosts, and I have seen some good ones, but Ginger takes the cake.
I’m embarrassed to say I was a bit happy that the spirits were picking on someone other than me. Progressively, the rains came harder as Fred came over us. The truck weather app had a tornado warning for some county, but Ginger said that was in Georgia. She had called headquarters, and they said all we would get was heavy rain.
The rains came heavy at mid-day. I kept checking the trailer for leaks. By late afternoon, the little trout stream was a raging river, up by three feet. We watched a weird movie Martha had downloaded on her iPad.
By late afternoon, we took the drive looking for wildlife. The elk herd was lying in a field. The big buck got up shaking off the rain. One would not want to be on the receiving end of those antlers. They look pretty sharp. It was a bit scary crossing two small, but very well-made bridges with the water rushing so hard underneath.
Ginger brought us a message from Autostar saying they wanted to do more testing, but didn’t know if they could do it tomorrow. Tomorrow is supposed to be a sunny day, but the trails will be a mess, and the streams won’t be fishable for a week. My batteries are getting low, so we will have to leave tomorrow. If we get some sun on the panels tomorrow we could make it another day. We didn’t seem to be in danger of the creek flooding the campground, as it would have to come up another 6 feet. It was already up 2 feet, but running out fast.
A little wine and some music on the new sound system, dinner and a good night’s sleep to the sound of rain on the Airstream.