In 1916, the US-based Society of Automobile Engineers defined a touring car as: “an open car seating four or more with direct entrance to tonneau”. Now I won’t pretend to know what a tonneau is but with greater access to reliable, more comfortable vehicles and greater road infrastructure, the auto-tour holiday was born.
Auto-touring in the Great Smoky Mountains has been a popular way to explore the region with Americans since the turn of the 20th century and Tom and I joined this traditional tourist trail. The national park encompasses over 800 square miles of pristine natural areas and over 270 miles of road. We headed up Newfound Gap, a stretch between Cherokee (as in Indian) and Gatlinburg – an oddly German area.
In Appalachian vernacular a ‘gap’ is a low point along a ridge or mountain range, and during the Newfound gap, riders can climb nearly 3,000ft from cove hardwood and pine-oak forest up to spruce-fir canopy. Just outside Cherokee, is the Ocanaluftee visitor centre with reconstruction of an early settlers farmstead.
Much of this area remained designated Cherokee land in 1800s, yet following the American Revolution and part of forced migration, most Cherokees were moved to Oklahoma Territory. The land was then opened up to newcomers, many 2nd or 3rd generation Americans with farming background looking for better and cheaper land to settle – most people saw this as conquering the Frontier. It was a hard life and if you’ve ever watch Nicole Kidman, Renee Zwelleger and Jude Law slog it out in Cold Mountain, which is actually set in this area, you’ll get the picture.
The rangers at Ocanaluftee are brimming with information about the area including wildlife, in short if you do see a bear try to make yourself as large as possible and if that fails use a big stick. And do be particularly mindful of wildlife when driving as they tend to have a mind of their own, just like the Elk herd that ambled across the road.
We ended our day, just like Kidman and Law, sat on porch of our log cabin in rocking chairs with beer in hand.