Wednesday, April 30, 2014

US Hwy 70: Cumberland Homesteads

During the Great Depression, part of FDR's "New Deal for America" was the Subsistence Homesteads program, intended to give safe residences to urban poor in small plots of land that would allow them to sustain themselves.

Director, Milburn L. Wilson, defined a "subsistence homestead" as follows:
"A subsistence homestead denotes a house and out buildings located upon a plot of land on which can be grown a large portion of foodstuffs required by the homestead family. It signifies production for home consumption and not for commercial sale. In that it provides for subsistence alone, it carries with it the corollary that cash income must be drawn from some outside source. The central motive of the subsistence homestead program, therefore, is to demonstrate the economic value of a livelihood which combines part-time wage work and part-time gardening or farming."
Several dozen Homesteads communities were established around the country, one of them on the Cumberland Plateau near Crossville, TN. A total of 250 homesteads were built in this area and almost 200 of them still stand today.

A local historical association has fully restored one of the homesteads, made by the homesteaders themselves using local stone and lumber. It is one of twelve basic designs that were built according to the needs of the homesteading families.

The interior is very comfortable and surprisingly spacious. This floor plan includes a living room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom and bedroom on the main floor, with two more bedrooms upstairs. The homes were pre-wired for electricity even though it wasn't locally available at the time, in anticipation of the rural electrification that the TVA would eventually provide.

Many of the homes still belong to the original families, while others have changed hands repeatedly. Driving around the area, it appeared that most of the homes have undergone renovation and/or expansion. In some cases, the updating is minimal and tasteful:

To others the expansion has been significant, but done with an eye for authenticity and aesthetics:

Some poor houses have suffered from pretty rough treatment in their overhaul:

If you're ever in the area, I recommend a few hours for exploration of this very interesting part of American history.

It's best to start at the Homesteads Tower Museum -- originally built to house administrative offices and a 50,000 gallon water tank -- where you can view a very informative video and various displays.

From there it is a short drive to the fully restored home, then you can wander at will in the area to see other homesteads.

The nearby state park was built as part of the original community and is a lovely place to stop for lunch or walk your dog!

There has been great debate about whether the Homesteads program was a successful part of the New Deal, but there can be no doubt that it is a treat to explore!

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US Hwy 70: Crossville, TN

Crossville is one of the larger towns on the Cumberland Plateau. Like many of the towns I travel through, it has two distinctly different aspects: A small, somewhat rundown "historic" district at the crossroads of the "old" US Highway, and a sprawling, somewhat manic "modern" area around the nearby crossroads with the interstate.

The latter has no interest to me at all, consisting of every kind of fast-food joint, strip mall and tacky commercial enterprise. The former doesn't have much to offer, with the exception of the a very tasty little military memorial museum.

I spent a delightful couple of hours with the gentleman pictured here, standing beneath an original "first Confederate flag" that is said to have belonged to Civil War notable Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Throughout our tour of the museum — a rich collection of memorabilia dating from the Civil War through "current conflicts" — we had a lively conversation about all manner of military history.

Though we differed at times about various facts and figures, our views on the causes and effects of "politics by other means" were remarkably well aligned.

Because of Tennessee's especially rich and interesting Civil War history, we spent much of our time delving into.

Here are a few facts of note:

A deeply divided state, Tennessee was the last to leave the Union and the first to return. As many as a fourth of its combatants actually joined the Union forces to fight, and vigilantism between "sides" at home was rampant and violent. It has the second highest number of battlefield sites (behind Virginia) due mainly to its importance as a transportation center and its location on the frontier.

More recently, I was intrigued to learn that Crossville was home to a WWII prisoner of war camp. The museum's excellent collection of the period includes a very nice scale model.

Opened in November 1942, it was one of the first POW camps in the US and eventually held over 1500 German and Italian prisoners, mostly from Rommel's North Africa Corps.

There are many artifacts from camp life and anecdotes about everything from attempted escapes to social interaction with the locals.

When the war was over, a number of the prisoners stayed in the area or returned to it.

I was disappointed to learn that nothing remains of the camp except one chimney, else you can be sure that I would have been all over it!

I'm not exactly sure why, but my favorite artifact is a collection of scrip from the camp.

In particular, you can see some scrip bearing the designation of "internment camp" which reflects the original intention for the facility to house Japanese-American civilians, a role which it never fulfilled.

I found another interesting thing in the area and will post about it soon... Stay tuned!

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US Hwy 70: Cumberland Plateau

It turns out that the Cumberland Plateau which I am on is actually rather noteworthy and interesting!

The Cumberland Plateau lies west and south of the Cumberland Mountains. It combines with the Allegheny Plateau to the northeast (which lies west of the Allegheny Mountains) to form the Appalachian Plateau (which, you guessed it, lies west of the Appalachian Mountains).

What's noteworthy and interesting is that unlike a flat plateau that one might normally think of, the Cumberland Plateau is quite bumpy, hilly, even mountainous. It differs from truly mountainous areas, however, because all of the "peaks" are at basically the same height.

Standing on the hill where my campground is located, I can see numerous other hilltops at more or less eye level. This is because it was once a flat area that has been severely eroded by water runoff, probably from the last ice age. Technically speaking, it is called a dissected plateau.

This is one of those times when I wish I knew a lot more about geology, but here's my layman's summary: Instead of being mountains that have been "pushed up" by tectonic forces (like the Appalachian Mountains to the east), the "mountains" of the Cumberland Plateau have been created by erosion taking away earth around them.

So, what's interesting about that? Well, when is a mountain not a mountain? When is a plateau not a plateau? Like most things, it depends on where you are and how you look at it... Stay tuned!

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Monday, April 28, 2014

US Hwy 70: Tennessee Tornado Threat Transit

Over coffee this morning, I reviewed my route maps and the weather forecasts. This is the first image I saw and my first thought was, "Well, of course!" You know my road trip weather history!

Pulling a trailer, I take weather warning seriously and am mindful about weather risks. That said, I also know that you can't cancel every expedition plan just because someone predicts the chance of bad weather. I had already planned on making a short hop today, and further research showed I was likely to miss the worst of whatever was out there. I decided to go ahead and I'm glad I did.

Among the many advantages (in my opinion) of driving the old US Highways versus the Interstates is that you drive slower, in less traffic, and you're rarely far from a place you can pull off if you need to. That was certainly true today. Although the sky was overcast and occasionally dark to the north, the road was clear, dry and practically empty the entire route west through the Knoxville area.

West of Knoxville, an enjoyably rolling, curving, climbing stint took me up onto what is called the Cumberland Plateau. (I'll try to find out more about the Plateau and report anything interesting.)

Shortly after noon — 1pm now that I'm on CDT — I arrived at a lovely campground under cloudy skies. Setting up my rig is pretty easy — and I'm well rehearsed! — so it was only a few minutes before I was very comfortably settled in.

We had a brief rain which cleared quickly, then Happy and I went for a nice long walk. As I write this, Happy has settled in under the picnic table — she is always under something! — and opens her eyes only when she senses I'm moving around.

The chance of storms is predicted to continue through tomorrow so I'm not making big plans, but the weather is supposed to be beautiful by Wednesday. There are a few things in the area that I want to explore, so… Stay tuned!

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

US Hwy 70: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

If you can bear driving through Gatlinburg, TN, you'll find a real gem of a road on the outskirts of town.

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 6 mile loop road that is well worth a visit.

Also well worth it is the descriptive tour booklet that's available for $1 on the honor system in a box located just below this sign at the trailhead.

The trail is narrow and winding, but I had no trouble driving my full-size pick-up.

For the first mile or so, you climb steadily through a lovely, very green forest of various tree species.

You are soon rewarded with an excellent view of the Smoky Mountains, just stunning on a clear day!

The tour booklet describes in detail how numerous families lived in the area. When it became a national park they all had to leave, but a number of their original dwellings are left behind. There are some great anecdotes about how hardscrabble life was here in such a rocky, hilly terrain.

Everywhere, there is the constant sound of running water from the Roaring Fork, with many parking pull-outs available for exploration and meditation. Happy reports that the water is very refreshing!

The real star of the show, however, is the road itself and the lush green forest it traverses.

Another unexpected gem found on the ongoing Voyages of Macgellan!

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Happy: I Almost Met Duke!

Hi!... I'm Happy... I'm always Happy... Today I'm happy because I almost met Duke!

Macgellan and I were cruising around the Smoky Mountains yesterday -- him driving and me sleeping, of course! -- when all of a sudden I woke up to the smell of baked beans!

The next thing I know, we've pulled into the Bush Beans Museum and Visitor Center and Macgellan is telling me I might get to meet Duke. I didn't understand at first, but after putting on my best frock and walking to the door it started to make some sense.

Duke is famous -- like me! -- as spokes-dog for Bush's Beans. He's been on TV and everything! He's very handsome in all his pictures, and I was pretty excited to meet him. Sadly, Duke is on vacation and wasn't available to have a photo-op with me.

Instead, a nice man who is the company historian came out and took some photos to use in their company newsletter. When Duke sees them, he'll be pretty disappointed he didn't get to meet me!

I wasn't allowed to tour the museum, but Macgellan says it's very well done and interesting, full of information about beans, company history and Duke. He suggests you stop by if you're in the area.

They did let me pose in front of a thing called a "green screen" so that I could sort of have my picture taken with Duke. It was a little weird because I had to sit on a stool, and I still wasn't tall enough. That's me at the bottom of the photo!

I told Macgellan that I just never know what kind of fun experiences I'm going to have, even when it seems like they don't work our perfectly. I didn't get to meet Duke, but I had a great time anyway!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

US Hwy 70: Smoky Mountain Circuit

I began a day of exploration by driving south out of Newport, TN, along a pleasant rural road with consistent views of the Smoky Mountains. As you can see, the weather was absolutely perfect!

Nearing the mountains, I turned southwest along the National Park boundary and proceeded through a couple of charming little mountain towns. After those, the roadside became progressively more built up until I reached the overwhelmingly tourist-trap town of Gatlinburg. I hated it in an instant.

Luckily, there's a nice nature road that loops out of town and back, which I enjoyed for a couple of hours and will post about separately. With that behind me, I headed north into Dante's ninth circle of hell called Pigeon Forge. I'm unable to describe it, and this photo doesn't even do it justice. I drove through several miles of every kind of tacky amusement without stopping, not even at Starbucks!

Thrilled to have escaped that nightmare, I continued northeast back toward my base in Newport. The trip was made rather amusing by what looked like large-scale yard sales taking place every half-mile or so. I don't know if this was a special Saturday for yard sales or if it's an every week affair, but I can report that people seemed to be taking them quite seriously!

Approaching Newport, I was relieved the road resumed being a pleasant rural affair with nice views!

Overall, I'd say it's been a good day of exploration, despite the yucky parts in the middle. I'm staying here tomorrow to take care of some chores, during which I will post about the nature road and a little adventure that Happy had along the way... Stay tuned!

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Friday, April 25, 2014

US Hwy 70: Into The Smoky Mountains

I rolled out of Asheville in good order this morning, heading northwest into the Smoky Mountains. After two beautiful weather days I was a little disappointed by the haze, then reminded myself that there's a reason they call them the Smoky Mountains! (Memo to self: Don't be an idiot.)

The four-lane road soon gave way to a two-lane affair that was narrow, steep and twisty in spots, but overall very enjoyable. My dash-cam doesn't always capture the scenery at its best, but it's the best I can do while keeping my eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

I crossed the state line and stopped for lunch at a classic little diner in Newport, TN. Do yourself a favor and click on the photos below to check out the ambiance, characters and menu!

While enjoying a tasty BLT sandwich, I read up about the area and decided Newport is a good base of operations for Smoky Mountains exploration. So, I've parked my rig in a nice campground and settled in for a couple of days... Stay tuned!

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

US Hwy 70: Asheville, NC

I can see why Asheville has a reputation for being such a nice little city. The compact downtown area is crammed full with all manner of shops, restaurants, bars, music clubs, etc. A microcosm of this is the Grove Arcade which houses a broad array of retail establishments with outdoor street entrances.

Inside, the three-story atrium gives access to retail shops on the ground floor and professional spaces above. I think there are even apartments on the top floor, for those who love downtown living.

Like all of the city, it is very clean, tidy and inviting.

I asked many people if they liked living here and the unanimous answer was that they love it.

There's a clear sense of pride in the city, echoed in a ubiquitous theme of shopping locally.

It's nice to spend time in a happy, vibrant place with a sense of shared community.

It's also nice -- and fun -- to be in a place that is clearly dog-friendly and takes its coffee seriously.

Speaking of coffee-friendly, how's this for a coffee joint! It's one of Asheville's landmarks and well worth a visit. I recommend a double espresso machiatto!

Immediately around the downtown core is a variety and range of neighborhoods, generally nestled in or on the local hills. Further out, there is a some sprawl that feels a little sketchy in parts.

I've had a nice couple of days here and could see coming back for a longer visit sometime, but the Smoky Mountains are calling my name. I'm ready for some time in the woods and plan to continue northwest on US70 tomorrow... Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

US Hwy 70: Biltmore Estate

The weather was perfect this morning -- clear, sunny and cool -- so Happy and I headed straight for the Biltmore Estate. The approach road is three miles long, a brilliant lead-in to the main attraction. The mansion is everything it is reported to be, and more.

We spent most of the day enjoying the Biltmore's spectacular outdoor offerings. At one point, I swear it looked like Happy was dreaming about living there!

I can't say we walked everywhere on the massive 8,000 acre estate, but Happy and I took what was by far the longest walk we've ever taken together.

The Hapster was in absolute heaven, stopping every few feet to smell something in earnest. If I didn't have her on a long retractable lead, walking with her could easily become an annoying stop-and-go process!

Although the mansion is the main feature and the fancy gardens are the close runner-up, we particularly enjoyed the large open fields, varied woodlands and exquisite mountain views. What's not to like about spending a beautiful day in a place like this?

We're going to check out the highly renowned town/city of Asheville tomorrow… Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

US Hwy 70: Return To Asheville

We left Atlanta this morning, after a good multi-purpose week. As you know, Happy had an event at the Fulton County Jail. I also did a couple of days consulting, but mostly visited with old friends.

We have returned to Asheville, NC, via a route through the North Georgia Mountains. It's always a lovely drive, even on an overcast and occasionally rainy day.

Happy wasted no time getting her road game on. She obviously sleeps well in the truck, and I think she may actually have figured out that we're going for a long drive whenever I hook up the trailer!

We're going to spend at least a couple of days checking out Asheville, which everyone says is a great little town/city… Stay tuned!

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy: I Went To Jail!

Hi!... I'm Happy... I'm always Happy... Today I'm happy I went to jail!

Macgellan and I are in Atlanta, where a group called Canine CellMates runs a great program to rescue dogs from death row and pair them with inmates at the Fulton County Jail, to be socialized, trained and readied for adoption.

When Macgellan told them we were in town, they invited us to visit them in jail and tell my story!

Macgellan did all the talking, of course, and showed them lots of photos and videos. I had a great time hanging out with the guys, getting tons of pats and giving them my best photo-op smile.

The Canine CellMates program is really good for canines and humans, so maybe you could like them on Facebook, send something from their Amazon Wish List or even throw them a bone!

We will be in Atlanta over the weekend, then head north to continue our road trip along US Hwy 70.

If we'll be passing through or near your town and you'd like us to tell my story to your school, group, company, etc., just let us know... Macgellan is pretty good at telling my story, and I'm the best at getting pats!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

US Hwy 70 — Detour: Nantahala Transit

I'm taking a detour from US70, enroute to Atlanta for a multi-purpose week. Yes, I promise to tell you about it when the time is right.

Leaving Asheville this morning, I had a beautiful drive WSW through the Nantahala National Forest. The road is almost entirely two-lane, tree-lined and offering regular views of the Smoky Mountains.

Much of the route follows the Nantahala River, where enthusiasts are already rafting and kayaking despite pretty chilly water temps. Happy was quite amused by them during our picnic lunch!

I've stopped in a lovely campground near the small town of Marble, NC, very close to the Georgia border. I need to press on to Atlanta tomorrow, but plan to stop here again for a few days when I backtrack to rejoin US70.

Worth noting is that I've made pretty swift travel across the state of North Carolina. That's the result of something I've long dealt with on the Voyages of Macgellan: As soon as you put something on the schedule, you have a schedule! When I've concluded my scheduled appointments in Atlanta, I intend to leave my schedule entirely clear and start taking my time on the route… Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

US Hwy 70: Into The Foothills

West of Statesville, US70 is primarily a two-lane country road. It's obviously the poor relation of I-40 — which runs parallel only a mile away — but it's in good shape overall. With an average speed limit of 45mph and routine stops at crossroads and towns, it offers only half the speed of the interstate but is at least twice as pretty, entertaining and fun to drive.

Passing through numerous small towns there is quite a bit of light manufacturing, much of it looking to be related to furniture and finishing. In places, there is some evidence of much older or extinct factories for textiles, bricks, etc. Like just about every other rural area I've driven through in this country, the towns pretty much all show signs of age, wear and financial struggle. A few appear to be giving tourism a go, but not many and not entirely successfully.

Approaching Asheville, US70 joins I-40 for the long slog up and over the eastern continental divide. From there, the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains come well into view and beckon.

I plan to stay in the area just for tonight and tomorrow, but will be back for a longer visit after a little detour that I will explain soon… Stay tuned!

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