Hike 7: Juney Whank Falls

And now, for a hike outside the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana tri-state area! Its been a while since I hiked more than 50 or so miles from home, but on my family’s annual spring trek to the Smokies I managed to talk them into a hike – however short it was.

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It was mother/daughter selfie time with a quilt about one of our favorite movies!

Every year there is a quilt show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for which Mom basically offers my brother and me a free trip. I go with Mom to the quilt show and Cory (my little brother) goes with Dad to do manly-man things. Everyone wins – including me because I get to look at something pretty and say, “Mom! Make me that!” Usually, she will.

Last year, the boys hiked somewhere and found and old, forgotten graveyard. When I tried to get them to take me to it the next day, they claimed they couldn’t remember where it was. This year, while Mom and I wandered through convention center displays, they bought tools and then went back to the hotel to sleep. Basically, it was their usual Friday.

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So now you know where I get my goofiness from. Dad was feeling rather victorious after tackling the switchbacks of the quarter-mile trail.

Saturday broke a rainy, gross, cloudy day. But by the time we got through a hearty, southern breakfast, the sun was chasing the clouds away and I managed to talk everyone into going waterfall hunting. I thought I found a relatively easy hike, even for my broken lungs and my parents’ old knees. But like everything in the mountains, looks can be deceiving.

Mom found a copy of The “Smokies Guide,” the self-proclaimed official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, somewhere and the “Places to go” section listed a couple of places I haven’t been before. We decided to choose a place none of us have been, and headed to Bryson City, N.C. to pick up the road to Deep Creek.

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The Deep Creek area is full of waterfalls. This Barbie-doll sized set of rapids is the first one you’ll see when you leave the parking lot.

I’ve been to the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area of the Smokies more times than I can count. The mountains in that area haven’t lost their majesty, but the traffic and the crowds certainly have. The last few times I’ve gone down, I’ve spent most of my time on the North Carolina side things. It’s not necessarily always less busy, but there at least seems to be more places that aren’t completely overrun with tourists.

 

The “Smokies Guide” calls Deep Creek off-the-beaten-path – and it definitely was. We passed through a holler outside Bryson City that looked like the kind you didn’t want to break down in, if you know what I mean. Right about the time my parents pointed this out, I realized this was just the kind of spot I wanted.

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This always makes me sad.

Although the Park Service advertises Deep Creek as one of the few areas in which mountain bikers are welcome, we didn’t see anyone on bikes. Just a mostly-full parking lot and several off-season couples and families wandering about. I’d say that even though the area is a bit off the main drag, it still gets very busy in the warmer months.

There are several trails of varying length and intensity in the Deep Creek area, and we chose the shortest one because no one enjoys being outside as much as I do, and my parents have old joints. Juney Whank Falls is the easiest to reach, but you climb about a quarter-mile of switchbacks to reach her. Once you reach the falls, the trail divides to go above and below the falls. You can either take the trail past the falls further uphill to loop back around to the parking lot, or you can turn around and take the devil you know back down to the car. We took the devil we knew and went directly back downhill.

 

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I’m giving this trail a solid middle ranking. It’s a very short, very clear and well-kept trail. By that I mean you won’t be tripping over rocks and roots. But it is almost entirely uphill, so be prepared for your cardio when you hike this trail.

The hike was short, but pretty. It was also not a hike I should have tried without Gus; my oxygen level dropped to 78 before I sucked it up and plugged in. After that, my rest breaks got farther apart than about every 15 feet.

If you want to go farther on the hikes, the North Carolina Waterfalls site has a lovely post that takes you farther along the Juney Whank Trail to show you the other two waterfalls in the Deep Creek area: Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.

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Zion National Park

Featured image: I wish I could claim credit for the photo, but that goes to Wolfgang Staudt. Thanks be to him for making this photo available via Flickr Creative Commons. 

One of the best things about a road trip is stumbling onto things you didn’t even know existed – and loving them. Of course, on the other hand, you spend the following five years of your life kicking yourself for not seeing what was right in front of your face.

I’ve mentioned our serendipitous journey to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when we intended to go South, but that wasn’t the only twist of fate for the day. When we left the wrong rim, the route we had planned to take to Las Vegas obviously wasn’t going to work. So we fired up the GPS – dubbed Sheila – and followed her lead.

Now, you have to know this was the most ridiculous GPS unit I’ve ever used. She was something built into the rental car that they threw in for free. It was nearly impossible to tell it where we were going unless we were headed to something preloaded, and of course nowhere we went was loaded in the thing. We didn’t call on Sheila and her split personality much. When we did, she got us lost more often than not. But on this day, Sheila came through in a big way: She introduced me to Zion National Park.

Our path from the Grand Canyon took us along State Route 9, which cuts across the southeastern corner of the park and takes you to the main entrance. Honestly, I had no idea we were passing through another park. For once, I wasn’t looking at the map; I was just letting the GPS do its thing. I can’t remember if I picked up the camera before or after I realized we were in Zion, but I know I couldn’t put it down the entire drive through.

As we passed through canyons in just a small corner of the park, our breath was constantly taken away by the view. This section of highway will take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930, according to the Park Service. This tunnel was created to connect Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. Its long. It feels long when you’re going through it and if you’re like me you have to push that panicked feeling to the back of your mind when you start thinking about how much is on top of you. This tunnel kind of skirts the edges of the rock and you get gargantuan windows that let in blinding natural light, providing a glimpse of the vista outside.

As with everything else in the Gypsy Trip, we only got a tease of what the park had to offer. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back and explore more. Zion offers backpacking, hiking, bicycling, camping, canyoneering, boating and more. When you go – because you know you want to – you may as well hit up Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley.

Going to the Sun Road

Featured image: St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park 

I do a lot of raving about Montana and Glacier National Park on here, but I promise it’s for a good reason. The place really is spectacular. We only got to spend about two days there on our trip, and the only reason we could tear ourselves away from the state was because we knew we were headed to Yellowstone National Park next.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

At Glacier, more than 93 percent of the park is wilderness, so it is totally unspoiled. Hundreds of miles of trails cross the backcountry, and the most beautiful parts of the park can’t be seen from a car. I absolutely will to get back to this park to do some hiking once I’m in a little better pulmonary health. I need to see Avalanche Lake and Grinnell Glacier, just to name two, before I die. If you are interested in more about hiking in Glacier National Park I’ve read Hiking in Glacier backwards and forwards.

But the way most of the park’s visitors see it is from their car. Going to the Sun Road, so named either because of an Indian legend or a story some guy made up about an Indian legend, depending on who you ask, is a marvel of modern engineering. The road is about 50 miles long and east-to-west across the park. It curls around and cuts through mountains and it hugs cliffs and traverses valleys.

It’s a great way to get a slice of what the park has to offer, especially for people who aren’t otherwise able to get out onto some of the trails and experience the park. But, for the love of all that is holy, if you have working legs and lungs, GET OUT AND HIKE THIS PARK. Do it. Do it for me. Do it for yourself.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I'd suggest you lay down in the passenger's seat while someone else drives.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I’d suggest you lay down in the passenger’s seat while someone else drives.

When we – Lacey and I – visited this park we did not hike. It was a travesty. But we didn’t hike because we got robbed of a day’s worth of visiting in the park because of a blown-out tire and incompetent rental car company. We had just enough time for an awesome horseback ride – that I can still feel in my back – and a trip across Going to the Sun Road.

It was enough to whet our appetites. We’ve been dying to go back since then.

Parts of the road are open year-round, so there is always something to see or do at the park, even if it’s snowing at the upper levels. Just but sure to check the vehicle requirements if you are driving an oversized vehicle on the road because there are some restrictions. If you don’t want to drive, there is a shuttle service that operates in the park and it is included in the price of admission.

But enough of the boring details. You can find all of these things out for yourself from the park’s website. For now, I’ll leave you with some meh video of the Crown of the Continent.

TBT: Yellowstone National Park Part 2

This is one of the many crystal clear springs in Yellowstone. The water is so transparent, you can see several feet down into the pool.

This is one of the many crystal clear springs in Yellowstone. The water is so transparent, you can see several feet down into the pool.

This Throwback Thursday is more of a Flashback Friday, but instead of finishing the video and posting this entry last night, I decided to go see the Minion movie. (It was hilarious and adorable, by the way.) But, hey! At least I finally have it finished. It only took two years.

In the world of Vagabond Girls adventures, I last left you in Cody, Wyoming, on the last full day of adventuring in our trip cowboy hunting out west in 2013.

Spoiler alert: We never found cowboys – or at least not the kind we were looking for. Apparently they go out of season, along with everything else in Wyoming, and Cody turns into a ghost town. The only cowboys we ran into were of the retired variety, and while they seemed to be pretty awesome in their day, we would have preferred to find cowboys still in their day.

You can look just about anywhere in the park and see steam rising from the ground.

You can look just about anywhere in the park and see steam rising from the ground.

It was the last day of our trip, we had one more day to adventure and then head back to Denver to fly home the next day. Our goals were twofold:  To have plenty of time to explore the park, and to get back to town before all the restaurants closed up for the night. We really wanted a dinner that didn’t come from a cooler or a fast food window. The night before, the only place we could find open past 8 p.m. was an Arby’s; everywhere else was observing off-season hours.

So remember: If you visit Cody, Wy., after peak season, be prepared for nothing to be open.

The day before, we had a sleep-shortened visit to Yellowstone National Park where we got to see some bison and do some light hiking before heading back to town. The second day, we got to check out some more wildlife and more of the geothermal spots around the park – including Old Faithful.

Old Faithful! This time, I got to see it from the front row with all the other off-season travelers.

Old Faithful! This time, I got to see it from the front row with all the other off-season travelers.

The last time I visited the historic geyser, it was August and the place was so packed we were practically in the parking lot watching it erupt. Thanks to our off-season vacation, we were able to get front-row seats with the AARP crowd, all of them taking pictures with their iPads.

It was awesome.

Yellowstone is a place everyone must see before they die. It was America’s first national park and it’s the crown jewel. I haven’t seen all of the national parks, but I’ve seen many of them, and nothing I’ve seen come close to this.

Seeing bison is almost a given at Yellowstone. But don't be that guy who walks up to them and ends up getting gored. They're still wild animals, yo.

Seeing bison is almost a given at Yellowstone. But don’t be that guy who walks up to them and ends up getting gored. They’re still wild animals, yo.

Both times I’ve visited Yellowstone, first in 2010 and again in 2013, I’ve gotten to see bison herds and elk. Once, I saw a moose and antelope. No bears yet, I’m happy to say. As cool as it would be to see one, I’d rather not have to test my survival skills.

Then there are the crows, following you around until you are about to lose your mind from the ca-cawing.

And of course, the geysers. You could be in the middle of a field of wildflowers, and a vent will be right next to you, spewing steam into the air. It’s a constant reminder that under all the beauty, a wild, uncontrollable force continues to shape the land.

#TBT: Yosemite National Park

When I was going back through the video for this part of the trip, I didn’t come across many clips. I also couldn’t remember much about visiting the park. I remember Bridal Veil Falls and that was about it. So I looked up the first telling of this story.

Not much there either.

By this point of the trip we’d gone as far west as we were going to and had started the return trip home. With only a few days left on the trip, we were tired and tired of eating out of the trunk of the car. We were tired of sleeping in tents. And we were disappointed that we weren’t able to finish going up the West Coast to Washington.

After the excitement the night we arrived in San Francisco — the night we thought we had enough time to drive to Seattle — we just crashed. In the time it took to try to map out a route from northern California to Seattle, we realized there just wasn’t enough time. We went from being at the top of El Capitan to the bottom of Death Valley. The Gypsy Trip had switched from embarking on an exciting adventure to finishing out a list of places to see on our way home. That was how we treated Yosemite: Not as a place to explore and experience, but as a place to come in, check out the high points, and high-tail it out to the next destination.

in retrospect, I wish we’d taken the extra time to go up the coast. It would have been impossible to do it on the timeline we agreed to, and I would never have been able to get back to work on time. I was worried about getting in trouble for attendance, but I shouldn’t have been. I came back to work for about two weeks before leaving permanently for an internship. What’s the worst they could have done? Fire me for my last two weeks? So here’s the lesson to take away from my trip to Yosemite: Take the extra days NOW. You never know where life will take you, so enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Featured image credit: From Flickr Creative Commons, By Edward Stojakovic. 

#TBT: Death Valley

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010.  

I really love Thursdays. Its the day that – even though its still within the work week – I get to go on a little adventure. Sure, I’m still technically stuck at my desk watching the clouds roll by outside my window, but for a few minutes I can pull out some old video and relive some pretty amazing adventures. This week we’re traveling back to Death Valley.

It’s hot. It’s dry. It’s dusty. It lives up to its name. But it is also beautiful.

Like just about everywhere I’ve ever been, I want to go back to spend more time. We really only made one stop off on the Gypsy Trip and that was at Zabriskie Point. There was a reason for this that I went into greater detail on the first telling of this story. Without rehashing too much, it was the setting of a cult classic Amanda – one of my travel partners on that trip – had seen. It involved stealing a jet, an orgy in Death Valley and then crashing the jet. Since Amanda’s YouTube channel is gone, and along with it the video, I thought I’d put up my version of the story. It’s ridiculous, and therefore awesome. Amanda is the blonde narrating at the end of the clip; my brother Cory is the guy helping her with the reenactment.

Also in this week’s video are a few snippets of video that I finally edited down. You’ll get some scenic vistas of dusty Death Valley, some complaints from me about needing to “Q.” (Because we felt like we had better manners if we weren’t constantly complaining about how badly we needed to find a ladies room in the middle of nowhere, and called it “Q” instead of “P.”)

#TBT: Yellowstone National Park Part 1

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010. 

My first trip to Yellowstone National Park was too freaking short. My second visit to Yellowstone was too freaking short. I really think that no matter how much time I have to spend at Yellowstone, it will be too freaking short.

I really wanted to get my video edited from the second trip, but I didn’t get that far this week, so you will have to sate your appetite with my old flip cam video until I can get the rest of it put together. It’ll probably be at least another week; the weather has been so nice that I’ve been spending more time outside having adventures than at a computer splicing them together. The constant rain this week is keeping in indoors and helping me get caught up on work.

But back to Yellowstone. It’s the Big Daddy of the American National Park System and does us proud. I find it so interesting because it has so many different geological formations – there’s geysers, hot springs, even the Grand Prismatic Spring – that in two visits to the park I STILL haven’t seen! Seriously, I don’t know why I keep missing it. And of course, there’s Old Faithful.

My favorite thing about the park is the wildlife. No other park I’ve been to has shown me so much diversity. There’s bison – not buffalo, those are only in Africa and South Asia – elk, and bears. Thankfully, I haven’t met a bear yet. If I did, whatever bear safety research I did before my last trip out west would go right out through my ears and I’d get eaten.

#TBT: Which rim is which?

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010. 

For someone who has driven across the country a few times and roadtrips as often as absolutely possible, I have a terrible sense of direction. I do not have that innate sense some people have of just knowing which direction to go. Usually my gut is completely off and I end up somewhere I never wanted to be (like East St. Louis). And on the rare occasion when my gut is actually right, I NEVER listen to it because it is so often wrong that I have learned not to trust it.

Basically, unless I have very accurate turn-by-turn directions and a great cell signal, I’m unlikely to get anywhere by the most direct route. Instead, I will spend half the trip turning around and the other half of the trip going, “Do I want North? or South? I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do! Which way IS North, anyway?” All this being said, I’ve been lost in some really great places.

One of those was the Grand Canyon.

We planned to go to the South Rim of the Canyon. We ended up at the North Rim. How, you may wonder? Well, instead of leaving our campground and heading South – like we should have – I navigated the driver north and then went to sleep. Imagine my surprise an hour later when I woke up.

If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, there are many differences between the North and South Rims. The North Rim is a bit more temperate – we hiked an easy trail without getting dehydrated. I ended up with heat stroke at the South Rim one August with my family. (Bring – and drink – lots of water. Don’t be a stubborn 16 year old.) For more information, check out the National Park Service’s website.

What’s this Road to Nowhere?

Popularly called "The Road to Nowhere," North Carolina Highway 228 construction was halted in the 1970s due to environmental concerns. Residents of the state fought with the Federal Government until 2010 to receive compensation for the unfinished road.

Popularly called “The Road to Nowhere,” North Carolina Highway 228 construction was halted in the 1970s due to environmental concerns. Residents of the state fought with the Federal Government until 2010 to receive compensation for the unfinished road.

In a complete coincidence, I’m bringing you another tale of controversy in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s history. Or maybe it isn’t really a coincidence, its just a throw back to my days of being a newsie. I don’t remember ever actually running around the newsroom screaming, “If it BLEEDS, it LEADS!!!” but knowing me, its entirely within the realm of possibility. Not that I seek out controversy for the sake of it; but it does make for a more interesting plot.

Scene: Another tranquil place in the Smokies. Its late March, around 60 degrees and sunny. Not many birds are out yet, so the only sounds you hear are leaves underfoot and, of course, my breathing. A gentle breeze tickles your arms and makes you grateful for the sun’s warm rays beaming on your scalp. A short walk up a slight incline will take you to the deceptively-long tunnel. I didn’t think there was much to the tunnel, until I was in its belly. Devoid of sunlight, the center of the tunnel swallows any light – including the flashlight on my iPhone that seems so bright when I’m looking for a dropped earring. And remember that gentle breeze? Its turned into a downright cold wind.

I’m visiting Gatlinburg for the second time this year – already more than I’ve been in the last few years. This time around, Mom wanted to go to a quilt show and did not want to go alone. Will I walk around a quilt show with my beloved mother for a nearly-free-for-me trip to Tennessee? Absolutely!

My reward was a day trip into North Carolina the following day. If you go to Bryson City and follow Everett Street out of town, it will dead end eight miles out in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

So, why is there this random road that literally goes nowhere? The answer lies some 50 years ago in the mountains.

The players in this drama are The Aluminum Company of America, who had been building dams in the area to provide power to their plants nearby in Tennessee; the Tennessee Valley Authority, who was concerned about the effects of flooding along the Little Tennessee River; and the United States Department of the Interior, the Big Daddy of the Park Service.

DSC_4164When the Department of the Interior was putting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park together in the 1930s and 40s, it acquired vast tracts of land from Swain County, North Carolina. Part of this tract of land included Highway 288, which connected Bryson City with Deals Gap. This road was left alone – until World War II when growing electricity demands gave someone the bright idea of harnessing the power of the Little Tennessee River. Added bonus: creating a hydroelectric dam would also help produce aluminum for the war effort.

By 1935, when the Tennessee Valley Authority got involved, the Aluminum Company of America was working on the Fontana Dam project. The TVA wanted in on the action, but couldn’t get enough funding to complete the dam until World War II broke out and aluminum was in high demand. Once funding was secured, ALCOA signed their land over to the TVA in exchange for the rights to the output of the dam.

DSC_4141To create the hydroelectric power for the factory, a reservoir would need to be created – present-day Fontana Lake. To accomplish this, 1,311 families, 1,047 graves and over 60 miles of roads had to be relocated – including Highway 288. Four towns – Fontana, Bushnell, Forney and Jusdson – would be covered with water. In exchange, the Department of Interior agreed to create a road – or rather, move Highway 288 – that would allow displaced residents passage to the cemetery on the other side of the lake. This road would also grant access to some of the more remote areas of the Park.

The dam was completed in late November 1944, in time for the closing months of the war. Construction of the new Highway 288 was intermittent until the 1970s when it was halted for good. I’m not entirely clear about what, exactly, the environmental concerns were that halted work 40-odd years ago. I read something about construction releasing toxins from the soil and contaminating water supplies, but that was a comment on a road trip website.

With construction stopped, residents became bitter about what they considered a broken promise and the topic became popular fodder for local politicians. Those who wanted construction to continue said the environmental concerns were exaggerated. Opinions are rampant, even among people with no ties to the region except taking a vacation there once.

DSC_4162It looked like construction could resume after funding was secured for the road in 2000 by a North Carolina Senator, but an environmental study released seven years later said that completing construction would cause too much damage to the area. The controversy reached its end when Swain County agreed to take a cash settlement from the National Park Service in exchange for the road.

Today, the road exists as another testament to the evolution of our national park systems and sacrifices that were made to create our public lands. The Park Service operates a boat in the summer that ferries visitors to the old cemetery and trail heads on the far side of the lake. In winter, lowered lake levels allow hiking in the reservoir basin along the ghost of Highway 288.


I rate my adventures based on oxygen tanks, ranking from one to five based on how taxing the activity is on my pulmonaries.

I rate my adventures based on oxygen tanks, ranking from one to five based on how taxing the activity is on my pulmonaries.

The Gus Scale 

I’m rating this attraction a three because even though its a short hike, there is a slight, extended incline. The road continues past the tunnel and connects to several trails, none of which I explored. There are also opportunities to climb some hills around the tunnel to get to the top.


Ghost Town in the Smokies

As we’re rustling though wet leaves, its hard to imagine that this tranquil plot of land has been the subject of so much controversy. In fact, its pretty easy to overlook the community entirely. The only sound is some laughing teenagers somewhere around a bend in the road ahead, and, if you’re close enough, streaming water from the Little River.  If not for the leafless trees granting glimpses the near century-old vacation homes, you wouldn’t even know they’re there.

DSC_3875Elkmont started as a logging base in 1908. Within a couple of years the logging company had a bunch of cleared out land and no way to make more money from it, so they started selling plots to hunters and fisherman, drawing outdoor enthusiasts out to the wilderness of the Smokies. Cottages and hotels started popping up on the mountain and an elite social club – the Appalachian Club – was established. But not everyone carried enough snobbery to get into this club, and the Appalachian Club rejects wanted their own fraternity as well. So, made their own group – the Wonderland Club – and Elkmont continued its transformation to an elite vacation spot for wealthy Tennesseans.

To keep shuttling people into Elkmont, the logging company let people travel in on its railroad, even creating a nonstop shuttle from Knoxville. But once the loggers had finished with the mountain, they left like a thief in the night and took their railroad tracks with them.  Of course, the Appalachian Clubbers – including the then-Tennessee governor – and their lower-class counterparts the Wonderland Clubbers were not to happy about this. But never fear – the path left by the railroad was perfect for roads, so transportation was soon restored and everyone went back to their hunting, fishing and socializing.

DSC_3952When my parents visited Elkmont last summer, they walked past several of the decaying dwellings before they realized there was anything around the path. Some of the old homes from Elkmont — those that were determined to have some kind of historical significance — have been moved to a display of sorts called “Daisy Town” that’s maintained by the National Park Service. But the ones that remain are in various states of disrepair. The decision to let these cabins be claimed by the mountains was about 50 years in the making.

With controversy one – the railroad debacle – out of the way, Elkmonters moved on to what would become controversies two through 575, and all because someone went to Yellowstone.

Willis P. and Anne Davis suggested creating a National Park in the Smokies, but didn’t follow up on it. However, David C. Chapman took the idea and shared it with some influential Tennessean legislators. (Remember the Appalachian Club? Friends in high places.) Once the National Park designation started rolling, opposition sprang up. A group consisting of logging companies and mountaineers wanted to have the spot designated a national forest instead of a national park – because that would give them more freedom to use and develop the land instead of it being returned to and maintained in its natural state.

DSC_3962They ultimately lost that battle, but their fight did result in Elkmonters being excluded from eminent domain. Instead, they were able to sell their land for half its value and get lifetime leases in return. These leases let the owners keep the land until the last person on the deed died, and then the property would go to the park. People in other parts of the park weren’t so fortunate; many of them were forced to sell their land to the Park Service and relocate.

These lifetime leases were renewed in 1952 and 1972, but not in 1992. By that time, the area was again wrapped in controversy.

The park’s management plan at the time called for all of the Elkmont buildings to be removed so the area could be returned to its original, wild state. But all that changed – again – in 1994 when several buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A 15-year debate ensued. On one side were the conservationists – those who wanted everything removed and no trace of humans left. On the other – those who wanted to preserve the area, or at least the parts that represented the history of it. Finally, a compromise of sorts was reached. The Park Service decided to restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and 18 other cottages and outbuildings. But while the argument raged, the Wonderland Hotel, among other buildings, had already decayed to the point of collapse and the even the buildings they decided to keep had fallen into greater disrepair.

Today, you can see the cottages that were kept in “Daisy Town” or rent the restored Spence Cabin. If you’re feeling outdoorsy, you can reserve a spot at the busy Elkmont Campground and pick up one of the trailheads in the area.

Overall, the area is very accessible. Daisy Town has convenient parking and is mostly level. The road and paths that took us through the abandoned homes were also mostly level, but there were some inclines.  I’d rate it a three on the Gus Scale.

To get there, take Little River Road past the Sugarland Visitors Center and follow signs to the Elkmont Campground.