My dear friends:
I am sorry not to have written last week. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. While on this trip that we made to Asheville, N.C., I vowed I would never again take a long trip, except of necessity, without my husband. More and more I realize the wisdom of that resolve. The day we were in Knoxville, Mr. Elliott, friend of tourists, mapped out our trip to Asheville for us. We followed his suggested route, but certainly not his schedule. We left Kinzel Springs at 6:00 a.m., followed that picturesque drive to Gatlinburg, and then, on Route 107, began to climb up to the ridge - the backbone of the Smokies. How exciting that was! Winding around narrow curves; climbing up and up and up until one's ears popped; looking into vast gorges at the edge of the highway; reaching a glorious climax at Newfound Gap, where Tennessee and North Carolina meet. A big truck came roaring up behind us, loaded with hilarious youth - part of a division of the Civilian Conservation Corps. These boys, bare to the waist, tanned, healthy, happy, hopped from the truck and fell to work with pick and shovel and axe as if they were getting a real kick out of life. They were widening this road, and cutting down over-hanging trees. Several divisions of the C.C.C. are building a "Skyline" highway along the crest of the ranges - a stupendous project. Farther along we passed a C.C.C. camp, and several sections of this great "army" of workers; all of them waving a cheery greeting, as if glad for this bit of contact with the outside world.
We stopped at Cherokee, N.C. about 15 miles east of the boundary line. There is an Indian school here, maintained by the U.S. government. Some three thousand Cherokees live near here, on the Ocona Lufty river. These Indians, though civilized, still practice their ancient arts of basketry, beadwork, artistic needlework, pottery and curio making. They have a fascinating shop on the highway. The Cherokees are dark-skinned, brown rather than red. We passed several mills with the huge, old-fashioned water wheel. The mountain folk convert the little mountain streams into power for their little factories, where they make artistic furniture, bric-a-brac, curios, pottery, out of the native wood, clay, and stone. The Smokies abound in rhododendron and mountain laurel, and the wood of the former is used much in the making of souvenirs. Waynesville, on our way, is a mecca for vacationists. It is surrounded by twenty or more high peaks. I am quite sure that this town is in the heart of the Balsam Mountains. The balsam trees, fifty or more feet high, stand out in majestic splendor on the mountain tops. Near here is beautiful Lake Junaluska, a camper's paradise. Near Asheville, at Canton, we saw the Champion Fibre Co., the largest wood pulp factory in the country. We reached Asheville about noon, having traveled a distance of only 125 miles. This city, in the "Land of the Sky," is said to be one of the most beautifully situated in the world. The natural beauty surrounding it could hardly be surpassed. As for the beauty spots in the city itself, they are at such a premium that the tourist of ordinary means is somewhat dismayed. Because of the high admission fee, we did not see the George Vanderbilt estate, with its mansion worth several millions. We saw the magnificent Grove Park Inn, a $3,000,000 resort hotel, set at the foot of Sunset Mountain. The grounds are beautiful beyond description.
Perhaps the jinx that followed us partly dimmed our vision and dulled our appreciation of this highly-advertised city. Mary had had engine trouble nearly all the way from Gatlinburg; so our first point of interest was an Oldsmobile service garage. While the innards of Mary's car were being put in order, we ate our packed lunch, and went shopping and sight-seeing on foot. Fine stores, hotels and municipal buildings bespeak the faith of the citizens of Asheville in the future of that city. While we were parked at the service garage, one of the men, by way of conversation, said to the five-year-old, "Is this your car?" indicating the one from Texas. "No, that's my mother-in-law's car," was the reply. We drove to Asheville Recreational Park late that afternoon. The formal garden there is the prettiest, I believe, I have ever seen. The swimming pool is made desirable partly by its exorbitant fee. The five oldest children went in, and the two small boys went riding on the little ponies. We spent the night at the Homeland Tourist camp, three miles from Asheville. The name, "Homeland", is most fitting. We all loved the home-like atmosphere; the delicious meals served in the quaint "log-cabin" dining room, with its plate rail of delft ware, and open hearth. A real wood fire greeted us when we came in for breakfast. By strange coincidence we met, at this camp, the Austin couple who had recommended the Smokies to Mary.
We wanted to drive up Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Rockies, but as that would involve a day's time, we abandoned that plan in favor of Chimney Rock, a mountain thirty miles southeast of Asheville. Here is one of nature's marvels - this strange formation of granite rock, a huge "chimney" - 225 feet high, rising from the "eaves" of the mountain. Granite cliffs extend along the side of the mountain. The view of that great mountain, with the American flag waving on Chimney Rock, thrills you. "My America!" Blithely we started the three-mile drive to the mountain top; but half-way there we found an unadvertised toll gate: "Five dollars, please." We decided that the view at midway was quite soul-satisfying. Truly, Lake Lure, far below, was a lovely sight. According to my booklet, we missed seeing Hickory Nut Falls (400 feet high), Nature's Shower Bath, Needle's Eye, Pulpit Rock, Moonshiner's Cave (what mockery in nature!) but we escaped, as Mary said, a nerve-wracking experience, taking little children up to those dizzy heights. We drove back to Asheville by way of Hendersonville, a delightful resort, boasting several fine hotels and inns. There is no monotony in western North Carolina; low, forested domes, high peaks, miles of granite cliffs, and many beautiful lakes.
We left Asheville about 1:30 p.m., retracing our route about 60 miles. We then took a southern route, stopping at Bryson City for the night. The name "Bryson City" conjures up memories of weird happenings and impressions. 'Twas there, at Hotel Freeman, that the axle of my car gave way. Isn't it strange how one's attitude of mind determines one's experience? I was tired; antagonistic toward the world in general and toward our black-eyed hostess in particular! When the rain came that evening, she sent the porter-chauffeur (handy man) to put my car, with its "sensitive" roof, in a garage nearby, as the hotel garages were filled. At the first click of the gears, the axle broke; and I, not knowing the way of axles, felt that some evil spirit was at work. There were no Dodge axles in that town, nor any nearer than Asheville, 70 miles away. The village garage telephoned the order at once. My next problem was one of finances. Mary and I had not included extensive car repairs in our budget, and our funds were extremely low. We had planned to be away from our cottage only one night; this was our second night out. And what a night! Marooned among strangers, and flat purses, the very rain beat a relentless tattoo against our window panes. I lay awake until after 4:00 a.m. wrestling with my problem, writing some to you, and listening to the interesting "night life" in this small town on the highway. The new axle was to arrive either with the mailman at 5:00 a.m., or, failing that, to come on the noon train. For some reason it didn't come until late afternoon, by bus. In the meantime I had tried to wire for money; the nearest telegraph office was at Sylvia, 15 miles away; couldn't get a reply before evening. It was finally arranged to have the major part of the bill charged to our account with the Gulf Refining Co., with whom Mary and I each carried courtesy cards. When it came three o'clock, Mary and I agreed it would be best for her and her children to go on "home" to our cottage, where she had plenty of money in safekeeping. She would stock the empty larder. She gave me two dollars - nearly all she had - and her blessing, and departed. (I had to give $1.80 of that money toward my garage bill). It was six o'clock before we got away from that garage, and began the 118-mile drive to Kinzel Springs. We could have taken a much shorter route, to retrace our steps over Newfound Gap, but I dreaded certain spots in that road, and I wanted to see, as far as possible, the wonders along this southern route.
I carried with me one precious memory of Bryson City. During the long, anxious waiting, I had a chance to look into the heart of a woman - our hotel hostess - and under that cold exterior that meets a callous public, I found a warm, tender nature, a great faith, and a courageous spirit. Left a widow by the tragic death of her husband two years ago, she is bravely carrying on, supporting two fine children. A great woman, Mrs. Leslie Brooks, I shall never forget her. Two weary little boys went to sleep almost as soon as we left Bryson City, but for 2-1/2 hours my little pal, Estelle, shared with me the wonders of this "Glory Road". The Saw-Tooth Mountains stood in relief against the evening sky. We soon came to the Nantahala Gorge, a canyon 2,000 feet deep. I can't describe it. The wonder of it leaves you silent. The mountains in this section - the fringe of the Unaka Range - are quite rocky, with "beetling crags" and all sorts of weird formations. In the twilight we came to glorious Lake Santeetlah, ten miles long, with a most irregular and fascinating shore line. We had passed Topton and Robbinsville; near Topocamy, my brave little companion fell asleep. It was pitch dark and I was alone - on the loneliest, most terrifying ride of my life. We crossed the Little Tennessee river at Topoca. Here is a huge power dam, called the Cheoah Dam. The lights of the huge power plant played on this dam and on the river - black beneath us, giving it all an eerie light that set my nerves tingling. The steep climb over the Unaka Range starts at this point. It is four miles to the top; the road is unfinished - covered with broken stone. To make the ride more interesting, several signs warned, "Danger! Drive Slow!" "Look out for sliding rocks!" By the time we reached the top I had almost lost my nerve. I stopped and looked for a friendly star - not even one to relieve the inky blackness of night all around us. I was rigid with terror. Could I go on? Down that winding, tortuous path, unguarded at the edge - and beyond, the black abyss? I prayed. Then relaxation came, and the "Unseen Hand" guided that machine, with its precious cargo of sleeping children, down the narrow mountain road. We reached our cottage at 12:15 that night. Mary and her brood had come safely through - over the same route - reaching Kinzel Springs about eight. Mary said that mountain was terrifying, even in daylight. She and her children had prayed for us all along the way, hoping we were following close behind them. Mary had lamps in the windows, upstairs and down, cheering our return. Like a ministering angel she welcomed us in, fed us, and handed me mail from home, bearing money. MONEY! It was all like trekking through Alaskan wastes and finding a "Pot o' Gold" at the end of the trail. ***
Next week I'll tell you of only the high spots of our journey home - then I'm through. But I've loved it - talking with you.
Florence B. Taylor
Next - 10/20/33 - Motor Travel Sketches - #7