I suggested in my previous post that one of the compelling aspects of the Blue Ridge Parkway for me is how it reminds me at every turn of just how much of an interloper I am/we are here. Nowhere is that made more evident than in Cherokee, the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the epicenter of Cherokee culture in North Carolina.
It is easy to dismiss Cherokee as a tourist trap that capitalizes on media images of Native American life to separate tourists from their dollars, and there are certainly any number of establishments — from the massive gambling casinos to the roadside souvenir stands — that take advantage of an insatiable appetite for all things pseudo-Native American.
But just under the surface of this quick capitalization on public interest in a media-inspired image of Native American life is a much more nuanced and carefully-constructed effort to subconsciously remind the current residents of North Carolina of the people who preceded them here in our state. In the shadow of the well-known outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills,” and the nearby Oconaluftee replica village is a small museum that deftly turns a routine museum-going experience into a story-telling encounter that slowly draws the visitor into a very personal understanding of the Native American experience of total displacement.
The museum is not so much a display of artifacts as it is a carefully-constructed explanation of what it means to be a part of Native American culture in North Carolina today, through the lens of a shared past. What starts as a submersion in pre-European Native American culture via simple story-telling soon escalates into a fully-imagined narrative of the slow but steady elimination of that culture.
(New Testament translated into Cherokee)
The visual and auditory transition from the pre-Columbian to post-Revolutionary War periods is smooth and evokes along the way more than one image of parallel 20th- and 21st-century genocides.
My drive along the first 40 miles of the Parkway echoed with these images.
* * *
Featured Hike — Waterrock Knob (MM 451.2)
The Waterrock Knob trail is short (only one-half mile) but no joke on a rainy and windy day. The hike starts at one mile above sea level and ascends steeply after that to well above 6,000 feet in only a matter of minutes. It took me back to last summer and a hike on the Inca Trail in Peru: steep, rocky, slightly treacherous, and made all the more challenging by the steady whip of cold, wind-driven, horizontal rain.
Two things stand out about the hike, neither of which is likely to be replicated if you visit on a sunny day: the absolute solitude (I had the entire experience to myself) and the slightly jarring sensation, upon arriving at the knob, that I had made it to the edge of the earth. Because of the heavy fog all across the valley, the view from the knob was nothing short of mystical: a sheer drop into . . . nothingness. I have no idea what this short hike would be like on a regular day with no wind, no rain, and plenty of sun, but today, it was like stumbling upon the end of all Creation.
* * *
The southern end of the Parkway is host to the highest segment of the Parkway, which is just a little beyond today’s end-point for me: the mountain town of Waynesville. Waynesville boasts a lot more for the Parkway traveler than one might initially suspect. In addition to several inns and bed-and-breakfasts, Waynesville also is home to several new breweries (at least four, by my count), restaurants (see my review of one of them below), and a downtown that is reminiscent of what I think Hickory is likely to attain in the next few years (see my post on my day in Hickory from earlier this summer). The merled Australian shepherd who wandered around BearWaters Brewery (and successfully begged for treats at the bar) was a particular highlight for me.
* * *
Accommodations: Grandview Lodge, Waynesville– Well outside of town visually and emotionally, but no more than a few minutes’ drive away, the Grandview Lodge is exactly what one would want in a Parkway stopover: A rustic two-story farmhouse with adjoining rooms, an engaged proprietor, and vast quantities of peace and quiet. The shitake mushrooms growing outside my room were a nice touch, and I look forward to encountering them in my breakfast tomorrow morning.
Dinner: Chef’s Table — Waynesville has a surprisingly large number of fine dining options. Tonight’s (Chef’s Table) came at the recommendation of one of the proprietors of the Grandview Lodge. For a town with so many local breweries, the beer list was surprisingly dominated by foreign beers, but it included one of my go-tos (the Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock). I watched one of the sous-chefs make my appetizer (risotto and goat cheese with a panko crust) by hand. The pan-fried grouper was a generous portion paired with haricot vert, pickled onion, and risotto. Most of all, though, I really liked the fact that chef/owner Josh Monroe and one of his sous-chefs discussed the merits of McDonald’s biscuits while they cooked.
Drive music: Telegraph Road, Dire Straits — I don’t really intend to use this blog as a way to push music, and I didn’t mention music at all in my series of minor league baseball posts, but some drives just lend themselves to soundtracks. Since I focused on entire albums for the coastal posts, I’ll try to stick to specific songs for this series of posts.
I really liked the juxtaposition of “Telegraph Road” with the long, lonely stretch of the Parkway this 14-minute song accompanied (on an overcast and rainy day, I had the Parkway pretty much to myself for most of today’s drive). The lyrics (which always make me think of the over-development of Telegraph Road near DC) are a compelling argument for why we need a road like the Parkway.