The Road to Nowhere and other sightseeing
The only thing I had planned for the last day of my stay in Cherokee was that in the evening I were going to Mountainside Theater to once more see the performance of Unto These Hills. I would also see if I could find the remains of the stockade that train guide, Steve, had talked about the previous day. This meant that I would have time for other exploits, should some come up and that I was in no hurry in the morning. It was therefore just over 10 before I left the hotel. The day before, train guide Steve had told of a road near Bryson City, called The Road to Nowhere, because it didn't actually lead anywhere, but ended abruptly at a tunnel that didn't lead anywhere either. Since he had also told us how to find this road, it became my first goal of the day, so, like the day before, I headed for Bryson City.
Leaving the Tunnel to Nowhere. The road stops with where you can see trees.
Once in Bryson City I took Everett Street, where the train depot is located, and from there it is very easy to find The Road to Nowhere as you just have stay on that street even when it leaves town and changes name a couple of times. As I continued I passed fewer and fewer houses and after about 3 miles I ended up out in the woods. At this particular stretch the road was called Lakeview Drive, although there was neither lake nor view of anything besides the trees in the forest. After about 6 miles, the road came to a stop right at some rising bollards. Some traffic was apparently let through from time to - probably for working in the woods. Just before the bollards there was a small parking lot, and here a couple of horse trailers had parked, and I later found out that the area is popular with people who enjoy horseback riding. About 500 feet further ahead, the road (which was nicely paved) actually disappeared into a tunnel. I armed myself with a camera and then headed for the tunnel. It was very dark, but using the flashlight in my phone I managed not to stumble over anything. I took a few pictures with the phone inside the tunnel as the camera in it is quite good at compensating for poor lighting conditions and when I later looked at them, I could see that despite the darkness, the walls were painted with graffiti. At the other end of the tunnel I was back in the forest, but the road didn't continue on the other side, hence the name The Road to Nowhere. A small path led on, so I took it, but after a relatively short time (about 15 minutes and one mile) I gave up and walked back towards the tunnel. I later found out that the trail actually continues for some miles before eventually stopping abruptly somewhere in the woods. When the Tuckasegee River was dammed to create Fontana Lake (to create electricity for aluminum production during World War II), some villages were flooded and some people were thus forced to relocate. Some of them were offered the opportunity to moor a houseboat on the lake, where they could then live, and many did, so initially there were almost 1,400 houseboats. Only those who were originally allowed to have a boat and their descendants are entitled to live in such a houseboat, and today there are approximately 450 left. But not everyone got houseboats, and to allow those who did not, as well as those who had to moor their houseboats on the "wrong" side of the lake, to get to the other side and visit their deceased family members on cemeteries, which were now on the other side of the lake, a road was planned, and the construction of the road got as far as the tunnel. When the tunnel was built, it turned out that the rocks on the other side were sulfuric, and it was feared that rain would wash out the sulfur and form sulfuric acid, which could contaminate streams, lake and forest. That is why the road construction was abandoned and now you have the tunnel that leads nowhere. To compensate for the missing road the county organizes free boat transfers across the lake to the cemeteries some times each year.
On my way back to Bryson City, I decided to visit Fontana Dam. I had already visited the dam in 2017, but on that occasion I only seen it from below and from the north side of the Little Tennessee River where the power plant is located. In the meantime, I had discovered that there is a visitor center on the south side of the river and I wanted to visit that place now. From Bryson City there are around 32 miles (approx. 45 km) to the dam taking the shortest route, and that distance does not sound like much, and the first part is easy enough, because here you drive on US Highway 74, which is four-lane on this stretch, but just before you pass the Nantahala River, you turn onto North Carolina Road 28 and it is definitely not four-lane. On the contrary, it is a fairly narrow, two-lane road through the mountains, which means it is also quite winding, so you have to take it easy. It therefore took me about an hour to get to the dam, where I found the visitor center without any problems. There wasn't much to see though, but I walked across the top of them dam, which constitutes a part of The Appalachian Trail.
My next goal was the campsite Steve had talked about the day before, where there was to be the remains of an old stockade from 1838. I knew it was somewhere between Nantahala Outdoor Center and Bryson City, so I headed for the outdoor center and this time I did not take the shortest route, but chose to drive via Robbinsville, from which there are slightly less winding roads until I got back on US 74, so the 43 miles only took me about an hour. Along the way, the road follows the Nantahala River, and here I saw a lot of people rafting, and the Nantahala River along with the Hiwassee River further south, is actually two of the most popular places in North Carolina for wild water activities. From the center, I continued towards Bryson City, and I found a road that led down to a campground which I thought was the right one, and I still think it was, but I didn't find any remains of anything, so maybe I'm wrong, or Steve was, and everything has gone. In any case, I gave up. When I reached Bryson City, there was still plenty of time, so I decided to include Dillsboro in today's activities as I had decided the day before.
Old General Store in Dillsboro
From Bryson City Dillsboro is only about a 20 minute drive away on US Route 74. In Dillsboro, I parked the car (on previous occasions, I've only passed through town and on my latest drive-thru it was actually pouring down). I took a stroll on Front Street, which runs parallel to the railroad and where most stores are located. I didn't visit any of them this time, but walked down a few side streets where I passed the Dillsboro Chocolate Fatory and Nancy Tut's Christmas Shop, among other things, in addition to a couple of nice churches. When there was no more I wanted see, I headed back towards Cherokee via Sylva, the neighboring town of Dillsboro and once again took a picture of the courthouse, which is beautifully situated on a hilltop. Back at the hotel I relaxed, but not for long, because I had a theater show to attend.
The show begins at 8 pm and the gates to the amphitheater opens at 7 pm, and on my last visit, I had decided to postpone dinner until the show was over, but whe I got back to town, everything was closed. I didn't want to risk it this time, so I would have a light meal before leaving. At the same time, I had decided that for the sake of the exercise, I would walk to the Mountainside Theater, a stroll that Google Maps estimated to take approximately half an hour, and as I usually walk a little faster than the 'map's' calculations, I fugured that 20 minutes for the one and a quarter mile walk would be enough even though it was quite a bit uphill on the last part. And then I did something I had otherwise denied that I would ever do again. In 2002, Dorte and I tried to have lunch at a Dairy Queen somewhere in Kentucky, but we gave up because it was simply so dirty and disgusting on both tables and floors, and after trying to wash hands in a washbasin, that hadn't been cleaned for years (I simply refused to look into any of the stalls - fearing what I might find), we just chose to leave the place without even sitting down. In the meantime, the entire restaurant chain has been sold and renamed so they are now just called DQ, so I decided to give it another try after 17 years - not least because there is a DQ right next to my hotel, and it turned out that the chicken burger I chose was OK, though not gourmet food - and it was just as clean as any chain restaurants I've tried.
When I had finished eating, I walked up to the theater and it took me the estimated 20 minutes. After waiting for about 15 minutes, the gates opened and I went inside. On my way down to my seat, I acquired a box of hot popcorn and a Coke Light, and then it was just to wait for something to happen while I looked at the audience around me. At 7.30 pm a warm-up show started with music and singing, and at 8 pm the show began. It turned out that the performance was as good as the first time I saw it. At intermission time, it was announced that due to an approaching thunderstorm, the second act would be postponed. It caused everyone including me to gather under the roof that covers the top rows of the theater, and here we waited for the rain, which, however, did not come. But we could see lightning in the distance and heard the sound of violent thunder, and after having waited for about 20 minutes, it was announced that the rest of the performance would be canceled as the thunderstorm was closing in, which everybody had already noticed. As I was on foot, I hurried down the mountain, while looking for the lightnings and listening to the thunder, thus calculating the diminishing distance between the storm and me. When I was about half way down the mountain, it started to rain - heavily and I started to run, which I haven't done for a long time. However, I reached town without being struck by lightning, but I was rather soaked. I therefore took shelter at a gas station that I passed. Since it didn't seem like the rain would stop for a while, I bought a soda and some chips, and then I ran the rest of the way back to the hotel where I could get out of my wet clothes, and then open the door to the balcony and enjoy the thunder and lightning flashes on an evening that was actually quite warm at about 77 degrees (25 C), even with the rain.