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Too Young to Judge? Unwanted Leaves? Cades Cove; Where’s My Mule? Weigh-In

I love Tennessee. The people are friendly, the hospitality gracious and the scenery beautiful. But there is one thing that disturbs me. They make the kids grow up too quickly here. We have all heard the stories of child brides, married off at 14 to some old 60 year-old codger back in the hills. Well, I saw a sign that they are even sending teenagers to Law School. Here’s proof…

This entry is for my good friend Shelby back in The Villages. The last time I saw Shelby, he was bemoaning the fact that evil gas-powered automobile drivers were parking in the few spots in town “Reserved for Noble Electric Vehicle Owners” because there were recharging plugs located there for their short-range cars. Shelby, I have good news for you. Here in Townsend, TN, there are lots of empty parking spots and plugs reserved for electric cars. In this parking lot, there are also eight brand new, unused, unlicensed, dust- and pollen-covered, all-electric Nissan Leafs (or would “Leaves”, “Left-Behinds”, or “Left-Overs” be more correct?) I guess here in Al Bore’s home state… (I’m sorry, is it “Gore”?)… it appears that electric cars are not nearly as popular as pick-me-up trucks. Heck, where would you hang your shotgun?

The main reason for my selecting Townsend over the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area was that this is the quiet side of the Smokies. It’s also the closest public campground to Cades Cove, one of the prettiest  spots you could ever imagine. Cades Cove was first settled in the 1820s, although Cherokee Indians had been hunting here for years before the Scots-Irish and English arrived to start farming. An 11-mile loop drive in this verdant valley takes you past beautifully preserved cabins, churches, barns and a grist mill. On our first visit, we drove at a sedate 7 mph pace because of the long line of turistas visiting from across the country. There must have been several hundred cars driving almost nose-to-tail on the entire loop road. There had to be a better way…

We wanted to have a more personal, private tour, so on Wednesday morning, we were up with the sun to ride the loop on our bikes, since the road is closed to cars until 10:00 AM (only on Wed and Sat). Hikers and cyclists have the road to themselves for three hours. This is a better view than miles of cars, don’t you think? And yes, that is Corvette Chick in the distance, barreling down a steep grade… No Ninnies here!

Cades Cove is truly lovely, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. It has been beautifully preserved, and other than the road itself, there are almost no signs that you are in the 21st Century…

And here are the city folks who just bought their first farm; all he has to do is download the app on how to use a plow and mule…

Seriously, though, you have to admire the settlers who moved here with nothing, built their homes and barns with their own hands, raised crops and families, and lived a quiet, pastoral life without all of the hub-bub of the cities… Cades Cove had a population of 271 at its peak in the 1840s.

After our bike ride, we returned to The Coach for my final preps for a two-day backpacking trip up into the mountains. I hadn’t been out overnight since my trip to Withlacoochee Forest last month, and I was looking forward to trying out my new backpack and sleeping bag. (I am easily excited.) Due to the popularity of backcountry camping here in Smoky Mountain National Park, I was required to make a campsite reservation. The day before, I had called the number, and gotten a friendly Park Service volunteer who sounded a few years older than I. When I gave him my route and desired campsite, he said in a smooth Tennessee drawl, “Yep, we’ve got room there for one more hiker. You’ll like that site – it’s real purdy; I stayed there doin’ some loggin’ back before there was a park.” That was more than a few years ago… I wasn’t keen about being in a nearly-full campsite in the wilderness, but beggars can’t be choosers. I loaded my pack and checked the weight with our bathroom scale, and it was right where I wanted it, at 28 lbs. (You can see by this picture that My Lovely Bride prefers a slightly different level of “camping”; although she loves to get her boots muddy on a day hike, she will sacrifice and stay behind in The Coach with the puppies, since dogs are not allowed on park trails.) Suzanne asked whether I had everything on my checklist, and I said confidently, “Of course!” (Note to self: Always trust a paper checklist over your memory…”)  Stay tuned for the rest of the story….


  • Anonymous
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    My wife is from Townsend. Her parents had a store and started the first public riding stables up there many years ago which she helped operate at a very early age (he sold it a few years back). Her mother and some family members still live there and it's likely we will retire there too some day. We love the area, the people and enjoy the 'quiet side' too. Her parents tell stories about their visits to Cades Cove in the good old days before so many tourists arrived. Thanks for your musings, they are appreciated! Brad

  • Ty and Suzanne Giesemann
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Brad, Great to hear from you, especially with the news that Your Lovely Bride is from Townsend! I don't blame you for deciding to retire there; it's a little piece of Heaven. I look forward to coming back for a week some October when the leaves have turned. I know it gets crazy in town and on the roads, but I'd be backpacking in again. I had a great time, except for… well, you'll read about it. Cheers, Ty


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