One aspect of the beauty of the Smoky Mountains is the amount of water features. There is water everywhere. The entire area is criss-crossed by creeks or branches, as they are called down here, rivers and lakes. The mountains act as funnels concentrating the water as it flows down to the valleys and into the bigger rivers such as the Nantahala, Oconaluftee, Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee.
Most of the roads follow along the creeks or rivers flowing along the valleys, gorges and hollows until they make their way up and over the mountain gaps, making for some very scenic roadways. The vegetation enveloping the roads is always lush and green. There is an abundance of wild mountain laurel and rhododendron down in the valleys which transitions to more alpine habitats as you climb the higher mountains up to the ridge line. The steep terrain and abundance of flowing water also provides the ideal conditions for lots of whitewater and waterfalls.
Surprisingly, there are a large number of lakes for such a mountainous area. Most of the lakes exist due to a large network of dams built for flood control and the production of hydro-electricity.
The steep mountainsides provide ideal natural reservoirs for the dammed rivers . The largest lake in the area is Fontana Lake which is practically in our back yard. It is approximately 17 miles long and with numerous coves and arms has 238 miles of shoreline. The lake is a natural border for the southern side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Fontana Lake was formed by damming the Little Tennessee River with Fontana Dam. This dam is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and at 480 feet is the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. The TVA was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and brought numerous jobs and a better quality of life to a large portion of the South.
The main objectives of the TVA system were to provide flood control, electricity and navigable rivers to the rural Tennessee Valley while providing much needed jobs during the Great Depression.
Fontana Dam was built during World War II, mainly to provide electricity to the Alcoa Aluminum plant in Knoxville. Construction began in 1942 and continued nearly around the clock until completion in 1944. A new town, which was later transformed into the Fontana Village Resort, was constructed to house over 5000 workers and their families brought in to build this massive project.
We paid a visit to the dam where they have a nice little information center and viewing platform. The TVA also provides a hiking shelter and hot showers at the dam for Appalachian Trail hikers. The path of the AT follows right across the top of the dam making its way over Fontana lake before winding up into the National Park.
We walked out across the dam enjoying views of the lake and the gorge, powerhouse and spillway far below. The concrete spillway tunnels used to divert water and control the water level of the lake were very impressive dropping steeply out of sight. After dropping 480 feet nearly straight down, the water shoots out of tunnels at the base of the dam like a cannon.
The lake has several marinas, boat launches and campgrounds and is providing many opportunities for boating and fishing. We took the kayaks out on a nice sunny day and explored some of the coves and railroad trestles along the shoreline. The one negative is that the mountains running down into the lake are so steep that the shore is pretty much inaccessible to getting out of the boat to stretch or to go for a swim to cool off.
The dams also provide a controlled release of water into the rivers which supports opportunities for whitewater rafting and tubing. We were lucky enough to meet a former river guide through Ironhorse who treated us to a very low cost rafting trip down the Nantahala River. The river is fairly tame with only one Class III set of rapids but was a great way to spend a day off. We got to enjoy the scenic river with a few thrilling rapids along the way while getting to know our new friends a little better.
We are totally into the groove of our jobs at Ironhorse now. We are very comfortable with the menus and have been cruising through dinner service. It has been fairly slow, which is normal for this time of year. We have served as few as 20-25 on some nights and a few meals have been cancelled for lack of people signing up ahead of time. This week we hosted a HOG Chapter from Bergen County in northern New Jersey. I’d have to admit it was a little refreshing to experience that northern attitude once again. It reminded us of home just a little bit.
We usually go for a nice motorcycle ride on one of our days off, always exploring new territory. We have also managed to get some things done on The Breeze and gave the roof a good cleaning and three new coats of wax. Washing and waxing the rest of the rig is next on our list of projects.