The saga of the Road to Nowhere began in 1943 and continues on today in the small, artsy, outdoor-adventure town of Bryson City, NC. Bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the road itself really does lead…nowhere. It’s a common hot topic among the city residents and a great story to tell historians, roadies and national park enthusiasts. It really is intriguing.

The initial story takes place in 1942, during World War II. To assist in the war effort, Swain and Graham County NC residents agreed to sacrifice their ancestral family land for the sake of their patriotic causes; generating more power to produce electricity for building aluminum planes and also an atomic bomb in nearby Oak Ridge, TN. The bomb was to be used to help end the war. While it indeed served its purpose, a new kind of battle was started between local residents, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the US Government.

It was decided that the hydroelectric power dam would be built to flood 11,000 acres of North Carolina land.  An additional 67,800 acres were also accumulated by TVA for related purposes. The power generated from this dam would be used in Oak Ridge as specified above. Because these 200 now displaced families (1500-6000 people, stats vary) sacrificed their land, some more willingly than others: the government promised to build a road through the new national park to provide access to the more than 28 family cemeteries that would now only be accessible by water… and a very long walk.

In 1943, the government paid approximately $400,000 to the State of North Carolina, which Swain County owed in outstanding bonds. Because the government was protected by an agreement clause stating the payment would be delayed until enough money was accumulated for construction, they delayed in building the road. The delay continued until 1969 when a short 7 mile scenic drive was built into the park and ends with a tunnel…that also leads nowhere.

The road was basically meant to connect Tennessee and North Carolina through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It would run along the north shore of Fontana Lake and be called “North Shore Road”.  As time moved forward, construction cost estimates sky rocketed to a projected $752 million dollars and environmentalists began to express grave concern for the disruption of several native species in the park.  A 525 page research document study was conducted on the environmental and economic impacts from road construction.

Across 70 years, controversy has mounted from all sides; government, naturalists, town residents and families with little access to the only thing that tied them to their ancestors- the cemeteries. Karen Wilmont, Director of Tourism in Bryson City shares a story or two, “A friend of mine’s grandmother was one of the ladies unwilling to move out and she was literally picked up in her rocking chair and carried out the door.” David Monteith shared his story with WRAL’s “Road Warrior” in 2007. “My daddy’s grocery store was at Forney’s Creek. That’s gone. That’s underwater. That’s part of my heritage, but it’s gone.”

The battle continued all the way until last fall, 2010 when a Bryson City attorney, L.D. “Luke” Hyde and his counterparts were able to construct a new contract for a cash settlement of $52 million in lieu of road completion.  Annual payments would be held in trust with Swain Country receiving interest on the growing principle.  It took 70 years to reach an agreement; can you imagine?

In the end, the Road to Nowhere stays the way it is; unfinished. Some think the plan was agreeable, others do not. The road itself is befitting of its name. It curves softly and quietly uphill through the mountains with scenic views of Lake Fontana peeking out from the vast green wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains. As you can imagine, except for a few hard core hikers and an interested roadie or two, virtually no one is there. The lazy leaves crunch beneath the car, between tire and asphalt- even in the summer- because there’s just no traffic. Who drives to nowhere?

It IS neat though, and scenic. And just a little eerie, especially the dark cool tunnel sitting alone at the end of the road with its vines swaying in the constant light wind. Hikers walking by joke about sacrifice benches and the like. No doubt, the stories that follow that road are as vast and different as the viewpoints surrounding the controversy itself.

I loved this road. Not just because it was a scenic road or because the asphalt is smooth and quiet. I loved it because it just goes to prove my point YET AGAIN… despite what many think…the road really does matter. Too often we forget that roads connect people, hire workers, and deliver our goods. We drive on them every day and yet think little about them. This road is the perfect example of how our passions are so often connected to the pavements on which we drive.

There is much of the this story that isn’t included here. A short trip to Western NC or even just a cruise down the information superhighway will provide you with loads of details about the road sometimes called “The Road of Broken Promises”.  Special thanks to the Bryson City Visitors Center, WRAL’s “Road Warrior”, NC attractions website, and the many participants on either side of the debate surrounding this special road. What a pleasure it’s been chatting with you, reading your stories online, and watching your videos. Thanks for sharing about your road. It’s a road story I won’t soon forget.

- Layne Rider

I was over in NC a few weeks ago for a family wedding and discovered, sort of by accident, that I was very close to the famous “Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap“. Well you know I had to try that on for size. Whenever I travel around and interview roadies, someone always mention The Dragon as one of their favorite roads. Now I don’t have a motorcycle or sports car (YET!) but I figured it was worth it anyway. I’m so glad I went.

I drug my mom out of bed at like 6AM on a Sunday and talked her into coming with me. She was not sure about it, but she’s a good sport, so off we went. It took a good bit of time to get out to 129 N from where we were, but the road up was amazing. We were driving early enough to see the sun come over the mountain and we were able to experience the gorgeous fog moving off of the Cherokee National Forest. I snapped a few pics on the way up and you’ll see some of them here in this article. Mom had decided to forgo her morning coffee and breakfast until after the trip; just in case those 318 curves in 11 miles did not agree with her stomach.

Tree of Shame at Deals Gap

Tree of Shame

What you hear is true. You really do turn that wheel 318 times. The roadies gathering there really do share a common bond of love for the road. They love milling around down at the NC entrance, talking, drinking coffee, swapping stories and posing with their bikes. And the road is chocked full of motorcycles and standard shift sports cars. I ran into (not literally of course) a Chrysler Crossfire touring group in the area for a conference. They shared some more of their favorite travel spots with me. There’s also this eye catching “Tree of Shame” where people hang their dragon-wrecked car and bike parts up on display. The ladies inside the grill at Deal’s Gap are great; and they can make some serious bacon and egg biscuits (which my starving mom thoroughly enjoyed AFTER the ride) and they were great about chatting with me about the area and the famous drive.

But I guess you really just want to know about the drive, right? Well, let me just say this… that’s some smooth asphalt on that cruise and man are you glad to have it; every inch of the way. You need it to stay on course and keep safe. It’s great fun, and I was even driving slow- didn’t care, it was still an experience worth investigating. But that’s all I am going to say about… because you really just need to experience it yourself.

Share your stories of your trip on The Dragon right here on the site. We love to hear about it and see those pics!

- Layne Rider

Going to the Sun Road
It was the the Memorial Day weekend 2005 and myself and several other co-workers had a couple of days off so we decided to spend them at Glacier National Park. On Sunday, instead of driving myself and missing most of the scenery I chose to take the Blackfeet tour of Glacier. We started the tour in West Glacier and would travel the Going to the Sun Road to Logan’s Pass at an altitude of 6,646 ft. The scenic road starts in the valley and winds it’s way up the sides of the mountains. Just short of the summit, at Logan’s Pass, we encountered a rock slide. Luckily only one lane was blocked and cars were hit by the large slabs of stone that slid down the mountain. After spending some time at the Logan’s Pass Visitor’s Center we returned this same route to find NPS crews clearing the slide with large earth movers.
- Matt B.

Going to the Sun Road

It was the the Memorial Day weekend 2005 and myself and several other co-workers had a couple of days off so we decided to spend them at Glacier National Park. On Sunday, instead of driving myself and missing most of the scenery I chose to take the Blackfeet tour of Glacier. We started the tour in West Glacier and would travel the Going to the Sun Road to Logan’s Pass at an altitude of 6,646 ft. The scenic road starts in the valley and winds it’s way up the sides of the mountains. Just short of the summit, at Logan’s Pass, we encountered a rock slide. Luckily only one lane was blocked and cars were hit by the large slabs of stone that slid down the mountain. After spending some time at the Logan’s Pass Visitor’s Center we returned this same route to find NPS crews clearing the slide with large earth movers.


- Matt B.

Driving on Mt. Ararat Road near Ethridge, Tennessee the horse-drawn buggies often outnumber the cars and trucks. Ethridge is home to hundreds of Amish families. You can drive through the countryside and see hand-painted signs promoting quilts, baskets, horse tack, porch swings, candy and furniture for sale by these hard-working families. My favorite roadside activity is to buy homemade fried pies and hopefully catch a glimpse of Amish children playing in the barnyard. One turn off Highway 64 and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
- K. Butler

Driving on Mt. Ararat Road near Ethridge, Tennessee the horse-drawn buggies often outnumber the cars and trucks. Ethridge is home to hundreds of Amish families. You can drive through the countryside and see hand-painted signs promoting quilts, baskets, horse tack, porch swings, candy and furniture for sale by these hard-working families. My favorite roadside activity is to buy homemade fried pies and hopefully catch a glimpse of Amish children playing in the barnyard. One turn off Highway 64 and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

- K. Butler

Stelvio Pass

Most people might see Rome while in Italy: We went to Passo de Stelvio (aka Stilfser Joch), one of the best mountain passes in Europe. Going from Italy to Switzerland over the highest stretch of road in the Eastern Alps with 48 hairpin bends on the northern side, it climbs 6,138 feet to an elevation of 9,048 feet. The road is open from June to September, but can be closed by snow any time of the year. It was originally built in 1820 to 1825 by the Austrian Empire and the route has changed little since then. The Italian side is paved, carved into the mountainside with stone walls, sharp switchbacks and awesome scenery that you don’t dare look at while driving. The road provides extra challenge dodging bicycles, vans, and RV’s. It is extremely popular with motorcyclists. The Switzerland side, though unpaved, is somewhat less daunting but still quite scenic. Our small rental BMW did very well (my wife in the back seat not so well). But we all enjoyed the spectacular view from several stops on the way and had lunch at the top.


- K. Belsak

Touring Highway 178
Welcome To Southern California. As your tours take you to the majestic sights along the 178 corridor (http://www.tour178.com/) and its surrounding communities, you will experience a unique segment of America and Kern County. This “Most Interesting Place On The Planet” has something to offer everyone:
*direct links to recreation sports offerings from the mildly adventurous to the extremes of rock climbing and white-water rafting
*HW178 documents the history of the western settlement and the very mythology of Americana; from the rigorous crossing of the western divide to vivid examples of mining ,boom and ghost towns. Ranching and agriculture in challenged landscapes and the taming of the water in an arid land should embed awesome vistas into the minds of many visitors. The Corridor contains 5 of 6 California Bio-regions with many unique formations, environmental novelties, and scenes of unparalled contrasts and beauty. This “Pass-through” Zone has been rated in the top 10 by National Geographic Magazine as Outdoor Recreation.
As your tours take you along the 178 Corridor don’t forget to visit W. Ridgecrest Blvd and Balsam Street, ideal for shopping and strolling downtown Ridgecrest, there is plenty of parking available for tour buses.

Touring Highway 178

Welcome To Southern California. As your tours take you to the majestic sights along the 178 corridor (http://www.tour178.com/) and its surrounding communities, you will experience a unique segment of America and Kern County. This “Most Interesting Place On The Planet” has something to offer everyone:

*direct links to recreation sports offerings from the mildly adventurous to the extremes of rock climbing and white-water rafting

*HW178 documents the history of the western settlement and the very mythology of Americana; from the rigorous crossing of the western divide to vivid examples of mining ,boom and ghost towns. Ranching and agriculture in challenged landscapes and the taming of the water in an arid land should embed awesome vistas into the minds of many visitors. The Corridor contains 5 of 6 California Bio-regions with many unique formations, environmental novelties, and scenes of unparalled contrasts and beauty. This “Pass-through” Zone has been rated in the top 10 by National Geographic Magazine as Outdoor Recreation.

As your tours take you along the 178 Corridor don’t forget to visit W. Ridgecrest Blvd and Balsam Street, ideal for shopping and strolling downtown Ridgecrest, there is plenty of parking available for tour buses.

Greg Harder and his son Gregory talk roads at the Syracuse Nationals.

Favorite Road talks with Maya Sieber of Ice Road Truckers

http://www.mayasieber.com/

FavoriteRoad celebrates Grand Rivers, Kentucky in 2010

Montana’s Beartooth Highway 75th Anniversary celebration

The Beartooth Highway, which seasonally connects the communities of Red Lodge and Cooke City Montana (and the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park) via a route through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and Wyoming, celebrated its 75th Anniversary this month.

To mark the occasion both communities held parades and free barbecues. Asphalt Institute Regional Engineer Dave Johnson from Montana was on hand to help mark the occasion.

Using established Native American routes, Lieutenant General Phillip Sheridan and a 124 man detail made the first documented crossing of the Beartooths in 1881. Improvements to the passage ensued until the highway was officially opened in 1936 following two years of construction. This high mountain passage paved in asphalt was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1989 and reaches a peak elevation of nearly 11,000 feet.  Charles Kuralt of CBS News fame declared it to be “America’s most beautiful road.” It remains one of Montana’s destinations of choice for those coming to visit.

- Dave J.

Natchez Trace

This is a few of our pictures of our road trip down the Natchez Trace. It was the first time that my husband and I had been down it. We went with some new and old friends on our motorcycles. The ride to Tupelo was fantastic.

We went in October after the leaves were starting to change colors. The one lesson that we learned was to make sure that you take drinks and snacks with you. Also be sure that you have a full tank of gas. Because unless you way off the road, there is no place to stop for anything until you are about 20 miles outside of Tupelo!

- Tammy C.

The Original Watkins Glen Circuit

To a sports car fan, very few roads carry as much historical significance as The Original Watkins Glen Circuit. Imagine driving on the narrow winding roads that once hosted some of the world’s most famous racing drivers.

My wife and I make the trip to Watkins Glen several times a year from our home in Central PA. I drive the circuit almost every time we visit the area. To me, it’s a step back in time every time I drive it. The scenic area and the Finger Lake wineries are simply icing on the cake.

When driving the circuit, be sure to keep an eye out for the signs marking the significant historical landmarks.

The 6.6 mile road circuit starts in front of the Schuyler County Court House on N Franklin St.

- Steve L.

Paris Pike - horse country at its best
The 14-mile stretch of US Highways 27 & 68 connecting Lexington, Kentucky and Paris, Kentucky is my favorite road. Known to most locals as Paris Pike, the 179-year-old road metamorphosed in front of my eyes from 1997-2000. A long-awaited widening project took Paris Pike from a dangerous 2-lane road to a beautiful 4-lane road with a 40 ft. median. I watched workers preserve or relocate many historic, dry-laid, limestone fences, plant three trees for every one tree they removed, build new bridges and replace ugly, rusted guard rails with attractive timber versions. The 93-million-dollar project won many national awards for preservation and design excellence. Legendary Bluegrass thoroughbred horse farms populate both sides of Paris Pike. Foaling season is especially magical. Commuting to and from work can mean I catch glimpses of future Kentucky Derby hopefuls sunning themselves next to their mothers in green paddocks. Driving by the Thoroughbred Center I get to see yearlings and two-year-old colts and fillies.
- Kendal B.

Paris Pike - horse country at its best

The 14-mile stretch of US Highways 27 & 68 connecting Lexington, Kentucky and Paris, Kentucky is my favorite road. Known to most locals as Paris Pike, the 179-year-old road metamorphosed in front of my eyes from 1997-2000. A long-awaited widening project took Paris Pike from a dangerous 2-lane road to a beautiful 4-lane road with a 40 ft. median. I watched workers preserve or relocate many historic, dry-laid, limestone fences, plant three trees for every one tree they removed, build new bridges and replace ugly, rusted guard rails with attractive timber versions. The 93-million-dollar project won many national awards for preservation and design excellence. Legendary Bluegrass thoroughbred horse farms populate both sides of Paris Pike. Foaling season is especially magical. Commuting to and from work can mean I catch glimpses of future Kentucky Derby hopefuls sunning themselves next to their mothers in green paddocks. Driving by the Thoroughbred Center I get to see yearlings and two-year-old colts and fillies.

- Kendal B.

Snowy Range Wyoming
I’m glad I trusted a stranger in Wyoming. We were finishing up a livestock exhibition in Cheyenne and I asked the show secretary to suggest some sight–seeing opportunities. She suggested going the long way back to Denver through Snowy Range Scenic Byway. Highway 130 from Laramie to the Upper Platte River Valley is often called the “Great Sky Road.” Traveling through Medicine Bow National Forest is breath-taking on each side of the asphalt. The highlight is the overlook where you can gaze at Medicine Bow Peak. The 12,013 foot summit is majestic and visible from many angles on the road. I learned a valuable lesson that day: whenever possible, take the long way home.
- Kendal B.

Snowy Range Wyoming

I’m glad I trusted a stranger in Wyoming. We were finishing up a livestock exhibition in Cheyenne and I asked the show secretary to suggest some sight–seeing opportunities. She suggested going the long way back to Denver through Snowy Range Scenic Byway. Highway 130 from Laramie to the Upper Platte River Valley is often called the “Great Sky Road.” Traveling through Medicine Bow National Forest is breath-taking on each side of the asphalt. The highlight is the overlook where you can gaze at Medicine Bow Peak. The 12,013 foot summit is majestic and visible from many angles on the road. I learned a valuable lesson that day: whenever possible, take the long way home.

- Kendal B.

The Niagara Parkway between Niagara Falls, Canada, and the beautiful city of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a wonderful summer drive. Scenic attractions line the drive, such as the White Water Walk (downstream from Niagara Falls) and the Floral Clock. An interesting discovery was that the drive borders several cherry orchards and roadside fruit stands. The smooth asphalt drive north from the falls brings you to the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the shore of Lake Ontario. In the summer, the streets of the city display incredible landscaping and hanging planters overflowing with cacophonies of bright flowers. The streets are bordered with art galleries, fine restaurants, and all sorts of interesting shops to explore.
- Danny G.

The Niagara Parkway between Niagara Falls, Canada, and the beautiful city of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a wonderful summer drive. Scenic attractions line the drive, such as the White Water Walk (downstream from Niagara Falls) and the Floral Clock. An interesting discovery was that the drive borders several cherry orchards and roadside fruit stands. The smooth asphalt drive north from the falls brings you to the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the shore of Lake Ontario. In the summer, the streets of the city display incredible landscaping and hanging planters overflowing with cacophonies of bright flowers. The streets are bordered with art galleries, fine restaurants, and all sorts of interesting shops to explore.

- Danny G.