A Day in Cherokee…or Hospitality in the Great Smoky Mountains

Julie and I drove three hours along the Blue Ridge Parkway towards our destination, Maggie Valley. It is a pleasant town with more hotels than restaurants. At least it seemed so–most restaurants were closed on Sunday. We drove on through to Cherokee, our destination for the day.

The folks at the welcome center, gave us a map, and greeted us kindly. One young man made it his job put a smile on every visitors face. We could have talked all day.

The Oconaluftee River flowed quietly behind, and there was a fine porch, with rocking chairs to sit a spell if you wanted a rest.

Oconaluftee River

We headed towards the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. On the way we found large, colorful bears lining the street.

Bear at the Veterans Memorial
Sequoyah

Cherokee Museum

Sequoyah
Mother and child on trail of tears

 

Trail of Tears

The history of the Cherokee was presented in a beautiful way and many art pieces were striking.  There’s a well-rounded gift shop with T-shirts, jewelry, and great collection of historical books.

We parked by the river and ate our packed lunch. Along the river was a bamboo forest. It was on Julie’s list of things to see. 

 

My sister Julie
Bamboo along the Oconaluftee River

Families cooled their hot feet in the river, while others sat in the water. It was a hot, lazy day and everyone enjoyed it.

Down river people sang a hymn as a young girl was baptized in the river. We stopped to watch and give a silent blessing.

Baptism in Cherokee

I heard there is great fly-fishing there, or if you don’t care to fish, there’s the Sequoyah golf club, and horseback riding. (If you are in need of ice cream, you can find several shops).

After our time in the bamboo forest, and shopping for T-shirts, postcards and gifts,we headed to our hotel in Maggie Valley. At this point I will say that to no fault of my sister, the hotel had given away our room (in the morning) before check in time.  We were deep in the area of N.C. for total eclipse the next day.

Where on earth would we find a room now?

My sister was so mad she couldn’t speak, but we headed next door to talk to a woman who “knew someone,” and gave us directions to a lodge where they were saving us a room.

This adventure was getting exciting. While my sister was upset, I could only wonder what God had in mind.

The next thing we knew was we were headed up a winding mountain road to Smokey Shadows Lodge. Bone tired and stressed from losing our hotel, we decided to stay two nights.

Porch overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains
Smokey Shadows Lodge, Maggie Valley, NC

Once I saw the lodge, the full-length porch overlooking the Smoky Mountains, I knew God saved something better for us. (Though we were glad for earplugs for the creaking stairs and floors). It was old, quaint, and just perfect.

This lodge was built from square logs taken from an old gristmill. As you can see, the lower part of the building is stone. I felt like I was sleeping in a barn, without the barn smells.

The room

Everyone raved about the meals, but we missed our breakfast because we left before dawn to see the eclipse. Tomato pie was on the menu and we tried it the next morning. The food was family style, healthy and great tasting.

View from the porch

Sadly, the only thing I missed was the elk coming out around 6:30 in Cherokee. If we hadn’t had the hotel to lodge change, we may have seen the elk. Even without the elk, we were having a fantastic time.

Elk…another time…

Of all places, this was in the restroom.

 

 

 

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Total Eclipse and Real Community

My sister Julie and I made a plan to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. During the planning stage, we discovered a total eclipse would be within our reach.

Julie spent hours on research, buying maps, and NASA approved eclipse glasses. Fontana Dam was the perfect spot for us to capture this unique event. Our added bonus was that across the Dam was the Appalachian Trail.

I read an article on how to set my camera to shoot the eclipse. I had my doubts, being such a novice. What is raw image anyway? And how do I use it?

Before daylight we took our gear, water and food and headed towards Fontana Dam. We heard about the possibility of heavy traffic, but we were fortunate to find very little.

We came upon a great overlook of the lake.

Fontana Lake

I was pointing,” Oh, oh, oh!”

Julie used her quick driving skills to pull off. There we watched the sun rising over Fontana Lake, and the hazy Great Smoky Mountains in the background.

There was an over-eager young man with a camera lens so enormous, I thought he’d need a strap to hold it up. He flitted back and forth shooting the sunrise, and speaking out words of glory.

We met again at the next overlook and I approached him, hesitating…oh he’s a professional, and I such a novice. I never want to bother people…

We made introductions and I asked if he might look at my camera settings to see if they would do to capture the moments we were all waiting for. He said they would do, but gave me a great tip, which I began using right away.

Julie and I drove a short way towards the dam and found a small parking lot at the top of the hill. Just two or three spots were left. We grabbed ours and found a few people had spent the night in cars or slept on the ground.

The energetic photo-tip friend, Shaun was just two cars down, already shooting Fontana Lake.

After our breakfast of hardboiled eggs and cold pre-cooked bacon we loaded our backpacks with food, water and my camera. I strapped a tripod onto my backpack and we headed downhill to the dam.

Surrounding us was a magnificent lake, calm and blue under the hazy mountains. As we anticipated the hour, more people began arriving. The air was full of energy as we became a new community of people anticipating the glory. We would share with total strangers, a great event which would never happen again the same way.

There, planted in the middle of the bridge over the dam was our photo-tip friend, Shaun. Already unloading his travel wagon, he sat in a chair with an umbrella attached. Other photographers began setting up around him.

My sister and I set up across the bridge and watched boats arrive on the lakeside. With boats anchored; some folks took a swim while they waited.

I taped my filter paper on the lens and attached it to the tripod, feeling a bit uncomfortable as I looked for the sun in my view finder. Moments passed, and our photo-tip friend, Shaun found us.

“I just want to see if you’re all set up.”

Shaun, taken by Julie

I thanked Shaun and began searching again for the sun in my view finder. I was remembering the raw image and wondering how it really worked.

More folks gathered in an amazing array of the young and old. People came with hi-tech telescopes, fancy cameras, and cell phones. There were children with parents, hikers off the A.T., and friendly dogs. They came bearing chairs, umbrellas, blankets and tent-like covers to shade from the hot sun.

Watching the day turn to night.

The energy was remarkable and all I could think about was how God’s glory brought together young and old, Asians, Scandinavians, Scots, and others to our melting pot of Americans.

Crazy me in awe!

Did these folks plan their vacation and fly over the pond for this event? Surely these people shared many religious beliefs or possibly none at all, but we had this one thing in common.

As the moon began to shade the sun and we saw a crescent began to appear, voices began exclaiming aloud. We smiled, and we looked around to see the expressions of others; the children (some bored), and the sharing went on…

In the sweating heat we waited, looking occasionally for the moment of total eclipse. My sister snapped shots of people watching. Serious photographers kept their eyes glued to their cameras.

The climax; when the sun was totally covered, brought awe-struck voices in unison. I looked at my sister and tears were in her eyes. I tried to speak, but nothing came out but a croak. It was God’s glory!

On the outside was a thin distinct white ring. Surrounding the ring white lines appeared in all sorts of shapes. The air was strange. We looked around us and it was dark, but not. The “darkness” was not dark. Venus and stars were visible in the half-light. It was eerie, but not, and looking back to the moon covered sun, I wanted to weep at God’s glory.

The diamond effect appeared, and as a community we began to put our glasses back on.

Someone in the crowd cried, “Do it again!”

There we were in a place unfamiliar to most of us, sharing in the glory of God. I wondered, did anyone know it was Creator God? Was it only a fluke of nature for some? Did anyone see the eclipse-glory and believe there might be a God?

This one magical event in history brought us together, and we shared our joy. There was no distinction of race or color. No one decided to give any opinions or demands. No one declared what race or color could attend. We were people…humans made by the true God.

We lingered, not wanting to leave. We took photos for other families and they did the same for us. We talked of the awesome sight and marveled.

How could such a large group of strangers share so easily, but for wanting the exact same thing? We sought this eclipse, and found unity with strangers.

We close ourselves off from each other with our busy lives, and put God away for when we really need him.

Is it possible that God wanted to be noticed? Did he want his children; his creation to look up?

And that amazing eclipse was just a little thing for him to do.

 

 

  • You may wonder why I didn’t post my eclipse photos. They are still raw footage in my camera card waiting for a day when I get back home and make sense of them.