Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Cumberland Gap and Wilderness Road
Today I'm playing a little catch up and posting about my recent adventures in the Cumberland, Blue Ridge, and Smoky Mountains. After having survived such a rough summer I was determined to enjoy the month of October with all it's scenic wonders as much as I possibly could. This year, for the first time in forever, I conquered October and had a blast doing it. I started things off by visiting the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park which is located in the Cumberland Mountains where NW Tennessee, SE Kentucky, and SW Virgina meet. The gap in the mountain range played an important role in the westward exploration and expansion of the USA by such famous persons as Daniel Boone and Lewis & Clark.
I chose to venture up to Cumberland Gap on this particular day, October 1st, because it was a gorgeous day and because the park was hosting their annual Fall festival, a Raptor Festival this year. They had a huge tent erected in front of the Visitor Center where rescued raptors from bald eagles to peregrine falcons, owls, and kestrels where on display. Park volunteers and local groups offered all kinds of hands-on encounters with wildlife. There were also historical displays about the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as reenactors portraying Rachel Carson, John Muir, and John James Audubon. It was quite a lovely event -- simple but very educational and entertaining.
Cumberland Gap NHP is a hiker's paradise, with lots of trails plus a large underground cave to be explored, but for wimps like me a simple drive up the Skyland Road to Pinnacle Overlook is enough joy. The narrow road filled with hairpin curves takes you to the Virginia side of the mountains where one can look out over all 3 states and see everything and anyone who may be trying to cross the gap. No wonder both the Union and the Confederate Armies each had possession of the gap during the Civil War. A relatively small number of soldiers with strategically placed artillery such as this canon at the earthworks Fort McCook were sufficient to keep the enemy from crossing the Gap with supplies communications important to the war effort.
The Skyland Road ends at the Pinnacle Overlook, so named for the rock formations which protruded from the tree-covered hillside.
From the overlook you could look north into Kentucky and see Fern Lake or look south into Tennessee across Powell's Valley and, on this exceptionally clear day, over to the Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest.
Over the course of the summer my mailbox has been filled with travel brochures and information about the Civil War from TN, VA, WV, MD, PA, & NC. Reading though all these brochures has been an education and offered wonderful diversion for those nights when I couldn't sleep. One booklet was all about the VA state parks and I discovered that there was a nifty little park just 10 miles from Cumberland Gap called Wilderness Road which features a colonial period outpost called Martin's Station. The historic log structures had been reconstructed and it was quite an extensive community with numerous buildings and livestock and gardens to support life on the western frontier. Reenactors demonstrated everything from tanning deer hides to making rifles and blacksmithing. I loved seeing the muddy pig, woolly sheep, horses, and colorful chickens. It was a great place to visit!