Indian Lore and Rafters Galore

Saturday, September 22, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

 Chattanooga TN to Charlotte NC

We started the day with a very touching letterbox in Chattanooga at a memorial for unborn children.  The box was a tribute by two parents to their miscarried infant.  A sobering way to begin the day and a sweet way for this couple to share their remembrance of their child.

From Chattanooga we headed east on US-64 toward Cleveland to search out another of Peter Toth's Whispering Giant statues.  We tracked down the Cherokee Chieftan at the Museum Center at Five Points, relocated from its original spot in a downtown pocket park.  This statue was number 9 in Toth's series to honor Native Americans, which now exceeds 80.  It was carved in 1973 from an oak tree, and, like the one we saw in Colquitt, GA last week (also from 1973), it was shorter, at 10 feet, than some of the more recent carvings, some of which are as tall as 40 feet.

Sadly, the letterbox associated with this giant had gone missing.  Landscapers had been busy in the area where the box had been hidden, whacking off sheltering limbs and clearing out tree needles, mulch, and other hiding materials.

Nanye'hi
As we continued east along US-64, we could see the results of the ancient buckling of the earth as we entered the Appalachian foothills and the land of the Cherokee.  Near the little town of Benton, we visited the grave site of Nancy Ward, a Cherokee priestess.  Born in the 1730s, Nanye'hi grew up to become a prominent War Woman and Beloved Woman of her tribe.  She helped male elders carry out ceremonies and assisted war leaders with negotiations.  Among Americans and British, she was greatly respected as an orator, emissary, and protector of white settlers and captives and became a de facto ambassador between her people and whites.

In her later years, Nancy Ward opened an inn in southeastern Tennessee along the banks of the Ocoee River.  She died in 1822 before her people were forcibly removed from their remaining lands in the Trail of Tears.  She and her son Five Killer and brother Long Fellow are buried near the site of the inn, and that is where we found the letterbox dedicated to her memory.

Nancy Ward grave site
Continuing east from Benton, US-64 tracked along the shore of the TVA-created Lake Ocoee and then the Ocoee River, site of whitewater sports in the 1996 Olympics.  On this mild and sunny September Saturday, the Ocoee was swarming with rafters and kayakers.  We passed one outfitter after another as we dodged buses crammed with fun seekers and piles of rafts lashed to the bus roof.  "Slow moving rafting buses next 20 miles," a highway sign warned, as if we hadn't noticed. 

When we rounded a curve and saw a beautiful visitor center built for the Olympics, we had to stop and check it out.  The fact that a letterbox was on site added inspiration.  While there, we watched lots of would-be rafters being trained in a calm pool before they plunged into the rapids of the river.  The letterbox was just where the clue promised, and after stamping in we continued our drive on the winding highway until we were stopped by the sight of a Paul Bunyan sized chopper in front of Cherokee County Cycles.

Ken with "Big"
Even if you're not a motorhead, who could just drive past such a photo op?  When we got a closer look, we noticed a sign that invited visitors to take their photos sitting on "Big" in exchange for a donation to breast cancer research inside the shop.  Though the mega chopper seemed a little too shaky for either of us to be willing to climb on board, we had taken our share of pictures, so we went in to make our contribbution.  Then we had to take another photo, one that cleared up the mismatch of breast cancer research being promoted in a Harley shop.

"Fill the Jugs" a nearby sign encouraged.
By then it was 3:30 and we had gone only 109 miles in six hours, one third of the way to our destination in Charlotte.  But we just had to make one more detour.  Actually by car, it was right along our route in Wesser, NC.  A letterbox planted in 2005 beside a well-known trail near the Nantahala River had not been found (or reported missing) since 2007.  How could we not look for it?  Much to our delight, it was still there, exactly as described.  And we had frittered away another hour with 3.5 hours still to go.

The Appalachian Trail crosses the Nantahala River
By then it was time to get serious about arriving at our destination, so we quit letterboxing and drove on straight through to Charlotte, arriving shortly after 8:00.  Happily our hotel had a "restaurant," so we were able to grab a quick meal before calling a wrap to a satisfying day with some excellent views.

US-74 through the mountains of North Carolina

More Photos from Today

1966 Chevy pickup in Cleveland for monthly auto show
Spectator bridge built over the Ocoee River for 1996 Olympics
Yet another outfitter
Learning the ropes before braving the rapids
Oar to oar rafters everywhere