Every year, MINIs from all over the US get together in Fontana Village to run the twisty road called the Tail of the Dragon and have fun with other MINI owners. Last year the event was canceled, and this year the restrictions were still in place making it difficult to do the evening activities. So the organizers made it an unofficial event. We could do some drives with leaders that were still willing, but no welcome or last night dinners, no bingo night, karaoke night, fireworks or other indoor gatherings. But people in cars were OK, so we went. You can see my photos of the village and surrounding area from our last trip to this gathering in 2019 on my post MINIs on the Dragon. This year, we went out on Wednesday and since we had no registration to work, we made a side trip to Clingman’s Dome on the way. Clingman’s Dome is the tallest mountain in the Smoky Mountain range, and has an observation tower built at the top for spectacular views, well, weather permitting. The trail up the mountain is very steep and about a half mile long, paved the whole way. But, at over 6600 feet, the air is thin and it is a difficult hike. Getting to the top was a challenge, but we made it.
The top was socked in, clouds were obscuring everything, and drifting across the path in front of us. We really were in the cloud, but we trudged on up to the tower anyway. That haze in the picture is really fog. The skeletons of some Frasier Fir trees can be seen below the path to the tower. They were killed by a pest called a balsam woolly adelgid (cousin of the one that attacks hemlocks) imported on trees from Europe. The Frasier Fir is native to the Appalachians, growing in high elevations.
We were rewarded at the top with a break in the cloud cover, and a bit of sunshine peeking through.
I’ll bet the views on a clear day are spectacular.
Coming back down, we made a stop at the Mountain Farm museum just beside the Oconaluftee River. We were able to see two very pregnant elk in the river. Elk generally have their young in early June.
The next morning we were off on our first run, a drive on the Dragon over to a lunch spot in Tennessee. Winding roads and mountain views made a fun day.
Of course, we have to stop on the Cherohala Skyway, and get photos of our cars with the mountains in the background.
Pretty scenery, trees with shades of new green growth and river views were lovely to see.
The drives were several hours a day of gorgeous scenery leading to fun places and outdoor picnics, then back to Fontana Village.
We had to have another photo op at a lookout. Ours is the red one second from the right.
Next day we drove the Foothills Parkway including a new section which opened in 2019.
Later, we had dinner at a grille overlooking the Tellico River, known for trout fishing.
The third day we learned that the Fontana Dam is a part of the Appalachian Trail. The leader of the drive started our day by taking us across the dam and up to an observation area.
Then we came back down and across the dam again. He said we could now say we had driven part of the Appalachian Trail, LOL! We then drove another hour to our lunch spot in a picnic area outside a diner known for its apple pie. We got a take-out lunch and ate outside.
Several of us decided to take a run through Cades Cove, a nature preserve. The trip through the park took about 2 hours to do the 11 mile loop, as we crawled along looking for wildlife. We did see a few deer, and a couple of black bears way off the road.
Back to the bottom of the valley, another river view.
The last day, we had over 30 MINIs in a line for the drive starting late morning. The photos I attempted in the mirror didn’t come out clear. We had more sun this day, and ended our run in Bryson City for lunch. Beautiful mountains can be seen between the trees lining the road. White dogwoods were blooming all over the routes.
We headed home from there. I took over 100 photos as usual for me, but I’ll spare you all those. I think these will give you a sense of our socially distant vacation. We did see our little pod of vaccinated friends, and had a hug fest. One was having a birthday, so one evening she was presented with a cake and we socialized outdoors for the treat. A couple of dinners on the veranda of the local Wildwood Grill rounded out the days. I hope next year we will be back to the full event, with all the extra social events added back. But for now, it was wonderful to feel close to normal again.
Back home, the mailbox was full of envelopes and packages. I’ll share more about those soon. (If you are sending a check, please make it payable to me, not the project. I don’t have a bank account with the project name on it. Please include your email address with any donation of cards, cases or money so I can let you know I got it.) Then I got on the computer to find that the post I planned for today actually posted yesterday. Oh well, I got the date wrong on the schedule. So if you were surprised by a Saturday post, know that I was too, LOL!!!
Are you planning any trips yet?
PS – Linnie M, I don’t have an email for you, please send me an email or use the contact form on my about me page so I can chat with you. I need to ask you about your donation.