The 56,000-acre Cherokee reservation is known as the Qualla Boundary, and the town of Cherokee is its capital. Truth be told, there are two Cherokees. There's the Cherokee with the often-tacky pop culture, with junky gift shops full of cheap plastic "Indian crafts" and caged black bears. These are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the tourist masses. But there's another Cherokee that's a window into the rich heritage of the tribe's Eastern Band. Although now relatively small in number—Eastern Band tribal enrollment is 12,500—these Cherokee and their ancestors have been responsible for keeping alive the Cherokee culture. They are the descendants of those who hid in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma in the 19th century. They are survivors, extremely attached to the hiking, swimming, trout fishing, and natural beauty of their ancestral homeland. You'll note that due to tribal efforts, all official signs in the Qualla Boundary, and many private commercial ones, are in the Cherokee language as well as in English. The reservation is dry, with no alcohol sales, except at the Harrah's casino complex. This means that there are few upscale restaurants in the area (because they depend on wine and cocktail sales for much of their profits), just fast-food and mom-and-pop places.
Looking back on eight decades on making travel history.More