Trip report -- Cherokee, NC

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Nov 27th, 2018, 05:11 AM
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Trip report -- Cherokee, NC

Given that I am partially of Cherokee heritage, coming here was a must. If you don't drive, however, it's not easy to get here as there is no direct bus, train, or plane service -- you have to take an airport shuttle, taxi, Uber, or similar transportation from Asheville, which isnít cheap. They do have a tribal casino (which looks like every other casino in the US on the inside, a sea of slot machines and gaming tables), but unlike most such places, which usually have some sort of shuttle to get you there from the nearest city, this one does not. As is often the case with such towns, complaints to places like the visitor center and casino yielded a "who cares" attitude about how difficult it is to get here without a car. Very irritating and frustrating, if not surprising.

Began the day at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and as it turned out was lucky it was open. They had recently experienced a water main break and had been closed the last few days. Fortunately, they reopened without bathrooms available the day I was there. The museum tells a good bit about the tribe's history via presentation of artifacts and small diorama type reproductions of events. History here was broken down into five periods. The Paleo-Indian exhibit mostly consisted of arrowheads as well as a few blades and scrapers. For the Archaic Period, things such as clubs, fishhooks and weights, mortars and pestles, and adzes were added. The Woodland Era artifacts included beads, pipes, awls, arrow points, pottery, bows and arrows, and a stone with likely spurious primitive writing. Predating the arrival of European settlers is the Mississippian Period which shows the tribe at its apex; everything from pottery, baskets, gorgets, effigy bowls, and sports paraphernalia for games such as stickball and chunkey were on display. The most recent era found the tribe adopting Western thinking, exhibiting such things as blacksmith tools, guns and ammunition, and the like. There are exhibits about Andrew Jackson (who ironically was saved in a battle early in his career by a Cherokee soldier!), the Trail of Tears, information on the other four "Civilized Tribes" affected around this time and their ultimate fates, Sequoyah and the birth of written Cherokee language, information on the seven traditional tribal clans, Indian schools, Cherokee involvement in the Civil War (mainly in support of the South), the friction between Eastern and Western tribal factions, Cherokee women, tribal dance, and various artifacts. A particularly large exhibit on Timberlake and his memoirs (which provide lots of information about the tribe during this period as well as his travels with three Cherokee representatives who went to England to broker peace) was seen. At this point, the relics shift primarily to European ones (ceramics, silver, pewter, coins, pipes, a violin, a flute). Throughout, there's a lot of interesting focus on Cherokee lore and legends. At the end was a collection of current Cherokee painting, sculpture, pottery, photography, masks, and basketry. Really informative and intriguing, an absolute must as far as I'm concerned.

The Oconoluftee Indian Village, nearing the end of its season, re-creates various Cherokee dwellings and crafts. The latter were especially well represented: weaving, beadwork, wood and stone carving, basketry, arrowhead making, and such. There was a small exhibit of scaled-down size animal traps as well as dugout canoes (these were surprisingly large, able to hold up to 12 people and used for trade purposes). Several examples of houses from the 1600s and 1700s (the latter normally less well constructed because of area unrest during this period) were encountered, including houses for winter, summer, and year-round dwelling -- plus a sweat house (for medicine-related issues), a storage house, and large central council house. A mock-up of a European trader's open-air shop was also found. The staff here do presentations on various aspects of tribal life; I enjoyed a lengthy presentation on music-accompanied dance, including ones celebrating Bear, Quail, Bison, Groundhog, Corn, Bullfrog, and Beaver, all enthusiastically presented and lots of fun to experience.

Headed next to a southern trail entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Oconoluftee River Trail (mostly wooded, flat, and pleasant, pretty much running parallel to the river). Despite being warned of the possibility, no elk or bears were seen, though there were plenty of hikers. This ends up at the Oconoluftee Visitors Center. Here are exhibits about the history of the park's formation, ecological and structural preservation issues, and the history of Cherokee and white farmers in the region with the latter exploring topics such as trade, farming, weaving, and later logging encroachment (artifacts included quilts, logging implements, and plows as well as other farm gear). Immediately adjacent is the Mountain Farm Museum, which collects up old rustic buildings from the park's site such as a farmhouse, barn, apple house, chicken house, pigsty, springhouse, smokehouse, sorghum mill and furnace, corn crib, blacksmith shop, and ash hopper. The nearby Mingus Mill is an old flume-run gristmill, locked up for the season by this time but still visible from the outside. The part of the park I saw was gorgeous, with small forested peaks and an overall feel reminiscent of the hilly parts of New England.

Did not go to the stage presentation "Unto These Hills," which has a very short season, running only from June to mid-August. Was visiting well past that time.

There are scads of tacky restaurants and souvenir shops, some of the latter bizarrely boasting that they sell things having nothing to do with the area such as turquoise jewelry. Opted instead to browse the Quallah Crafts Cooperative Store, run by a collective of local artisans who make crafts of all kinds. Conveniently, this opened early, an hour before the Cherokee Museum did and right across the street from it. Public transportation exists, but is absolutely nothing like what is suggested online (though this may have been a function of my being there late in season). Supposedly, there are two routes served regularly every half hour. In practice, they run on-call on demand and not terribly efficiently; being at a designated bus stop is no guarantee of service. Still, I found it useful getting (eventually) from Oconoluftee Indian Village to the Oconoluftee River Trail starting point, as well as from the latter to the casino. Given that the walk between the Cherokee Museum and Indian Village is up a staggeringly steep hill that would make San Francisco proud, taking the bus between the two would have been a good idea. Oh well, hindsight is 20-20 and all that. Still, am very glad I came. The area is gorgeous, and, if you look past the trinket shops and budget eateries, a lovely and atmospheric place.
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Nov 28th, 2018, 04:37 AM
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Believe me, Cherokee used to be a LOT more tacky than what you found. I'm talking bears on chains and a "chief" to take a photo with. The casino has at least given the Cherokee nation a way to help their members out of the truly abject poverty that was and still is present.
BUT another very big draw for Cherokee is trout fishing!! The streams are stocked by the Cherokee, and daily licenses are available. Doesn't guarantee catching of course. LOL
It is a good place to enter the back part of the GSMNP as mentioned.
AS for getting there, I am not surprised that they were unresponsive about getting there by anything other than a car. I am surprised anyone would even try it. ;o)
There are tours but....
https://www.google.com/search?q=buse...hrome&ie=UTF-8

Last edited by Gretchen; Nov 28th, 2018 at 04:39 AM. Reason: more info
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Nov 28th, 2018, 05:18 AM
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Gretchen, thanks for the feedback. As you mentioned, trout fishing is reportedly a major draw here -- and in fact I saw some folks standing in the river near the Oconoluftee River Trail trying their angling luck.
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Nov 28th, 2018, 06:10 AM
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One other interesting thing to mention. One of the restaurants (which was closed that day) is called The Little Princess. The name may well be a sly dig at those folks of Cherokee descent who have claimed they had a Cherokee princess as an ancestor. There's no such thing, and most certainly not in the "royalty" sense of the word for this tribe. Interesting link on the subject:

Why Your Great-Grandmother Wasn't A Cherokee Princess
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Nov 28th, 2018, 06:25 AM
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Very interesting, bachslunch, thanks. Friends have just moved to Asheville--how long a drive, please?
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Nov 28th, 2018, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by TDudette View Post
Very interesting, bachslunch, thanks. Friends have just moved to Asheville--how long a drive, please?
Per Google, it's about an hour's drive, ca. 50 miles or so and all limited access highway type road depending on the route taken (this is the shortest). That jived with my shuttle experience.
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Nov 28th, 2018, 06:57 AM
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we were just in Cherokee too. However, we went for the casino - took my dad there for an overnight the wednesday before thanksgiving. To get there we have to drive through Magee Valley, which always seems like a throwback to an earlier decade.
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Nov 28th, 2018, 07:51 AM
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It's an easy drive and there are a couple of ways to do it, per the above through Maggie Valley or via 441. It's a lovely part of NC.
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Nov 29th, 2018, 10:18 AM
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Thanks to all. My friends had a summer suv in Maggie Valley and ended up moving permanently to Asheville.
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Dec 3rd, 2018, 06:55 AM
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Or, if starting from Asheville, you can take the scenic route on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've done it a couple of times, once stopping for the night at the Pisgah Inn actually on the Parkway. But not the route to take if you're in a hurry as it does a big loop south.

Home | Pisgah Inn
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