I’ve holed up for a few days in Bryson City, NC, that state’s entryway town to Great Smokies National Park. I let my legs rest – they felt fine pretty quickly – and my knees, which are still a little mad at me. I got some work done (reading, writing), and have been nursing Hops’s eye (so far, so good). We didn’t do much at all, but we did take a drive up the Road to Nowhere.
This is an interesting story, and you can read the tourism version here. (Atlas Obscura does a less rah-rah version.) In a nutshell, the federal government by way of the TVA flooded out a former town and had to offer its displaced residents access to the cemeteries where their families were buried. A new highway was begun, but never completed. A sign leading up the road (formally, Lakeview Drive) reads “The Road to Nowhere – A Broken Promise 1943-??” The Park Service, according to the above link, still shuttles residents to the old cemeteries for family reunions and Decoration Day (which is the term used for Memorial Day especially where folks are thinking of Civil War veterans). The road ends in a generously graffitied tunnel nearly a half-mile long: sources recommend a flashlight for the dark, but on a sunny day I had no need.
I was reminded, of course, of Cooley’s song “Uncle Frank.” And I was struck by the strange and wasteful tragedy – leaving aside the question of dams, of towns submerged and residents moved out of their homes, of environmental destruction – of this road in particular. The tunnel at road’s end is a feat of engineering: what did we pay for this? For the road itself – and now for its upkeep? My drive was interrupted by maintenance crews; the road and its verges are nicely kept up. A tourist attraction is worth something, yes. But it’s a strange statement, to see government workers out there on a road to nowhere, a promise (so says the sign) broken.
I am back and forth, some days, between observing the unbelievable beauty of this world and its clear crumbling before my eyes.
To perk us all up, here’s a little photo pack of the Road to Nowhere, Foxy in her natural habitat, and the tunnel at the end of the road.