3000 Miles in the Great Smokies

3000 Miles in the Great Smokies

by William A. Hart Jr.


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Bill Hart has hiked, camped and fished in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for more than forty years. In over three thousand miles of walking, he has recorded experiences and impressions that will delight readers of all ages. Whether exploring some of the most remote sections of the Smokies, angling for trout, meeting mountain folk or marveling at the flora and fauna around him, Bill has a gift for heartfelt storytelling and a wealth of knowledge to share about the park. Join him for an unforgettable journey through a beloved national treasure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596297517
Publisher: History Press, The
Publication date: 08/28/2009
Series: Narrative Histories Series
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Bill Hart is a native of western North Carolina and served as a hiker/writer for Hiking Trails of the Smokies and contributed a number of trail narratives to this publication. He has written two articles about renowned photographer George Masa that appeared in the first volume of May We All Remember Well and in the seventy-fifth-anniversary issue of Smokies Life magazine. He is a life member of the Great Smoky Mountains Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Read an Excerpt



Some of my fondest memories of my trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park relate to those who shared outings with me or to people I met during these outings. Every experience was different, reflecting dimensions of fellowship, humor, requirements for assistance and even sadness. Regardless of the nature of these encounters, all were interesting and added to my enjoyment of the Smokies.


A Man with a Pan

Deep Creek Trail August 26, 1965

Bob F. and I walked along the upper reaches of the Deep Creek Trail through a virgin forest of hemlock, tulip poplar and mixed hardwood trees and marveled at the beauty that surrounded us. Masses of rhododendron covered the mountain slopes bordering the headwaters of Deep Creek, which meandered at their base. This beautiful scene seemed cloaked in a perpetual dusk, created by tall trees that allowed only a few shafts of light to penetrate the leafy canopy. The day was windless, and this wild forest was quiet except for occasional bird songs and the whispering of the stream.

As we descended along the trail near the stream, we observed a small man in his late sixties working his way along the edge of the stream, intently angling for trout. He was dressed in faded blue overalls and a gray work shirt. A worn felt hat rounded out his attire. The most unusual aspect about the man was the fact that a rusty steel frying pan was tied to his overalls by a short piece of cord.

When we drew near, we clambered down the bank and hailed the gentleman with the common mountain query, "Doing any good?" In response, he opened his canvas creel and displayed several trout approximately eight inches in length. As Bob and I planned to fish later in the day, I was interested in the lure that led to the man's success and asked what he was using. I expected him to reply with the name of a common fly pattern; however, instead of the expected response, the man replied without hesitation, "red worms." Although the use of natural bait is prohibited by park regulations, our acquaintance was determined to take a few trout home for supper as a reward for his eight-mile round trip. Thus, red worms, a guaranteed source of success, were chosen despite the prohibitions to the contrary.

Further discussion determined that the man was from "Haywood" (Haywood County, North Carolina); however, he made no mention of the frying pan, as if it was a customary part of his dress. Eventually, our curiosity motivated us to inquire why he carried the rusty pan, and the answer was revealed. Five years earlier, our acquaintance told us, he had camped at the Poke Patch Campsite and fished the upper reaches of Deep Creek. Rather than carry all of his gear up the steep trail to Thomas Divide, he had hidden some of it, including the frying pan, in a hollow tree. He had reclaimed his pan on this trip. He told us that this was the only item remaining from his cache. "Reckon the bears got the rest," he commented tersely.

A Man without a Cap

Poke Patch Campsite; Deep Creek Trail August 26, 1965

Bob F. and I left the man with a pan and continued on to Poke Patch, a small clearing in the midst of the forest with the comforts of one primitive log table. The moment we entered the campsite, two horsemen arrived from the opposite direction. We exchanged greetings, and the two immediately departed, only to return twenty minutes later. This time, they dismounted and commenced to search through the rubble in the trash pit below the campsite. Such trash pits existed before the days of "Leave No Trace Camping." After fifteen minutes, they gave up their rummaging and approached us with concerned looks on their faces. Finally, one of the horsemen asked, "Do you have a bottle cap?"

Bob and I might have expected a request for matches, a piece of rope or some common camping item but not a bottle cap! This request was beyond our imagination. But his puzzling request was solved quickly when one of the riders produced a pint bottle of white liquor and explained his plight. The previous year, he had hidden the moonshine in a tree while camping at Poke Patch. Upon retrieving his bottle on this trip, he found that the cap had rusted entirely through. This created the need for a replacement. To prove that the contents were the real thing, he gave us a whiff before mounting and riding away without the required bottle cap. Now, I have heard of "rot gut liquor"; however, this was the first time that I had encountered "rot bottle liquor," obviously a very potent brew. We suspected that if the liquor had been left another year the bottle would have been completely destroyed.

Swallowed What?

Ice Water Springs; Appalachian Trail September 12, 1969

Larry, his son, Kim, and I left Newfound Gap late in the afternoon and walked the Appalachian Trail to Icewater Spring, arriving there after dark. The upper shelter was occupied, so we moved to the old log shelter below, now removed, laid out our gear, gathered wood, built a fire and prepared supper.

While we relaxed about the fire after supper, one of the men camped at the upper shelter joined us around the fire. "Excuse me," he said in a shaky voice. "My wife just swallowed some kerosene. She drank two quarts of powdered milk and vomited. What else should we do?" he implored. After this introduction, the man explained that the party's water and kerosene were in similar bottles and stated that his wife had taken a swallow, mistaking the one for the other.

I pondered the situation and recalled hearing of livestock being treated with kerosene, but particulars escaped me. I assumed that kerosene had medicinal value in small doses; however, this hardly seemed an appropriate time to mention this bit of arcane information to the concerned husband.

Kim carried a first aid reference with him, and Larry consulted this source for an appropriate treatment. At length, Larry began to read from the section on poisons. After reading one paragraph aloud, he began reading silently without explanation. Finally, Larry spoke with the aplomb of a doctor and said, "I believe your wife will be all right." The young man gave a sigh of relief and departed.

When he left, I asked Larry why he had stopped reading aloud. He responded by reading the remainder of the instructions from the first aid guide. The instructions advised against inducing vomiting. Because the amount of kerosene ingested was small, we concluded that significant ill effects were unlikely.

The next morning, we visited with the woman and found her well. We parted company with our neighboring campers, relieved that no lasting harm had resulted from this mishap.

A Love for the Area

Hazel Creek Trail Between Proctor and Sawdust Pile September 1, 1978

Robert and I arranged to be transported from Fontana Marina across the mirror-smooth waters of Fontana Lake to the mouth of Hazel Creek. As we gazed toward the Smokies, wispy white clouds lifted, revealing dark blue slopes on the north shore of the lake. I had been intrigued by the romance of Hazel Creek for years, and this was my maiden trip to become acquainted with this historic part of the Great Smokies.

After embarking, we followed an old road that led in half a mile to the site of the town of Proctor, a logging town that had once boasted one thousand residents at the peak of the logging era. The center of activity at Proctor was a large band mill operated by the Ritter Lumber Company that was capable of producing many thousands of board feet of lumber per day. Stores, a theatre, a school, many residences and other buildings associated with logging operations made up the town. The forest was reclaiming the town, and only a few traces remained of Proctor's past glory.

The Granville Calhoun House, now used as quarters for the National Park Service personnel, sat adjacent to a beautiful section of Hazel Creek. Mr. Calhoun, a friend of Horace Kephart's, must have cherished the fine setting when Proctor was a thriving town. Beyond the Calhoun House were the skeletal remains of the sawmill's brick kiln building and a depression that had been the mill's log holding pond. Both were choked with touch-me-nots, briars and weeds. There was little to remind us of the logging era, when struggling steam engines moved large logs from the very crest of the Smokies to this location to be cut into lumber.

Robert and I had not gone more than a mile beyond the old mill site when we stopped to talk with two trout fishermen who we met on the trail. The older of the two men told us that he was a former resident of Hazel Creek. He shared how his love for the area brought him back year after year to visit his home territory and to angle for trout. During our discussion, he recounted how he had helped his father move the last residents from Hazel Creek after Fontana Dam began to back up the waters of the lake and how "the water came up to the running boards" of his father's truck as they moved friends and family away from the land they loved. He also pointed out the bridge near where we stood and told us that the bridges were so unstable when he was a youth that the school bus stopped before crossing the creek and the passengers walked across the bridge and reboarded the bus on the other side.

Passing through Proctor confirmed for Robert and me that it is only a vanished memory of another time. However, in the minds of those who once lived there, Proctor and Hazel Creek are alive with the treasured memories of family and friends and of life lived in a thriving and vital community.

A Beautiful Language

Sugar Fork Campsite; Hazel Creek Trail September 1, 1978

Robert and I enjoyed a leisurely walk along the Hazel Creek, stopping frequently to admire stretches of rushing water and pools such as the Brown Hole, with its slow swirls and eddies. This relaxed pattern of travel brought us eventually to the Sugar Fork Campsite, where we made camp on a small flat area bordered on one side by Hazel Creek and Sugar Fork on the other.

During the afternoon, we walked the old road along Bone Valley Creek and eventually reached the gray weathered Hall Cabin, the last remaining cabin on Hazel Creek, where we rested in the September warmth and gazed at the verdant mountains beyond. Afterward, we returned to camp, prepared supper and enjoyed the evening cool.

Two other campers joined us about dusk, and in time the four of us gathered for conversation around a small campfire. One of the men looked familiar to me, but he obviously did not recognize me. After searching my memory, I remembered meeting him on Raven Fork years before and even recalled his first name, although his last name escaped me. I addressed him by his first name, and his face reflected amazement with a "how did you know that?" look. When I reminded him of our first meeting, our friendship was rekindled.

My acquaintance, who was a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, told about his childhood as we sat around the flickering fire. He said that he had been permitted to speak only the Cherokee language at home when he was growing up. As a result, he spoke Cherokee fluently, and at our request, he spoke this beautiful language for us, allowing us to appreciate the soft sound and cadence of his words as the glow of the fire faded.

Although Robert and I were inept at duplicating Cherokee words, we fully appreciated the significance of a language that had been spoken long before the land was taken from the Cherokee, and we hoped it would live forever.

Robert and I savored our time with these men, who were strangers at first but friends by the close of the evening. Day ended as the soft murmurs of the nearby stream lulled us to sleep, a language we understood and appreciated.

The Pipe Looks Familiar

Fontana Dam September 4, 1978

Robert and I completed a four-day walk in the Smokies that ended at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center, where we paused to rest and to enjoy a cold drink. While we relaxed, I decided to have a smoke and lit up my pipe, Old Danger.

Now Old Danger is not just any pipe. He began his life growing up as a rhododendron shrub in Frying Pan Gap near Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He grew there for many years, forming a woody burl the size of a softball. Unfortunately, bulldozer work left him uprooted and discarded to weather away the remainder of his life. I met him in 1968 while on a picnic in the gap in which he grew up, carried him home and converted his burl into a wonderful pipe.

In time, the family christened my new pipe Old Danger because of his tendency to cast off his coals, burning holes in my clothing, car seats and furniture. Ultimately, Old Danger was banished from the house. Nevertheless, before his retirement he was a constant companion for many years on my outings in the Smokies.

In any event, a man walked up to Robert and me and said, "I know you fellows." We had to admit that he had the advantage, because neither of us recognized him. It took some discussion to establish a connection. In so doing, the man reminded us that we had camped together two years earlier at Tricorner Knob Shelter. He told me that he recognized me by my pipe, which I had smoked at the time of our first meeting.

Could he have been saying, "I don't recognize your face, but the pipe looks familiar"? Needless to say, Old Danger did not let me forget who made the most lasting impression.

What Did She Say?

Oconaluftee Visitor Center; Mountain Farm Museum October 14, 1978

Bill and I spent our morning trout fishing in the Oconaluftee River. Our efforts proved nonproductive; however, the spectrum of autumn colors along the stream border was spectacular, and we enjoyed watching fallen red and yellow leaves slowly drifting in the current, swirling and moving in aimless patterns that cast fleeting shadows on the stream bottom.

In the afternoon, we visited the Mountain Farm Museum and joined the throng of visitors who were observing molasses making. We all watched as the green cane juice flowed slowly around the baffles of a wood-fired evaporator and turned into rich amber as it became syrup. The process was supervised by a mountain man and woman who attended to all duties associated with the process.

The woman stood at the end of the evaporator, where the molasses flowed into a kettle. When she deemed the molasses to be of proper color and consistency, she dipped her index finger into the sticky liquid and lifted a thread of molasses toward the sun. After critically examining the wisp of syrup she said, "Them's larruping."

I had never heard the term "larruping" and did not know the definition of the word. Under the circumstances, I presumed that she meant that the molasses met her criteria for acceptable quality. Upon reaching home, I researched all my resources on mountain terminology but could not find a definition for larruping. The word remained in memory, however, and ultimately, with the publication in 2004 of the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English, I found a definition at last! In simplest terms, "larruping" can be defined as being "very tasty."

Thinking back on that autumn day more than twenty-five years ago, I have no doubt that the woman was correct. The molasses were larruping.

Among the Greats

Cherokee Fairground; Cherokee, North Carolina April 14, 1979

Bob F. and I met in Cherokee and enjoyed a morning drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Afterward, we returned to the Cherokee Fairground, where a ramp festival was being held. The ramp — sometimes called wild leek — was our primary reason for getting together. We planned to enjoy this mountain delicacy later in the day; however, we had time to spare before lunch so we strolled about the fairground and visited craft and other displays in the interim.

During our ramble over the grounds, we met a number of Bob's friends from Cherokee, including Chief John Crowe, the distinguished leader of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. And we observed three Indians participating in a blowgun contest, one of whom was Goingback Chiltosky, a famed artisan, whose carvings are widely admired and preserved in collections, including that of the Smithsonian Museum. Later, I saw Mary Ulmer Chiltosky, Mr. Chiltosky's wife, who was famous in her own right as a civic leader and author and who preserved Cherokee history and lore. Her contributions are many.

Another person who was present was Amoneeta Sequoyah, a great Cherokee medicine man. He wore a broad-brimmed western-style hat with a colorful beaded band that gave him a certain flair that was most appealing. He possessed the knowledge of the use of natural plants and was known to create medicines from plants, herbs, bark, leaves and berries.

The meal that Bob and I had come to sample was served at noon. It consisted of ramps fried with eggs, ramps fried with potatoes, Indian bean bread — thick corn meal with beans cooked in it — hominy and a ten-inch fried trout. The meal was well worth the $2.50 that it cost. Bob and I ate our fill and enjoyed every bite of this delicious fare.

At the end of the day, I felt fortunate to have been among people whom I considered to be Cherokee greats. These respected Native Americans had descended from a proud and mighty people with a rich historical and cultural heritage. Their history, though significant, contains many episodes of great sorrow. The gravest of these periods was the travesty leading to their removal to Oklahoma, chronicled as the Trail of Tears.


Excerpted from "3000 Miles in the Great Smokies"
by .
Copyright © 2009 William A. Hart Jr..
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

The Human Element,
Smoky Mountain Stories,
Scenes and Reflections,
Animal Observations,
Black Bear Experiences,
Bird Sightings,
Snake Encounters,
Things That Buzz, Flit, Creep or Crawl,
Trout Fishing Outings,
Remembering the Past,
Off-Trail Excursions,
Bewildered and Defeated,
About the Author,

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