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2017 Southeast Trip Part 6; US 129 a Dragon's Tale (US 129 from Murphy, NC to Alcoa, TN)

Corn ball blog post titles aside this one is all about US 129 over the 96 miles from Murphy, NC north to Alcoa, TN.  This section of US 129 contains the infamous "Tail of the Dragon" along the North Carolina/Tennessee State Line.






Just east of NC 60 along US 64/74 I picked up US 129/19 near Murphy. 


I find it amusing that people actually have to be reminded US 74 is the preferred route to Asheville.  Kind of makes me chuckle to consider there are some people with trucks or wide loads that will actually try US 129 or NC 28.  US 64 splits away from US 19/74/129 in Murphy.



In Marble US 19/74/129 junctions NC 141.





Really US 19/74/129 is a nice looking expressway.  There are some great views of the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains to be had from the road way.







East of Andrews and Valleytown US 19/74/129 drops to two-lanes.  US 19 and 74 continue eastward from Topton while US 129 continues north.



A warning sign to truckers about 12% grades 25 miles north up US 129.





US 129 begins to get twisty approaching Robbinsville but nothing like what is to come northward at Deal's Gap. 







In Robbinsville US 129 junctions NC 143 and briefly multiplexes it through town. 






North of Robbinsville US 129 crosses Lake Santeetlah.  The lake was formed in 1928 with the completion of the Santeetlah Dam along the Cheoah River.  There are some particularly nice views of the waters as US 129 begins to climb in elevation.








There is all sorts of piping along the road as US 129 follows the Cheoah River north the Santeetlah Dam.





US 129 follows the Cheoah River north to the Little Tennessee River and the Cheoah Dam.  There are some scenic waysides along the highway to view the river and apparently fish from.












The steepest grades on US 129 are climbing from the Little Tennessee up to the top of the Cheoah Dam.





The Cheoah Dam is a hydroelectric facility located on the Little Tennessee River on the North Carolina Counties of Graham and Swain.  The Dam was completed in 1919 and impounds Cheoah Reservoir.  The Cheoah Dam is mostly known for being a set-piece in the 1993 movie "The Fugitive."










After another big climb from the Cheoah Dam US 129 approaches the junction with NC 12 at Deal's Gap.  Deal's Gap is often referred to as "The Dragon" or the "Tail of the Dragon" given the huge amounts of curves it has and popularity with the sports bike crowd.  Deals Gap probably is one of the more twisted roadways in the eastern United States with 318 curves in an 11 mile stretch starting at NC 28 and stretching northward into Tennessee.  The speed limit was 55 MPH prior to 1992 when it was bumped down to 30 MPH, but really the speed is impossible to enforce given the terrain.  The last time I was here was back in March of 2013 during a snow storm at opening bike weekend.





The classic mileage sign for Knoxville.





The Deal's Gap motorcycle resort doesn't really seem like the most friendly of places in the world for cars.  I don't believe there is a single spot that is actually wide enough for a four-wheel vehicle as evidenced by this photo.





Despite the initial slog of bikers up to the Tennessee State Line there was surprisingly few the rest of the way north to Alcoa.  I found that odd considering that it was a beautiful Sunday out and perfect weather for an afternoon ride.  Incidentally all the lands east of US 129 are technically part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which blends an odd mixtures of two of my favorite things; scenic drives and National Park lands.





Personally I don't find US 129/The Dragon to be all that intimidating compared to roads out west.  The Blue Ridge Mountains is way more gentle than the slopes of the Sierras or even the Colorado Plateau.  Certainly it is the most challenging bit of primary highway that I've done on the East Coast but it doesn't stack up to the likes of CA 1, CA 245, US 191/Coronado Trail, AZ 88, US 550/Million Dollar Highway and numerous more that I would mention if it didn't make for an absurdly long list.  The mileage paddles are extra large on US 129 through the The Dragon which I assume is for the bike crowd traveling at higher speeds.

























There is a nice overlook of Calderwood Dam along the Little Tennessee River.  Apparently Calderwood Dam was completed in 1930.








Still a little more of the 11 miles of The Dragon to go north of Calderwood Dam.





After the 11 miles of The Dragon the terrain opens up onto Chilhowee Lake.





The levels of Chilhowee Lake were lower due to a dam repair project.  An older alignment of US 129 could be seen, I observed the following when I wrote this on AAroads:

"Chlihowee Dam is impounds a lake of the same name in Blount/Monroe counties of Tennesee.  The dam was completed in 1957 and appears to have caused a uphill realignment of US 129.  The Chilhowee Dam appears to be undergoing repairs which has lowered the lake level and revealed an abandoned highway bridge at Abrams Creek.  US 129 was created in 1931 but only ran from Cleveland, GA to Macon, GA.  The north terminus of US 129 was extended to Knoxville in 1935 which leads me to believe the bridge was of a 1930s design.  I have no idea what the bridge was called but appears to also have had a rail line next to it. "

As for the bridge in question, it was a nice find.









Of course there had to be a Harley shop on US 129.





US 129 is still hilly north to US 411 with junctions at TN 72 and TN 336.  I missed getting a clear picture of a TN 72 shield but the countryside was still really nice to look at.










I stayed on US 129 to Alcoa where I called it a day.  Suffice to say it was a substantially different end to the day than how it started with all the expressways in; Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.






Something of a bonus throwback.  I mentioned previously I was last on US 129 back in 2013.  I was on a trip out of Florida to see some of the National Monuments along the Atlantic Coast along with Great Smoky Mountain and Congaree National Parks.  At the time there was a huge slide obstructing US 441 over Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  To get around the slide I took NC 28 (which I wish that I had way more pictures of) and US 129 over The Dragon.  The weather was on the fence for opening bike weekend and it went south with a snow storm.  Suffice to say I was pretty much on my own for the weekend but had the run of NC 28 and US 191 to myself.

Some of the pictures along NC 28 which included Fontana Dam before the snow got really thick.  Fontana Dam was completed in 1944 which led to the creation of Fontana Lake.  Fontana Lake flooded out the towns of; Fontana, Bushnell, Forney, and Judson. 









US 129 was a ton of fun in the slush with nobody else on the road.  I was able to pretty much do anything I wanted unabated and took the opportunity to do so.













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