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Southern Appalachian Mountain Drive

This is the third of three posts about a road trip through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee that we took in June of 2019. The trip started out through Georgia to visit Smokey and the Bandit filming locations, which was covered in part one. The second post covered our time in Covington, GA, which is considered the Hollywood of the South and hosts filming locations from many films and TV shows. For this third part, we will be visiting sites in Northern Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Our first stop was Dawsonville, GA, home of Bill and Chase Elliott of NASCAR fame. We’ve been to Dawsonville a couple of times before, and always enjoy stopping through. The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame is a wonderful facility, with an interesting back story. When originally opened, the facility was known as Thunder Road USA, and the entire building was dedicated to the museum. Within a few years, attendance didn’t meet expectation, and in an effort to keep the facility open the city regrouped and decided to move City Hall into the facility in part of the building. Some time later, a moonshine distillery was opened in the facility as well. This is the only building in the US that contains both a City Hall and a moonshine distillery! There are a number of interesting exhibits related to Georgia’s part in racing history, including many significant artifacts from the Elliott family. You can also take a tour of the distillery, and if lucky you may run into Gordon Pirkle, who spends much of his time at the museum and also happens to be the owner of the world famous Dawsonville Pool Room. Talking to Gordon is always a treat, as he has many stories to tell. We had a good time at the museum, bought some Elliott merchandise, and were on our way.

After leaving the museum, we headed out of town so that I could show my son the location of the former Elliott/Melling racing headquarters. The facility no longer houses a NASCAR team, but is still affiliated with the Elliott’s. We were lucky enough to see Ernie Elliott in the parking lot, and got to spend a few moments talking with him. Ernie was the engine builder and crew chief for his brother during the high points of his career. Ernie’s engines hold the records for fastest qualifying laps ever at both Talladega and Daytona. As he drove away on his scooter, he turned back and said ‘that’s a nice car ya got there’. For a person with his resume to compliment my car was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.

From Dawsonville we drove through Georgia and into North Carolina, then taking US 129 to the NC/TN border. Along the way we passed the Cheoah Dam, better known as the Fugitive Dam. This is the dam where the Harrison Ford film The Fugitive filmed the exterior shots of the dam where Harrison’s character jumps into the water below. While the exterior shots were filmed here, there was some CGI involved, as the tunnel network the character was in was actually a dam in Illinois, with these exterior shots spliced in.

From there we travelled north to Deals Gap, the start of ‘The Tail of the Dragon’. This road is famous amongst both bikers and car enthusiasts, as it has 318 curves in 11 miles through the mountains. This was our second trip up the Dragon, and we had as much fun this time as the last. You have to respect this section of road, as a simple mistake could literally be the end of the road, and it’s a long way down. Along the way, there are photographers taking pictures of you, which you can order when you get back home. We were on the road late in the evening, but got lucky that one of the photographers was still out. He was packing up his car, but pivoted quickly and got some good shots of us, which we ordered from his site, Killboy.com.

From there, we hopped on the Foothills Parkway towards Pigeon Forge, TN. The final sections of the road just recently opened, so this was our first opportunity to take the completed road towards Pigeon Forge. The road has several great overlooks and was an enjoyable drive.

The next day we spent a bit of time in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, stopping at the Star Cars museum in Gatlinburg. Star Cars has two floors of cars, a great gift shop, and they now offer the opportunity to have your picture taken in a car of your choice. Cars there include Gibbs’ Challenger from NCIS, a 60’s era Batmobile, a General Lee, a MASH Jeep, Ghostbusters Car, a Bandit Trans Am, and several other cars. Of course, we chose to have a picture in the Bandit Trans Am. We highly recommend a stop at Star Cars, if you are a car enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed.

As we headed back to the Nashville area, we went north a bit to Oak Ridge, TN. Oak Ridge is famously known as the ‘Secret City’, as it was the home of the Manhattan Project during WWII, and was kept a secret from the outside world in order to ensure that news of the work being done there did not leak into the world. We travelled around town to view the former guard buildings, which were constructed to keep the city gated off and ensure that only authorized individuals could get in. The buildings were clearly built to withstand anything thrown at them, and remain impressive to this day.

With that stop complete, we resumed our drive back to Nashville. We really enjoyed this trip, and hope that you have enjoyed reading about it. If you have any questions about the trip or would like more detail about any part, please leave a comment.

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