Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

11th - 13th June 2008

From Little Switzerland we retraced our steps back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we based ourselves in the Smokemont Campground within the National Park.

Harvey looks  a little lost in his campsite!


On arrival we sprung right into action, spotting a six mile hike on our park map.     What wasn't mentioned on the map was the fact that five and a half miles of the walk seemed to be uphill and pretty strenuous.   All that kept us going on the winding trail ,was that thought that just around the next bend, the path must start to go downhill.    It was a very long time and we were very weary before it did!   However the woodland we passed slowly through was pretty and provided excellent shade throughout the walk.

The start of the six mile ordeal

Interesting nature along the way

Next day we spent a day visiting the excellent and informative Museum of the Cherokee Indian, where we learnt much about Cherokee culture and lifestyle.   The horrific "Trail of Tears" where the native peoples were banished from their homelands by the white man and forced to relocate around Oklahoma, many dying of exposure and disease along the way, was also documented.    The local Eastern Band of Cherokee were descendants of those who managed to escape forced relocation by hiding out in the forests and mountains and Cherokee who later returned to their native area of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Later we also visited the Okonaluftee Cherokee Village, where a re-creation of a Cherokee village demonstrated, the lifestyle, homesteads and crafts of the Cherokee in olden days.    Pottery, bead-work, bow and blow-dart gun making, canoe building and weaving were all demonstrated and explained by our Cherokee guide.    We also took at look at a traditional sweat lodge.   

Traditional pottery


Sweat Lodge

Traditional Cherokee Home

Council House

Canoe Building

Cherokee traditional canoe building was a very time-consuming.    Fires were set to slowly soften the inside of a log, which would then be scraped away before another fire was set.   This process would be repeated until the whole log had been hollowed out.  Then a canoe up to 80 feet in length, holding up to 12 people could be crafted.    The normal production time for such a canoe was around 8 months.

We visited the seven sided council house, built around a seven-pointed-star shaped fireplace, with seating areas for each of the seven Cherokee clans.  The processes for selection of tribe officials, such as War Chief, Peace Chief and the Council of Women who had the deciding vote in matters of war, were explained.    The Cherokee seen downtown, sitting outside the souvenir shops, with their big feather head-dresses for the tourists, apparently weren't a true representation of traditional tribal dress, where few feathers were actually used, mainly only in head-dresses of red feathers worn by War Chiefs. 

A highlight of the tour was a demonstration of traditional ceremonial dances.   These took place within a square area with raised sand-banks around it.    The Cherokees from the various clans, seated in separate areas around the ceremonial square, would have to decided at the start of the dances, which could sometimes last several days, whether they wanted to take part.     Once in the dance, they had to stay in the dance but rest periods were allowed.    If the urge to dance overcame a clan member after the dance had begun and they attempted to enter the ceremonial area to dance, they would be tied to a post in one corner of the square until the whole dance was over.    Elders would decide if the clan member being punished would be allowed food, or only water until the punishment was over.

Our guide also demonstrated the traditional tribal drum beat, a representation of a heart beat, the first sound ever heard by a human being inside its mother.    He then went on to demonstrate another much more commonly heard drum beat, often heard in Westerns.    "This beat," he explained, "we call the John Wayne beat".    Traditional Native American music as invented by the white man!

We returned to our campground much better educated about Cherokee life and managed to avoid the tourist traps and casinos which made up most of the rest of the town of Cherokee.

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