In the first installment of this new travel series I told you about the first leg of my trip to Chattanooga. We got as far as the Nantahala Outdoor Center on US 74, which is several miles south of Bryson City.
I continued south along 74 towards my next destination, the town of Murphy. A few miles past the Outdoor Center the two-lane highway ceased to hug the Nantahala River and began to straighten out into gently rolling country.
I passed a sign that intrigued me enough for me to pull a U-ey and go back to take a picture. The left-hand part of the sign read, “God, send us someone to cure AIDS, cancer, etc. etc.” On the right portion of the sign was God’s response – “I did, but you aborted them.”
As I continued toward the town of Andrews the highway widened again to four lanes. At one intersection I saw another sight that caused me to stop and turn around. It was a giant motorcycle parked on the side of the road. And I do mean ‘giant.’ Perhaps it belonged to Paul Bunyan, although I couldn’t say for sure.
The terrain by this point was relatively flat, with mountains on either side several miles away in the distance. I passed by a Wal-Mart, some restaurants and a shopping center or two and then continued on my way to another town, Murphy, which is roughly the same size as Andrews.
My next intended stop was several miles beyond Murphy, but, as often happens when I travel, I was diverted by a sign pointing me toward the local museum. I decided to check it out and turned right and drove through the older part of town. The museum was on the right in a building that it shared with the police department. I had to drive several more blocks before I found an empty parking space. Parking in downtown Murphy is on the street at an angle, similar to Main Street in downtown Greenville.
The downtown has a Mayberry look to it, albeit somewhat busier. As I walked up the sidewalk to the museum/police building I passed the courthouse. A dozen or so people were standing outside engaging in small talk, some of whom were toking on cigarettes. Perhaps the jury was in deliberation.
As I reached the museum there were two glass doors. I couldn’t tell which door to use. One door was blocked on the inside by a merchandise display and the other door had no handle on the outside.
A woman inside saw my dilemma and, wearing a smile, quickly came to the door and opened it for me. She explained that these doors were the exit and that the entrance was through a door farther up the sidewalk and up a flight of steps. Her name was Wanda and she graciously told me that I could begin my tour of the museum on the downstairs level and then when I went to view the upstairs displays I could then pay the entrance fee. I thought how nice it was to be trusted like that.
The bottom portion of the museum highlighted the history of the Cherokee in the area before the Trail of Tears. It is fascinating how Americanized they had become by the 1830’s. One of the displays tells of a Baptist missionary by the name of Evan B. Jones, who established the Valley Towns Baptist Mission among the Cherokee and even accompanied them to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears march, continuing his ministry there until his death in 1872.
Although I had not planned on it, this trip was to take on somewhat of a Cherokee/Trail of Tears flavor. In subsequent articles I will tell you of some other places associated with the Cherokee that I visited.
The upstairs of the museum contained various artifacts and dealt with the history of the area in general. As I walked back to my car I noticed a historical marker that caught my attention. It read, “In 1540 an expedition of Spaniards, led be De Soto, first Europeans to explore this area, passed near here.” I would imagine that quite a few DeSoto’s passed by that way, especially during the 1950’s. When I saw the sign I immediately recalled that Howard Cunningham, Richie’s father on Happy Days, drove a De Soto.
I got back onto 74 and continued south until reaching Highway 294. I then traveled west for several miles until I reached a site that I had visited once before, way back in 1995. It is called Fields of the Wood, which a brochure bills as “a Bible-theme park within the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.”
Fields of the Wood could best be described as a place of reflection, a place to take a time-out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, rather than a theme park as we know the term.
The park features a replica of Golgotha, as well as the Garden Tomb. On either side of the long driveway are two slopes. The one on the left is called Prayer Mountain. A long stairway leads to the top. Twenty-nine markers greet the climber as he ascends, each one featuring an important biblical teaching.
The main feature of the 200-acre park is the other slope, referred to as Ten Commandments Mountain. The Ten Commandments are in full display on the side of the mountain. The letters rest flat on the surface of the mountain, each one measuring five feet by four feet The whole display spans 300 feet from side to side.
To get the best view of the commandments I climbed several steps up Prayer Mountain. Part of the way up is a small building that is used as a chapel for religious services. Congregants can gaze out upon the commandments through the windows in the front of the building as they listen to the sermon.
I walked back down the opposite slope, crossed the blacktop and proceeded to take it upon myself to climb all of the concrete steps to the very top of the display. Counting each step, I surpassed 300 before reaching the top of the ‘tablets.’ In case you are wondering, I took several brief standing breaks as I climbed.
I had watched as an older couple walked up the steps ahead of me. They, too, made it to the top. I asked the man to take a picture of me standing in front of a large wall with Matthew 22:37-40 spelled out. He told me that he had recently visited an unfinished castle (I kid you not) near Greenback, Tennessee, which is southwest of Knoxville. I figured that if I had time on Friday I might try to find it on my way back to Greenville.
I walked back down the 300 steps, a somewhat easier task than climbing up them, and walked a couple hundred yards to the building that housed the gift shop and snack bar. Ducks cavorted on a small pond nearby.
While I was drinking a soda at the snack bar an elderly woman told me that I looked familiar. She then asked me if I had been in Murphy that morning. I told her that I had.
Upon leaving this little portion of serenity I backtracked a mile or two to a side road that led to Hiwassee Dam, which is part of the vast Tennessee Valley Authority network of hydroelectric dams in the region. I parked and looked upon the dam and Lake Hiwassee for a few minutes and then headed back to 294, which I took past Fields of the Wood and into Tennessee. Along the way I passed another historical marker informing me that De Soto had been there. That guy really got around.