Another Dam Ride Report: Fontana Dam
In the mid-1930s Congress decided to share the miracle of electricity to the savage hillbillies of Western North Carolina (e.g., my family). To do this they dammed-up and tamed the last of the wild free-flowing rivers and built a series of peaceful and picturesque concrete hydroelectric dams. After completing the dams and seeing that the hillbillies no longer needed electricity because their homes were submerged under 150 feet of frigid mountain water, the government decided to send the electricity across the state line into Tennessee and give it to an aluminum company to make beer cans. They also sent some to Nashville to fuel America’s most important industry, country music, because you can’t drink beer without country music. Although homeless, the hillbillies were happy because now they had lakes to play in and they had learned a new word, corporatocracy. It was what aluminum company executives called a win-win situation.
Anywho, what we are left with today are some pretty nice lakes and some scenic road riding around said lakes. One of my favorite road rides here in the Smokies is an absolutely beautiful stretch of road from the foot of Fontana Dam, slicing its way between the lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park till it reaches the tip of the Dragon’s Tail. By Dragon’s Tail, I’m speaking of ‘The Tail of the Dragon’, a famous and dangerous twisty-turny road (318 turns in 11 miles) where motorcyclists and sports car-er-ists come to challenge their skill and bravery. The trees along this road are festively decorated with car, motorcycle and body parts. Despite being so close to the Dragon, this mountain lane sees little traffic and is relatively flat considering it’s skirting the GSMNP. Not to say there isn’t any climbing, there’s plenty from the Twenty Mile ranger station up to Deals Gap. Enough to kindle a small fire in your thighs, but a series of switch-backs makes the climb manageable for most riders.
This ride is about 22 miles round trip. For extra credit (24 miles round trip) start and end on top of the dam, but be careful. The steep road winding snakishly (yes, I do like to make up my own words; why do you ask?) from the top of the dam to the foot of the dam is just about as dangerous as it gets. For extra-extra credit do a loop around Yellow Creek and experience the steepest paved road in North Carolina – see my Yellow Creek ride post.