Nantahala

Text: Garry Green • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

A half a million years ago, tectonic plate movement in the Atlantic Ocean caused a massive upheaval of solid granite that eventually became the Appalachian Mountains. These lofty peaks at one time were over 100,000 feet high. Exposure to the elements, the many epochs of glaciation, and time itself wore down these great rocky crags to the thickly forested, sinuous terrain we know today. Greatly diminished but still formidable, they beckon for all to explore and enjoy.

Nantahala is a Cherokee word meaning, 'Land of the Noon Day Sun.' The Cherokee have lived in these hills for hundreds of years and Nantahala is the very heart of their culture and being. It is part of a larger tract of occupation known as Katuah, the boundaries of which at one time stretched from Virginia to Alabama and encompassed most of the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Cherokee refer to themselves simply as 'The People' and words like cullasaja, 'sweet water,' wayah, 'wolf,' and many other surviving place names are an enduring testimony to the influence of the Cherokee people.

Nantahala is a land of cool dark coves, rushing streams and high moun­tain vistas, a land of many uses with pristine forests, trout streams, rolling farmland and scenery unsurpassed in the eastern United States. The unsettled nature of the terrain lures people from all over the world to hike its trails, fish its streams and explore its many serpentine back roads. It's truly a paradise for the adventurer struck by the wanderlust to see what lies around the next curve.

Our tour took us by many of Nantahala's beautiful and intriguing attractions. Occasionally we trade our fascination for the rhythms of the deep, winding curves of our two-lane heaven and investigated some of these strange sounding places. We decided to explore a place called Judaculla Rock.

At a state historical marker, we turn off of Hwy 107 onto a secondary route called Caney Fork Road. There we discover an ancient petroglyph of unknown origin. The rock formation is covered in marks and symbols appearing at first glance to be random, yet upon closer inspection, we concluded that these deep grooves and niches are all in sync with one another and were perhaps carved at nearly the same time. If so, the amount of time taken to complete this monument with primitive tools astounds us. We learn later that anthropologists in an attempt to discern the origin of this oddity questioned elder Cherokees. They replied it was here when they arrived several hundred years ago and had been made by' the ancient ones.' The Cherokee believed it to be the footprint of a giant named Judaculla who lived on a farm near the Snow­bird Mountains. In the winter, Judaculla would swoop down from his mountaintop lair to abduct small children and old people using the tops of the mountains as steppingstones. This place is sacred to the Cherokee and we left it perplexed and mystified.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the Fall 2001 back issue.