Nantahala Power and Light Dam Quest
Franklin, North Carolina
June 15-18, 2006
Thursday, June 15, 2006
We left the house after lunch, and drove up I-985 to US441 through Clayton... there was construction on 441 below Clayton and paving above, but no serious delays. Made it to Franklin in just over 2 hours, but then had to search for the hotel... each of us thought the other one had printed directions! Fortunately, Franklin is small, and the hotel was easily found (on the bypass). The Hotel was the Comfort Inn: nice, clean, and wireless internet access... highly recommended! We checked in, unloaded our stuff, then set out to find the Porter's Bend Dam, just north of Franklin proper. We didn't take the laptop, just the new National Geographic Trails Illustrated map we had purchased at the Smoky Mountain Welcome Center (just south of Franklin, not right at the state line like we had "remembered"). While we were looking for the road, we drove all the way to Dillsboro (only 20 miles), and saw, from the road, the dam that was not supposed to be there. One of the reports that we had downloaded for NPL stated that this dam had been torn out in 2005! Obviously, something had changed. Anyway, we found access to the dam and got some good pictures of it and the powerhouse... not the nice brick structure you usually see, but more like a tin shed. We understand that this facility was damaged in a flood in 2004, and is no longer producing power. We are still not sure of its future: apparently there is still hefty debate about whether to leave it or destroy it.
So, we left Dillsboro and headed back to Franklin. We finally found a road that looked promising, and came up on "Old Power House Road". It looked abandoned, and not very healthy for the van, so we opted not to take it. We drove a little farther, found a public road that went in the right direction, and took it... Bingo! Right by the Franklin Dam. We got some good pictures there and drove back to the hotel. There was a "Willy's BBQ" place right next to the hotel, so we ate supper there (excellent!), then hit the Wally World, which was also right next to the hotel. For one thing we needed to replace our ice chest: when loading up I grabbed the handle and lifted, but the ice chest stayed where it was! So, we trashed the now three pieces of the handle, and eventually the chest. Fed and re-stocked, we retired for the night.
Friday, June 17, 2006
The original plan was to go east one day, then west the next, so we stuck with that. We headed out to Dillsboro, to take NC 107 down to NC 281, where we would follow the east Fork Tuckasegee River for a ways. We were supposed to pass by the Cedar Cliff and Bear Creek Dams, but we had already suspected that access might be limited. We passed a gated road about the place where Cedar Cliff was supposed to be, which was the only road that any of our maps said would give us access to the dam. Jan caught a glimpse of the back side of the dam... maybe, as we drove by the lake in one place. Bear Creek was even worse... not even a glimpse. We pressed on, and got lucky at Wolf Creek... the road went over the dam! We stopped there and got some pictures, and watched some locals swimming in the backside of the floodgate! So much for warning signs. They kept a wary eye on us, probably suspecting that we were from Duke Power and would bust them. But we moved on. We never even saw a glimpse of Tanasee Creek Dam either, but we did see some of the lake. At this point we decided not to back track, but continued on NC 281, which was supposed to hit US 64. At the Transylvania County line, the pavement ended! But the road looked well maintained, so we pressed on. In several places we saw heavy equipment but could never figure out if they were working on the road or something else. In two places we saw a paved road intersecting with the dirt road, and in both cases that was NOT NC 281, which remained dirt until we got into the vicinity of Lake Toxaway. We did indeed intersect US 64, so we headed west to Cashiers, where we found a Subway shop to have lunch, and rejoined NC 107 back up to Thorpe Lake, AKA Glenville Lake. NC 107 went by the lake, but we had to turn off to get to the dam, which we missed the first time. We did see the pipeline (Thorpe is a diversion dam), so we backtracked and found the road this time. SR 1157 crosses the dam, so we got some pretty decent pictures of the dam and lake. Then we headed back to NC 107 to see what we could see of the power house.
The Thorpe Power House is one of the prettiest power houses we have seen. It has arched windows, and is being evaluated for designation as a historical site because of its "fancy" architecture. Apparently Duke Power keeps it nice and clean because of that... whatever the reason, it's nice to look at! We got good pictures of the power house and switchyard. Continuing down the River (the West Fork of the Tuckasegee), to see what we could see of the Tuckasegee Dam. The road went right by it, so we got some good shots of it... a concrete thin arch type dam. It is also a diversion dam, but the power house wasn't so accessible. It looked to be a "tin shed" type, like Dillsboro, and there was no place to get a good shot of it. From what we have read, there are no transformers at this power house... the power is sent back at generator voltage (about 4 or 6KV) to the Thorpe Switchyard.
That was pretty much the day's agenda, and it was still fairly early, so we opted to head back to Dillsboro to rejoin US 74-441 and head up to Bryson City. Turning off before actually getting to Bryson City, we made a couple of wrong turns, and stopped at a local park to get some bearings. We had just crossed the river (the Tuckasegee again), and Jan had noticed some interesting "formations" in one of the banks: a bunch of crunched automobiles! I guess that's one way to recycle them. We headed back, found the road we were looking for, and turned in. In short order we were right at the Bryson Dam. This was an interesting structure: it appeared to be 4 small arches placed side by side. There was a small brick power house adjacent, with a small transformer yard. Whatever switching they did there appeared to be done on the poles outside the transformer yard. We got some good pictures, including some local (I assume) fisher folks, one of whom had just landed a good one. We also found a great (for us) vacation home... right there next to the power house was an old fixer-upper for sale. We found it on the web later... 75K! Oh well, it was a nice idea...
With that we headed back to Franklin and the hotel. We ate at Willy's, again (still good!), and called it a night.
Saturday, June 18, 2006
This time we headed west, as planned, turning off of US 64 onto Wayah Road, which promised to be an interesting drive to Nantahala Lake. After some up and down and twisting and turning, we got to the lake, and got a couple of pictures of the back side of the dam. We found Nantahala Dam Road, but it was gated, with No Trespassing signs, well before the dam itself. The road forded a creek at the gate and MAY have continued to another vantage point, but we decided not to try it (I'm sure the van appreciated that!). Nantahala Dam Road had turned off of SR 1401, so we continued west on that and found Dick's Creek Dam. This dam is a small diversion dam that at one time augmented the flow from Nantahala into the power house. We believe that it is no longer in use, and there appeared to be normal flow over the dam. It was a small dam, tucked into the bushes on the side of the road, but we found it after a couple of back and forth efforts. Going back to Wayah road, we followed Whiteoak Creek until we got to the Whiteoak Dam. This dam looked for all the world like some mountaineer had "done it himself". It is also supposed to augment the Nantahala Dam flow: this one is still used, we think, but there was a little water coming over the dam. This creek eventually joins the Nantahala River, before the power house
Carrying on, we eventually made it to Beechertown, and the Nantahala Power House. This was a good size power house; not brick, but concrete. There was an extensive switchyard there, and just across the road is the Nantahala River Launch site. They were generating, so there was a good flow into the river, and a lot of rafter folks to take advantage of it.
After getting our pictures, we hit US 19-74 and headed down to Andrews. We found a Mickey D's there and grabbed a burger, then headed on to Murphy, where we hit US 64 and headed back east along the Hiawassee river. Eventually we found Mission Road, which took us to Mission Dam Road, which took us to Mission Dam. Mission is an Ambursen style dam, but it was hard to tell that from our vantage point.
Mission accomplished (pun intended!), that pretty much wrapped up what we had hoped to do for the entire trip. So we took a scenic drive along US 64 back to Franklin, found a local greasy spoon to try for supper (Stameys: "Love, Peace, and Biscuits"! It was good.), and called it a night.
Sunday, June 19, 2006
Since we were only about two hours from home, we decided to throw in a side trip before we left. We checked out of the hotel, grabbed breakfast at Stameys (more "Love, Peace, and Biscuits"!) and headed back to Wayah Road, and drove to Wayah Bald Road. This is a Forest Service Road, dirt but in good shape, that takes you to the peak of Wayah Bald at 5342 feet, or thereabouts. A short hike takes you to a lookout tower and some pretty spectacular scenery. Of course it was hazy (its ALWAYS hazy around the southeast anymore!) but it was still pretty impressive. On the way back we stopped by Wilson Lick, which is a cabin that was used in the 1800 and 1900's for Forest Service Personnel. The cabin is not open, but it was interesting to see the cabin and a storage shed (probably a garage for equipment) in the grassy open area, and the outhouse just beyond the edge of the woods. We paid our respects, then headed for home. No construction today, just a little congestion below Clayton, so we were home in about 2 hours and 10 minutes. Like we told the guy at the hotel: "too close to Atlanta"! But it did make for an easy trip.
Pix are accessible from the Nantahala Power and Light page.