Nov 11 - Cumberland Gap NHP

We're in rain-delay here at Raccoon Valley SKP in Tennessee. A large cold air mass is moving eastward setting off showers and storms as it passes through. As I'm writing (Monday afternoon) a steady heavy rain is falling. It's going to rain for the rest of the day, then clear up and turn much cooler tomorrow.

Saturday, the 10th, we hung around the RV park and did nothing noteworthy. But yesterday, the 11th, we drove up to the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, about an hour northeast of here. If you look at a map, it's right where the States of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet.

Most of us have heard of the Cumberland Gap... I know I have since I was a kid. But I really didn't know much detail about it or it's importance to the development of our country.

Specifically, it's one of only three natural "gaps" in the Appalachians that allow for an easy passage from one side of the mountains to the other. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, more than 300,000 people supposedly crossed from the Virginia/Tennessee side on the south into Kentucky to the north. For the day it was a heavily traveled trail. And before the settlers, this natural passage was used by animal herds and American Indians.

Checking in first at the visitor center for our normal orientation, we were soon headed out for a hike through the historic Gap. It was a spectacular warm and sunny day... couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

So what's the scale of the Gap?  How big is it?  It's about a mile from one end to the other, and very narrow... maybe a couple hundred feet wide. It's not totally flat when compared with the land on either side, as it does ramp up to a high point about mid-way through.  But the high point in the gap is much, much less than the height of the surrounding mountains, and, thus, the obvious route for relatively easy travel from one side to the other.

Over the years since those early settlers traveled through here the trail was upgraded to a road, and continually improved until it culminated in a three-lane asphalt roadway, which was very busy and dangerous. A lot of traffic deaths resulted from accidents along the twisting ramping roadway over the years.

But a few years ago the National Park Service initiated the largest restoration project in it's history. And that project was to build a modern 4 lane tunnel under the Gap, divert all traffic through it, rip out the old road, and restore the area to what it was like in 1800. Simply a massive project. Construction started in 1991 and the new tunnel opened in 1996.

The resulting tunnel is one of the most modern and impressive I've seen.  Almost a mile in length, it cost well more than a quarter of a billion dollars. It's wide, high, and well-lit... plenty easy enough for even someone like me with a tunnel anxiety disorder to drive a big motorhome through it without breaking a sweat. We didn't have the bus-house with us that day... but if we did, driving through the tunnel would have been easy.

Above the tunnel, in the Gap and along the restored wilderness road, it's easy to imagine settlers on their way to what they hoped would be a better life in Kentucky. A bunch of famous historic people walked through the Gap, among them Daniel Boone, and both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (Lewis and Clark) (separately) some time after the end of the trip out west.

We also walked a trail to the top of Tri-State Peak, which borders the Gap. This is the place where the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet at a single point. I have no idea why I'm drawn to geographic points like this, but do get a kick out of it. While there's only one "4 corners" point in the USA, there are dozens of "tri-points" like this one. It's still fun to visit one.

Then there was Pinnacle Overlook, the peak across the Gap from Tri-State Peak. From that point you can see for a hundred miles.

What a fun and agreeable day!

The tunnel.

Posing on Tri-State point.

View from Pinnacle Overlook.

Keeping an eye on us.
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