Cherokee Excursion for ATC 2013

Mingo FallsIt may seem like a long time from now but a committee  has been working on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy 2013 Biannual meeting for a couple of years.

I’m responsible for excursions and I’ve started to plan and check out possible excursions.

This one is to Cherokee, North Carolina, in the Qualla Boundary, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The first stop is at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. It tells the story of the Cherokee People in a very vibrant way. Before visitors are let loose in the town, they might want to know about the history of the people here.

Cherokee man Across the street is the Qualla Arts Gallery, with exquisite and expensive native art. Cherokee has been criticized for having a lot of cheap stuff from China such as beads, moccasins and T-shirt. Well, this gallery is the real deal.

Before I head out to Mingo Falls, I have coffee at Tribal Grounds Coffee Shop. This is the best and really only place to have coffee and tea.

Mingo Falls is 120-foot waterfall right in the Big Cove area of Cherokee. I pass the educational complex, a beautiful building for all students in the town from Kindergarten to 12th grade. After about five miles, I turn into the Mingo Falls parking lot and walk up a long staircase to the falls. The water was really falling yesterday.

Lunch is at Paul’s Diner. This is a traditional Cherokee restaurant which means fried bread with everything. If you want rabbit or bison, this is the place. But the restaurant is not about the food. It’s a real Cherokee atmosphere with Indian themed pictures on the wall and over the fireplace. People sit at a bar in front of a large-screen TV. You can’t buy an alcohol drink in Cherokee but that doesn’t mean that patrons can’t watch the big game anyway. A pie case rotates showing off the most lavish sweets around. And of course, most of the diners are Cherokee.

The tacky kitch is very visible in Cherokee because as they will tell you, this is what tourists want. So you’ll pass
Pan F’r Gold, Native American Dance Shows and the Wigwam Motel. You’ll also pass Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and resort, the largest single tourist attraction in NC with 3.5 million visitors. But the excursion won’t take you there because it’s been vetoed by the Chair of the conference committee.

But even with all that kitch, you know that this is a real live town, not just a tourist attraction. There’s a hospital, public transit system with large vans, a supermarket and apartments.

I discovered a bookstore, Talking Leaves which you won’t find just walking around. The low building housing the bookstore is overshadowed by the KCF at the intersection of US 19 and US 441.This bookstore specializes in native American books and seems to have books about every tribe. It also had cookbooks, children’s books and every book that Sherman Alexie has written. I bought a book on Indians and the National Parks.

This will be a real popular attraction, I’m sure.

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