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Apr. 9, 2020
2:17 am


Vanderford's Travel Column

Tail of the Dragon gives rite of passage to racers

Regardless of where you come from or what form of motor racing you might love, until you have survived the 11 miles and 318 curves in the “Tail of the Dragon,” you haven’t earned the “the rite of passage” in the sport! 
This section of US Highway 129 touches the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest and has no intersecting roads or driveways to impede the speed.
The Tail of the Dragon was first paved in the early 1930s, but its recorded history dates back to the 1700s when it was a trail for hunters and trappers. Before that, it existed as an Indian trail. It was designated US 129 in 1934 but was only lightly traveled until the 1990s when the road was publicized by a motorcycle enthusiast. For the past three decades, businesses that cater to motorcycle and car enthusiasts have appeared for those who make pilgrimages to try The Dragon.
The road curves and winds through the wooded landscape like one’s mental picture of the lines on a real dragon. Many corners are blind, and it is easy to outrun your line of sight long before that of the car’s performance. You might think you need something with big power and fantastic lateral grip, but those cars end up decorating the trees along The Dragon. 
There are legends that this road is haunted, and other rumors that the area is a magical land with the power to take hold of people and possess part of their being … which is believable! When you’re behind the wheel of a fast car, the Tail of the Dragon is about you, the pavement, two white knuckles holding tightly to a steering wheel and a stretch of road that is considered one of the most exciting drives in the world. It dissects the mountains starting at Deals Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line all the way to the pull over at Calderwood Overlook. This beautiful scenic overlook offers a gorgeous view of the Cheoah Dam. Also, it’s a fantastic panorama of the Smoky Mountains and Tennessee countryside.
The legend of the Tail of the Dragon has spread far beyond North Carolina and Tennessee, and has even caught the eye of movie producers, celebrities and documentary crews. The road and nearby Cheoah Dam were featured in “The Fugitive” and parts of the gearhead classic “Two-Lane Blacktop” that actually features much of the road at the very end of the movie.
Whether you’re starting or completing the Tail of the Dragon at the intersection of US 129 and NC Highway 28, Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort is a good place to snap pictures, grab souvenirs, eat lunch, have a cold beverage or even spend the night. Also check out the Tail of the Dragon Store across the street for more great souvenirs and your obligatory photo with the giant eponymous Dragon sculpture.
This area is extremely popular for those who love to challenge the many exciting whitewater rapids of the mountain rivers. Therefore, kayaks, canoes, tubes and other water devices are a common sight in this section of the Smoky Mountains.
The Dragon is not for the timid … but it is also not for the foolish! It is an exciting ride even without racing wide open around blind corners and at double the speed limit while trying to earn the “rite of passage!”


Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at or at his web site:

March 2020 column

Carabelle gives visitors a taste of old Florida

Even if you were only looking for awesome sunrises and sunsets, the area around the old fishing village of Carrabelle would keep you mesmerized. Though this section of the Panhandle of Florida is still quite laid-back, the possibilities are unlimited. The seafood alone is well worth a visit to downtown Carrabelle … especially if you spend some time with the local ladies at the The Fisherman’s Wife Restaurant. Everything at this venue came straight off area fishing boats and is prepared with local secrets by experts in the kitchen.
Stories of Carrabelle include much exciting maritime history about pirates, native Americans, illegal whiskey, fishing, sponge diving and war. Most of its historical waterfront is still intact with the addition of quirky little boutiques for shopping. Carrabelle even boasts the smallest police station in the world, which is actually a telephone booth on the right side of the road near quaint shops.
If you drive west over the scenic Carrabelle River Bridge, tourists quickly discover Carrabelle Beach, which is a hidden treasure. This beach has easy parking, bathroom facilities, outdoor showers and numerous picnic tables. It is an ideal spot for walking, playing games or just soaking up the sun. 
Proceeding west, pure, white sand beaches are all along US Highway 98 toward East Point and Apalachicola, but you can detour for a few miles over the Florida 300 Bridge that spans the bay to St. George Island. Where the bridge comes on the island is the best place to photograph a gorgeous sunset from a bench provided by the island folks.
After checking out the famous lighthouse when first entering the island, turn east for a tour of St. George Island State Park. Long sections of uncrowded beaches, pristine marshes and wooded areas that are perfect for bird watching and nature walks are encountered. Surf fishing in this area can also be very productive.
Just to the east of Carrabelle is the challenging St. James Bay Golf Club that is nestled among tall trees and natural wetlands. It is the area’s only Audubon Signature Sanctuary and Championship 18-hole Golf Course that is open to the public for play year-round. The course is meticulously groomed and maintained with consideration for natural wetland preserves and native wildlife. For more information:
For a couple or small family, the best place to stay near the golf course and centrally located to explore the Carrabelle area is a tiny home located across Highway 98 from the bay. It has everything needed to enjoy a short vacation including a queen-sized bed, a double recliner, a complete kitchen and a small bathroom with a corner shower. It is called the Sweet Peach and can be rented through or by calling Laura at (603) 548-2224.
Slightly farther east is Bald Point State Park with more than 4,800 acres of coastal wilderness dotted with freshwater ponds and tidal marshes. It is located where the Ochlockonee Bay meets the Apalachee Bay and offers visitors outdoor activities on land and water, two picnic areas with pavilions, grills, restrooms and easy accessibility to the nearby beach. For more info, call 850-349-9146.
Carrabelle, Florida is a pleasant reminder about the warmth and southern charm of Florida during a slower, milder era. It awakes mental pictures from the time when people knew their neighbors and offered hospitality both to strangers and friends. In this electronic period when the world is spinning so fast and everyone seems glued to their phones and computers, it is good to know that places like Carrabelle still exist.

February 2020 column

St. Simon's Island, King and Prince are pure Georgia gold

With miles of beaches and dunes facing the Atlantic Ocean, the freedom and beauty of walking with the breezes and changing tides of St. Simons Island is a breathtaking vision of the true beauty of Georgia’s most popular barrier island. It boasts a diversity of ecosystems including saltwater marshes, mud flats, tidal creeks, maritime forests, white sand beaches and dunes. Combine this with a magnificent sunrise from a seaside balcony room at the famous King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort and you will think you are in heaven! But it wasn’t always that way at St. Simons Island.
Standing on the wall of Fort Frederica scanning the river and the marshes beyond was serious business around 1740. The British soldiers on guard knew that the Spanish-held Fort St. Simons was only five miles away and were painfully aware that war had been declared with Spain. Eventually these English soldiers realized that they would have to fight for their lives on St. Simons Island.
Even though the British were far outnumbered, good intelligence, a timely ambush and some skillful maneuvering of ships and men by James Edward Oglethorpe made the Spanish believe that the British force was much larger. Therefore, after the historical, but small ambush, known as “The Battle of Bloody Marsh,” the Spanish retreated back to Florida and were never a threat to General Oglethorpe and his fledgling Georgia colony again.
Today, visitors to St. Simons Island can walk the open grounds of Fort Frederica and gaze across the picturesque “Marshes of Glynn” that were made famous by poet, Sidney Lanier, and never have to worry about being fired upon. This immaculate spot is simply one of many that attracts folks to St. Simons.
For nearly a century, families from all over the South have come to this gorgeous barrier island to enjoy the elegant atmosphere, mouthwatering food and antebellum style hospitality at the King and Prince Hotel, which was built because of an insult. It seems that one evening in the early 1930s at the nearby Cloister Hotel on neighboring Sea Island, Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn were tossed out for being drunk and disorderly. Horn was a tall, heavy man and Wynn was a short, skinny fellow, and when seen together, they were affectionally known as “The King and Prince.”

So, because of the insult, the two gentlemen founded the King and Prince as a seaside dance club to compete with the Cloister Hotel. The main hotel building with its classic Mediterranean architecture was completed and opened to the public just in time for World War II in 1941. During that period, the new hotel was converted into a training facility for coast watchers looking for German submarines.
Following the war, the King and Prince opened to families again in 1947 and has continued to serve as a prime vacation destination in the Golden Isles of Georgia. Renovations and expansions were completed in 1972 and 1983, and the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort ( It offers a resort experience with Southern flair, fantastic and varied cuisine and spectacular ocean views from almost every room.
Many golf lovers come to St. Simons just to play the King and Prince Golf Course, which is home of the Hampton Club. This 18-hole championship course is both challenging and beautifully interwoven with ancient oak trees, island holes, views of birds and wildlife in the surrounding marshes and picturesque lagoons. With four signature holes highlighting play on the back nine, the entire 18-hole, Par 72 course combines for an experience that always finds it on golf’s “must-play” lists.
Fishing, birding and wildlife viewing are always great outdoor endeavors when visiting St. Simons Island. This huge coastal ecosystem of salt marshes, tidal rivers and creeks is probably the best rearing ground for fish, sharks and shellfish on the Atlantic seaboard of the USA.
Fine dining and local seafood are highlights of any trip to the Georgia barrier islands, and St. Simons has some of the best. Certainly the chefs at the Echo Restaurant in the King and Prince would be in the running in any food and drink contest! Being they are the only seaside restaurant on St. Simons Island, their evening dining is both romantic and mouth watering … and eating locally-harvested breakfast offerings while gazing out to recently sun-lit sea is unforgettable!
Certainly more experiences are available on St. Simons Island including visits to the historic Christ Church, Fort Frederica, Epworth by the Sea and the St. Simons Lighthouse. For me, however, the King and Prince, beaches, marshes, old oak trees and the slow movement of time and tide take me back to simpler time in my youth when my family would visit this magical island during the summer break from school. Sure there are new businesses and different people, but the natural beauty where sea, sky and shifting sands meet has a soothing effect that transcends all time. I’m happy to know that such a place still exists in more than just my reveries!

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