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Tail of the Dragon

Motorcyclists on the Trail of the Dragon

Written By:  Shawn Dunnaway
Exploration Date:  October 9, 2011
Weather:  Mostly sunny and 65°
Elevation:  Approx. 1,400' to 2,000'
GPS:  35.466332, -83.919926 (Deals Gap, NC)

We entered the famous "Tail of the Dragon" coming out of Cades Cove on Parsons Branch Road.  The "dragon" is an 11-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 129, mostly bordering the southeastern portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The road is famous because this 11-mile stretch of highway reportedly contains 318 curves.  The road is winding and curvy and has banks for navigating the curves.  Motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts love this highway, and it is internationally famous.  It has been featured in movies and television shows, including The Fugitive and Top Gear.

Tail of the Dragon

The Little Tennessee River flows along the Tail of the Dragon.

With our experience, we were in an SUV and not trying to be daredevils.  In fact, if this road wasn't on our Cades Cove to Fontana Dam route, we wouldn't have taken it.  We saw very few, if any, typical cars on this road, but we did see the occasional speed demon whiz by on their bike or in their sports car.

Driving down the road doing the speed limit (which is 30 mph), we would suddenly look up to find a motorcycle in our rearview mirror.  We pulled off on the side of the road two or three times to let them scream past us.

We drove through Deals Gap, where there is a motorcycle resort and the famous "Tree of Shame," which is a monument of sorts to people who have crashed their bikes or cars along the Tail of the Dragon.  Car parts are nailed to the tree and are dangling from the branches.  It's a funny sight.

Tail of the Dragon

The "Tree of Shame" at Deals Gap, NC, along the Tail of the Dragon.

We also passed by a gentleman who had set up a tent in a 180-degree curve on a pull-off taking photos of drivers.  Folks could go on his Web site and order photographs of themselves running the dragon.

In all, it was an interesting experience to stumble upon the Tail of the Dragon and to see the Tree of Shame.