SCENIC HIGHWAY 129
from Chiefland FL to Knoxville TN.
Postcard view from Calderwood Dam Overlook on the section of US129 known as the Tail of the Dragon, in Tennessee.
Scenic 129 is a study of US Highway 129 which stretches from Chiefland, Florida to Knoxville, Tennessee. This 582-mile slab of pavement includes 11 miles of what has become an American classic highway known world wide as The Tail of the Dragon. The 11 miles consists of 318 curves through the Great Smoky Mountains and attracts motorheads of all ages and types:
- Sportbikes with riders dragging knees through the corners.
- Aged cruiser riders deviating from there normal route to Hooters.
- Foreigners from as far away as Australia and Japan in cars and on motorcycles.
- Antique car collectors driving nearly one of a kind cars to die for.
- Groups having a common interests such as steam driven cars.
- Motorists taking part in adventures such as the BABE Rally (Big Apple to the Big Easy) where entrants buy a vehicle for less than $250 and pass through on the trek.
- Super Cars that really should be on the Nurburgring.
- Bicyclists challenging the twists and turns amid a melee of motorcyclists and sports cars.
- Street legal riding lawn mower conversions
- Tourists in rented Jeeps looking for nearby back roads.
- Families parked in pull-offs sitting in lawn chairs watching the parade go by.
- And we have even seen Big Wheels rolling down some of the hills.
We could go on and on describing the various people and their devices who find their way to this Asphalt Heaven. It has been a real trip for Nancy and I greeting the throngs since 2000. We have had an intimate relationship with these 11 miles and operate a business that provides souvenirs for visitors to take home and brag about.
As a result of this romance Nancy and I have collected much of the history/artifacts/minutia of the entire 582-mile highway designated US 129. We even spent three days riding the entire route two-up on one of our many motorcycles to feel and document this complete "blue highway". The book Blue Highways by author William Least Heat-Moon in 1982 referred to "small, forgotten, out of the way roads connecting rural America (blue lines on old Rand McNally Road Atlases)." Two of Heat-Moon's sayings are our favorites: "Life doesn't happen along the interstates. It's against the law." and "I won't really see America from the interstates, so I have to get off."
Here is a 1952 US Map which detailed roads from Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland to Tampa/St. Petersburg. US 129 was the route from Knoxville to Chiefland, Florida:
Little Known Facts About US129
- In the late 1950s/early 1960s the section of US129 from Murphy to Topton was designated as part of the "Tomahawk Trail". The Trail continued north on US 19 to Bryson City.
- On May 31, 2003 Eric Rudolph on the Ten Most Wanted List of the FBI was arrested in Murphy, North Carolina just off US129. He had been a suspect in the Atlanta Olympic bombing since 1998 and had been in hiding at various places along US129 the entire time.
- US129 crossing from Tennessee into North Carolina was originally promoted as the most direst route from Chicago to Florida.
- There were plans at one time to have US129 run from New York to Pensacola, Florida.
- US129 from Jasper to Old Town Florida is designated "Stephen Foster Highway".
- US129 waged an advertising battle with US41 for tourism.
- One of the largest searches in the Smokies brought attention to US129 in June of 1951. A 21-year old nurse was lost while hiking and bloodhounds traced her path to US129 near Calderwood. She was found two weeks later in the woods in good condition having survived with no food or equipment.
- In the 1970s a local heavy equipment company in Robbinsville (P&J) would send new semi-truck drivers across the Dragon and back to see if they could handle the big rigs on the curves.
Ready to find out more?
Continue to read the history of US129.