Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 55
FIRST IN A SERIES OF REVISITS AND LOOKBACKS OF STORIES OVER OUR FIRST 30 YEARS.
Early morning fog trails through the Cumberland Gap leading into Kentucky.
Twenty-two years after her first visit in 1995,
our writer went to the Cumberland Gap to see what
had changed...and what had stayed the same.
Story and color photos by Joan Vannorsdall
I'd like to say that I drove past the town
of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee and
ended up in Middlesboro, Kentucky
on purpose-that the lure of the
4,600-foot Cumberland Gap Highway Tunnel was so strong that I just
had to experience driving through it.
But the truth is, I missed the turn
off U.S. 58 into the Gap, and kept
following the rerouted U.S. Highway 25E until the twin tunnels were
right in front of me. And there was
no turning back.
The roads are all new around the
Cumberland Gap, and the five miles
of four-lane approaches to the tunnel
make it difficult to end up anywhere
but under Cumberland Mountain,
driving beneath rock riddled with
prolific springs, a lake 30 feet deep
and caverns as tall as 85 feet.
After three days of re-exploring
the Gap, here is what I know. The
story of the Cumberland Gap-
where Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky meet in mountainous beau-
ty-is more than anything a story
of roads, paved with get-rich-quick
dreams tempered by Appalachian
Cumberland Gap is one of only three
natural breaks in the 1,500-mile Appalachian chain. Great herds of
buffalo moved through the Gap
to drink from the salt springs, and
Native Americans followed them,
passing into what is now Kentucky
over the 1,304-foot Gap. Dr. ThomJanuary/February 2018 55