The Dragon, aka The Gap, or The Hill, is a small stretch of public road located at the border of East Tennessee and North Carolina at a place called Deal’s Gap. It is sometimes referred to, incorrectly, as “The Tail of the Dragon”, which is actually just the name of a store in the area that has a large website pertaining to road known as The Dragon and/or The Gap. It is also sometimes referred to as The Dragon’s Tail, which is a variation on the The Tail of the Dragon misnomer.
The road actually started as a cow trail in the mid-1700s and for 200 years has had the name Deals Gap. This 11 mile section of Highway 129, with 318 curves and no cross streets, runs along the Western side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest and is now said to be America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road. This particular road through Deal’s Gap has been a local motorcyclists’ secret as far back as the 70s. In early 92, a rider from Atlanta named Doug Snavely heard about the road, came to conquer, and fell in love with it (as did many who came after him). He met Pete Learey the owner of the hotel/store known at that time as The Crossroads of Time, and talked his way into a manager’s job there. They started a small club called the Dragon Riding Society which would gather once a month for dinners and merriment at the Dragon Works (the older building located up the hill from what is now the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort).
Why do people love this road? First, foremost and simply, because of it’s wonderful curvaceous nature makes it a blast to ride or drive. The fact that there are no residents along the road with no driveways or no cross streets also makes it a bit safer to drive. This one fact, in itself, is certainly enough to make this a great road , but I have observed, that there are other reasons people love this road. Like many things, it’s hard to totally explain, or really understand, if you are not part of the “culture”.
Many people who do not think about a car as anything more than a thing that transports them from here to there. But, then there are some people, such as myself, who just love to drive for the pure joy of driving. People who really love to ride their bikes, or drive their cars, will understand this road. It gets in your blood.
I like visiting the The Gap every chance I get to have fun driving my car, but I also very much enjoy seeing the other vehicles there, as well as meeting and talking with the people. For me, the Dragon is first, about the driving, and second, about the people and their vehicles. If you like to drive your chosen vehicle on roads that have curves, then you would enjoy driving the Dragon. Riders (of motorcycles) and Drivers (of cars) are part of the “culture” of the Dragon.
Many motorcycle and sports car clubs sponsor events and rallies each year (or even more often) where they gather together at the Dragon. In this case, not only do you have the exhilaration of driving the road, but the wonderful camaraderie of getting together with other enthusiasts of the vehicle you love. At this time you can meet old friends, make new friends, socialize and have a great time driving together on this special road that bring people together of a road. These motorcyclists, bikers and clubs are all another part of the Dragon culture.
There are people who love this road and it’s curves so much that they have actually uprooted themselves and moved to the area just so that they can run the Dragon every chance they can. There are also some people who happen to be lucky to just live locally. These Riders and Regulars can be found on theDragon almost every day the weather permits.
There are people who live within a reasonable drive to the Dragon and so visit the Dragon as often as they can (like me). Some Riders will transport their sport bikes to the road via truck and trailer and then enjoy the curves. This mecca of a road beckons us to it.
The Dragon is located in an incredibly beautiful area of the country and it is worth visiting this road just for the scenery along.
The Overlook is a small paved pull-off area on the Dragon and has an incredible view. There are not many pull-offs on the Dragon and this is by far the most popular. Many of the photos I take are taken at the Overlook. Riders, drivers, and locals enjoy hanging out at the Overlook. Here you can enjoy the view as well as watch the motorcycles and cars. Here is a place to meet, hang out, visit and talk. This is part of the Dragon culture. To me, and many others, the Overlook is like a holy place. It will always be a very special place to me.
People from all over the country, and the world, know of this road and dream of one day visiting it and driving on it at least once. I have a web site client in Alaska who asked me the other day if I was still enjoying my MINI: she knew I enjoyed driving and creating my PhotoJournals. I mentioned that I was driving a road called the Dragon as often as I could and I sent her a link to this site. She replied enthusiastically that she knew the road and asked if I really did live near it. She said that she and her husband, one day, wanted to ride “motos” on the Dragon. The Dragon is a mecca in the biker community. These pilgrims are a part of the Dragon culture.
There is a very wide variety of people who are a part of the Culture of the Dragon, and they all have at least three things in common: they love to ride/drive, they love their vehicles and they love the Dragon.
Where do I fit in, in all this? Well, I drive almost 2 hours to get to the Dragon/Gap every chance I get.. almost every weekend. On days I go to the Hill I will always put at the very least 260 miles on my car. It is an entire day outing. Why do I drive to the Gap when there are perfectly good road around where I live? Well, the Gap is very special: It’s the Road, it’s the Overlook, it’s the people, it’s the culture. There are some who drive this road and it just gets in their blood. It’s gotten in my blood. I am drawn to the road by the road itself. I enjoy seeing the other vehicles and I enjoy meeting the people…. they are my family. I am proud to be a Regular here and call these wonderful people who run this amazing road my family.
I am a Driver of a MINI Cooper car and not a Rider of motorcycle, though my friends who ride the Gap have accepted Alfie as being a 4 wheeled motorcycle. Soon I will probably start riding as well. The Dragon beckons me. The Motorcyclists are really are the main culture force of the Dragon. The Dragon really belongs to the Bikers and we Drivers get to share it’s curves.
Why do I take photos, and write about the Dragon and the people who ride it? Because I am a photographer and writer, and I am drawn to take photos and write, just like I am drawn to drive on the Dragon. I just can’t help myself; it’s what I love to do.
Molly & Alfie, her highly modified MINI Cooper S, on the Dragon .
Below is a map I compiled for myself, to help me learn the Locals’ names for the particular curves and sections of the Dragon/Gap.
. You can read my PhotoJournal Dragon Tales: Deal’s Gap Journal of various trips I have made to the Dragon HERE . Click here to sign up for email notifications whenever I add new entries to this blog .