Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lynchburg, Home of the Funky Lemonade

Lynchburg, TN
The small town of Lynchburg, TN has a pretty famous name. There's the famous Lynchburg Lemonade, a drink you certainly wouldn't want to serve to your kids.  Lynchburg is also home to the famous Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House where you can partake in a family-style Southern meal.  But what really makes Lynchburg famous is it's home to the world famous Jack Daniel's Distillery.   The Jack Daniel's Distillery tour is a must visit even if you don't enjoy a drink now and then, but fair warning - the smell of distilling whiskey is, quite simply, pungent.

Jack posing just outside
his man cave.


Computers monitor the dis
The old meets the new at Jack Daniel’s where you'll find the oldest registered distillery in the US with modern, state-of-the-art control rooms monitoring every aspect of the distilling process.  Your tour starts off with a short film about the history of the distillery and is followed up by a nice meandering tour through the hollow Jack Daniel's is nestled in.   It is amazing to think that every drop of whiskey the company sells is made right here.

There are buildings and pipes everywhere, and the usually-humorous tour guides fill you in what role each of them plays in making the famous whiskey.   The smells really kick in to high gear when you step inside the Sour Mash building.  Here you'll witness the stage called sour mash up close and personal. All of the water used in the distilling process is obtained from a nearby cave, and there are dozens of barrel houses all over the hillsides housing the aging whiskey.

The tour also includes a visit to the infamous safe.  The way in which Jack Daniel died should have been more dramatic.  I always imagined it was in a hail of gunfire as he was escaping the police as he ran illegal whiskey to the thirsty masses.  Or that his death involved a particularly intense, and lengthy, bear fight.  In the end the bear won, but he did not leave with all of his limbs intact.  In reality, Jack died by kicking his safe and the ensuing infection led to his death. Actually, this is kind of a manly way to go - taking your anger out on an inanimate object and not heading to the doctor when the pain gets intense.  Jack reportedly uttered, "One last drink, please" before kicking it.  Now that's exactly what I imagined he'd say.  You get to see the safe close-up on the tour.

At the end of the tour there's a chance to buy special editions of the various Jack Daniel's brands.  Sadly, due to the fact that this distillery is located in a dry county, there are no free samples.  But there's plenty of delicious lemonade (though sadly of the non-alcoholic variety as well).

Jack sure has an impressive set of pipes.

For more information about the Jack Daniels Distillery and Lynchburg, check out their official website where you can lie about your age to gain access to the site.

Cummins Falls: Paradise on the Highland Rim

Cummins Falls overlook
Last weekend, Sarah and I continued our summer waterfall tour with a trip to Cummins Falls (which I now believe is the most beautiful place in Tennessee). Located in Jackson County, TN, Cummins Falls is one of those rare gems that is privately owned, but the current owners generously allow access. Sadly, I attended nearby Tennessee Tech University, and in my five years on campus, I never made the trip to Cummins Falls despite it being a favorite destination for college students. Better late than never…..

Getting to the base of the falls, however, is not for the faint of heart. In fact, you must be in great athletic condition since the trek requires both a descent and ascent via rope (that is scarily frayed in some places). Absolutely not a hike for children. You are reminded of the dangers of this hike as you reach the primitive trailhead surrounded by crosses and memorials to folks who have died here. But if you are able to make it to the base of the falls, then a vista unlike any other in Tennessee awaits you.

Memorials at the trailhead remind you to exercise due caution

Sarah's descent down the rope trail

Cummins Falls sits within a natural amphitheatre and drops about 50’, but what’s so spectacular about it is that it cascades over a series of ledges into a deep, turquoise pool. You can launch yourself into the swimming hole and swim right up to the falls or approach it from the side and enjoy exploring the different ledges. You can even make your way behind the falls. I found the perfect spot in the sun to rest my back along one of the ledges while water rushed over my shoulders and legs. There is no greater serenity than being outdoors, listening to the sounds of rushing water in surround sound. Sarah and I literally spent an entire Saturday just lounging around until dusk.

Butterflies at dusk

The fate of this natural wonder is currently undecided. The property came up for auction in May 2010, but the Tennessee Parks and Greenways foundation were able to come up with a contingent bid to stave off a developer. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but for now, I feel truly blessed to have been able to visit Cummins Falls in its present, rugged state.

View from the base of the Falls

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Wonder What Happened to Wonder Cave….

Image from travel.nostalgiaville.com
Recently, a coworker and I had to travel to Chattanooga for business. On our way back, we decided to travel a portion of US Highway 41 that parallels Interstate 24. We exited at New Hope and wound our way up Monteagle Mountain. On our descent from the mountain, we entered into the Valley Home Community near Pelham and passed by an old rusty sign beckoning us to visit Wonder Cave. I remember hearing about Wonder Cave as a child, but it’s been closed for several years, which brings me to the question: “I Wonder What Happened to Wonder Cave?”

When I got back home, I did a quick Google search and learned that Wonder Cave was discovered by college students in 1897 by following the Mystic River. Years later, an inn was developed and tourism soon followed. However, I found a Roadside America thread that says it’s been closed for nearly a decade because the family that owns it no longer has anyone willing to operate it. Apparently it reached its tourism hey-day in the mid 1900s when US Highway 41 was the main artery for travel from Miami to Chicago, but the number of tourists dwindled once traffic rerouted to I-24 after its completion in the 1960s. If anyone reading this has memories of visiting Wonder Cave, I’d love to hear them!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Can Someone Text the Park Ranger to Bring Us a Pack Of Smokes?

But apparently if you have a GPS, ignore this sign,
let the kids dangle off the side and taunt bears.
Park Rangers will be by directly to save you.

So, get this: people are bringing more and more tech in to National Parks.  Like smartphones and GPS devices.  And what are some people doing with these devices? They're doing lots of stupid sh*t like texting park rangers to bring them hot chocolate, or video taping animals close up, giving commentary about how this animal might charge at them, and then videotaping that very thing.  Or using the SPOT device that can send out emergency signals via satellite:
Last fall, two men with teenage sons pressed the help button on a device they were carrying as they hiked the challenging backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park. Search and rescue sent a helicopter, but the men declined to board, saying they had activated the device because they were short on water.
The group’s leader had hiked the Grand Canyon once before, but the other man had little backpacking experience. Rangers reported that the leader told them that without the device, “we would have never attempted this hike.”
The group activated the device again the next evening. Darkness prevented a park helicopter from flying in, but the Arizona Department of Public Safety sent in a helicopter whose crew could use night vision equipment.
The hikers were found and again refused rescue. They said they had been afraid of dehydration because the local water “tasted salty.” They were provided with water.
Helicopter trips into the park can cost as much as $3,400 an hour, said Maureen Oltrogge, a spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park.    - From the New York Times
Technology clearly doesn't make us smarter.  It makes folks a whole lot dumber and makes the park rangers and emergency officials' jobs a whole lot harder.

Read the full NY Times article here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

US Highway 70

This weekend, Brian and I drove east to Knoxville to meet our new niece. On our way there we decided to take a short detour on Highway 70 in order to break up the monotony of Interstate driving.  We exited at the Crab Orchard exit just past Crossville, and joined up with Highway 70.  Just a few miles down the twisty road we came to our first roadside stop- Ozone Falls.   Ozone Falls is a 110' waterfall that plunges into a swimming hole and eventually flows underground further up the stream.  Apparently, it was also used as the backdrop for the Disney film, The Jungle Book.  From the parking lot, you walk just a few feet to the top of the falls, but because of the large rock outcroppings, you can't get a good view unless you stand on the edge (which I do not recommend if you have poor balance or are afraid of heights- this is also the reason why I don't have a good picture of the falls).  However, if you choose to walk the 2/3rd of a mile to the base of the falls, then be sure to wear good shoes.  Since we were on a casual road trip, and I was wearing sandals, we opted not to walk down to the base since it appeared that scrambling over boulders was a requirement to get to the bottom.  While we were there, we also noticed this creepy hybrid monkey-baby placed in a tree.  From the bottom of the falls, we heard a child's voice repeatedly yell out, "Daddy!"   I assumed it was just a family enjoying some swim time, but maybe it was the lonely cries of the monkey-baby.

Monkey-baby cries out for Daddy

Next stop was Roosevelt Mountain, a wildlife management area in Rockwood, TN with a great view of the valley below.  I'd always seen the mountain from the interstate- it's hard to miss since its topped with cell phone/TV towers, as well as a now-rotting wooden fire tower that was built by the CCC during the Great Depression.  While the view is certainly impressive, the mountain top is absolutely littered with graffiti; likely put there by bored teens who go there to drink and smoke cigarettes at night.  Definitely not a place where I'd go to seek solitude.

CCC firetower

Hazy view of Rockwood and Watts Bar Lake

And the verdict is....you're a poor excuse of a graffiti artist.

This Sums Up Gatlinburg

One of the indoor mini-golf places in Gatlinburg has this oddity going on outside:

The anamontronic is synced to the song.  The gunshot is awesome!  I wish I recorded more.

Friday, August 20, 2010

But What Will Become of the Wax Statues?

I've lost enough of my face already,
please don't also take my home!

Knox News is reporting that the building that houses a wax museum, seafood restaurant and a distillery in Gatlinburg has been seized by the bank.  I've never been to the wax museum but hope for the sake of all that's good and kitschy in Gatlinburg that it survives.

Read more about it here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Helen, GA

Helen, GA - a Bavarian-Appalachian-American-Georgian Village

Do not be confused - you are not in Germany.  You are in Northern Georgia.  Much like Gatlinburg, Helen is an attempt at a European mountain village, specifically Bavarian. The area was originally populated with miners who were attracted to the discovery of gold.  Roughly 35 years or so ago, the townsfolk got a hankering for all-things Bavarian and decided to dress the entire town up as if it were a German village.  Soon after, as typical with mountain villages, fudge was discovered.

In Helen you'll find a few German-style restaurants, shops (with an emphasis on Christmas and terrible t-shirts), sweet shops (selling fudge and the other required candy of mountain villages - taffy) and, well, that's about it.  There are also an incredible number of horse-drawn carriages in this town.  Unlike Gatlinburg, you won't find tourist traps like go-cart tracks or mini-golf.  There is a water raft and tubing company located just north of the city, and that's it.  The attractions in the area are the mountains, hiking trails and waterfalls (like in nearby Unicoi State Park).  In a future post I'll talk about nearby Brasstown Bald and Anna Ruby Falls, both definitely worth a visit.

High Five, Santa!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Battle at Waterloo Falls

Waterloo Falls

Continuing with my waterfall theme, let me take a few minutes to talk about Waterloo Falls near the Putnam/Overton County line.  I vaguely remember going there once when I was in college at nearby Tennessee Tech, but when someone mentioned it on a friend's facebook page a few months ago, I suddenly had the urge to return after all these years.

I googled it and found some very vague directions, and my pal Sarah and I set off one Sunday in July with her two dogs for a day in the water.  After a couple of turn-arounds and one close call with a boarded up biker bar in the middle of nowhere, we found our way to the falls.  A warning for those interested in going:  the creep factor is extremely high here.  You basically turn down a gravel road surrounded by residences with posted 'No Tresspassing' signs, and there's no indication that the public is welcome here.  There were a couple of dudes in trucks who would randomly drive by multiple times and if we were lucky, a family or two. 

We made our way to the falls and sadly realized that since the falls are surrounded by high cliffs, the only way to the base of the falls was via trespassing on private lands.  It's really a shame, because the swimming hole below looked absolutely perfect and inviting.  (If anyone knows a legal way to the bottom, please let me know!)  Luckily for us, the stream above the falls, Spring Creek, was crystal clear and equally inviting.  We let the dogs splash around and walked through the stream until we came upon a smaller stream of water trickling from the cliffs above, and landing on the most perfect moss-covered throne, just waiting for us to sit down.

Sarah's moss-covered throne

Further up the stream, we found a place to lay down in the bed of the shallow stream as the water flowed over our arms and legs.  The sun was out, the dogs were content, and butterflies were flitting around above us.  Perfection.......until we heard the gun shots.  I don't feel we were in any danger, but someone was definitely using the adjacent property for target practice.  In fact, I went back the next Sunday with my mom and Brian and this time the gun shots were even louder.  It almost sounded like they were actually shooting into the cliffs above.  Not wanting to accidently get shot, we made our way back to my car and moved on to Plan B- swimming in the Caney Fork River.  Maybe next time I should return on a weekday since apparently Sundays after church is shootin' time in Overton County, Tennessee.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kentucky is Cave Country

Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, TN.

Tennessee, the state I currently live in, has more caves than any other state in the union. But when people think of Cave Country, they think Kentucky, or more specifically Kentucky's south central region near Bowling Green.  Kentucky gets this distinction due to the fact that it's home to the longest cave system in the world, the Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave System.  But it's not just Mammoth Cave that has helped create the name, but many more commercial and wild caves surrounding the park and two nearby towns - Horse Cave and Cave City - that truly sell the name.

Cave gates became vital to protect caves during the Cave Wars.

The Kentucky Cave Wars

A fascinating development occurred in the early 20th Century called The Kentucky Cave Wars. Dozens of caves were opened to the public with their owners vying for the numerous tourists heading for Mammoth Cave.  One common practice was cave owners hiring someone to pretend to be a state trooper, stopping cars full of families on their way to Mammoth Cave.  The actor would tell the family something to the effect of "Well, Mammoth Cave has flooded and is closed.  You should head over to So-and-So Cave instead.  It's a much prettier cave".  There were roadside stands selling onyx and other cave formations.  Often times the people selling these formations were not the true owners of the onyx, but were thefts who broke it off the ceilings of other peoples' caves.

A broken formation.

And a man named Floyd Collins, who's family owned Crystal Cave, was desperately searching for a cave closer to the main highway since Crystal Cave was located just a bit too far away from the main road.  He found one and sadly, it took his life. Today only a few of these commercial caves remain open to the public.

A totem pole and a giant knight are oddly enough the official
symbols of kitsch in Kentucky.

Since tourists have been heading to Kentucky's Cave Country for decades, other attractions have sprouted up.  While not quite the tourist trap mecca that Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge-Sevierville is, the area is still home to a few mini-golf courses, go-cart tracks, a Dinosaur World, an amusement park (specializing in gunfights), and of course competing commercial caves.  This area is literally so rich with caves that they accidentally discovered one building the parking lot for the amusement park.  And in nearby Jellystone Park campgrounds, tourists sleep in their own individual caverns.  Well, not really, but there are probably enough caves "lying" about on the Jellystone property to give every overnighter their own cave.  And if you're not keen on sleeping in your own tent, you can sleep in a giant one - Native American style:

Come to Mammoth Cave, stay in a wigwam. 

Hidden River Cave and the American Cave Museum

Looking up from the Hidden River sinkhole at the
American Cave Museum.
Just up I-65 a bit from Park City and Mammoth Cave is Horse Cave.  The town was built on top of a large cave entrance and the system is named Hidden River Cave thanks to the fast moving stream found inside there.  The town used the cave both for its water supply and to create electricity.  Over time the stream system became polluted.  Today, the cave has been cleaned up and is once again open to tourism.  The tour is short, but certainly worth it since it includes a tour of the American Cave Museum.  The museum houses a number of exhibits about - you guessed it - caves and also further illuminates the visitor on the history of Mammoth Cave and the Great Cave Wars in the area.

What Hidden River Cave looks like from the inside.

Diamond Caverns

Not only does Diamond Caverns have a lot of formations,
they also have an abundance of stairs.

It goes without saying that you have to visit Mammoth Cave.  I highly recommend the Historic Tour if you're short on time, and for a longer trip take the Grand Avenue Tour.  And bring along your bike as the national park has miles of bike paths.  But if you want to hit one of the caves outside of the National Park, check out Diamond Caverns which is located on Mammoth Cave Pkwy just outside the park.  Diamond Caverns has a number of formations (something the main parts of Mammoth Cave don't have) to gawk at, sadly some of which are broken thanks to the Cave Wars.

Flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites await you
at Diamond Caverns.

Sadly, one of my favorite caves in the area is no longer open.  James Cave, located on a nearby resort's property, is currently closed due to a bat colony that lives there.  There is also the ever imposing threat of the White-Nose Syndrome, a syndrome that's striking bats in caves all across the country.  When you go to Mammoth Cave you'll see plenty of signs about this disease and whether or not you could be potentially spreading it to their cave.  So far there haven't been any sightings in Kentucky's caves, and hopefully it'll stay that way.

For Jessica's view on this same trip, check out her blog post (note she ends her post with the exact same picture - completely accidental).

Jessica says goodbye to the official
Kentucky Cave Country monkey.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This Can't Be Good...

Water spills out of caves on the hillside next to the
Center Hill Lake Dam.

In a future post we'll write about a recent kayaking trip we took down the Caney Fork.  One of the highlights of the trip was paddling up close to the nearly 60-year-old dam at Center Hill Lake (before they started generating) and seeing some of the caves that are, literally, leaking water from the lake.  I don't know the full story, which you can read more about here, but essentially the dam at Center Hill Lake is considered endangered - as in endanger of collapsing.  The bluffs the dam were constructed in are limestone and filled with caves.  Water from the lake is leaking in to these caves and entering the river.  Army Corp of Engineers calls this "seepage", but as you can see it's a straight-up gushing waterfall. This kind of defeats the purpose of a dam if water is able to escape the lake without control.


Restoration plans are underway to shore up the dam, including plugging the caves with concrete.  I love caves, and kind of hate hearing that they'll be plugged, but for this purpose I completely understand.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bald River Falls

Bald River Falls, TN - this is the view from the road

Located a few miles up the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains, TN is Bald River Falls. Bald River Falls is the ultimate "drive-by" waterfall.  You don't even have to get out to see the falls.  I was witness to this fact as multiple SUV and mini-van loads of fairly large individuals simply drove by, spied the falls, took a picture or two, then turned around and headed back the way they came.

Believe It Or Not: that's a deep pool of water (note the overflow
in the foreground is essentially a "spillway")

If you're actually in to getting out of your car and seeing things closer-up, you're in for a treat.  Take the trail to the top of the falls and you'll find a nice, deep pool where you can go swimming.  To me this is fairly unusual as you usually only find the deep pools of water at the BOTTOM of the falls.  But not at Bald River Falls.  There is a nice natural dam that contains the pool and provides a natural defense against accidentally being pulled over the falls.

Where you don't want to be swimming - Bald River just moments
from plunging over the main waterfall.

If you find yourself in southeastern Tennessee, it's well worth your time to make a quick stop to Bald River Falls, hike to the top and stick your feet in (or jump all the way in) and enjoy all that good positive ion goodness that only comes from fast moving water.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tourist Trap Heaven

DO NOT pretend that you don't want this.

As I mentioned in my previous blog about the Smokies, the nearby towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville have to be considered one of the great meccas for tourist traps in the US.  There are dozens of attractions that range from mini-golf to go carts and bungee jumps.  There are oddball museums, cheesy redneck shops and several outlet malls.  There are TWO Nike Outlet shops located on different sides of Pigeon Forge.  The traffic is so terrible in this town that by the time it takes you to drive from one Nike store to the other, your brand new shoes will be officially out of style.  Actually, chances are that they already are since we're talking about an outlet store here.

Because there are so many mini-golf courses in the area, each one has to create a unique twist to attract tourists.  Ripley's operates two places, one based on Davey Crockett and another on Old MacDonald (as in EIEIO MacDonald).  There is a Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg that is based on, as you might guess, hillbillies.  What truly makes this attraction unique is a 300-foot tall Incline tram that you'll ride up the mountain to the courses.  At one point in time there was a Bunny Golf that featured - get this - live bunnies.  Sadly, Bunny Golf is no more due to the unfortunate bunny slaughter that took place.  It was a sad ending to an unusual attraction.


Gatlinburg, TN - getting a lot of use out of this one picture.

Think of Gatlinburg as the quaint mountain village, but not really so quant and perhaps, to most folks, quite cheesy.  However there is a charm to the town, and it's surrounded by the foothills of the Smokies so there's a real beauty to the place (at least when you look up).  Here you'll find a few mini-golf courses and several haunted houses (included the Mystery Mansion, a haunted mansion themed attraction that has its guests roam around, from room to room, where there may or may not be human actors waiting to scare you).  In the 90s, there was a great fire that burned down the original Ripley's museum.  In the embers of the fire spread the seeds of Ripley all over Gatlinburg sprouting a new museum, a Motion Theater, Aquarium and several other Ripley-themed attractions.

Ripley's Haunted Adventure is a fairly decent permanent haunted house

Tourist Trap Pick in Gatlinburg

Ripley's Believe Or Not Museum -- for some reason they
skipped the construction of stairs.  All guests must
climb a rope to access the second level.

The Ripley's Believe Or Not Museum gets my highest recommendation for this town.  I should add there's a caveat as things in Gatlinburg are honestly not that incredible, so don't expect to have your mind blown or skirt blown up or down, or whatever, when you come here.  However it's a fun way to blow at least an hour seeing all of the oddball attractions Ripley has collected over the years.

Surprisingly Gatlinburg only looks like a series of lights at night.

There is also a Sky Lift and ski "resort" here.  You might be surprised to learn that the Sky Lift does not take you to the ski resort.  You can get to the ski resort via the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram.  Here you'll find ski slopes (complete with snow making towers that fire large chunks of ice at great speeds), a really cool alpine slide, MORE mini-golf and other attractions to blow your money.   The Sky Lift itself is a slow moving thrill ride that takes you up a nearby mountain to a t-shirt stand.  There are a number of attractions to do here including buying t-shirts, buying an overpriced picture of yourself that captures the very moment you realize that the sky lift is only taking you to a lousy t-shirt shop, and a view of Gatlinburg and the Smokies.  Seriously, only do this if you're bored and want to kill some time.

The Zoder Inn right on the Roaring Fork
There are a handful or more pancake joints and some really mediocre to decent motels to stay in.  Seriously, there seems to be one hotel in this town that's rated 3-stars, otherwise everything is in the 2.5 and lower range.  This doesn't mean there aren't some fairly nice places to stay.  I recommend the Best Western Zoder Inn which is nestled along the Roaring Fork.  The rooms are a bit dated, but there's nothing better than having the sounds of a roaring mountain stream to fall asleep to at night.  Plus the hotel throws in free wine and cheese each evening, and milk and cookies before bed!

Also, a trip to Gatlinburg simply isn't complete without eating some mountain fudge!  I'm not sure what it is about the mountains and fudge, but you'd think it literally oozed out of the streams as you can't seem to go to a mountain village without someone peddling some hard brick-shaped chocolate.  Finally, Gatlinburg is, for some inexplicable reason, home to approximately 1,000 ninja shops selling stars, swords and airsoft weaponry .  So if you find yourself having a hankering for some fudge and an airsoft M-16, Gatlinburg is your place.

Pigeon Forge

This represents everything you need to know about Pigeon Forge.

Pigeon Forge is, well, really just one long strip mall.  The town primarily consists of the vaguely named Parkway, a 6-lane highway that runs down the center of the valley.  Crammed along each side of the Parkway are the majority of the mini-golf and gocart tracks to be found in the area.  You'll also find various bungee jumps and sky coasters and other odd attractions that all seem to involve propelling, slingshotting, or dropping humans at great speed.  Oh, and there are many, many more pancake places here as well.  Pigeon Forge is also home to Dollywood, a wonderful (and I'm not being sarcastic here) theme park home to a nice collection of thrill rides and some truly wonderful food. There are also a number of shows here that might strike your fancy, but sadly this writer hasn't seen any of them.

Santa invites you to stay for pancakes and/or fudge


Finally, Sevierville used to be that small hometown of Dolly Parton that you had to travel through to get to the good stuff in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and, oh yeah, that little National Park that attracts more visitors than any other.  Today it has grown to be a land of large musical theaters (the great country/gospel musical theatre craze that once took over Branson moved here earlier this decade), many more motels and restaurants, and some of the larger attractions in the area including a Nascar Speedpark, a Wonderworks that appears to be some sort of "imagination" museum who's building is literally upside down, and a giant waterpark resort.  There is also a Black Bear Jamboree (which by the look of their website contains ZERO bears) and the nicer of the outlet malls in the area - the Tanger Outlets.  And if you're really, REALLY in to apples, there's the Apple Barn Farmhouse.  And, as the saying goes, an apple is truly greater when consumed in a barn.

Sadly, this extremely long blog post only cracks the surface of the many things you can do in the area.  In future posts I'll highlight some of my other favorite attractions to do in the area.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Waterfall Tour

Stillhouse Hollow Falls
This summer has been dreadfully hot, and as a result I've been hanging around a lot of natural water features each weekend.  Besides my normal summer weekend routine of kayaking, I've also (as you can guess from the title) been seeking out swimming holes at the base of waterfalls.  In fact, my friend Sarah and I have dubbed it, "The Great Middle Tennessee Waterfall Tour of Summer 2010." 

Since Sarah is out of town this weekend, Brian and I decided to take the dogs and venture out to Stillhouse Hollow Falls located 20 minutes southwest of Columbia in Maury County.  Its a state natural area and features a small waterfall and a larger waterfall (Stillhouse Hollow Falls) with a 75-foot drop.  The trail is  only about 2/3rds of a mile, but features a pretty deep descent into the hollow.  When we reached the base of the falls, there were a couple of families swimming in the shallow pool below, but we noticed an area where we could climb to a ledge under the falls and let the cool water rain down on the tops of our heads.  We let the dogs off leash and watched them revert to puppies, splashing around and running back and forth between the different families.

Since we got a late start, we didn't stay long since I wanted to visit the gravesite of my paternal great-grandparents. They're buried next to an old church and spring at Cave Springs cemetery (est. 1853) along Liepers Creek Rd. in Maury County.   We encountered quite a few detours on our way due to the extensive damage caused by the May flood, but with the aid of modern technology (Brian's iphone), we finally found our way to the cemetery.  As I was taking photos of Emry Davis and Mamie Davis' gravestones, an elderly man with striking blue eyes and one arm stopped by and informed me it was Decoration Day.  We also determined we were distantly related and shared the same last name, but as quickly as he appeared, he got back in his truck and drove off down the gravel road.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains NP

The Great Smoky Mountains (view from Charlie's Bunion)

It is only fitting that my first blog post here be about the Great Smoky Mountains.  First off, I love the desert, and find the beauty found at places like Zion and Grand Canyon unparalleled.  But if I had to pick my favorite spot on Earth aside from the desert, it would be the Smoky Mountains.

Gatlinburg, TN

In many ways these mountains are a polar opposite of the landscapes in the Southwest. The Smokies have lush vegetation, gushing mountain streams, a moderate climate and tourist traps.  Oh yes, just outside out of the National Park is the trifecta of tourist trap towns - Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville.  Here you'll find mini golf, go-carts, bungee jumping, cheesy gift shops, outlet malls, dozens (and I mean dozens) of pancake restaurants, and so on.  While the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the US, there are many millions more who will never set foot inside the park, but instead hit up one of the touristy towns.

National Park Tip:

Appalachian Trail

If you make it to the Smokies, and are in the mood for a moderate hike, I highly recommend a hike to Charlie's Bunion.  Starting from the Newfound Gap parking lot, you hike the Appalachian Trail for roughly 4 miles until you reach this bald rock outcropping with a commanding view of the mountains.  Even with the clouds the views are still impressive.

A view from Charlie's Bunion

Also head over to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail for a beautiful drive through the mountains just outside Gatlinburg.  There are plenty of places to get out and explore, including pioneer cabins, waterfalls and the popular trailhead to Rainbow Falls (a moderate to strenuous hike) and Mt. Leconte (definitely in the strenuous category).

Roaring Fork

In my next post I'll write a little bit about the wondrous tourist traps you can visit in the area.