Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Savage Gulf

The Savage Gulf in Tennessee

Savage Gulf State Natural Area is an incredible spot located in the Cumberland Plateau. From the air, Savage Gulf looks a lot like a giant crow's foot carved in to the plateau. Here you'll find numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, swimming holes, caves and even a natural Stone Door.

There are multiple spots to take in the wonderful views of the gulf.  The Stone Door Ranger Station offers a short, relatively easy trail to the Stone Door, 10 foot wide, 100 foot deep crack in the rock.  The Savage Gulf Ranger Station features the Savage Gulf Day Loop Trail, a 4.2 mile loop trail that offers views (and a short access trail) of Savage Falls and a wonderful view of the gulf itself (featured in the photo above) from Rattlesnake Point Overlook. And there are many hikes that take you down in to the gorge. Collins Gulf, for example, features the very popular Horsepound Falls on its journey down. You can find long day hikes and there are a number of spots to camp out to make a full weekend of exploration.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

World's Largest Treehouse

Two weeks ago, my pal Sarah and I visited what might just be the world's Largest Treehouse.  Located in Crossville, TN just a mile or so off Interstate 40, this monsterous treehouse was created by Horace Burgess, a local minister who was inspired to start builing the treehouse eleven years ago, and essentially never stopped.  According to one of the treehouse employees, Mr. Burgess started with one tree, and now the house has expanded to encompass ten large trees.  Most of the materials have been donated.

Just one corner of the multi-story treehouse

When you drive up the gravel road to the treehouse and view it for the first time, it is just astounding.  Sarah and I stared at it in wonderment before exploring all its nooks and crannies- which include a bell tower, chapel, swing, and several trap doors.  A young man and his mother employed by Mr. Burgess patroled the grounds and treehouse in an effort to stop graffiti (despite their best efforts it is still pretty rampant).  There was also a tin teepee set up nearby that I assumed served as a bunk for overnight patrols.  Apparently they had just busted some teens the night before who had broken into the treehouse at around 3 a.m.

Sarah enjoying the 'swing'

Once you get to the very top of the treehouse, be sure to look down and you will see the word 'Jesus' written out in landscaping across the field below.  Mr. Burgess holds church in the chapel on most Sundays and there have even been several weddings in the treehouse. 

It amazes me that this place is open for free to the public.  It is a definite must-see if you are in Tennessee.  You can find directions by searching for 'the Minister's treehouse' at Roadside America.  Although entrance is free, there is a donation box and trust me, you will be inspired to donate after seeing Mr. Burgess's eleven-year effort born out of personal inspiration.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Running down Short Mountain

Earlier this Spring, my friend Sarah and I participated in the Stones River Relay, a 22-mile relay of running, biking, and kayaking across Cannon County, TN that benefits the Stones River Watershed Association.  Since my right arm was fractured only a few weeks before in a biking accident, and Sarah was having leg pains from marathon training, we decided that I would run and she would bike and kayak.  Together, our two broken bodies made a full team- and an excellent one at that, but more on that later. 

We arrive at the Cannon County Arts Center early despite a brief, unsuccessful attempt to find trail mix in the town of Woodbury.  The one gas station we stopped at was literally empty with the exception of one lone shelf that held a couple of old candy bars.  Why they needed two cashier's to handle my purchase of a circa 1990s Snickers bar is beyond me.  No luck at the grocery store either- but fyi, they do have quite an excellent selection of  refrigerated corn dogs. 

Once we signed in and tagged our gear, we loaded up on one of three school buses that take participants up to the top of Short Mountain to begin the relay at a mountain-top bible camp.  Although Sarah didn't run, she rode the bus to the very top of the mountain where the run begins. As we rode up the mountain and I saw the descent I would have to run back down, I realized:  Shit. I am so not prepared for this.  But, since I didn't plan on staying the night at the Short Mountain Bible camp, I decided to just go for it, and I actually made really good time (despite waking up with severe calf cramps the next day).  Once I made it to Short Mountain school, Sarah was able to take off on her bike as I waited for the school bus to take me back down to the Stones River. 

By the time I did get back to the kayak entry point for the Stones River, Sarah had already beaten me down there on her bike, so I hopped in her car and drove over to the finish line at the historic Readyville Mill.  I watched Sarah paddle in at 11th place, thus making our team the 11th overall and 1st all-girl team to finish this year's race.  I will definitely do this race next year- it was scenic, not too crowded, and the proceeds go to a great cause: preserving the Stones River watershed.  Plus, there's a catfish mascot.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Somehow I Knew Col. Sanders Was Mixed Up in This...

Rachel, NV.

In the deserts of Nevada you'll find the small little town of Rachel, NV.  It is best known as the jumping off point for exploration around Area 51 and is home to the Little A'Le'Inn.  It is also home, mysteriously, to a giant-assed painting/mural of Col Sanders.  Why?  Is the Col part of some great alien-fried chicken mystery?  Was one of the secret ingredients from another world or even possibly alien meat? Nope, apparently it's an advertising stunt.  KFC wanted to have the first ad visible from space, and they apparently got it. You can read more about the ad here.  And you can look up the Col yourself on Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unusual and Wacky Hotels

Wow, we're in desperate need of posting around here, so we'll make an "easy" post by linking to a list of some of the world's most unusual hotels.  I particularly love the cave hotel in Turkey and the most odd to me, for some reason, is the Capsule Hotel in Japan. Why does it remind me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer kept some visitors from Japan in his large oversized dresser drawers?

Monday, January 31, 2011

See Rock City, or We'll Cut You!

If you've driven anywhere in the South, there's a really good chance you've seen a billboard or barn rooftop advertising "See Rock City".  High on top Lookout Mountain you'll find this rock garden tourist trap.

Lovers Leap at Rock City
FUN FACT: Two indians leapt to their deaths here!

You simply have to go here at least once in your life.  Depending on which way you swing (and they have a nice swinging bridge here, by the way), it's either gloriously beautiful or gloriously cheesy.  The beautiful part of the park is the rock gardens and views from Lookout Mountain.   I took Jessica here for her first time visit a few years ago. Her thoughts? "It's... definitely unique." That's a ringing endorsement!

Jessica attempts to prevent being crushed
at Rock City's "Rock Compactor Alley"

The main feature of Rock City is the "Enchanted Flagstone Trail".  Here you'll wind your way through, over and under various rock formations. There's a "Fat Man's Squeeze" and "Needle's Eye" to walk through along with a Balancing Rock and "Rainbow Hall", an amazing stretch of passage with windows covered with multi-colored gels. Okay the multi-colored windows seemed a lot neater when I was a kid. And there's a view of "7 States" which I don't think is entirely true. There's actually a lot of debate about the validity of this named view, but regardless, it's an impressive view. 

"Warning: Neon and Killer Gnomes Inside!"

The cheesy part of Rock City is the final act - Fairyland Caverns.  The "Caverns" takes you through a number of scenes depicting evil garden, or actually, cave gnomes who stare at you, grinning evilly:

The one on the right took a shine to Jessica.
His head cock is disturbing.

After the gnomes are through with you, the tour continues on to an even more bizarre site - Mother Goose Village - a room featuring glow-in-the-dark figurines depicting various Mother Goose nursery rhymes. It is truly bizarre.  And it's a lot of fun.  I've been fascinated with caves, both real and fake, for years, so I always enjoyed the conclusion to Rock City's tour.

It was impossible to capture this properly
because it's simply too awesome.

The cost of a ticket has steadily risen over the years as the cost to upkeep the rock has, um, risen?  There are "Lookout Mountain" combo tickets you can purchase if you're planning to also see nearby Ruby Falls and ride the Incline Railroad.  So definitely look in to purchasing one of those to save a few bucks. For more info about Rock City, visit their website here.

FUN GAME: If you drive from Nashville down to Chattanooga, play the game: Who has more signs, Rock City or Ruby Falls? Hint:  if you want to win, don't pick the attraction that uses the birdhouse barn.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dirtiest Hotels in America

Thick balls of hair, film on the carpets and loads o' stains
await you here at the Grand Resort Hotel!

Trip Advisor recently released its list of the 10 Dirtiest Hotels in in the US and #1 is the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, TN.  And yes, I've stayed there!  The hotel carries the lovely designation of having 87% of its customers to NOT recommend it.  I love this review:

“There was dirt at least 1/2" thick in the bathtub which was filled with lots of dark hair.”

And others mention that layer of film you can feel on the carpet.  Awesome.   Many of the reviews begs you to wonder, "What part of this room ISN'T covered in hair?"

Honestly this place fits right in with many of the other "hotels" you find in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area.  These are motels that were built in the 80s and many of them have either not been renovated or cleaned, or both, in the past 20+ years.  My brother and I stayed at a "lovely" Best Western in Gatlinburg for my bachelor's weekend that was a real winner.  The place smelled simultaneously of cigarette smoke and baked ham.  The furniture was made of stuff cheaper than particle board.  In fact if you laid your suitcase on top of the dresser it would crack and almost collapse.  It's major feature or convenience was it's proximity to a pancake restaurant.  It had ramps lined in lovely mini-golf "grass" carpet.  I could go on...

So give this list a read and know which motels to stay away from, especially if you're planning on a pancake/outlet mall run to Pigeon Forge.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

There's Hope Ahead

Over on the Fail Blog they have a funny "fail" they have named "Juxtaposition Fail". Tennesseans, specifically those who drive between Nashville and Chattanooga, will recognize that familiar sign (and the "hope ahead") as a winery located near Manchester, TN.  And seeing that sign reminds me of a mystery I know a few people have had as they pass it - is it Bear's Creek or Bean's Creek?  It's hard to tell by their choice of font.  If it's Bear's Creek I call the sanitation of the water in to question.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon

Near Page, AZ, off US 89, you'll find a rather inauspicious sign for Horseshoe Bend. I remember not wanting to bother with the hike but Jessica wanted to go. The sign in no way prepares you for the site you'll see. The trail from the parking lot immediately heads up a moderately steep hill. There is absolutely ZERO protection from the elements, so be prepared and wear sunscreen. The hike isn't very long and leads you to the edge of the Colorado River. Here you are greeted to an amazing view of the Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon. I believe we simply stared (and took pictures) for close to 30 minutes. We probably could have spent an hour or more. It's simply awe inspiring to see.

On this trip I brought along my first "real" camera, the Canon T2i and I took the picture you see here. Unfortunately I only had the "kit lens" that came with the camera which limited how wide a shot I could take. So I couldn't fully capture the scene without cutting off parts of the river. Still, I'm very happy with the resulting image.

Colorado River journeys through Glen Canyon.

So if you find yourself heading to Page, AZ and to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, do yourself a favor and pull off at the parking lot for Horseshoe Bend. We definitely want to return one day... with a much wider lens of course!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More Abandoned Places

The Kingston Lounge (link via Gawker) chronicles the exploration of an abandoned quarantine hospital on North Brother Island up in New York City and they include some great photos.   I particularly love the spiral staircase shot (above) .  I really wish I had a place like this nearby to explore and shoot.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lost America

Mercury Julep
Originally uploaded by Lost America
Over on my video blog I posted a link to a film called "Undercity" which explores the underground subway tunnels and ancient sewers of New York City.  I'm utterly fascinated with this sort of thing and I can stare at photographs of abandoned sites and ruins for hours.  Watching the video reminded me of one of my favorite sites that I haven't visited in years - Lost America.  Lost America not only captures abandoned places in America's Southwest, but does so using night photography, a technique using long exposure times and "light painting".  The end result is an often stunning and always surrealistic landscape that's amazing to stare at.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Forgive us for a moment as we leap around the country as we jump from Nevada and back to the Southeast.  Nestled between Lookout and Signal Mountains is Chattanooga, TN. For a lot of people, Chattanooga is known for it's Choo-Choo, or as that city you pass through when you're heading down to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. But Chattanooga deserves a few days (if not more) dedicated to exploring it's wonderful downtown area and the nearby attractions on Lookout Mountain.

Pardon me boys...


A lovely 1:1 scale model of the riverfront
I remember trips to Chattanooga in the 80s with my family and we'd rarely EVER venture downtown.  If you went to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, you didn't dare set foot an inch away from the grounds because of crime, or the perceived threat of crime. Today the downtown area is home to restaurants, museums, an aquarium, IMAX Theater, minor-league baseball stadium and so much more. The Riverfront itself has nice waterworks features where kids (and kids at heart) can splash in the water. There is a nice long greenway to bike, run or jog and various paths to stroll along. There's even a somewhat hidden amphitheater underneath a bridge proving Chattanooga figured out how to use almost every available inch of space along the river.

But Chattanooga didn't stop with developing it's downtown-side of the river.  Take a stroll across the pedestrian bridge to the North Shore, a slightly more funky, eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. There is also a large park, plenty of nice, cool grass to lay out on and a large fountain for more kids to play in. Be sure to stop at Clumpie's Ice Creamery, a local Chattanooga favorite for ice cream treats. Also take notice of the fact that Chattanooga is home to a surprising number of hippies.

In future blog posts I'll dive in to some of the other attractions in the area, like Rock City, the Incline Railroad and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

Rock City - where human-sized gnomes force
hapless families to enter dangerously
narrow passageways.