Hello my friends! It has been a great first week in Tennessee out here on the road. When I wrote last week, I was on my way out to the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park in far western North Carolina. Today, I'm writing from Knoxville in north eastern Tennessee. It's been an exciting week of festivals and hiking in the park, and the weather has been just beautiful. Strawberries are coming into season and I love good, local strawberries which I'm thankful I've been able to find. I've also been trying to wrap up a few things from South Carolina and begin writing my next podcast. Thankfully the days are getting long down south and it seems like long ago and a million miles away that I was sitting in sub-freezing temperatures in the dark at 4:30 p.m. in West Virginia. Daylight and sunshine really do make a difference - I hope you are all getting outside and enjoying both. Anyways, this is what I've been up to this past week. I didn't quite get it done in time for my Thursday newsletter, but it has been busy out here.
The Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park proved to be beautiful. I did a wonderful loop hike there which included three different waterfalls. Juney Whank Falls was delightful and there was an awesome bridge which passed right in front of it. Indian Creek Falls and Tom's Branch Falls were also really nice. This three mile loop trail was perfect for a nice afternoon hike and most people could handle the uphill parts. It was really great to be out in the park.
Leaving in late afternoon, I cruised down NC Route 28 to Franklin. Route 28 is a beautiful, winding road which follows the Little Tennessee River Valley for a nice part of this section. I had a late dinner in Franklin, a cute little town on a hill, and enjoyed a single beer at the Lazy Hiker Brewery.
The next morning dawned dry, but the clouds were threatening and weather was moving in. I headed out of Franklin early so I could catch a couple of waterfalls before the weather took a turn. I headed down narrow Route 64, also called the Waterfall Byway to see Cullasaja, Bridal Veil and Dry Falls. The road was beautiful as were the waterfalls. I got a huge kick out of Dry Falls, a waterfall which has a trail that goes behind the falls. Dry Falls apparently gets its name because you will stay dry when you are walking behind it. Not so that day, after all the rain we had been having the river and waterfall were raging. It was still really cool to go behind it though and I really only got misted on - enough to wake me up but not soak me.
There is a small, fifty yard pullout a few miles further down the road which allows you to drive behind Bridal Veil Falls. It was closed when I was there, but I could park and walk behind it. Bridal Veil Falls was more like a trickle after Dry Falls, but it was still nice.
When I was done visiting the waterfalls, I backtracked to Franklin and then continued down Route 64 until I turned off to go through tiny Brasstown. On the other side of Brasstown is the John C. Campbell Folk School, something I definitely wanted to see before I left North Carolina. The Folk School is a really wonderful old collection of art studios clustered in the woods not far from the Georgia border. People come from all over the world to learn the traditional arts and crafts of Appalachia. You can take classes there on everything from pottery and quilting to cheese making, music and dance. They have a really wonderful craft shop on the campus and also a dining room for students and visitors. Unfortunately, I just missed lunch, but it looked like it would have been good. Despite the rain, which had returned with a vengeance, I wandered the campus and poked my head in to several of the studios. This is such a neat place and I was so happy to see so many of these old ways being preserved and passed on. The next time I am in the area, I would love to stay for a few days and take a class. The whole place was beautifully laid out and had a really pleasant feel to it. It was well worth the diversion.
Back on the highway, I passed through tiny Murphy, the frontier town at the far western tip of North Carolina, and from there, on into Tennessee. I came in on Route 74 and traveled down along the Ocoee River, a river I have rafted many times over the years. It's a good one. I ended up in Cleveland for the night.
I woke up excited to be in Tennessee, but I needed to get my tires rotated so I set out to get that done quickly in the morning. Unfortunately, they told me my front brakes were shot, so that put a damper on my day. I headed down to find somewhere in Chattanooga to get my brakes done, but stopped at the Tennessee Welcome Center on the way to pick up some brochures and start planning my month in the state. The people there were really helpful and wonderful and, loaded up with reading material, I headed on to the brake shop.
When they finally finished up (and believe me, I'm very grateful they got it done in a day), it was already late afternoon and I headed downtown and went for a stroll. I stopped at the Moon Pie General Store for a Moon Pie Sundae which was actually really good. Moon Pies are from Chattanooga so it seemed like something I should do, and I haven't had the opportunity in the few times I had been through before. After that, I headed down to one of my favorite old Chattanooga haunts, The Pickle Barrel. The Pickle Barrel has been around for a while and it's one of those classic dive bars you're never sure will hang on, but always seems to. It's in an old building on a corner which narrows down into a V shape with only one table at the very tip of the building. I had a cold beer and some good conversation there and then headed back across town to the baseball stadium.
Yes, it is finally baseball season, and I was thrilled to be able to take in a minor league game. This matchup was between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Tennessee Smokies who hail from Sevierville, Dolly Parton's hometown. The stadium is a nice, small one in the heart of downtown. My ticket was only $7 and beers were about $5-6, another reason I prefer minor league games. It wasn't a great game, and the Lookouts took a beating, but it was fun to be there nonetheless. Since it was a Friday, they had fireworks after the game, something I'm always up for.
Saturday I was up and off to South Pittsburgh for the 22nd annual National Cornbread Festival. I had to wade through traffic for a while to get there as this was a way more popular event than I had anticipated. When I set out on this journey, I was really looking forward to these small town festivals, and this one did not disappoint. Seeing as it was the Cornbread Festival, I started off with some cornbread. For a $5 donation, you could head down Cornbread Alley and sample 9 different kinds of cornbread. From sweet cornbread with cranberries and white chocolate to savory cornbread with cheese and jalapenos, I tried them all. They were great, but I found I really liked the ones made with green onions. For whatever reason, that was a good pairing.
One of the main sponsors of the Cornbread Festival is one of the main industries in town, Lodge Cast Iron. Their foundry is located right there in downtown South Pittsburgh, and it's only open to the public during the festival. It was really interesting to wander through their massive plant and see how and where they make their pans and dutch ovens. This is a great American product, and the people that work there take a lot of pride in it. They were scattered throughout the plant to answer any questions people had. Their Factory Store, which is open to the public year round, had some great deals and was cool to browse around.
Returning to the festival, I enjoyed some non-cornbread festival food including a funnel cake and a fried green tomato sandwich. I wandered around the booths and carnival and rounded out the day listening to the main band for the festival: Exile. After they finished playing, I headed back through Chattanooga and up to Cleveland for the night.
Sunday, I started off at the Cleveland Sweet Tea and Sunshine Festival. Much smaller than the one I had been to the day before, this festival was mostly about arts and crafts and enjoying a nice day outside. There was food and music and a sweet tea competition. I hung out for a while, listening to the music and reading through a bunch of Tennessee brochures and literature and then made up my mind to head back to the Great Smoky Mountains.
I made my way out to Cade's Cove on the Tennessee side of the park by late afternoon. I got a campsite and then did the scenic loop around the area. The highlight of the evening was definitely a black bear and her two cubs, foraging right on the side of the road. It's been a while since I saw a bear, so this really made my afternoon. I also saw a coyote and some deer on the drive. I had a very quiet and peaceful night in camp that night; it was nice to be back in the woods.
Monday I spent hiking up to ol' Rocky Top on the Appalachian Trail. It was a solid 14 mile round trip hike and definitely took it out of me. I figured since I'm going to be in Tennessee for a month, I had to visit ol' Rocky Top. It was a great hike and there were some truly amazing views from the top.
From there, I headed back across the park and made it up to the top of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest east of the Mississippi, just as the nearly full moon was rising. It was a bright orange, something i wish I had been able to capture on film as it would have been most appropriate for Tennessee. I spent the night parked on top of the mountain so I could get up and be there for sunrise the next day.
Sunrise was really pretty and from there, I headed down the mountain, cooked some breakfast in my van at Sugarlands Visitor Center and then made my way slowly on to Knoxville. I got there in time to clean up a bit and get some work done before calling it an early night.
Yesterday I spent a fascinating day out at Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge was developed during World War II as a uranium enrichment plant for the Manhattan Project. Because the people working there couldn't know about this top secret project, they were kept in the dark, with their jobs being explained using very functional language ("if this dial reaches 70, turn this knob a quarter turn to the right"). The city was built at breakneck speed with upwards of 30 houses a day being built at its peak. Many of those houses are still there today, and it was a fascinating town to visit. I spent most of the day at the American Museum of Science and Energy and also took a three hour tour out to the enrichment sites around town. Now used for other scientific endeavors, it was definitely neat to see.
Playing around on my phone on the bus yesterday, I saw that Stone Temple Pilots were playing last night in Knoxville, and I picked up a ticket for under $20 on StubHub. The show was at the Mill and Mine, a really awesome old mill that's been converted into a music venue. It was a great venue and a great show.
And that's been my week. It's been busy, busy, busy, but a great first week in Tennessee. I'm staying in Knoxville tonight, and then I'm going to make my way up to Johnson City and Bristol this weekend. I'm excited to see Davy Crockett's birthplace and learn more about Andrew Johnson, one of our country's worst presidents. I'm also excited to learn more about the Bristol Sessions at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol and hopefully hear some great music there as well. From there, I hope to make my way out to Big South Fork National Recreation Area and then south and west towards Tullahoma. I haven't set anything in stone past the weekend, so I guess you will just have to stay tuned and see where I end up.
Have a great week out there, wherever you are, and I will be back next week with another riveting installment. I also hope to get up photo posts from the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cornbread Festival. It's going to be busy here in Tennessee this week, I hope you will get out and have some adventures of your own. Until next time then, stay safe out there, but not too safe.