You can see them from sixty miles away: twin beams of light reaching from lower Manhattan into the highest visible reaches of the sky. The beams burn through the night on September 11th, a memory, a tribute in light made from 88 7000W xenon bulbs.
Also in the New York skies in mid-September: hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. From afar, the beams look to the birds like…we don’t know…perhaps moonlight, or a gleam of sun out of place, or a streak of magnetic weirdness across the birds’ inner eye. The birds are drawn to the beams, then snared by the light. Look up from the ground and you see hundreds of circling birds. Through binoculars, the higher parts of the beams are so full of birds that the clouds of illuminated bodies look like the Milky Way in motion. Thousands of warblers, orioles, woodpeckers, and thrushes, each turned to a…
When I travel, my love is for exploring. So when asked to come down to Atlanta’s northern suburbs, without a plan, but with my girlfriend Yvonne, I figured, sure why not?
Now there’s some options more in keeping with what most of this blog will be. I’d wanted to kayak on the Chattahoochie River, but given it was raining, we did indoor stuff.
Travel can be about things that to a local may seem mundane. H-Mart a franchise of big box Asian stores, focusing on Korean and other East-Asian grocery products, about as mundane in some places as Target is for an East Tennessean, but for us, it was new and therefore, worth a trip. We don’t have it in Knoxville.
In the evening we stopped by Cafe 290, a jazz, funk and R&B club, and what for our region (Knoxville area) would be an elaborate seafood restaurant for a bar of its size. I’ll admit I can’t really judge Atlanta by its own standards.
The music varies a bit by night, but I can say the local performers the night we showed up were talented and the service and food were superb. It was set up more as a listening venue than a dancing venue, but we danced anyway, because we dance anywhere, including Starbucks. And no one stopped us.
Imagine the spray of Ramsey Cascades on your face, hot from hiking in the summer. Imagine the water hitting the dark rocks in the tallest waterfall Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer before falling into a pool and a creek flowing down below.
I hope you did a good job imagining that. Because I don’t have a single photograph of it from my trip August 6 this year.
A combination of wanting to shoot videos along the way, which still need editing, and my phone GPS draining itself led me to have my phone completely dead by the time I got there. Sorry. There’s probably far more professional shots of it you can look at. Like the ones on this page. But as with anything else, it’s nothing like being there anyway.
The waterfall is the highest waterfall accessible by trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While it’s not the tallest in East Tennessee (Fall Creek Falls) and especially not the United States (a quick web search shows that to be disputed but probably in Hawaii), it doesn’t matter what records it sets or doesn’t set when sitting in front of it. Watching, listening, and feeling the waterfall was worth the thirsty August walk.
I bring this up because I sometimes see people from out west, especially the Pacific Northwest put down what feels to me like the grandeur of our little-old-grandmother-rounded mountains in favor of bigger ones with sometimes bigger landmarks. Someone in the comments on another website describing Ramsey Cascade posted a waterfall in Oregon, as if to say “Mine is bigger!” Such Freudian waterfall idiocy isn’t the game I’m playing here. Nor should it be your game.
This is where I am: Tennessee. I’m here to explore the wonders of my state before gathering up the time and money to go to other ones. And Ramsey Cascade is one of them. I encourage anyone else to do the same. Maybe the Great Smoky Mountains aren’t your park. Maybe they are. They are, however, themselves.
The route to Ramsey Cascades is not the hardest in the Smokies. However, to out of shape people such as me, the near constant uphill route to the falls made my feet feel tired the next day. It’s eight miles round trip, mostly uphill on the way back.
The trail follows and crosses various streams and heads through an old-growth forest with tall trees untouched by saws.
The area below the falls is more a wading spot than a swimming spot, although there appeared to be a deeper pool just below that, earlier on the trail. In general, though, I still recommend it as a summer hike because the cool heavenly-feeling mist from the falls is the best thing on a hot, sweating face. Granted, as winter rolls in, it will look spectacular frozen, as shown here.
While a decent crowd showed up the day I hiked, many of them connected to the Great Smoky Mountains Hiking and Adventure Group, Ramsey Cascades thrives because of its reputation, not its location. The location isn’t out of the way per se, but the first time I tried to head here, I thought I’d made a wrong turn.
The Greenbriar entrance is accessible from a road on Gatlinburg’s outskirts, as described in many of the links above. The entrance from Gatlinburg, however, is not obvious. It’s gravel, as is the parking area, which is unusual for main entrances to the park, resembling a driveway. The gravel road isn’t in too bad of shape though; it’s driveable with my secondhand 2009 Prius bought from my mother, so most people shouldn’t have any problem.
I’m jealous of the eclipse. Why does it have to grab all the attention? Why? Did the moon spend years of its life writing a book called Wildly Strolling Along about the wonders of the Cumberland Trail State Park and the touching bonding experiences between an adult son and his amazing botanist father? Did the sun? Didn’t think so.
The sun wasn’t a blinding circle. For a moment, a black circle stood in its place, surrounded by white glowing loops, plasma in magnetic fields. For those few glasses-off minutes, the sky was a dim blue, neither day nor night. I was happy to be a rare member of the generation that saw it.
And in a few hours, I would feel jealous of that natural phenomenon, the total eclipse of the sun.
I was scheduled to speak at 3 p.m. The eclipse was at 1 p.m. While plenty of earlier events at Head of Sequachie got decent crowds, the ones afterwards? Not so much.
I remember standing there, looking at all these crowds, before the eclipse thinking: This has to be my big break. Who knows? Maybe they were here to see me. This was my chance.
Nope. It was the eclipse. Only a once in a lifetime event. Only the great dance of the Cosmos. Woop-de-do. I had a book! And a slideshow about the Cumberland Trail! Isn’t that more amazing?
Only five people came to my talk and only one person bought my book, Wildly Strolling Along. Which is an excellent work, but apparently did not grab any attention. I also had my books at the Cumberland Trails Conference table, but only one person bought one.
I don’t have any pictures of the eclipse. Why would I? So many people could do it better. But my day at Head of Sequachie was more than just those couple of minutes. The area is only open on a few days of the year.
The area is, as its name implies at the head of the Sequachie River, as it leaves the ground in a channel that at one point was connected to a now nonexistent mill according to one of the rangers present, although the present walls along the channel are not the original ones.
On such a hot day it’s cool water was refreshing. I waded among children with their state park-service provided nets. They pulled in sculpins, crawdads and even a young, harmless water snake.
As a side note, crawdad is the scientifically accurate name. They are not craw or cray fish because they are not fish. They’re crustaceans. Happy to settle that debate.
A short trail, marked by bird glyph designs, leads to what signs stated was a sacred cave to the area’s ancient and modern indigenous peoples. The area is known as Devilstep Hollow Cave a name that seems like an insult to native beliefs, but one that seems pretty widespread, so I’m using it. The cave has various ancient carvings in its walls and drawings in charcoal and mud, none of it visible to the public. And that’s for the best, because no one really needs “Bob was here” or something more obscene next to some old, sacred carvings. But when the area’s open, you can still see the entrance, deep in a sinkhole.
I hiked the trail twice, once with my mom, dad (who presented with me later) and girlfriend, and then as part of an interpretive trip with a ranger. While it was supposed to be a birding trip, we only spotted a distant vulture and a small hummingbird. A dung beetle grabbed the children’s attention, however. The area also had various summer wildflowers.
Various other presenters had tents in the area as well. People shot arrows, made arrowheads, played old time music and engaged children in crafts.
I’ve just scraped the surface of history both human and natural of this area which is near Crossville. But I’ll be happy to return, with or without an eclipse. And the sun and moon can know I’ll get over my jealousy. Some time.
With its fields surrounded by mountains, its trails, both very long and very short, its campground, its old buildings, including cemeteries, its bike shop and its sometimes wildlife, Cade’s Cove has lots going for it. It’s one of the few places with the kind of open scenery people crave, apart from the mountain tops.
What it doesn’t have is solitude.
Visitors to Cade’s Cove should expect crowds and traffic, even if my pictures don’t show it. Moving slow through a field amid mountains isn’t the worst thing on Earth though. Far from it. It’s actually amazing. But people who want to get away from traffic jams and crowds? You’ve got the wrong place. Cade’s Cove isn’t an escape from other people, at least not in summer. It’s kind of like rush hour in Los Angeles, if Los Angeles was a field surrounded by lovely rounded mountains.
But that’s just it. Being stuck in beautiful scenery is glorious, at least to me. I may have just lost my Great Smoky Mountains hipster cred for loving a place that’s so well-traveled, but I still love it. There’s a part of me with restless legs that gets tired of being stuck in a car. But given how great my last trip there was in terms of scenery wildlife and just general beauty, I’m happy I went.
The area’s roads connect to many trails, some longer, some just short paths near cabins. As I was traveling with less long-walk inclined folks, my last trip there stuck entirely to the former.
Here are a few highlights of my last trip earlier this year. It’s not everything to see there, but I can always go back.
I will warn you the wildlife photos from the trip may not be the best. I’m the sort of person who will give wildlife a proper respectful distance. Unless it’s frogs. So just imagine what bear and turkeys look like. You probably know what bears and turkeys are.
Above is the John Oliver cabin, no relation to the HBO comedian. John Oliver fought in the war of 1812, arrived in 1818 with the present cabin finished in 1820. The 1.4 mile fairly-level trail to this point is just the start of a far more foot-busting 8.5 mile hike, the 8.5 mile Rich Mountain Loop.
As a short little stroll, the John Oliver Cabin route has much to recommend it, with an alternate route in the shade, shown below, and a route through a field, offering views of the surrounding mountains as in the first image on this blog.
The meadow was, in May, also a good place to spot butterflies.
Back in the car, we drove to Cade’s Cove Primitive Baptist Church, where John Oliver is buried. It’s on a bit of a side road. We happened on good luck there, however, in that a bear was nearby.
Black bears often stop traffic in the Smokies in what are called “bear jams,” and this one was no exception. They’re the kind of cute, furry creatures that attract the kind of idiots who think they’re harmless and want to take selfies really close to them. Fortunately for me, I’m not one of those people. I prefer not to be torn to bloody bits. Unfortunately for you, that means you’ll have to make do with this mysterious shadow bear rather than something brighter. If you don’t know what a black bear looks like there’s always Google.
Cade’s Cove is not a zoo. Animals don’t just show up to entertain you. So I suggest relaxing. You may see a bear. You may not. You may get a good picture. You may not. Enjoy what you see. Don’t expect it, and it may come.
I do not mean “Primitive” here as an insult. There are many kinds of Baptists and Primitive just means they consider themselves the original ones in their denomination as opposed to Missionary Baptists.
I appreciate Oliver’s grave’s honesty about John Oliver’s role and not ignoring the people who were in the area before him. It lists him as the “First permanent, white settler in the area, italics mine. Cemeteries like the one here make it clear how early people died back in those days too.
Here are some other cabins, barns and structures we saw while in Cade’s Cove.
They hopped on the forest floor as I climbed to the Loysdon Overlook. Small shapes like crickets or beetles, just as easily ignorable.
And yet something inspired m e to pick it up. And then I saw it: A frog!
Heart, brain, organs bones, all in such a tiny fingernail sized package. Why do we need to sprawl into big bodies anyway? Certainly not ones my absurdly gross size. All the forms of backboned animals: endless variations on a theme. Eyes, feet, heart yet each twisted in a shape suiting a particular purpose.
Fragility. I could crush the little fellow. I videoed him stammering around, trying to say something worthwhile. I couldn’t even guess the species. The frogs I know are larger. Did that matter to it? Does its little mind even know it is a species?
I wished I knew how to sex frogs. That came out wrong. I wish I knew how to judge a frog’s sex. “It” always feels like an insult to a living being. If only “they” could catch on.
Golden light flooded through trees like something that floods through trees as I climbed. A sign told me Norris Lake had covered the Town of Loysdon, reducing it to the Loysdon Sea as some nickname it. Green leaves everywhere blocked the view, preventing it from being a panorama rather than just a view through leaves. Also it prevented the hike from being worth recommending at this time of the year. But I still enjoyed coming.
There was something satisfying about Big Ridge State Park, beyond just coming eye to eye with the tiny frog. Even though it should not have been satisfying. The boat rental with all its pedaled and paddled crafts sat closed.
I did not take even a moment to swim at the inviting area with a raft that still was open or even to eat at any of the picnic spots. The trail, strewn with logs led to nothing but an overlook crowded by leaves. I did not pitch a tent at any campsite nor did I stay at any of the cabins I walked past.
So what was it that satisfied me? Simply this: newness. I had not seen these woods or this lake since a very small age when Dad remembered me failing to be impressed at an osprey grabbing a fish.
I get restless. I want to go somewhere if only for two hours. I want to drive through the countryside, past where gas stations no longer have card scanners and their numbers flip manually, not digitally, then find a place like Big Ridge State Park. It really strikes me after being stuck in the same office all day, how amazing being in a new place is.
It was near the summer solstice. That really made the difference.
Things to do at Big Ridge
Loysdon Point is 0.9 miles from a trailhead near a playground. The area has many other trails, some of which are
Even if you don’t want to rent a boat at Big Ridge, you can launch your private one from a boat ramp near the park’s entrance.
I later returned to go swimming there, the first time my girlfriend and I got to go swimming.
The park has a variety of depths for swimming and even a raft. Out of all the lake swimming areas, in East Tennessee, it’s one of the best with plenty of room for families to mess about. The one thing it’s lacking is a long dry sandy beach, like at some of the areas on Melton Hill Lake.
When we were there a wedding was in progress and rangers were announcing water balloons ready for the children to throw.
Yes, I will debate you, June Griffin. Though face to face may be hard to arrange, I’ll lay out my point here.
First, an explanation, because we’re dealing with frequently misunderstood history.
The trial of John Scopes
June Griffin is an opponent of a privately funded statue of Clarence Darrow being put up in front of the old Rhea County Courthouse. She opposes it because, in her view, and the views of others, it promotes secularism.
Darrow’s connection to Dayton comes from a near century old event.
The town of Dayton put its high-school football coach and science teacher on trial in 1925, attracting the big name lawyers Clarence Darrow for the defense and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. The crime? Teaching that humans evolved from “lower” animals. It was against the law at the time, but no one had enforced it before then. Or after.
I say, “put on trial” because “arrested,” while technically right, would give the wrong idea. In my experience, people in small Tennessee towns would never so much as sneeze in front of their football coach, let alone put him in jail. Scopes was no exception.
A group of businessmen and notable locals, including the awesomely named Dayton Coal and Iron president George Washington Rappleyea discussed an ad from the ACLU offering to serve for the defense of anyone tried under the law over sodas at a drug store, because that was how small-town people did things in the 1920s. Along with wearing silly straw hats all the time.
The mining industry, which founded the town in the first place, was failing at the time, having had much bad luck including deadly explosions, the worst killing 29 people. But now they could get the town on the map for something bigger: hosting the trial of the century.
Some of the businessmen supported the law, some of them opposed it like Rappleyea who said he wanted it to go on trial in order to be repealed, but they mostly just wanted attention for their town.
So, a boy ran over and found their man, out playing tennis. He came into the drugstore chatted with the folks there, and while it wasn’t clear whether he’d ever taught much about evolution, it was in the textbook the school assigned. The drugstore sold it, so they could easily check. To be fair, schools didn’t have many creationist textbooks to choose from back then. Anyway, Scopes never spent a single day in jail and never even testified in a trial that became more about Bryan and Darrow debating each other. That debate and evolution vs. creationism overshadowed all of Dayton’s previous history, including union strikes, the mine explosions, a company president’s suicide and its also awesomely named British founder, Titus Salt Jr.
The trial led to the founding of Bryan College, named for William Jennings Bryan, in Dayton. So, naturally, Dayton’s old courthouse had a statue, not of Scopes, Rappleyea, the copperhead who bit Rappleyea and forced him to stay in Dayton (leading to the trial), or Titus Salt Jr. but of Bryan, just by himself. Then, this year, they’ve added a statue of Darrow.
Scopes, 24 years old at the time, agreed to go on trial because his father said it was a good idea. I can relate. At about the same age, my own father, coincidentally a strong believer in evolution like Scopes’, convinced me to stay in Tennessee and work with him on a book.
My book, a collaboration with my father, called “Wildly Strolling Along” is about hiking, nature and history along the Cumberland Trail. A side branch of that trail goes past some ruins which include a mine ruin connected to the company that would become Rappleyea’s. I mistakenly identified as a coke oven for processing coal in my book. But I still stand by most of what I said about Dayton’s mining industry, unless anyone else has any corrections. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org if you do.
The museum and why the statue fits
Because that history peaked with the Scopes Trial, it led to me visiting the museum at the courthouse back when it had just one statue of Bryan as I mention in the book. I was impressed by the fact that the museum, while focusing on the trial, had displays portraying creationism and evolution accurately and a great timeline of mining company history, to which I owe a chapter of my book.
The museum already had Darrow’s straw boater hat (yup, another one) so it wasn’t like it ignored him. The courthouse is known for its accurate reenactment of the trial based on transcripts, which serves as a correction to the fictional and never-intended-to-portray-reality play and movie “Inherit the Wind” which has shaped far too many people’s perceptions.
While Griffin’s statements as reported in the media have been provocative and sensationalist, a good statement of her side’s views can be found here by someone who spoke at Griffin’s rally. Note that he never mentions the real background of the trial (coal mining and a struggling town economy) focusing on the “clash of ideas.”
While I do believe in evolution and have endorsed it in my book, I also admire Bryan, and many of his positions were ahead of their time. Neither of those opinions, however, really matter here.
The structure is a museum. It’s meant to tell people an unbiased truth about what happened, which is what it does so well. Having both lawyers in front lends credibility.
People from both sides of the debate can come there and learn accurately what happened after admiring the representatives of the different sides. Darrow’s statue is in keeping with the spirit of the museum as it was when I was there and the spirit of its general mission. That, to me is more valuable than endorsing either side of the debate: endorsing learning.
So, yes, I welcome the new statue, even as I wish there might have been more information about the coal company history. I support a place where people of different views can come together. To me, that’s the real issue here. That and promoting my own book. Because after all, what could be more in keeping with the original trial than shameless promotion?