Sandstone splendor-Cumberland Trail State Park near Fairfield Glade

Sunday May 31

You are a grain of sand.

350 million years ago a shallow sea tossed you around. But since then you’ve hardened into a part of a cliff that towers over the heads of humans. You sparkle when the light hits you, making you noticeable at times. There are thousands of grains like you, no millions, making patterns in the cliff and forming it, all smashed together. Spiders spin webs in front of you, catching insects. Water drips across you, loosening you. Soon you join other grains at the bottom of the cliff face, becoming like beach sand once again, this time far from the ocean. Ants crawl among you and your brethren. Antlions use you as part of a funnel to catch the ants. Moonshiners step on you, hiding beneath the cliff to avoid the authorities. A world towers over you, with you powerless. And yet you just wait for what it will throw at you next and what you’ll next become.


I’ve missed hiking the Cumberland Plateau. The lost world of sandstone cliffs tucked away in the woods behind towering evergreens isn’t exactly like other wild areas such as the Great Smoky Mountains. The plateau holds its own charm. And most importantly for some people now, plenty of it is so not well known that you can walk there and never run into a single other human except the ones you take with you.

There are many different parks and trails here, among them the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park. I wrote a book with my Dad “Wildly Strolling Along”on what the trail was like in 2012.

It’s an unfinished overnight trail from Chattanooga to Cumberland Gap. But volunteers are busy building other sections of it every day. After hearing about this recently completed section, I knew Yvonne and I had to hike it.

The entrance on Peavine Road is easily miss-able, a set of stone steps with no parking area. Directions to it are available here, although much of the other information on that website about the trail is out of date.

After climbing up the stone steps we found ourselves admiring wildflowers as we headed deeper into the forest.

The flowers are a highlight depending on when you visit. On our visit we saw the white flowers on mountain laurel and the bright orange flowers of Cumberland azaleas, among others. I hope to return during rhododendron season when rhododendron “hells” (yes that’s the word) will surround the streams.

The part of the trail we traveled crosses streams in several places with bridges that look new. At one such stream we sat down to eat.

Yet it was the cliffs which the trail goes through, underneath and on top of that really held my attention.

After walking through a narrow passage between rocks, the trail goes underneath cliffs.

Yvonne enjoyed them too through her own, odd filter, focusing in on little holes in the rock as the homes and businesses of a fairy civilization.

“This is where the fairies go to drink beer,” she said pointing to one such opening.

“This is where they have sex,” she said regarding another near flowers.

Even without fantasy creatures, these cliffs work as apartment buildings for spiders and wasps. Lichens, mosses, and even rhododendrons grow from them. You can see different colors– reds, tans and grays in the stone with the occasional sparkle. Sandstone is made of sand, as I explained above. It forms ledges and shelters.

What appear to be the ruins of an oven are beneath one bluff. Dad has said it was part of an abandoned moonshining (bootleg liquor) camp at one point, as seem to be common in various places around the plateau.

Sand covers the areas below the cliffs some areas, you can see the neat little dents in the that antlions use to funnel ants into their mouths.

We stopped at a crossroad with a wider trail, about halfway down the main trail. I hope to return soon.

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