May 27 Where we ain’t and Cumberland Gap

When we told folks we were going to Rocky Top, many Tennesseans grinned and indicated we were headed for a gorgeous part of the world. We are currently set up in a facility called Rocky Top RV Park. As it turns out, we were unable to find any town called Rocky Top near where we are staying. Further investigation revealed that there really isn’t a town called Rocky Top except for a municipality formerly named something obscure, then Lake City and pretty recently changed to Rocky Top to take advantage of a song by the same name. When changing the name to Rocky Top, the municipality was forbidden from benefiting commercially from the name so they immediately went into the shot glass, bumper sticker and T-shirt business. Now the town has drawn the wrath of some legal authorities. In any event, the former Lake City and current temporary Rocky Top is over by Knoxville and nowhere around here. We found we are actually in Blountville.
Our trip today was from Blountville over to the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. It is about 80 miles, as the crow flies, from our current RV location but the scenery here in this part of Tennessee is gorgeous so the drives each way didn’t seem too bad. The park itself encompasses the actual Gap and a lot of mountainous terrain, huge limestone rock formations jutting from the tops of big mesas and verdant foliage. Apparently, lots of folks knew about this gap through the steep mountains because they have found artifacts from prehistoric folks along with settler types from the late 1600’s. This was the smart man’s path if leaving east coast states headed for the frontier, which at that time was in Kentucky. The Gap itself sits almost directly on the intersection of the borders of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
After making an obligatory stop at the visitor center, we took a spin up to the Pinnacle Overlook on a road that was designed to be driven by the brave because the corners are tight and the road is steep. However, those getting to the Pinnacle Overlook are treated to a stunning view over the corners of three states and the towns of Middlesboro, Shawanee and Harrowgate a thousand or more feet below. The Pinnacle Overlook is a bad place to step over the hand rail unless you are a BASE jumper.
There are lots of trails and caves also within the park but we didn’t see them because we ran out of time. As it worked out, we made it back to the trailer in time for me to see the NASCAR race on our park’s cable feed. Rocky Top RV Park, despite being nowhere near the alleged town of Rocky Top, is still a gorgeous park, probably the most beautiful we have stayed in during our 4 years of full-time RVing. The owners, Gary and Debbie, have planted an amazing variety of exotic plants in the tiny park and it is very pretty. Their facilities are also very good. I can heartily recommend this place.
We got a few pix. Click here

May 26 Downpours

Last night starting at about 2:00 AM it started raining and it was open for business. The downpours made it sound like we were inside a snare drum in the trailer. This morning it did not let up. We slugged it out in the trailer, taking long showers and watching movies. Maybe it will dry out tomorrow. The day after that we depart and we hope the weather cooperates because the skinny roads around here may become even more treacherous when wet.

May 25 Around Rocky Top

Now that we have made it to the remote corner of Tennessee called Rocky Top and all our necessary chores are complete, we could go exploring today. We started with a trip into nearby Blountville for breakfast at a place called Dolly’s Diner. There were a bunch of cars parked in the lot and that is always a good sign. In this case, however, it was not an indicator of superb food. The food was pretty ordinary but the prices were great. A bacon and cheese omelet served with biscuits and gravy is less than $6 and it was tasty enough. Dolly’s would seem a great place to dine if you were in a hurry.
We continued on very serpentine and hilly single-lane roads over to Elizabethton, a beautiful town with a 1900’s main street and a gorgeous downtown city park that occupies both sides of the river running through it. There is an old covered bridge and a very contented group of ducks and geese hanging out near the bridge. There were lots of baby ducks and goslings following their folks during grazing operations. There are also a bunch of beautiful old houses and municipal buildings scattered around the city that warranted some exotic U-turns to get better looks.
From here we started some random explorations and soon ended up in some state parks near Elizabethton including one with a place called the Doodle White Overlook which offers a great view of a reservoir and the Appalachians.
Getting around in this part of the state must be nearly impossible for anybody without a good GPS wayfinding system. The roads point in all directions except the one you wish to take. On one eight mile trip, we had to take at least ten different roads because in this sort of mountainous terrain there are no straight runs. The roads hug the hills and sneak along creek bottoms. Lots of gorgeous houses are built in the bottom lands with many structures built on the opposite side of the creek than the road. Residents have built small bridges crossing the creeks whose architectural flair is only surpassed by the bridge’s flimsiness. We found a few ravines (hollows, pronounced “hollers”) where residents live in small Dogpatch-like communities of illiteracy and toothlessness but most of the places were quite pretty. All the scenery is great.
On our way back to our trailer in the afternoon, we tried US-421 because we anticipated using this road when we leave Tennessee and go into North Carolina. We no longer consider this a good road to use because it is loaded with tight switchbacks, steep climbs, brake-heating descents and ubiquitous opportunities to plunge over steep precipices into oblivion. While driving this road, we passed through a spectacular mountain pasture with a town called Shady Valley plopped down in the middle.
While admiring the stunning views, we spotted some black smoke rising not far from our location and decided to go take a look. There was a local cop leaving the area as we arrived and we thought surely the fire department was not far behind. We hung out a bit, watching some hillbilly’s shed burn until there was an impressive explosion which brought the cop whistling back to take a closer look. By the time we left, the former still or meth lab was fully involved and emanating evil-looking dark clouds of smoke.
On the way home, we drove by the town of Bristol which is split in half by the Tennessee/Virginia border running through the center of town. Nearby is a famous NASCAR track which I always thought was a rustic little arena in the middle of some pasture based on what I could ascertain from the TV. There is still lots of pasture but the actual seating around the track is quite impressive. I guess it has to be in order to get 160,000 people around a half-mile track. We finished off the day with a trip to a barbecue restaurant in Kingsport called Pratt’s. The food was very good and reasonably ($15 a head) priced. Strangely, they have a big (20 feet tall?) statue of an Indian built out front but where his head should be was a blue plastic tarp.
We took a few pictures along the way and you can see them if you click here

May 24 Laundry day

Today was laundry day and we had a big pile since the last time we did the laundry was in Natchez Trace Thousand Trails. We were getting pretty short on clothes that are appropriate for high temperatures and oppressive humidity. As usual, Peggy handled most of the activity and I merely provided the simple duties like packing clothes to and from the laundry room. I am severely handicapped with the clothes washing duties, maybe because I still don’t know what “colorfast” means. I have never seen colors move, much less be fast.
The Rocky Top RV Park, where we are currently holed up, is a gorgeous park. The facility only has about 35 spaces in a small area but, due to the way the park is configured, each RV spot has ample room and privacy. The wifi is great. There are lots of birds making nests and feuding over the numerous bird feeders installed around the site. There are also some big deer who are quite chubby due to being fed corn at some deer feeders they have here. It is like camping in an oriental garden, thanks to Gary, the owner. He has been busy mowing, weeding, running the string trimmer and blower. Gary says he came originally from Pennsylvania. When we asked him how he got to Tennessee, he blamed his wife.

May 23 Dumplin Valley to Rocky Top

We were on the road again today, leaving Dumplin Valley and continuing northeast toward Virginia. The lousy paving of I-40 was our partner for about 20 miles and then we got onto I-81 for about 90 minutes. We pulled off in a place called Rocky Top, Tennessee.
Soon, we were pulling into Rocky Top Campground, a small but beautiful RV park with full hookups, pretty spaces, wifi, cable TV and a good laundromat. I am suffering from a sneaky geezer disease that has stiffened up my knee so we just set up and climbed into the air conditioning for a nice nap. We love the lack of firm scheduling required for this lifestyle.
There are lots of birds and deer here.

May 22 Oil change time

We had to get the oil changed in the truck today so we thought the day was going to be miserable. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. The guys at the oil change joint zipped through the work and we were soon on our way for some aimless wandering. We ate at the only chain restaurant we trust, Bojangles, and had good food. We stopped in at a liquor store because we will soon be in even more hillbillyish country near the town of Rocky Top and we don’t know if they have liquor there. We stopped in at a gorgeous state park called Panther Creek and scoped out the adjacent lake. Our tour took us by beautiful old mansions and hillbilly hollers filled with junk, mostly old broken-down automobiles. We drove in the most circuitous maze of roads I have ever traversed but Peggy ultimately got us home. The countryside was beautiful all the way.
On one narrow, single-lane back road, we spotted a pileated woodpecker. This type of woodpecker looks a lot like a pterodactyl except smaller. They are red and black and white and magnificent. This is the second time we have spotted a pileated in four years of hanging out in the woods.
There’s a few pictures. Click here

May 21 Great Smoky Mountains NP

Our destination for today was Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We headed out from Dumplin Valley and took the 30 or 40 mile drive down to the park, which sits on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. Approaching and leaving the park from or to Tennessee has the drawback of passing through Pigeon Forge, Sevierville or Gatlinburg. All three of these towns are unfettered tourist traps with a myriad of ways to separate tourists from their money. There are rides, dinner theaters featuring the Hatfields and McCoys, a Hard Rock Cafe, a Ripley’s Believe if You’re Gullible, a model of the front half of the Titanic, a King Kong likeness attached about 20 floors up on a schmaltzy hotel, numerous themed restaurants and an abundance of tourists dressed in everything from leisure suits to denim overalls. They were all white, as far as I could tell. These towns must be cracker Mecca. I heard they had terrible recent fires in the Gatlinburg area but, apparently, the wrong part burned.
We finally made it into the park and it is magnificent. We had only gone a few miles past the gate when we turned off onto a side road to a giant meadow called Cade’s Cove. If I had lived during the Civil War, I would have hid here. It is very remote and there is only one way in and out. Not only is the terrain and forest beautiful, we soon started spotting animals. We saw not less than six black bears and there are colorful birds everywhere in this gorgeous place. There are some buildings dating back to the early 1800’s and, while the National Park Service has done a commendable job maintaining them, they still sit on their original foundation members that are stacked, irregularly shaped rocks.
We drove into Cade’s Cove when we passed through this area in 2015 and we are delighted that we have now visited again. After heading back to the main park road, we turned and passed about another 40 miles through outstanding scenery and roadside waterfalls before exiting near the bustling tourist circle of Hell, Gatlinburg.
The park is great. Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited facility within the National Park inventory and it is easy to see why. I suggest entering from North Carolina because you can miss all the tourist crap.
There’s pix. Click here

May 20 Into Knoxville

Last night, Dumplin Valley RV Park, where we are currently staying, had a small crowd in for a bluegrass concert on site. There were many folks there that are moonshiners. Some was for sale. A big gulp can almost shut down your respiration.
Yesterday we arrived here thinking we were pretty close to Knoxville. It turns out that we are actually in Sevierville, Dolly Parton country. We found out just how far we are from Knoxville by driving into town today. It is around 35 miles. We hit the Costco and a Trader Joe’s, loading up on groceries. Last time we saw a Trader Joe’s was in Texas. Last time we saw a Costco was also in Texas.
We returned back to the trailer with our loot and, after getting our frozen stuff in the freezer, we hunkered down in the trailer with the air conditioning turned to high. It was around 90 degrees today and the last time I looked at our weather station the humidity was hovering around 88%. Strangely, at about 5:30 this afternoon Peggy felt compelled to go back outside and scrub some splattered insects off the front of the Barbarian Invader. She said she made some headway on the corpses but, between the dreadful environmental conditions and abundant flying, biting vermin, she soon returned to the comfort of our cozy trailer.

May 19 Chattanooga to Dumplin Valley

We pulled stakes and left Chattanooga today, headed northeast toward Knoxville. Although I cannot offer any good comments about the paving technology on the interstates, I can say the scenery alongside US-24, US-75 and US-40 was beautiful – forests of abundant green bushes and trees all the way. The road surfaces were shit. I am surprised the silverware in our trailer’s kitchen drawer wasn’t stuck in the ceiling. Potholes are ubiquitous here.
We stopped at a rest stop along US-75 and Peggy whipped up a tasty lunch before we continued up the road. After about 150 miles, we pulled into the Dumplin Valley RV Park just in time for a torrential downpour. By the time we were registered and in our space, the rain had quit and the sun had returned. The temperature was about 85 and so was the humidity. It was sweaty setting up but we soon climbed into our mobile housing and turned on the air conditioning so we could enjoy some cocktails.

May 18 Incline Railway

A couple days ago we drove up to a place called Point Park atop Lookout Mountain which looms over Chattanooga. Our destination for today was the Incline Railway, a venerable funicular that runs between downtown next to the Tennessee River and the top of the mountain better than 1000 feet above. When I was a kid they had a funicular in Los Angeles called Angel’s Flight that used to go up maybe 150 feet to the level of the next block. Angel’s Flight cost 5 cents each way back in the Pleistocene, when I was young. It is not there anymore.
Chattanooga is an old city and it has many very low bridges and weird circuitous roads so our GPS took us by a route that it thought we should use with a 51 foot long, 12′-10” high RV so our access was not by the most direct route. Nevertheless, we ended up in the correct parking lot and got out our money to pay for the parking space. Next, we hobbled over to the ticket booth and found the Incline Railway costs 15 bucks a head, round trip. I love ancient engineering projects so we coughed up the tribute and got in line.
The floor of the rail car is not level and the seat make you believe you are almost lying down when the car is at the bottom of the hill. The ride starts out at about the same angle but soon there are some very steep pitches where the chairs you were lying in change angle with the track and soon are attempting to slide riders out into the leg space. The maximum angle is 78 degrees according to the narration blasted from the speakers. It is a good, if short, ride.
After perusing and rejecting all the trinkets in the gift shop, we climbed to and hung out at the observation deck at the upper station for a while, carefully staying in the shade because it was hotter than hell and about 90% humidity. My shirt looked like I just finished using it to wash a car. The views over the city were spectacular. We met some folks on the deck who were from Louisville, Kentucky, and were in town for an old guy softball league game. They told us they could barely bend at the waist because they had just come from Bea’s, a long-time Chattanooga restaurant. We got the address and then rode the rail car back to the bottom station.
Soon we found our way to Bea’s, which is a unique joint. They put lots of food on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table and then stock it with food. They stocked ours with fish, fried chicken, green beans, barbecued beans, mac & cheese, new potatoes in white sauce, potato salad, cole slaw, banana pudding, a variety of sauces and a pitcher each of water and iced tea. They brought over a dish of apple cobbler and ice cream for dessert. If anybody eats all of anything, they hustle in and get them more. It was great. It costs about $13 and I doubt I will need to eat again for a while.
We took a few photos you can see if you click here