Every time I think I've seen the best, most beautiful spots in Tennessee, I get a swift reminder that what I've seen is such a small fraction of what's out there. It's like I've only seen the ocean from one shore, or the view from one mountain. I got the feeling that I've seen the best the state offers, and nothing I do will compare to what I've already done. But Tennessee had some tricks up it's sleeve.
On our way out to Bristol to experience the world of NASCAR, which was about a five-hour drive from Nashville, I grew anxious to get outside of the car and experience something. It's not easy passing signs that point you toward some of Tennessee's heavy hitters like Center Hill Lake, Rock Island, Cummins Falls, and the list goes on and on. It was going to be getting close to dark when we arrived to the cabin, so we decided to make a pit stop at one of our favorite secret spots, Ozone Falls. Both times I've ever been to Ozone Falls, we've been the only people there. And it's quite the area with a swimming hole.
After getting the nature injection I needed, we continued on to our cabin in Hampton, at the Black Bear Resort, which is a refuge for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The owners lived on the property and were beyond welcoming where, after about a 10-minute talk about the area pretty late in the night, we called it a night with hopes to catch a sunrise.
About 6:15 a.m. rolled around rather quickly, and I'm not sure I moved much when my friend's alarm was quickly turned off. Luckily for us, two hours later, there was still no sunrise and rain had decided to make things rather difficult for us. But we decided to get out and experience the area. We made our way to Roan Mountain State Park, which sits on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, and found a full parking lot at Carver's Gap. I guess that's what we got for going to the area on the busiest weekend of the year. We drove a bit further to a recommended point from Instagram, and did the half-mile bluff trail to take in some views from the mountain top. We arrived at the bluff just in time to see the sun come out and then quickly disappear from a cloud that rushed in the valley.
We drove back by Carver's Gap but had to rush back to the cabin to get ready for our next stop, Bristol's NASCAR Night Race. The rest of our day was spent meeting with people, finding our way around the largest stadium we've ever seen. Bristol Motor Speedway holds 162,000 people, roaring for more excitement and racing action. It's one of the largest sporting venues in the world, with the NASCAR short-track, often referred to as The Last Great Colosseum for its battles and Roman-esque architecture. Get your tickets for the annual Night Race, the most popular race in NASCAR for its heart-stopping finishes and clashes.
The morning rolled around and we decided to not try for sunrise again, as rain was still covering the area. So after a good night's rest we headed out through the rain, hoping for some luck, and we found it at Wilbur Lake. The rain lightened up enough for about an hour for us to get out our kayaks and navigate the foggy beauty of Wilbur Lake. The funny thing was we were heading to Watauga Lake via some back roads, trying to get to the Watauga Lake Dam (I thought that the view from the west would have the mountains in the background a bit better), but we never even made it to Watauga Lake (next time!).
From the lake we headed a bit more east to a small community called Shady Valley, to check out one of our favorite spots, Backbone Rock. Backbone Rock is known as the "Shortest Tunnel in the world", and while it might be short, it's surrounded by a river and natural area that gives this place a vibe that reminds me of my adventures in the Pacific Northwest. We biked around to get a general feeling for the roads and surrounding area, before we climbed up to the top and took in the beauty of the Cherokee National Forest.
With the day passing and the rain not giving up, we decided to call it a day, but heading out of Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee had one more surprise for us, South Holston Lake. At this point, it was pouring rain, we stepped outside for maybe one minute to return to the car completely soaked, but really pleased that we made the decision to stop.
There is no end to this adventure.
I'm not sure there is a point of fully comprehending all that the great state of Tennessee has to offer. I tried to fit Bristol into a weekend and it laughed at my attempts to understand it's beauty in such a short amount of time.
I got home, slightly defeated, but encouraged that there is always more out there. That more exploring needs to be done. That the adventure will never end.
If you ever find yourself in the area, or are going to races, take your time. Take in the area and the beauty that surrounds it. You won't regret it.
Follow our adventures at (Nashville Explorers Club)