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Archive for the ‘State Parks’ Category

When I awoke Wednesday morning, looked at my phone, which read 6:54, then realized that meant it was actually 7:54 (eastern – because I didn’t have service down there in the ravine, so the time hadn’t changed) – and breakfast was served at 8 – well, then I was doubly and triply relieved we’d forged ahead and done that second hike on Tuesday and not waited until 6 am …that morning. That would have been crazy.

I jostled the kid awake and we got ourselves out to the dining room for another great meal – that tomato/egg/sausage pie and some perfect biscuits – checked out and yes…hiked back up a mile to the car. Which was still there, still started, and didn’t have a flat.

Next stop: Prison.

I’d happened upon this place a couple of weeks ago and my first reaction was, “Surely this is tacky.” But then I read reviews which indicated…it’s not. So down we went to the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

And no, it wasn’t tacky at all. It was haunting and thought-provoking. About sin and redemption, crime and punishment, about the possibility of change and how criminal justice might or usually doesn’t contribute to that, about exploitation and all kinds of fear.

Brushy Mountain was a maximum security penitentiary that closed in 2009. It’s most well-known for housing James Earl Ray, who actually escaped and remained at large for a couple of days. Here’s a history.

Now the penitentiary grounds are open for tours and is the site of a distillery, periodic concerts and, in the area, and apparently inspired by Ray’s escape attempt, the insane Barclay Marathons.

First, the site. It’s quite striking. You can see from the photo below – which I did not take – why it was situated there. Not only so the prisoners could work in the mines, but because nestled deep in that valley, escape was clearly even more challenging.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Petros, Tennessee

It’s like Helm’s Deep one of us remarked.

We didn’t do a guided tour, but simply watched the introductory film, looked at the exhibits, and then walked the grounds – various floors of the penitentiary with placards on the walls (Ray’s cell noted – 28), the visitation rooms, the laundry, the cafeteria (walls painted in murals by inmates), the notorious “Hole” – and you can imagine what that was about – and then D Block, which replaced the Hole as the section for the most dangerous prisoners – and some of them in most danger, themselves (pedophiles, for instance).

Here’s my comment. As I mentioned, there’s an introductory film, and I was a little surprised – but perhaps I shouldn’t have been – by the approach. The perspective is all from corrections officers – which is fair – but the central theme is the impact of the prison’s closing on the local community (called Petros, interestingly enough.) Which, as you can imagine, was devastating. And yes, interesting.

But it’s not what I expected. I was expecting some perspective from former inmates – and if you think that’s crazy, well just know that former Brush inmates do make their appearance on the grounds, even participating in tours. I was hoping for a broader view of what this place was all about, what it was like to be incarcerated there, and what was the impact – but that wasn’t the intent of the film.

Anyway – well worth the stop.

Next was a bit of a detour as the kid realized, studying the map, “Oh! Windrock is on our way!” – And what is that, pray tell? Among other things, a well-known mountain biking course. And it was, indeed, on the way, in Oliver Springs, between the prison and Oak Ridge – so we just shot up there and got the lay of the land for future reference, in case he and his biking friends get it together and make it up there some day.

Next: Oak Ridge. Someone was hungry, so I said, “Look and see if there’s a Buddy’s BarBQ” – and yes, of course there was. Not that it’s anything great or stupendous, but it’s the East Tennessee barbecue chain, and going there made me nostalgic, as I could hear my dad saying, “Anyone want Buddy’s tonight?” and him laboriously noting everyone’s preference, cig in one hand, martini in the other, and then heading out to pick it all up.

I had been pretty much totally confused about the state of public tours of Oak Ridge facilities and museums. I hadn’t been since I was in school myself, and I knew things had changed, partly because times just change and more recently because of Covid – these are museums, but many are also federal facilities. I could not sort out what was open and closed, and I had just about resigned myself to thinking that this would be another Rugby and we’d just drive through, when a volunteer at the children’s museum told me, no – this and that were indeed open.

So what should we do?

By that time, it was around 2 – which is, indeed 1 our time, but still. We were wanting to be home sooner than later. And at 16 and a veteran of countless science museums and having aged out of almost all of them, we went for the history – which was my intentions, such as they were, for this trip anyway. So we headed to the K25 plant facility, which is, indeed, a nice little museum and also free – and open, masks required, naturally.

It was just what I hoped for. Small, not overwhelming, and very focused on what the K25 facility was all about – uranium enrichment – with enough context about the Manhattan Project in general to make it understandable.

It’s just astonishing, really – bringing thousands of folks in, building these facilities, building this town, with hardly anyone knowing what it was for. I never understood how that could have been before I listened to one former employee of the era, in a recording at the museum, recount that well…they thought it was just…power. But didn’t know what for. Ships? Planes? Manufacturing power? No one knew. But. “I never would have thought about a…bomb.”

Most striking artifact? Below – an anatomical model, embedded with human bones, to see what impact uranium exposure might have on the human body……

So there you have it….three days, essentially, packed full. See what can happen in just three days?

And probably our last jaunt for a while. I had been thinking next week maybe, but it’s already filling up, so…no, except for a day here or there.

Sunday: Up I-59 to… Fall Creek Falls, Jordan Motel in Jamestown, TN

Monday: Rugby, Northrup Falls, Sgt. York Historic Site, Simply Fresh restaurant, Charit Creek Lodge

Tuesday: Charit Creek Lodge, Slave Creek Falls Trail, Twin Arches Trail.

Wednesday: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Windrock, Oak Ridge K25 History Center….back down I-59…home

Good deal.

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I never try to do much on Labor Day weekend.

Once, in 2011, I did.

I stupidly rented a house down on the Gulf – as one does in this part of the world  –  then spent a couple of days in the week leading up to the weekend emailing the owner, my nervousness mounting by the day as I watched the weather turn, and turn badly, since with rentals that close to the booking date, you’re generally stuck no matter what. I got the boys out of school early that Friday, started down 65, and then got the call from the owner. Don’t bother, he said, it’s coming. (I think the storm was Lee?) But he was also very generous about the whole situation and offered another weekend to me   – which he absolutely did not have to do.

Oh, well, the point was that ever since then I’ve not bothered to even think about making big plans, especially in this part of the country where Labor Day means not so much “end of summer” as “beginning of hurricane season.”

At first, this year, I had another reason to stick around as well: the boys were scheduled to serve at the convent Sunday morning. But early last week, Sister called and said that someone wanted to switch, and would that be possible? Since the weekend to which we’d switch was a weekend we had to be in town anyway for a piano recital…sure!

So, what to do? Friday night was high school football, and someone wanted to go to the game – as it ended up, both of them went. I toyed around with spending the next couple of nights away…but where? North Georgia mountains maybe? We’d done that one November and it was lovely. But this time – Nah. Too far. Nothing available for a reasonable price. Too much trouble. Besides, with both of them in school, hanging out at home and getting to sleep late in your own bed is a welcome change from days of early rising. “Vacation” would just not be restful, and I had to accept that.

(The son who has just come off four years of homeschooling said the other day, “The days seem so long now! Why do they seem so much longer?”  I said, “Considering you used to sleep until 9 or 9:30 and now you get up at 6:30…yes, your days literally are longer.  That might explain it.”)

But we managed to get out and about anyway.

Saturday morning, we started out at Pepper Place Market near our house, a farmer and crafty market which happens every Saturday from late April through November. I didn’t buy anything, but they like to wander and taste things and see the dogs people bring along.

(Huh. Thought I had pictures. Nope. Reason for everything.)

I then suggested Ruffner Mountain, where we’d not been in a while. It used to be quarried and mined, so there’s that attraction, as well as the views of the city. There are no creeks or other water features and not that many rocks to climb, though, so it’s not the first place that comes to mind for an interesting hike, but it’s about fifteen minutes from the house, plus there was an estate sale just a few houses away from the preserve’s gate, so that was what we settled on.

(We didn’t get much at the sale – just a few toys for the soon-to-be visiting grandson/nephew – and I picked up yet another empty, unused photo album. I hate spending ten bucks on those things, and these days, since hardly anyone actually prints photos anymore, I usually find at least one at most estate sales, and never pay more than a dollar. Because you’re fascinated, I’ll also tell you that the day before, I’d picked up  two very good, heavy, barely used frying pans for two dollars each at another sale as well as a never-used door-frame pullup bar for ten, so I could finally fulfill a promise I’d made months ago to the boys. About a pull-up bar, not frying pans.)

Then a good walk.

"amy welborn"

 

Which took us to about three. Back home for a bit, then Mass, then…what? A movie? No, it’s football season now…so it was shifting between the Florida, Alabama, and Indiana games.

(Speaking of football. My daughter just started graduate school at Alabama. She said, “People here really do say “Roll, Tide” instead of things like “Heck,yeah.”  So of course I sent her this:)

Sunday, I declared the Day We Would Find Martha’s Falls.  The younger one had been there with a friend last year, and had been bugging me to go back ever since. I kept forgetting, and every time I would remember, it would be about 1 in the afternoon, and it’s an almost two-hour drive. But Sunday, I remembered earlier, and sleeping until ten was accepted as late enough, so up 59 we went.

(I am not a fan of that stretch of road, the interstate that takes you from here up to Chattanooga. It always brings to mind those months and months I drove it so many times back in late 2011 and 2012, when my father was sick and then died and then I had to go up to Knoville and back to settle things again and again. I also drove it into Birmingham when we first moved here in 2008- I must have been in Knoxville before the final leg. Every time, I mentally note the convenience store where I got gas. So I-59 always makes me think of  death and the weird places life takes you. But again, I think about that every day, so no really a big change there, just in intensity.)

We had been to Little River Canyon and DeSoto Falls a few times before, but never to this section. If you ever have a chance, you really should check it out. It’s a gorgeous part of Alabama, and a really interesting land feature. What you have is Lookout Mountain – a loooooong mountain that is really part of the foothills of the Appalachians, and on top of that mountain and down into it is the Little River and the canyon it has carved, which is truly beautiful and not that developed. There are just a few spots to access the river and this one – Martha’s Falls or the “Hippie Hole” takes more than just a stroll from the car to get to. You park, and then you have to hike about a half mile through the woods, and much of the path is strewn with large rocks. The last few hundred feet take you down a fairly steep bank.

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But it’s gorgeous!

It was also pretty busy, and I’d hate to see how busy it would get if it were easier to access. So they can keep the way it is. That’s fine.

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There was swimming and jumping. He also jumped from one higher level on the bank than this, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get it.

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It was a typical Alabama scene. I hate to shatter your stereotypes, but a “typical Alabama scene” means that there are all different types of people there, enjoying themselves and getting along. College students, high school church groups, white, black, lots of Hispanics, South Asians, a group of Chinese families sporting Georgia Tech gear and a couple of dozen bikers.

Besides whatever you’re doing to amuse yourself, the major entertainment is watching people jump off the highest point on the bank. Some don’t hesitate, but more than a few do. We watched, for probably fifteen minutes, as a teenage girl considered the drop. She got to the edge half a dozen times, urged on by her friends below, looked as though she might do it, then backed away every time. Did Chloe ever jump? We’ll never know, because it was time for us to go.

Of course, I was boring and declared it to be a metaphor of sorts. I asked mine what it takes to do something you’re scared to do. “Just do it,,” they said. “Just stop thinking about it and what’s going to happen and just go.”

Like I said. A metaphor.

 

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It’s one of those places we’ve passed countless times, and every time, I’ve vaguely thought, “We should check that out.”

And yesterday, we finally did.

It’s a Georgia state park, Sweetwater Creek State Park, about 20 miles west of Atlanta. The entrance is ten minutes off of I-20, so yes, it’s very convenient on that Birmingham-Atlanta run, which we made yesterday.

We arrived at the park at 4, which gave us three good hours to enjoy it. We weren’t super prepared – should have had swimsuits and towels in the car – but we made do.

The heart of the park is a ruined mill. The visitor’s center has an excellent display about the history of the mill, as well as the natural features of the park itself.

The mill was a textile mill built in the 1840’s, and a community of about 300 developed around it. When the war started, it was taken over for the making of fabric for Confederate uniforms, and since the men mostly went to fight, was operated by women.

In 1864, when Sherman’s March pushed through the area, the mill was burned and all the women and children in the area were captured as prisoners of war, taken to Louisville, and told they would be released if they promised not to go south of the Ohio River for the duration of the war.  If not, they were just kept as prisoners.

The mill was never rebuilt and the area never resettled, so today we have a state park with a rapid-filled creek and rather haunting ruins.

We walked the Red Trail, which runs along the creek – it gets very, very rocky at times, so if you are unsteady on your feet at all, don’t take it past the mill.  We took it to the falls, then caught the White Trail and looped back around.

I am not a huge fan of kids playing in rapids with sharp rocks, but it was evidently the thing to do, and my son is very careful, so I let him have at it.  I was more than ready to move on, but he wasn’t, and I was wondering how I was ever going to get him out of there when he returned to me from his island conquest in the middle of the creek with as much hustle in his step as he could muster.

Out there, in a crevice in one of the rocks above a relatively calm spot, he’d seen – he claims, almost stepped on – a cottonmouth (also known as a Water Moccasin.) He was excited about the sighting, but, you know, also really ready to come out of the water.

I guess that’ll do it.

All in all, a great find – so glad we finally stopped, and I hope it won’t be the last time. It was the usual mix (not kidding) of Atlanta-area residents on the trails and in the water – white,  African-American, Hispanic, families with women in saris, families with women in hijab….yes, indeed, this New South is a great-looking bunch.

It looks like they have a very full slate of interesting activities, so we’ll try to hit on of those special hikes, for sure!

(Update:  Thanks to a commenter who mentioned that this is one of the Hunger Games filming sights.)

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