Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sometimes it seems we make big plans and dream about doing things in life but they never materialize because of one thing or another. For the past few years I've talked to my friends about doing a hiking vacation but something always delayed it or canceled it...until this year! My friend Steve and I used to work together but now that we work at separate locations it's easier to schedule our vacations together and so for the past month or so I've studied maps of Tennessee looking for the perfect centralized location for the most bang for our buck.

My attention was quickly drawn to the Cookeville and Crossville area in middle Tennessee. The area appears flat to the passer by but you are actually high in elevation atop the Cumberland Plateau. The area features some really unusual geological formations and some of the biggest falls in all of Tennessee. Some of the creeks flow underground only reappearing briefly flowing from a cave before emptying into yet another cave. We highlighted some areas on the map and decided Sparta, TN was the best place to stay so that all falls we visited would only be about a 30 minute drive.

Saturday morning we left Gray, TN about 9am and by 1130am we arrived in the town of Ozone just off the Crab Orchard exit. Ozone is home to Ozone falls, it's a beautiful 90ft drop in a cathedral setting. The plunge pool is a deep green water which drains underground and reemerges a couple hundred yards downstream. I had visited here once and couldn't resist visiting since it was only five minutes off the interstate. Here's a few pictures of Ozone falls.
don't slip here.
Ozone Falls
water draining underground
From Ozone Falls we headed toward Crossville only 20 minutes down the road, I had read that it was home to the world's largest tree house, and indeed, a few miles off the exit we arrived at a 10 story high tree house absolutely crawling with people. Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera in just my trusty iPhone. The tree house is private property built by a preacher, taking him over 17 years to complete. The religious nature of this stop caused me to caution Steve about his colorful language. We both were like overgrown children quickly climbing all 10 stories and explored all the various rooms discovering a basketball court about five stories up and shooting a few hoops, yes the tree house is that large! It was a nice place and I recommend visiting if your ever in the area.

Our next stop took us just outside Cookeville, TN to Burgess Falls State Park. Burgess Falls was a little out of our immediate driving range but I felt like it might be a good one. The park was really nice with plenty of picnic tables and playgrounds for the children. The thing that stuck out the most to me was that it was full of park rangers all dressed similar to that of Dudley Do Right. (This comes into play later) The hike from the trail head follows the river downstream passing  several nice falls, it's only about 20 minutes before you arrive at the main falls and the observation platform high above the river. People swimming in the pool below the falls looked like ants and a few people were jumping from about 20 feet up when a park ranger with a megaphone interrupted my picture taking screaming at them to "not climb on the falls" Steve laughed it off and said, "let's go climb the falls" and we were off to the base. The climb down the side of the cliff takes you through a caged stairway along a cliff, reminding me of Jurassic Park. Eventually you have to climb down the bank as best you can to reach the base. The boulders along it's shore were surprisingly sharp and unsteady, and it smelled like rotten fish. The falls however, were spectacular, at 136ft high and an entire rivers flow spilling over them, I was in awe. Steve took the time to explore and disappeared over boulders only reappearing when he discovered a trapped duckling and brought it back to where I was situated on a boulder near the shoreline. He threw it in the pool and I have never seen a creature move so fast through water! It crossed the large pool at the base with ease and reunited with it's siblings on the opposite shore within seconds. Here's a few pictures of the Burgess Falls area.
middle falls at Burgess, 80ft high!
beautiful rainbow at Burgess Falls
standing at the edge
side shot from stairs leading to base.
Me at Burgess Falls
After playing at the falls and saving our duck friend, we started the strenuous climb out. Just past halfway up the trail two rangers approached us quickly from the top with their rescue gear out. The first ranger which was the younger of the two asked if anyone was hurt at the bottom and we said we didn't see anyone, the second older ranger was lagging behind and appeared to have caught a cramp, he asked us to help in the rescue by going upstream because he had hurt himself! We agreed but saw no one and eventually climbed out and was greeted by another ranger who told us we couldn't rest at the overlook and to keep moving that rescue vehicles were in route. The so called injured person was delivered by ambulance to their car and they drove past Steve and I as we huffed and puffed our way out to the truck.

The day was still young so we decided to knock out Fall Creek Falls while we had plenty of daylight left. Fall Creek Falls is the most popular waterfall in Tennessee and is visited by hundreds of thousands people yearly, so being a Saturday afternoon I knew picture taking would be difficult. The drive in feels like it takes an eternity and upon arriving at the park the signage doesn't give you clear directions where to park for ease of access. Steve and I parked at the furthest point away from the main falls and had to hike almost two miles to the overlook. I could tell there was a lot of people at the base but standing over such a massive drop and falls was more than I could resist, I had to go to the base. We went down the trail which was steep but well maintained and arrived at the falls within 15 minutes. It was covered up with people of Indian decent all splashing and playing in the water. Steve and I were the only Americans there! He leaned over and asked, "Is this the road to New Delhi?" a line from Indiana Jones. We took some photos and he even hiked over and washed his hair underneath the falls. The climb out was taxing and we stopped a few times resting and overlooking the massive gorge. We made it back to the truck starved and soaking wet from sweat and splashing around the falls but were satisfied with day one. The falls we had took in were beautiful and unique, it would be hard to top them, but we would try...to be continued.
Cane Creek Cascades, smothered with tourists.
swing bridge above Cane Creek
Fall Creek Falls
the base at Fall Creek.

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