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July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina) < Previous News  |  Next News >

 

Sweltering in Southern Tennessee

I spent the next several days driving through southern Appalachia, a place I'm not very familiar with -- but that's exactly why I was here.  Appalachia is about the only region in the U.S. that I've never really explored.   To me, the term "Appalachia" conjured up images of coal mines, hillbillies, and moonshine, as well as Andy Griffith and the Waltons.

 

After leaving Nashville, I headed south on a two-lane highway and, after visiting the Stone's River battlefield in Murfreesboro for a few hours late that afternoon, I pulled into the Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, Tennessee, where I spent the next several days.  Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, I had a good time camping here and thought it was a pretty interesting park.  It has a nice campground and there are several old Indian ruins that are worth exploring (even an old "stone fort," hence the name).  There's also a great Visitor Center here, and, yeah, the cute rangers are another plus.  Anyway, I stayed here for about four nights, spending most of my time getting caught up with my website and e-mail, dodging hickory limbs that occasionally crashed to the ground near my campsite (seriously)... and, of course, eating bratwurst.

 

I left the state park on Friday morning and headed out, stopping first in the nearby town of Manchester, Tennessee to wash my clothes at a laundromat.  As I was packing up my truck outside the laundromat, a nice woman in her 50's stopped by to talk for a few minutes and, in a twangy, southern accent, asked me where I was from, how I liked Tennessee, and where I was heading.  After a nice talk, she wished me a pleasant journey and walked away, and I resumed packing up my truck.  A few minutes later, though, she returned and handed me a stack of religious literature.  "I just thought you might enjoy reading this," she said with a smile.  I thanked her for it -- then tossed it in the trash after she left.  I was wondering how long I could travel through the Bible Belt without someone trying to convert me!

 

From Manchester, I headed southeast, bound for Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is probably the only city in the world with that name.  You can drop a letter addressed simply to "Chattanooga" in any mailbox in the world and it'll probably get there.  It's also one of the few large cities in the U.S. that I'd never visited, and having heard about Chattanooga my whole life -- or at least, having heard the song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" -- I was wondering what it was like.

 

By the time I got to Chattanooga on Friday afternoon, the temperature was hovering around 95 degrees and the humidity was, oh, about, 120%.  Since the air felt like a hot, wet blanket, and since I was a wimp from Oregon unaccustomed to this kind of mind-numbing weather, I decided not to camp and, instead, splurged for a room at the Rodeway Inn -- a very well-spent $42.  That afternoon, I basked in my air-conditioned motel room, turning the knob on the air-conditioner all the way up to "High" as I worked on my e-mails and digital photos.  I didn't leave my room very often that afternoon, but when I did, the outside air hit me like a brick wall.  Breathing the soupy air outside was like inhaling... well... soup, and my trips to the ice machine were frequent and quick.

 

       

Above left:  The laundromat in Manchester, Tennessee, where I almost got converted.

Above center:  Sweet home, Alabama.  It was only a few miles off my route, so I decided to cross over the state line.  The heat and humidity here was absolutely stifling.

Above right:  Relief at last!  After camping for a week in the steamy South, I got a motel room in Chattanooga and got caught up on my e-mail.  The air-conditioning was such a treat that I didn't want to leave the next morning; the maids had to pry me out.

 

Checkin' Out Chattanooga

Other than the humidity, one thing that always strikes me about the South is the pace here.  For some reason (perhaps because of the humidity?) the pace is a lot slower here than just about anywhere else in America, even the rural Midwest.  Whenever I travel through the South, everything seems to move in slow-motion. 

 

Compared to the South, the West Coast -- even a relatively-mellow city like Portland -- seems incredibly frantic, and although I suppose many people like a frenetic pace, I definitely don't.  There are some things that I don't like about the South, namely the humidity and a higher level of intolerance than in many other parts of America, but the pace here is definitely more relaxed and it seems that there's more of an emphasis here on personal relationships instead of making money and consumerism.  

 

Here's Glenn Miller and his orchestra playing Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

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It was still humid on Saturday morning, though a few degrees cooler, as I checked out of my motel and drove into downtown Chattanooga to look around for a few hours.  Chattanooga was once an important railroad hub but it's now filled with lots of abandoned red brick buildings.  Although I found some interesting sites, such as the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo (yes, there really was a choo-choo), I thought the city was a little depressing and, despite the friendly folks I met, I was glad that I didn't live there.  

 

I think the most interesting place in Chattanooga is nearby Lookout Mountain, the site of an important Civil War battle.  I must admit, though, that the main reason I liked Lookout Mountain so much is that it's about 2,000 feet higher than Chattanooga and about 10 degrees cooler, so I lingered there quite a while.  After a few hours, though, I reluctantly dropped back down into the steamy soup (there's that word again) of the Tennessee River valley.

 

I left Chattanooga on Saturday afternoon with both windows rolled down and thought I'd have trouble finding a campsite, since Saturday is the worst day of the week to find a quiet campsite, or indeed, any campsite. Sure 'nuff, the two campgrounds that I stopped at that afternoon, both on reservoirs of the Tennessee River, were overrun with huge RVs, beer-swilling guys wearing muscle t-shirts, and little kids zipping around on tiny dirt bikes -- your typical power-boat crowd and definitely not my kind of place, so I got back on the highway and headed north.

       

Above left:  This is what happens to your shoes when you travel through the South in the summer.  It was between 93 and 102 degrees each day for a week here, with very high humidity.  As hard as I scrubbed, I just couldn't get the mold off my shoes.  I still can't.

Above center:  Here's the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the main attractions in Chattanooga.

Above right:  The Market Street bridge across the Tennessee River.

 

       

Above left:  Broad Street, the main drag in downtown Chattanooga.

Above center:   Chattanooga has lots of old brick buildings that make interesting photographs.

Above right:  Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?  The Choo-Choo doesn't run anymore between Chattanooga and Cincinnati, but it's a popular tourist attraction.  Idiots like me enjoy climbing into the cab to ring the bell.

 

       

Above left:  Cannon on Lookout Mountain, overlooking Chattanooga. 

Above center:  Union soldier loading his musket during a demonstration at Lookout Mountain, a Civil War battlefield near Chattanooga. 

Above right:  Best friends.

 

Dayton's Monkey Trial

Dayton, Tennessee was only a few miles away, so I drove over there that afternoon and got a room at a place called the Kelly Motel.   Whoever Kelly is, I'm sure he's a nice guy but his motel was a bit of a dump and, worst of all, there weren't any non-smoking rooms.  That night, while breathing in the equivalent of two packs of Marlboros, I made a vow to never again stay in a smoking room... or in a dingy motel.  I should've slept in my truck out in the parking lot, but I'd already paid my $32 and, dammit, I was going to sleep in that room even if it killed me -- which it nearly did.

 

After gladly saying goodbye to the Kelly Motel on Sunday morning, I headed into downtown Dayton to visit the Rhea County Courthouse, site of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, where the high-school teacher John Scopes was put on trial back in 1925 for... horrors!... teaching the theory of evolution.  I'd wanted to visit Dayton ever since I read about the Monkey Trial in my high school English class, about the only worthwhile thing I did in that class. 

 

I was surprised, though, that no one else was there poking around the courthouse grounds, but I suppose that rural Dayton is pretty far off the beaten tourist path.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to walk around the courthouse and imagine Clarence Darrow battling William Jennings Bryan -- and just about everyone else in the very religious state of Tennessee.  Not surprisingly, Darrow and Scopes lost, but the ruling was later overturned.  

 

Around noon, as the thermometer topped 100 degrees, I left Dayton and drove east towards the Smoky Mountains.  The eastern Tennessee countryside is really scenic with lots of green, rolling hills and small truck farms (where they grow small trucks, what else?).  Like I say, this being my first trip to eastern Tennessee, I was half-expecting to see hillbillies sitting on their front porches playing the banjo and sipping moonshine, but actually this area is fairly modern -- although it is pretty poor. 

 

It was also pretty muggy and I couldn't figure out why anyone would willingly live here, at least during the summer.  Southerners are probably the nicest folks in America, but -- and no offense here -- they're apparently not too smart for living in this kind of swampy weather.  Of course, I'm sure they think that anyone who lives in Oregon, where it rains every day for six months, is also stupid (like me for example).  So I guess we're even.

 

       

Above left:  Downtown Dayton, Tennessee was a busy place in July, 1925 during the Scopes "Monkey Trial."  It's a lot quieter these days.

Above center:  The Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, scene of the "Monkey Trial."  A few days after the teacher John Scopes was convicted, the prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan, died here in Dayton... and on a Sunday, no less.  I parked under a shady elm tree here Sunday morning and ate lunch in my truck while listening to an entertaining preacher on the radio.  Listening to the preacher, it was easy to envision Bryan preaching to the jury.

Above right:  After traveling through the steamy South for a few weeks, it was a real treat to climb the Great Smoky Mountains and cool off.  Here's my truck at 4,400 feet.  My elation was short-lived, though, because I soon headed down into the steamy lowlands of North Carolina.

 

Up and Over the Great Smokies

I drove east on a two-lane highway that afternoon and climbed ever higher into the Great Smokies, which form the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, stopping at several viewpoints to take pictures of the green, rolling hills below.  Unfortunately, a haze from the humidity covered everything, which I guess is why they call them the "Smokies." 

 

As I continued to climb, the sweltering heat gave way to cooler breezes and I enjoyed a pleasant respite at the 5,000-foot summit.  I honestly didn't want to leave the cool, lofty summit oasis but after a while, I reluctantly got back in my truck and dropped down into the sweltering soup of western North Carolina.   To be honest, though, I was starting to get used to the constant sweat on the back of my neck and the salt stains on my shirt.  Between that and all of the Krispy Kreme donuts that I'd been eating lately, I was starting to feel like a real Southerner -- although I didn't have the "y'all" down yet, and I still refused to eat chitlins (don't ask what chitlins are -- you don't want to know).

 

I pulled into a National Forest campground Sunday afternoon at Fontana Lake, on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, and once again cooked up my favorite dinner:  bratwurst.  The scenery and the steamy atmosphere there reminded me of the movie "Deliverance," and I was just glad not to bump into some weird guy with a silly grin playing a banjo.  No, actually it was pretty nice here.  Speaking of movies, Fontana Lake was the place where the Jodie Foster movie, "Nell," was filmed about 10 years ago, although I'm probably the only one who ever saw it.

 

Soon after I finished my dinner, a violent thunderstorm rolled in with brilliant flashes of lightning that lit up the entire campground, so I scurried into the back of my truck and watched the storm with fascination.  As I sat in my truck, I listened to the thunder crash all around me and watched a blanket of lightning bugs dance in the rain while thinking, "Yep, this is a real Southern evening."   Except, of course, for the bratwurst.

 

       

Above left:  The Cheoah River in North Carolina. 

Above center:  Here's something that I'd never seen before: steam rising from a lake during a hot afternoon.  Now THIS is humidity!  

Above right:  Instead of B&B, it's D&D (dinner and downloading photos) while camping at Fontana Lake, North Carolina.  Yep, it's brats again -- good thing I'm not in a rut!  

 

The True Story of Tom Dooley

Interestingly enough, the place where I was camping in North Carolina was only a short ways from the site that inspired a famous folk song.  Shortly after the Civil War, a man named Tom Dula (pronounced "Dooley") lived in nearby Wilkes County, North Carolina.  Dula, a Confederate war veteran, had lively relationships with several local ladies, including a young woman named Laura Foster.  Though the details are hazy, Dula apparently spun a lot of romantic webs because he also had a relationship at the same time with a married woman named Ann Melton and with yet another Foster woman named Pauline.

 

Here's the Kingston Trio singing Tom Dooley.

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One morning in 1866, Dula wakened Laura Foster and told her to pack her things because he wanted to marry her later that day -- an approach to romance that probably wouldn't get a big "thumbs-up" from Oprah.  Anyway, Laura disappeared soon afterwards and Tom Dula fled to Tennessee. 

 

After a prolonged search, Laura's murdered body was found and Dula was tracked down in Tennessee by Sheriff Grayson.  Dula was brought back to North Carolina, where he was tried for murder and was found guilty.  He was hanged in Statesville, North Carolina, and was buried in Wilkes County, as was Laura.  

 

The story soon hit the newspapers, some as far away as New York City, and eventually a song was written about the whole affair.  In 1930, a fiddler named G.B. Grayson, a relative of Sheriff Grayson, recorded a version of the song which, in 1958, was sung and popularized by the Kingston Trio.  Their song set off an explosion of folk music that swept across the U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and it's always been one of my favorites.  Today, you can even visit Tom's grave in Wilkes County -- if you're into that sort of thing.

 

 

 

Next News

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

 

 

Previous News

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington) 

 

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