The Great Blue Hills of God (Part 2)

Native American Heritage Month: November

“I still love to walk in the mountains or be on the sea. I like to be in nature. Sometimes I bicycle. It’s important to feel good …. If you feel good, you have more energy in your singing.” ~Cecilia Bartoli, Italian opera singer

America’s eastern mountain range, the Appalachians, I am told, reach all the way from the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada, into the hills of North Georgia. “The Great Blue Hills of God” is the name the Cherokee gave to the Blue Ridge, running from the Virginia Highlands to the southern tier of the Appalachians.

Our journey began in Dandridge, Tennessee, at the juncture of I-40 and I-81, and, so far, has reached down to Bradley County, though we plan to go on to the capital of the South, Atlanta, Georgia. This region may be the most visited area in the US, mostly because there is so much to see and do, and it is so close to the large population centers of the East. It is also one of the most prosperous regions I’ve explored around the country.


Cleveland, Collegedale, and Ooltewah

“Adults are always so busy with the dull and dusty affairs of life which have nothing to do with grass, trees, and running streams.” ~Denys Watkins-Pitchford

Bradley, I have heard, is the richest county per capita in Tennessee, which explains all the variously named banks; Cleveland, seat of Bradley County, is the fifth-largest industrial city in the state (after Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga) with thirteen Fortune 500 companies represented. Business Week (2007) put Cleveland in their Top 50 family friendly towns; Forbes (2009), in their 100 best small places for business. Bradley County boasts about 150 manufacturers, including AbitibiBowater Paper Mill/Resolute Forest Products (third-largest pulp and paper company in North America and eighth-largest in the world), Distributing, Arch/Olin Chemical, Brown Stove Works, Johnston Coca Cola Bottling (which also bottles Dasani Water), Derby Distributors, Duracell Batteries, Hardwick Clothing, Jackson Furniture (maker of Catnapper), M&M Mars Chocolate—over half the world’s M&Ms and all of the world’s Twix bars are made here—Maytag (which bought out Magic Chef and Hardwick Stove Works), Peytons Southeastern Distributors (division of Kroger), President Baking (makers of Famous Amos), Rubbermaid Commercial (makers of brooms and mops), Schering-Plough (makers of Coppertone and Dr Scholl), United Knitting, Wacker Chemie AG (a new solar-grade polysilicon production facility, which, at a cost of $1.45 billion, is the German company’s largest investment ever), and the makers of Kenmore, Tappan, and Whirlpool, to name a few. If you wonder where things come from, they probably come from here. Some businesses may have visitors centers. Amazon does not.

“We face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.” ~Aldo Leopold
(Click on any thumbnail photo to enlarge or get more info.)

Cleveland, however, which calls itself Tree City USA and boasts pedestrian greenways, is not much more than a broad place in the road with physical addresses spanning twenty miles. There is no night life, scarcely an attraction, museum, or historical site, with little more to contemplate than work, school, and church. There are three high schools, one prep school, one community college, one exclusive country club, over 200 local churches (more churches per capita than any place in the country), seven senior adult facilities, plus one grand one: Life Care Centers of America.

Cleveland is also headquarters for several Pentecostal groups, media ministers (Norvel Hayes, TL Lowery, Perry Stone, Judy Jacobs Tuttle), associated churches (Omega Center International, Dwelling Place Church International), associated schools (New Life Bible College, Lee University), and presses (Pathway, Tennessee Music and Printing, Voice of Evangelism, White Wing). If you are Pentecostal, perhaps you’ve heard of this place. If you’re looking for it, Lee University, second-largest private college in the state (Vanderbilt is first), is located on N Ocoee Street (Old US 11) in the historic district. (If you’re driving in the historic district, beware: some side streets do not have stop signs, some do.)

I-75 x 27, Paul Huff Parkway, is the primary exit for food and services.* To the west, as you leave the interstate, there is an outdoor mall (Kohl’s, Target, Books-a-Million, Lifeway, Stevi B’s), fast food, motels, and service stations. But you don’t have to stop here for food—there are many more choices. To the east, from the I-75 exit ramp, are a string of steakhouses, pizza, Starbucks, and megabars representing about every popular food chain. If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably in town somewhere. If you go far enough east, at the junction of Paul Huff Parkway and Keith Street (US 11), you will see, to your right, a Walmart Supercenter and Olive Garden; to your left, Royal Buffet and Bradley Square Mall. Take a left at the redlight, north on US 11, to McDonald’s and more. Go straight to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Golden Corral, Sonic, or, at the top of the hill, Jordan’s BBQ. Or turn right at Keith, south on US 11, to Logan’s Roadhouse and Chick-Fil-A …. This is not to mention the dine-in Italian, Mexican, Asian, and American restaurants. All within a distance of not much more than a square mile. You’ll find many places to eat as dining is about the only cultural activity in town—and there’s more at the next exit.

At I-75 x 25, 25th Street (SR 60), you’re bound to notice the vista spanning the horizon: layers of hills and smoky blue clouds. North on SR 60, about a half-hour, is Dayton, home of the Rhea County Courthouse and the Scopes Trial (1925), as well as Bryan College, a Baptist school named for William Jennings Bryan. The famous courtroom, containing the original judge’s bench, tables, chairs, and seats, is located on the second floor of the restored Romanesque Revival, Italian Villa Style courthouse (1891), now a National Historic Landmark (1977). It is open to visitors during business hours (M-F).

Farther west, via SR 30 (Dayton Mountain Road), if you have the time, is 20,000-acre Fall Creek Falls State Park, part of the Cane Creek Gorge, which tempts outdoorsmen with its rugged wilderness, chasm-spanning swinging bridge, and the highest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi River (Niagara has the most water). For the family there is also a nature center, picnicing, swimming, hiking, camping, restaurants, gift shops, and general store.

“I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” ~Henry David Thoreau

If, on the other hand, from I-75 x 25, you take 25th Street (SR 60) into Cleveland, within sight of the interstate, you’ll notice a Cracker Barrel, where I found something I’d never seen before: Blink outlets to juice up your electric car (EV) or RV. At the rate these outlets are being installed nationwide, EVs will soon be driveable about anywhere you want to go. Meanwhile, this is another opportunity to fill up, if you need gas and, like me, don’t have an electric car. Also, if you head east, you’ll find more food choices. Beyond Cracker Barrel are Hardee’s, Zaxby’s, Bojangles, McDonald’s, Burger King, Sonic, Wendy’s, and Checkers. Left at Keith Street (US 11) will take you to Krystal, KFC, Pizza Hut, Arby’s, Hardee’s, Subway, Perkits, and Baskin-Robbins; right, to Taco Bell, Mrs Winner’s, and Quiznos. If you go far enough south on Keith Street (US 11), you’ll find another Little Caesars, Subway, Jimmy John’s, and Starbucks. And there’s still more fast food at the next exit.

At I-75 x 20, the Cleveland bypass (US 74), aka the Appalachian Highway or APD 40, wraps back toward Cleveland, where it becomes 25th Street. Along this corridor you’ll find another Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Walmart Supercenter, Captain D’s, and KFC (with buffet). Though APD 40 is a multilane highway, exits are not numbered. Exit at US 64 east if you want to visit the Tennessee Overhill, Parksville Lake, the Ocoee River Gorge, and the Cherokee National Forest. If you go, fill up your tank and carry your own food; and if you plan to overnight, bring your own camping gear. Motels and inns are near the interstate. You will find limited services in the outback, though you will begin to notice outfitters for whitewater expeditions. Rangers control the area; restrooms are locked at 5:00 pm daily.

You’ll know when you reach Parksville Lake: you’ll see Ocoee Dam 1 overlook. As you wind around the lake, you may notice a secluded road to your left, leading to Chilhowee. It is seven miles, almost straight up, to the top of the mountain. Don’t tackle it if you don’t know how to drive in the hills. Once there, you’re on a plateau. There are campsites, a lake, and a hike to a waterfall, but be careful: bears are out and about, and they’ve been known to attack. Even in urban and suburban areas.

“Nature’s laws affirm instead of prohibit. If you violate her laws you are your own prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, and hangman.” ~Luther Burbank

Along the main road, US 64 east, there is a ranger station and places for boating and camping. Drive carefully and slowly. The Ocoee Scenic Byway follows the curve of the river and you cannot see around the bend. Between Ocoee Dam 1 and Ocoee Dam 2 is a powerhouse and a place to pull over if you want to look inside. Watch for turtles that mosey across the road. High on the opposing hill, you can visually follow for miles the aquaduct that carries the water to the powerhouse.

At Ocoee Dam 2 you’ll probably see what looks like a waterfall. Actually the release of water is controlled by TVA. This is where the expeditions bring boaters for whitewater rafting (Class III-IV). The area hosts about 300,000 visitors annually, but, of course, summer weekends have the largest number of participants.

Above Ocoee Dam 3 is the Ocoee Whitewater Center, built for the 1996 Olympics Canoe and Kayak Competition. The site, managed by the National Forest Service, includes ranger station, gift shop, the Tanasi Bike Trail System for mountain biking, miles of trails, hiking, swimming, rock formations, and gardens.

“When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day’s sensations: bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay’s call, ice melting and so on. This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead. I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity. But I am mentally far away from civilization. The world is breaking someone else’s heart.” ~Diane Ackerman

Beyond the Olympics site, if you have the time, is Copperhill, Tennessee, where you can see how strip mining has denuded the hills, and Murphy, North Carolina, where you can visit Fields of the Wood, a sleepy, self-guided Christian theme park created by one of the Pentecostal groups. From Ducktown, Tennessee, take SR 68 north to SR 123, which becomes TVA Highway 294 when it crosses the Tennessee state line into North Carolina. If you’ve never been there, Fields of the Wood is something to see, especially Golgotha, the garden tomb, and the Ten Commandments. It also boasts the world’s largest altar and the world’s largest Bible.

Return to I-75 south via US 64 and the Cleveland Bypass (APD 40) and hop back on the freeway. Near I-75 MM 15 you’ll crest a hill. To your right will be an overlook. At that spot, or a little farther downhill, you can catch a sight of the double stacks of Sequoyah Nuclear Plant.

I-75 x 11 is Ooltewah, which is more residential than commercial. If you turn right from the exit ramp, go to the light, make a left onto Hunter Road (CR 2205), then a right onto SR 58, and following the signs, you’ll come to another area attraction: Harrison Bay State Park, a scenic spot in Chattanooga’s back yard. There is no fee for day use—swimming, picnicing, playing ball, walking, or using the amphitheater—only for camping. Stay as long as you like, and enjoy. When you exit the park, if you turn left onto Harrison Bay Road, you can visit the Bear Trace, a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, featuring Bermuda fairways lined with soaring pine and hardwood trees—a great place to play a few holes if you’ve brought your clubs. It is visitor friendly.

“It is almost impossible to remember how tragic a place this world is when one is playing golf.” ~Robert Lynd

“Golf is a day spent in a round of strenuous idleness.” ~William Wordsworth

At I-75 south x 9, left from the exit ramp is Apison Pike (we’ll come back here later). Right is the new multilaned Volkswagen Drive. If you go right at the first rotary, you’ll find Enterprise South Nature Park, a 2,800-acre wildlife park (including deer and coyote), with 25 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, a 7-mile auto loop, visitor center (with a tall fireplace), and subterranean storage bunkers from the former ammunition plant.

“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Continuing around the rotary, you’ll see the sprawling new Volkswagen plant (another German investment). Follow the signs to Volkswagen Academy and the visitor center, open Monday through Friday during business hours. To the left of the road is a new DOT, medical center, day care, and massive Amazon distribution center, larger than the one in Cleveland. When you come to the next rotary, make a circle and return to Apison Pike, across I-75.

Take Apison Pike (SR 317) to Ooltewah, home of McKee Foods, makers of Little Debbie snack cakes. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Slightly after crossing Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, on your left you’ll see Little Debbie outlet (9950 Apison Pike), a discount store. Keep winding around to Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, happily poised behind an expansive lawn and yawning lake shaded by weeping willows. Across the street, in a lazy strip mall, you’ll find the Village Market, a SDA full-service health food store.

Horse farms are common in the area. While you’re traveling the back roads, you may occasionally happen on a pretty horse farm and spy a Tennessee Walking Horse, a breed known for its calm disposition and smooth gait. I don’t ride, but I do admire the beautiful horses. Stay on SR 317 east through various name changes (Apison Pike, Wesleyan Road, Weatherly Switch Road) to Red Clay Park Road. Turn right and continue to Red Clay State Historical Park, a 260-acre forested area formerly owned by the Cherokee and blessed with a natural landmark, the blue watering hole used during their Council meetings. Though the Cherokee lived here only six years (1832-38), it was their last Council ground and is still esteemed as such. In 1832 Georgia banned their political activity, forcing the Cherokee, a highly literate and cultured people, to move their capital from Echota, Georgia, to Red Clay, Tennessee. In 1838, per Andrew Jackson, they again were forced off their land, this time to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, marked on SR 60 (Dalton Pike). The Red Clay visitor center includes exhibits on the Cherokee, their art, the Trail of Tears, a video theater, and gift shop. Outdoors is a living history museum, with pioneer buildings, picnic pavilion, eternal flame of the Cherokee Nation, amphitheater, and paved walking trails.

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ~John Muir

Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit

For more information and whitewater outfitters:
Tennessee Overhill
Ocoee Scenic Byway
Enterprise South Nature Park
Endless River Adventures
Adventures Unlimited
High Country Adventures
Outland Expeditions
Quest Expeditions

* Mine is merely a good-faith effort to tell you where things are and, generally, how to get there. Please consult a website, road atlas, state map, or GPS for more detailed information.


About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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