Open Road

Come With Me To Tennessee

Volunteer State's fall color was lacking, but fun and natural beauty abounded.

By John Lomax Photography by Kelly Graml Lomax October 29, 2013

October is perhaps Houston's loveliest month, but even though we get a cool-down and the humid blanket we call air here gets a bit of a wring-out, one thing we don't have is fall color. Remembering the riots of yellow and orange and the smell of burning leaves of many a Tennessee fall in my youth, I suggested this summer that we head up to my old co-home state in mid-October, to take in the air on the Cumberland Plateau and to visit my folks in Nashville.

The Cumberland Plateau sprawls east and southeast of Nashville—you can hit from either I-40 (the road to Knoxville) or I-24 (the way to wonderful, under-rated Chattanooga and Atlanta.) After arriving on the day's first Nashville-bound Southwest flight out of Hobby, we picked up our tiny bright-red Toyota Yaris and headed down I-24. 

First stop: breakfast. My iPhone's Siri came through for us; she steered us to the Goodness Gracious Cafe near the town square of the college town of Murfreesboro, or "Murf Burr" in the southeast Tennessee brogue. 

Offering an upscale spin on traditional Tennessee bacon, sausage, egg, and pancake breakfasts, with a nod here and there to the Polish heritage of the owner, Goodness Gracious hit the spot.  The gouda grits were a big hit.

After that we meandered our way up the Plateau to Fall Creek Falls State Park, site of the highest waterfall east of the Rockies and a very popular destination especially in the autumn. Fall Creek's amenities put those of most Texas state parks to shame—there are a variety of accommodations from tent camping to an on-site motel, but we chose the fishermen's cabins on the man-made lake.

After a rainy afternoon and evening we woke to a dense fog on day two. As you can see, the fishermen's cabins are aptly named, and several of our neighbors did little more than cast for bass, bream, and crappie the whole time we were there. The cabins have two bedrooms, a full-kitchen, a wood-burning stove (firewood provided free), and a decent selection of cable channels. They've been around for a while (in fact they seem unchanged from my stay there about 34 years ago) and management has thought of everything. You get not just a coffee-pot but also the little filters, for example. Nice, as is the price—around $135 a night.

After the fog burned off we went on the park's most dangerous and shortest hike: the cable trail.

As you can see, the trail is a nearly vertical plunge down a boulder-strewn mountainside and you hold the cable so you don't split your head open like a melon.

At the bottom, you are treated to this vista. Hey, a little fall color!

After that it was off to 256-foot Fall Creek Falls itself, the park's main attraction. Unfortunately, despite the rain the previous day, the creek was low. As you can see, we missed out on the full glory of fall color, probably by a week or so. 

An angry creationist had his way with several of the plaques in the park.

After checking out of our cabin, we left the state park behind in favor of more isolated, quiet hiking up the road at Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area. Here the trails were lined with gorgeous mushrooms and amazing fungi of every kind. (In summer, wild blueberries thrive there; as a kid I gorged myself on them like a bear.)

The hike was rugged and we ran out of time—we never made it all the way back to the falls, four miles back in the woods. 

And then it was back to the Yaris and on to Nashville.... We'll get to that in the next post.

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