Wild River, Beloved Land

A year or so ago, I saw the movie “Wild River” (released in 1960).  As usual, the TV was on as background while I was doing other things, so I didn’t watch too closely, but I got the gist of the story.  A government official shows up in rural Tennessee and must convince a stubborn old woman, Ella Garth, to leave her home and her beloved land to make way for progress.

The movie takes place in the 1930s when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began damming up the Tennessee River and many of its tributaries, submerging land that had been in some families for generations under brand new lakes.  The purpose was to control rampant flooding and to provide power generation.  On its face, a boring story line… unless you lived it.  And the ending was pretty sad, no matter which side you were on.  There was a romantic subplot, but it struck me as an afterthought–and not particularly engaging–compared to the struggle between Ella and the government man, the river and the land.

The picture at the top of this post is of the Cherokee Reservoir, formed when TVA dammed the Holston River in the early 1940s to help meet energy demands at the start of World War II.  The islands in the picture used to be hilltops.  Now they are islands available for intrepid boater-campers to use for a day or an evening of secluded fun.  In the movie, Ella is buried in the old family plot on top of her island, the only piece of the Garth homestead to remain above water.

I took the shot from the Panther Creek State Park Overlook (I made it, Lynda!). Way in the distance on the right hand side you can see the Cumberland Gap, which Daniel Boone helped to clear in 1775, enabling easier passage across the Appalachians for settlers heading from Virginia into Kentucky and Tennessee, a critical peg in the progress of westward expansion.  A few miles from the state park is Morristown, home to the Crockett Tavern Museum (housed in a replica building representing the tavern run by Davy Crockett’s parents near this location in the 1790s).

fullsizerender-1585This rich mix of beauty, history, and storytelling (Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, hosts an annual Storytelling Festival early each October) is one of the things that attracts me so strongly to east Tennessee.  That, and the people.

A couple who befriended me in the campground this summer has taken me on several long drives so that I can enjoy the sights from the passenger seat and not worry about traffic and mountainous, winding roads.  They grew up in this area, and its hills and mountains, rivers and streams, roads and trails are mapped in their bones.  They are not content to sit put, enjoying the view from a distance, but instead are always going out on long drives into the heart of the countryside which, ever-changing, never grows old.  Fortunately for me, they are generous, friendly souls, willing and proud to share this piece of their earth, this piece of their heart.

Enough with the sentimentality!  To wrap up, here are two lovely campgrounds near TVA constructs for interested readers:

  1.  Watauga Dam Campground near Wilbur Dam outside of Elizabethton, TN (link:  wataugadam.com).  A TVA-run campground, it is very small (28 sites) and absolutely beautiful.  You need to travel quite a few miles down a winding, narrow road along the Watauga River to get to it.  The campground lies right on the riverside and has level, gravel sites with E/W hookups for $25-$27 per night.  Thoroughly secluded and peaceful, it also looks to be very well maintained.
  2. Panther Creek State Park Campground on Cherokee Lake, Morristown, TN (link:  tnstateparks.com/parks/campground/panther-creek).  The campground is small (50 sites), with E/W hookups for $20/night.  Some sites will only accommodate smaller rigs, but there are larger sites interspersed.  When making reservations, you might want to call and talk to someone familiar with the campground before picking your spot.  The campground isn’t on the lake but it is a short drive to the overlook, boat ramp, pool, playground, and many hiking, bicycling, and horse trails.  At over 1,400 acres, the park itself is huge and has much to offer.

Happy camping, happy campers.  May you ever be happily ensconced on the high ground, with loved ones and friends to share the view.

(Dedicated to Becky and Roger, Karen, and Jean, new friends and gracious travel-guides during my stay in their home, east Tennessee.)


Dawny and I have broken out of our rut and have taken a few day trips–some with friends!–into east Tennessee and far southwest Virginia these past couple of weeks.  This post shares some gems we have found for fellow campers interested in this area.  I put links to the parks at the end of the post for the convenience of interested readers.

First, we finally made it to the little campground in the mountains that we have been wanting to see since we arrived in Tennessee back in June.  Rock Creek Park Recreation Area is located in the Cherokee National Forest a few miles outside of Erwin, Tennessee.  The day-use area has a swimming hole carved into a hollow where the creek naturally flows, and there are nice hiking trails throughout the park.  Camping sites are thickly shaded and have electrical hookups.  Potable water is available from a shared spigot and there is a dump station.  Three campground loops contain a total of about three dozen camping sites.  They are on gravel pads, very roomy, and mostly level.  Sites are non-reservable and are rented on a first come, first served basis.  At just $20 per night, I would call Rock Creek a charmer of a deal.

FullSizeRender-1542For more primitive types (not meant as a personal crack but aimed at campers seeking a more natural experience with few amenities), the Horse Creek and Paint Creek Recreation Areas have small campgrounds with no hookups for just $10 per night.  Also located in the Cherokee National Forest, they lie south of Greeneville, Tennessee.  They provide gorgeous spots for picnicking, hiking, and creek swimming/wading.  Like Rock Creek, these campgrounds are also first come, first served.  Modest sized RV’s can fit on many of the sites, but they are heavily treed and hilly so the longer, taller rigs might find navigating and parking challenging, if not impossible.  In addition to there being no electrical or water hookups, there is no dump station.  For the more adventurous, minimalist camper, however, Horse Creek and Paint Creek are absolutely lovely.

FullSizeRender-886East of Greeneville is a state park campground attractive for history buffs and fans of Fess Parker alike.  Cue music…  Davy, Davy Crockett…  Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park in Limestone, Tennessee is unusual for state parks in this neck of the woods because it offers full hookups (Electric/Water/Sewer) as well as pull-through sites.  Perched on the banks of the Nolichucky River, the park boasts some nice hiking paths, picnic areas, a small boat ramp, and a pool.  A replica of the cabin Davy was born in and a visitors center/museum round out the experience.  Camping sites range from $13.50 for tent sites, $22.50 for E/W hookup (suitable for smaller RVs), and $27.50 for full hookup sites that can accommodate larger rigs.

Cautionary note:  Tennessee is so very, very proud of dear Davy that they actually have not one, but two state parks bearing his name.  The other one is David Crockett State Park in central Tennessee.  I don’t know if state authorities are just messing with our heads or they simply lack imagination.  In either case, take care to pick the one you actually want if you make reservations.

Heading northeast towards Virginia, Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport, Tennessee is very convenient to I-81 and about 20 miles from the Virginia border.  For RV campers, sites with E/W hookup run just $20 per night.  There are two dump stations.  Sites vary in size, with some suitable for smaller campers and others big enough for larger rigs.  Although the campground is cut into the side of a hill, most sites are fairly level with a good mix of sun and shade.  The campground is situated above the Patrick Henry Reservoir on the Holston River and offers loads of activities, including boating, hiking, picnicking, and fishing, with a pool, a golf course, and riding stables nearby.

Since we are so close, let’s make one stop in good old Virginia.  It’s a sweet one, trust me.  North of Kingsport, cross into Virginia on I-26/23 and head towards Big Stone Gap.  On the way, you will stumble upon Natural Tunnel State Park (Duffield, Virginia).  As is the case with all Virginia state parks, the camping fees are on the steep side ($35 for E/W for non-Virginia residents, $30 for residents), but it is a unique and beautiful place.  There are two campground loops on top of a mountain.  Sites are spacious and pretty level; some are shadier than others.  They also have rental cabins and a pool.

FullSizeRender-1535About halfway down the mountain is the Natural Tunnel day-use area and visitors center.  Several trails branch out from there, including a couple that go up the mountain and one that goes down.  One of the upper trails leads to Lovers Leap, the final launching point of a couple of Native American Romeo & Juliet types (alas for boundless, timeless–but not weightless–ill fated love).

For $4.00, a chairlift will take you safely to the bottom, but I did not trust that Dawny wouldn’t kill us both by hurtling over the lap-bar should they even let us on the thing in the first place.  So we took the trail.  At the bottom we met a cheerful little river (actually, now it is just a big creek) that worked together with ground water to carve a massive tunnel over 850 feet long, up to 100 feet high, and 200 feet wide through the guts of this mountain range over a million years ago.  Stuff like this just boggles my mind…  I love it!  In the late 19th century, entrepreneurs and engineers laid a railway line that accompanies the creek through the tunnel.  It is still in operation.

That ends today’s tour through this little patch of America.  Whether you be one of those sturdy tent-camping types or you pull a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer, I hope you found something worthwhile.  Below are direct links to the parks I mentioned so that you can easily investigate details specific to your interests and situation.  Happy trails!

Rock Creek Park Recreation Area:


Horse Creek Recreation Area:


Paint Creek Recreation Area:


Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park:


Warriors Path State Park:


Natural Tunnel State Park:



Flying Economy Class, in Comfort & Style

On our flight south from Virginia, Dawny and I skipped North Carolina’s campgrounds and stayed at a couple of sweet state parks in South Carolina:  Little Pee Dee State Park (what a great name!) and Colleton State Park.  We skipped North Carolina because state park campground prices are a fair bit lower in South Carolina (I reduced my camping fee budget goal for 2016 from $25 to $20 per night).  For $19 per night, we had electric/water hookup and beautiful waterfront dog walks at both campgrounds.

Those parks were quite nice, but we found a real jewel when we landed in Florida.  In the southern part of Osceola National Forest, Ocean Pond Campground sparkles on the northern edge of a large, ring-shaped lake.  Ocean Pond is a natural lake, forming a nearly perfect circle about 2 miles wide.  Its origins are unknown, but some experts speculate it was formed by an extra terrestrial event (meteorite impact).  Cool!

The campground has just 19 sites with electric/water hookup.  The rest are water-only or primitive sites for tents.  When we pulled in, a sign announced that the electric sites were full.  As I was about to back into a non-electric site, a camper drove up to tell me they were leaving an electric site a day early and I could have their spot.  Bonus:  They had paid the senior pass rate, so I got that night for $12!  After that, the cost was $18 per night–still a good deal.

Although my rig and I are able to function just fine without electric hookup, being approximately as human as the next person, I tend towards the lazy side of life.  If I can get more for easy and cheap, then that’s a sweet deal.  Besides, the site is beautiful.  Our back yard neighbors are a bunch of ducks paddling around the shoreline, perfectly happy with their first-class accommodations.

So here we sit and walk and nap, and write and read and nap for a few days before migrating onward to our winter roost.  The walks are great, the surroundings lovely, and the price is right.  Sure fits the bill!