Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Into the Rift, or Not
It is a long trek from Montgomery to the edge of the Cumberland plateau near Chattanooga, but we were anxious to take a big bite out of the miles we needed to cover by July fourth. Three hundred miles on back roads and blue highways brought us up the Sequatchie Valley, a narrow knife cut on the Tennessee topo that runs toward the Alabama line. It is seldom more than five miles wide and bounded by bluffs 900 feet tall. For years I had believed that this was one of the world’s rarest features --A RIFT VALLEY.
OH, If it were only true! We could conjure up visions of huge Tectonic plates spreading apart and leaving a fiery wilderness that, in the fullness of time, would be the birthplace of a completely new species. That species might grow, develop advanced abilities, spread across the continents…Dr. Leakey would come….
But SCIENTISTS are an unromantic lot and they have shelved this theory and replaced it with anticlines, and headward erosion and “underground solution of structurally elevated limestones”. REALLY?!
I cling to my Rift valley fantasy where a new species –- we could call them “Tennesseans” –- would gather in huge numbers for fall games. They would adorn themselves with Orange baseball caps…
Why, you might ask, would any species choose to remain in a Rift Valley (excuse me, a plain old garden variety erosion ditch) when a climb up the Plateau walls brings cooler temperatures and a lovely breeze. We did that and entered the gates of the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau Club (TCPC) Airstream Park, passed along smooth pavement through meadows of lush grass and mixed hardwoods, along the edge of Running Deer Lake and into a circle of 100+ Airstreams sited semi permanently around a large welcoming clubhouse.
In a few way-too-short visits here, we have picked up a little of the history; in my mind, it is not unlike my Rift Valley fantasy. Over forty years ago a hardy bunch of Airstreamers from the lowlands, seeking a cool summering ground, attacked 300 acres of grown-over woodlands with brush hooks and enthusiasm. They were (and are) a varied group with a multitude of talents which they lavished on the land and on each other. The group and the land have prospered. It seems to us as sometime visitors that the requirements for membership here are a sunny disposition and a shiny trailer. We are constantly delighted by both.
As brand new Airstreamers, we sat at the knees of Sages, learned the basics of ownership and some exotica best not disclosed. As travelers, we have crossed paths with several who call this their “home Place.” Most of all, here we enjoy a full measure of that special Airstream feeling we get in the presence of really experienced travelers who generously share their adventures.
Yesterday was typical. We checked in with our friends Jill and Harry, learned about new additions (mostly four legged) subtractions (trailers and some few lots on the market) and were encouraged to stay (lots to do around here). We circled the park admiring the shiny trailers of every Airstream vintage and the personal landscaping and amenities each owner added.
After settling into a guest lot, we rigged fly rods and exercised the bass and bream until the sun went down.
Heinz and Linda introduced themselves on the way to the mailbox and we talked into the wee dark hours about their twelve years full timing the whole continent, our lives on the road, advice and hysterical tales, tips and confidences, mutual friends and more. (No pictures, this was conducted at the picnic table illuminated only by fireflies.
In the misty morning, more fishing was planned but when “the Trail Lady” offers to show us the Fox Den trail, Rule 26 (Try hard to always say YES) prevailed. Susan has lovingly tended trails to the geologic features in the park (in addition to providing a Guest Book outlining trips to great places nearby.)
We met near the new mailbox array which she may also have had a hand in.
..and proceeded, with hugs and giggles,
…through mixed hardwoods while Susan identified each species…
…Cumberland Azalea (different from the the Flame Azalea of the mountains)…Rattlesnake Plantain, and mountain mint and Indian Paintbrush, a showy one framed by a rock “tunnel” that delights children…
The trails were delightful Susan, as was the company. Thank you.
The visit to TCPC was too brief. We hurriedly hitched up and were underway when the first of many showers opened up on us. Blue highways (and some so thin they might not have had color) held our attention. TN 330 between Oliver Springs and Lake City followed the path of Molly’s Cow up and down, twisting and turning even though the tiny valley it traversed held a nicely graded railroad. (No map reconnaissance can replace seeing it for yourself, Rule 12)
By mid afternoon we coasted into Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, a place that feels like home.
see a few days at Cumberland Gap in 2011