Ijams River Boardwalk Hike

Ijams River Boardwalk Trail Head Ijams River Boardwalk Geologic Fold at Ijams Along River Boardwalk Geologic Fold at Ijams along River Boardwalk Wildflowers Along River Boardwalk at Ijams Cave Along River Boardwalk at Ijams Solomons Seal | Wildflower at Ijams Wildflowers Along River Boardwalk at Ijams Ijams River Boardwalk Ijams River Boardwalk Handicap Accessible Boat Launch at Ijams IMG_4485Difficulty:  Easy to Moderate
Hiking Map (.pdf)
Ijams Event Calendar

I don’t try to document everything about a place that we visit, after all, I am not a paid travel writer.  But I do try to spread the news about those extra special places that Jim and I have discovered.  The Ijams River Boardwalk is one of those must see places to experience.

There are over 40 miles of trails at Ijams. Jim and I decided to start exploring them one day last week on foot.  I don’t think the trails are well marked other than at the trail heads, at least the ones that circled the main nature center where we walked.  I say this because we would come upon forks in the trail and not know where we were or which way to turn, so we circled back a few times.  But, to be fair, we were using a very small, low-detail map from a free brochure.

Download this more detailed map of the wildlife sanctuary trails or purchase one for $1 at the nature center before you start to make your hiking more enjoyable and easier to get around.

We did find our way over to the boardwalk along the Tennessee River and that was really a treat.  The boardwalk cantilevered out over the water and took you past several caves and unusual rock formations.  At one point, there was a staircase that took you up to an unusual “geologic fold” in the rock layers.  I would love to know more about how this was formed.

Gazing across the river, I could imagine going back in time to the days of Tom Sawyer.  Time definitely is slower here, if you let it be.

There were a number of wildflowers blooming, and of course birds, so be sure to take a flower identification book and some binoculars.

This hike is definitely a must see.  I can’t wait to take my nieces there when they come to visit.  Life is an adventure.


Cumberland Trail | Tank Springs Trailhead in LaFollette

Panoramic Scenic View | Cumberland Gap Trail Tank Springs Trailhead | Cumberland Gap Trail Tank Springs Trailhead | Cumberland Gap Trail Tank Springs Trailhead | Cumberland Gap Trail Mary Johnson | Cumberland Gap Trail Libby Morgan | Cumberland Gap Trail Shelter | Cumberland Gap Trail Cumberland Gap Trail | Shear Cliff Near Shelter Bob Cat? | Cumberland Gap Trail Scat | Cumberland Gap Trail Window Rock | Cumberland Trail TN Cumberland Gap Trail Ridge Walk | Cumberland Gap Trail Cumberland Gap Trail Cumberland Gap Trail Ladder Descent | Cumberland Gap Trail Ladder Descent | Cumberland Gap TrailChallenging 6 Mile Hike Well Worth the Trip

Meeting new people has its perks.  I first met Libby Morgan when she did a write-up on me for the Union County Shopper News back in January.  We had a lot of things in common and one of them is exploring new places.

Somehow, the Cumberland Trail came up in our conversations and she took the initiative to plan out a route and make it happen.  All I had to do was show up.  I was ready for an adventure and I was not let down.

We started in La Follette (which took me about an hour’s drive from Sharps Chapel) at the Tank Springs Trailhead off of Tennessee Street (traffic light #7) and ended up at Eagle Bluff / Junction 1, where a dirt road crosses the trail.  Here is the Cumberland Trail Map Segment that we took. We coordinated cars at each end of the trail so we would not have to hike back.  It was a 6 mile hike that took us 6 hours to hike, so we are very glad we did.

Here is the article Libby wrote about our Cumberland Trail Hike in the Union County Shopper News.  She provides a lot of details about the history of the trail and some of the landmarks.

Except for the ascent and descent, the trail segment we were on followed the ridge the whole time.  I was in awe of the shear cliffs.  There were several times where we were walking on a “sidewalk” width ridge that seemed to go straight down on either side of us.  We were on top of a mountain!

Here is where I put my cautionary words that children should not go on this hike.

We did not see a single sole the entire time.  So if you are one to want to experience a little bit of the wilderness, this is it.

About mid-way through, we came upon a shelter.  It was near the only water source on this segment — the source of which was a spring.  That’s where we started to see some evidence of wildlife.  Libby spotted some scat and some paw prints from what could be a bobcat.

At one point on the trail, it looked like it was a dead-end.  But as we approached it and looked down, we saw a ladder!  What fun!

Not everyone will go on this hike, but it is certainly doable for average hikers.  Just take your time, bring lots of water and food to keep your energy level up.  Pick a beautiful, clear day and GO.

Life is an Adventure.





Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Jim  Johnson | Sharps Chapel Living

Mary Johnson | Sharps Chapel Living

Evidence of Bear Feeding on Holly Tree

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National Park

Jim  Johnson | Sharps Chapel Living

Sand Cave | Cumberland Gap National ParkLast Saturday (December 21 – the Winter Solstice), Jim and I had some time on our hands and wanted to explore. We decided to head out to Sand Cave (a place Pat Clapsaddle had highly recommended after she and Bill hiked it a year or so ago).  So, Jim and I got in the car and picked a scenic route to Sand Cave.  Little did we know we were going to have an adventure that included the threat of bears, a 9 mile round-trip hike to a very beautiful, secluded place, and the pressure of returning before sunset on the shortest day of the year.

It is not like us to take the familiar route when unexplored roads await, so instead of taking 25E to Harrogate and then 58 East to Ewing (that’s how we returned), we took 345 out of Tazewell, then picked up 63 to Frog Level Rd.  The name of the road should say it all.  It was a one-lane country road that failed to point out the significant event of crossing the state line from TN to VA.

Fast forward to the trail head. The trail map said it was 4.5 miles to Sand Cave (one-way, I might emphasize). The time was 1:00 pm. Sunset was at 5:21 pm. We did some quick math in our heads and decided it was doable. We were off!

The first thing we see is a sign that says “Bears are active in the area”.  It’s December!  Shouldn’t they be hibernating?  I didn’t think too much about it.  That would change later.

The temperature was around 60 degrees F, but as we hiked higher up, we could feel it get somewhat cooler — the 30% rain helped with that as well.  Did I mention the 30% rain? —  it actually rained off and on about 30% of the time making for some frequent wardrobe changes.  Not a problem really, but the trail did get a little more soggy as we progressed.

The trail was beautiful.  With no leaves on the trees, we could see through them down into the valley below and up to the white rock cliffs that are a destination in their own right.  As we got higher, the woods changed from pristine, well-balanced forest vegetation to more dense rhododendron bushes and random holly trees.  It was about this time that I started clapping my hands loudly about every 30 seconds.  I was not going to take any chances – hibernation or not.  I did not want to come across any bears.

When we got to the ridge, we came across a holly tree near the trail.  The trail was littered with fresh holly leaves and torn branches.  Clearly, an animal had been feeding there.  There is no doubt in my mind.  It had to be a bear.  I executed a few more claps, extra loud.  We moved on.

Jim said, it’s coming up on 3 pm.  Let’s turn around at that point.  We both knew it would have given us some buffer to return on time.  But we were so close to our destination.  The signs saying “this way to Sand Cave” were more frequent.  We continued on without mentioning the passed deadline.

We got to our destination at 3:15.  The approach to Sand Cave is through a white pebble-lined creek.  At first, all we heard was the sound of a waterfall — the source of the creek’s water.  When we got to the waterfall, we turned to the right and there it was — a massive wind-blown bowl carved out of the mountain lined with white sand as soft and any seaside beach.

If you have been to Ash Cave at Hocking State Park in Ohio, then you have experienced the same thing.  There, it is only a short, easy, 15-minute walk to the destination.

Here, not so much. My thoughts were “we are so fortunate to be able to experience this because it is SO REMOTE, few people will ever see it.”  Yet, it is in our backyards – just an hour from Sharps Chapel.  Within just an hour’s drive, you can experience feelings that you can only feel actually BEING in the wilderness.  Feelings of apprehension, vulnerability, fear, triumph, control. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is important to stay healthy and fit.  To experience life.

Did we make it back before sunset?  Yes, by 5 minutes.  We saw one other young couple at the cave who had arrived when we were about to leave.  They were 5 minutes behind us.  We stopped to talk.  We both said that next time we would be sure to be better prepared.  A flashlight was first on our list.

Photos of Sand Cave at Cumberland Gap National Park.

Life is an Adventure.

Big Ridge State Park | Hike for the Health of It

IMG_3467 IMG_3469 IMG_3470 IMG_3471 IMG_3474r IMG_3551 IMG_3552 IMG_3557 IMG_3560 IMG_3561 IMG_3571 IMG_3578 IMG_3579It’s funny how you can hear about things to do.  If you keep your ears open, there are really a lot of things going on in or around Sharps Chapel.

Case in point – at the Sunset Bay Annual meeting last week, I happened to join in on a conversation between two women, only one of whom I actually knew.  I introduced myself to the other and found that she was a 4-H Program Assistant with the UT Extension Office of Union County in Maynardville.  Her name was Beth Bergeron and she was trying to get the word out about a walking program she was trying to get started in the area.  She mentioned a guided hike that was going to be given by Big Ridge State Park ranger Sarah Nicely, who happened to be the featured guest from that morning’s event.

Fast forward to Monday and 5 of us (Emily Lemming, Sandy Devery, Annie Grau, Pat Clapsaddle, and myself), pulled together by Pat Clapsaddle (thanks Pat!) were there!

We started out in the visitors’ center where there is a great map showing property boundaries and deed owners’ names around 1935.  At the annual meeting, Sarah had told us that Norris Lake was one of the first lakes to be dammed and when the government purchased property by eminent domain, they bought the whole parcel of anything that touched the area where the lake would be (a practice not repeated at other lakes).  That left an awful lot of land that was not used for the lake, and much of that was converted to parks, such as Big Ridge State Park and Chuck Swan, to name a few.

It was a great hike — only 3 miles, but I had never been on that trail, which went around the lake at Big Ridge State Park.  The biggest surprise for me was to find that Big Ridge actually has their own dam that separates it from Norris Lake.  There actually is no way to physically boat between the two bodies of water!  The trail has you walking across the dam to get to the other side of the lake.

I’ve always wanted to know the difference between white and red oak trees and I took the opportunity to ask Ranger Nicely if she could help me understand this.  She was able to quickly find actual examples of leaves from the two different kinds and explain that white oaks have rounded ends on their lobes and red oak trees have pointed ends.  I knew I wouldn’t remember this without  some little catch phrase or mnemonic and she quickly came up with “red devils have pointy tails”.  That does the trick for me.  Thanks Sarah.  Now if I could only distinguish tree bark.

Some other things she pointed out, that I’ve included pictures of, were:

  • – an umbrella magnolia tree with huge leaves that fanned out like an umbrella.  She said this is native to TN.
  • – a nest of Great Blue Herons in one of the coves we hiked around.  I knew they nested high in treetops, as I had seen this in the Cleveland Ohio area, but would not have noticed it here without her pointing it out.
  • – a stone wall embankment, built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) from FDR’s New Deal.

As an aside, one thing that continually amazes me about Sharps Chapel is how small a community it is.  When you hike with someone, it’s easy to pick up on some of their personal information.  It turns out that Sarah Nicely is married to now Union County Deputy Dennis Nicely, who used to be a builder at Sunset Bay.

Thanks Sarah for a great, informative walk.  We all had an enjoyable time.

So whether you join a formal hike or walk on your own, walking is a very healthy, low-impact way to exercise.  So enjoy this weather and try to get out to stretch those legs.

P.S. Thanks to Pat for half of these photos.

Life is an Adventure!

Chestnuts | Important in Appalachian History

IMG_3452-b IMG_3453 IMG_3455This past week I had an opportunity to pick some chestnuts with Darren Farquar at his Right By Nature Farm.   I had no idea what I was in for, but I was game.

When I first started, I remember wishing that I had worn my leather work gloves. The outer shell of that beautifully smooth nut is a virtual fortress of spines.

I learned that you wait until the nuts fall to the ground.  And on the ground, the nuts will continue grow to the point where the spiny outer shell pops open and the nuts simply fall out.  We found all these loose nuts under the tree.

Which leads me to the question, “Have you ever roasted chestnuts?” I never had until Jim introduced me to it early in our marriage. His parents had done it when he was a child. They also boiled the chestnuts, as an alternative.

Below is a video that gives you some tips on how to roast chestnuts.


The American Chestnut in Southern Appalachia: An Oral History

In the course of researching this topic, I learned that chestnuts played a large part in the history of southern Appalachia.  Enjoy these three videos of oral history on the subject.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire…

I know it is only October and “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is something you usually associate with winter and cozy fires, but I couldn’t help but think of that famous song, written by Mel Torme, officially called The Christmas Song.  Enjoy this version sung by Nat King Cole.

Life is an Adventure