Casa Flamingo

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Book Cover

Introduction

The word "Tennessee" conjures up many different images. To the lover of country music, Nashville comes to mind when Tennessee is mentioned. To the blues aficionado or the Elvis fan, it’s Memphis. To whitewater buffs, it’s more than likely the Ocoee River. To conservationists and outdoors lovers, it’s probably the Great Smoky Mountains or West Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake. To football fans, it’s definitely the University of Tennessee’s Volunteers.

As with any state, Tennessee is many things to many people. It’s a fun and funky state to explore. From the mountainous east to the delta plains of the Mississippi River in the west, the variety of natural and man-made wonders and attractions the state has to offer is awesome.

Once you drive across the back roads of this long and narrow state, you’ll never again think of it in the same way. I’m here to help you do just that. In reality, it would take volumes to detail all that can be done and seen in Tennessee. However, in the book you now hold in your hands, I have narrowed your choices considerably by taking you off the interstates and onto the side roads, where the unique character of the state truly shines through.

My philosophy is important to understand here because I stayed true to it while writing this book. First of all, to me off the beaten path is more of an attitude than a place. I can enjoy something that’s offbeat, funky, and unusual and consider it off the beaten path—even if it’s on a major highway or in the middle of the city. Even though I may view it as off the beaten path, you may not. Don’t worry; I’m sure we’ll agree on something else.

Second, there are two types of people who will use this book: tourists and explorers. The tourists will bring home souvenirs, the explorers will bring home experiences. I’m an explorer, so don’t expect too many stops at gift shops.

The state has a great highway system that is easy to follow, and while I won’t be taking you down too many of the major byways, it is reassuring to know that they are usually nearby—in case you need to make a quick escape back to civilization.

As you drive along, look for signs that sport the image of the mockingbird, the state’s official bird. They are mounted directly above the state highway designation numbers and signify that you are on a stretch of the 2,300 miles of the Tennessee Scenic Parkway System. Consisting primarily of two-lane roads, it connects the state’s parks, major lakes, and historical sites, as well as this book’s lesser-known attractions.

Along the way you’ll meet whittlers and collectors, and you might meet Dolly Parton. You’ll meet ladies with hair higher than a church steeple and a hip guy who gives tours from a pink Cadillac. By the time you finish your journey, I’ll have you floating on a lake 300 feet below the earth’s surface, playing miniature golf on the side of a mountain, cruising on a lake created by the strongest earthquake on record, and
eating the world’s sweetest-tasting, vilest smelling vegetable.

Don’t overlook some of the state’s better-known tourist traps. Sometimes our trip down the less-traveled paths of the state will intersect with the well-worn trails in order to highlight an event, an attraction, or a person worth visiting. I have found that sometimes it’s worth fighting a crowd to see or do something that you’ll probably never get a change to see or do again.

Music is a big attraction as well as a big industry in Tennessee. From the birthplace of the blues in Memphis to the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to the songs of the Appalachian Mountain folk in East Tennessee, music is an important part of the heritage of our state.

Our tour of the state will touch on much of that heritage and the people who have contributed to it. We’ll visit the commercial monuments that honor Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn, among others. We’ll also take a hike back into the woods to see the monument erected where Patsy Cline lost her life in a plane crash. We’ll visit a new museum honoring the best soul singers of the 1950s and 1960s, and we’ll sit back and enjoy Sunday services at a Cowboy Church that passes a Stetson hat instead of the plate.

Southern hospitality is more than a myth in Tennessee, and our people may well be the state’s friendliest attraction. There is one thing you’ll never have to worry about as you travel through the state: You’ll never truly be lost. Knock on any door or stop by any store, and chances are you’ll get the directions you need, plus a whole lot more. Just when you think you’ve met the world’s most colorful person, you’ll meet one just a bit more fun. That’s the way it is in Tennessee.

The state is full of crossroad communities with colorful and descriptive names. Usually, the community has little more to offer than a gas station-general store combination, but here’s where you’ll usually find the most intriguing characters of the area.

In the summer these folks will be sitting on the porch of that store solving the world’s problems. In the winter you’ll find them sitting around the potbellied stove. There are more than a hundred such communities with colorful names around the state, including Fly, New Flys Village, Defeated Creek, Ugly Creek, Pretty Creek, Dull, Soddy-Daisy, Bell Buckle, Gilt Edge, Finger, Frogjump, Nutbush, Bucksnort, Only, Who’d A Thought It, and Skullbone.

This book has been broken down into five major areas:

The First Frontier. More than 200 years ago, this part of the state was America’s new frontier. Explorers, including Daniel Boone, blazed paths across the Appalachian Mountains, establishing some of the first settlements outside the original thirteen colonies.

Much of the area is heavily forested, with the extreme east and south east parts quite mountainous. Davy Crockett was born here, and the state of Franklin, which never quite made it to statehood, was formed here several years before Tennessee became a state.

The Mountainous East. As the name implies, this area is probably the most rugged of all Tennessee terrain. The 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountain National Park and its foothill communities provide beauty incomparable to what you’ll find elsewhere in the Southeast United States.

Throughout the area several museums have dedicated their collections and grounds to the preservation of mountain life, and many communities have preserved that lifestyle by their very existence.

Plateaus & Valleys. Forested and rugged, the Cumberland Plateau rises like a gigantic wall that spans the width of the state, forming the western boundary of the Tennessee Valley.

Although relatively flat, the area has many spectacular streams that have carved out deep gorges in the sandstone, making it one of the best areas in the state for white-water enthusiasts. In fact, the 1996 Olympic Games white-water events took place here.

The Heartland. Also known as Middle Tennessee, the area is a region of gently rolling hills, sloping green meadows, and miles of river and lake frontage.

At the heart of the area lies Nashville, "Music City USA," the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Musical attractions are popular in this area, as are Tennessee walking horse farms, sour mash whiskey distilleries, and the homes of two, almost three U.S. presidents.

The Western Plains. An area of fertile bottomlands and dense hardwood forests, the Western Plains is bordered on the east by the Tennessee River and on the west by the Mississippi.

A few of the state’s most colorful folk heroes—frontiersman Davy Crockett, train engineer Casey Jones, and Walking Tall sheriff Buford Pusser—have strong roots here, as do Roots author Alex Haley and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

The 520-mile-long state is divided into six telephone area codes, 423, 731, 865, 901, 931, and 615; about half of it lies in the eastern time zone and half in the central zone.

Although care has been taken to ensure accuracy in all listings in this book, visitors would be advised to call ahead before traveling any great distance. Life throughout Tennessee is slow paced and mellow, so if a day appears to be going a bit slow, it isn’t uncommon for a proprietor to close early and go fishing. Phone numbers and admission prices have been included in listings where appropriate.

Most of the attractions are open on a year-round basis, but some cut operations a bit during the winter months.