Big South Fork
I’ve heard a lot about this place over the past couple years, and I finally got to see it for myself. 125,000 acres of gorgeous scenery surrounding the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Half in Tennessee and half in Kentucky, this place has something for everyone — hiking, biking, horse trails, swimming holes, waterfalls, overlooks, caves, you name it.
On this first trip we stuck to the O&W Road area. This dirt road is on an old railroad bed and crosses the O&W Bridge, a popular hiking destination. There are plenty of good camping spots and swimming holes along the road.
We arrived shortly after noon on Friday. My companion on this trip was my buddy Nate. The plan was to find a camping spot that day and possibly do some hiking, then the next day we would try to find an overlook and a cave we’d read about. As we were driving down O&W Road, we passed by Jake’s Hole and had to stop. This place blew me away, and I felt like I was somewhere in the Northwest. Perfect swimming hole for next summer.
We actually did jump in the water, despite the less-than-warm weather. And the water wasn’t bad actually, during the summer this place must be a paradise. With no swimming trunks (or even a change of clothes) we swam in our undies and went commando afterwards. That wouldn’t have been so bad except that Nate ripped a big hole in his pants, right in the groin area. I’m sure you can imagine how that would complicate things.
After taking a dip we returned to the car to find a man and woman outside their van near our car. The woman was digging in the dirt, and the man asked us for a drink. We told him we only had water, and he replied that’s all he wanted. We gave him some water and offered some first aid to his wife, who had cut her finger on a piece of glass while digging. As she was attending to her finger she told us she was digging for arrow heads. Meanwhile her husband, who was clearly high or drunk or both, started ranting about park rangers. At that point we said good-bye and hoped they wouldn’t find our campsite…
After roaming O&W Road for a while we found a suitable campsite and decided to go into the nearest town for dinner since it was raining. Dinner consisted of some delicious burgers from Phillips in Oneida, TN. Nate had fun trying not to flash people through the hole in his pants. He did eventually figure out a way to mostly avoid it by tying a sweater around his waist. After dinner it was back to the campsite until morning.
On this trip I slept in the Subaru for the first time, and I discovered that two dudes sleeping in the back of wagon is not the greatest. Probably something I will only do again with my wife.
All night long the memory of the van people was in the back of our minds. Every time we heard a noise outside we thought for sure they were coming. But they never came, and eventually morning came instead.
Words to describe the next morning: brisk, pristine, wet, quiet, solitary, refreshing. Perfect time for some meditation, reading, and writing.
We decided to head into town before breakfast to resolve the no undies situation (you may recall ours were wet from swimming the day before). After a quick trip to the nearest Walmart we found ourselves comfortably wearing underwear again and sporting some very stylish $2 beanies.
While we were enjoying breakfast back at the park, a park ranger stopped by to see what we were up to. Turns out we were supposed to have an overnight pass in order to camp along O&W Road (seems obvious now but it didn’t even occur to me before), but the ranger was nice enough to waive the fine. At this point we were looking pretty rough, and probably smelled even worse, so I was sure the ranger suspected us of having weed (we didn’t). We talked to him for a while about what we should see in the park and he surprisingly never asked to search our stuff before leaving. However, a few minutes later, as we were leaving for a hike, he drove by again and asked to see what was in Nate’s pocket (it was his wallet). The funny thing is, I was carrying a backpack, and we had a car full of stuff behind us, but he only asked to see what was in Nate’s pocket.
Our first goal on that morning’s hike was to reach Jake’s Hole Overlook. We had only some blog notes to guide us since it’s not an official attraction. We were to take the John Muir trail from the bridge up to Devil’s Den at the top of the gorge — a short ways past that would be the overlook. We never found it, but the trail was well worth it. Plenty of beauty along the way and Devil’s Den alone was worth the climb. This rock shelter is astounding for its size and symmetry. It looks as if it were carved out by man and in fact many have used it throughout history, including natives, miners, and loggers.
After returning to the car, we still had some time before we needed to head back home, so we walked along the John Muir Trail in the opposite direction — west towards Devil’s Cave (not to be confused with Devil’s Den). This took us along the river and we saw several excellent places to visit during the summer for swimming and canoeing.
Sadly, time was against us and we ran out of it before reaching Devil’s Cave. I suppose it’s just as well, now we have something else to look forward to on our next trip there.
On the way back, we stopped by Cumberland Falls. Partially to see the falls again, and partially to make lunch, but most importantly to get some milkshakes. If you have not tasted a vanilla shake from the Cumberland Falls snack bar, you are missing out on possibly the best shake of your life.
Now, around the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, you may find several abandoned lots and buildings. We chose to explore one of these and ended up with more questions than answers. From the main road, all we could see was a narrow asphalt drive that disappeared through what used to be a fence but was now a wall of brush with a break in it barely wide enough for a car to fit through. What we found on the other side captured our imaginations — a seemingly endless parking lot with trees and bushed growing through the asphalt and no sign of a building. This lot was not just a square of tarmac, it snaked around so we couldn’t see the entire thing from any point in it. In fact we never did see the whole thing. We drove along for a few minutes but while going around a bend we saw a car parked up ahead. Not wanting to be involved in parking lot sex or a drug deal, we quickly turned around and didn’t venture any further.
We still have no idea what used to be there, but it must have been huge. Probably some kind of hotel or resort. I would love to explore the rest of that parking lot sometime, but the mystery of it is also fun.
This trip was a failure. We didn’t actually see most of the things we wanted to. But on the other hand, it was a success. We found adventure. And we found a great park that will surely see us again in the future.
Also I didn’t step in human poop this time.