Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier and Disney Icon, had it right. Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.
Fact is, today Hannah and I are in Davy Crockett country in eastern Tennessee to hike the Cumberland Trail when the bear gets us. I’ll explain, but first. Click here to listen to the Ballad of Davy Crockett from the 1955 Disney TV mini-series and take yourself back to the coonskin cap craze of the Fifties.
Having come to the South this first week of October, we plan to hike the waterfall trails of Tennessee and Georgia as well as the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This Sunday we have landed in Dayton, Tennessee. Back in the day, Dayton was quite the center of controversy.
In 1925, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial (John Scopes was a local science teacher) was litigated over the issue of whether evolution should be taught in the public schools. William Jennings Bryan as prosecutor and Clarence Darrow as defense attorney brought their star power to Dayton. This trial was later fictionalized in the Spencer Tracy film, Inherit the Wind (1960). By the way, Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution contrary to Tennessee state statute and fined $100.*
Nearly a century later, we see that “America” has come to the rural South. In the two bustling little towns we have visited (i.e., Dalton, GA yesterday and Dayton today), there are Comfort Inns and Marriotts with Red Lobsters and Applebees on the edge of town. There are Lowes and Wal-marts and all the Taco Bells, Mickey Dees, and Little Caesar’s Pizzas you could want.
Dalton has an “Historic Downtown” (i.e., tired buildings with empty store fronts here and there). Nearby Bryan College was founded in the aftermath of the Scopes Trial to establish an institution of higher education to teach from a Christian worldview.
Traveling from our Sleep Inn and Suites on route 27 in Dalton, we have a simple four miles of driving to the Laurel Snow State Natural Area heading into the mountains. Then we hit the ¾ mile gravel and dirt road to the trailhead parking. Weaving in and out to avoid the potholes and gullies, we muddle along at 10 mph, wondering if we will be the only ones on the trail.
Thankfully we arrive at the trailhead with 12 other cars. I relax and am more confident that we won’t be heading into some sort of Deliverance wilderness. As a Yankee, I have a hard time getting the depravity of the Burt Reynolds film, Deliverance (1972) and my stint in the Knoxville, TN jail (1971) out of mind when I am in the rural South. Click here for Part 1 of Dan’s Weekend Incarceration in the Knoxville Jail.
Planning to hike to the 80’ foot Laurel Falls, we see a sign at the trailhead that says that the Laurel Creek Bridge is out. But that can’t be the bridge to Laurel Falls; there are so many other hikers on the trail today.
In this one-time coal mining area, we hike on a 6’ wide trail above the stony and boulder-y Laurel Creek that has not a bit of flowing water. That is not a good sign for our chances of seeing a waterfall of any size this afternoon. Still, we remain upbeat and feel hopeful that we will see some sort of tumbling waters, Tennessee-style.
Meeting a woman older than our 68 years, toting a 40-pound pack, we chit chat. When we say we are from Maine to see a waterfall, she says, Oh that’s too bad, you came all this way. This is another bright red flag that there is little we can do about and so we hike on.
Promised a mile and a half of hiking along the river, we follow the white blazes (i.e., white vertical rectangles painted on trees denoting the main trail) of the Cumberland Trail. These white blazes will prove to be our godsend. Soon we are rock scrambling along the river with no sense of a trail. Without a white blaze in sight, we wise up, back track, and finally notice a fallen tree where we missed the sign that says “Main trail;” and then we see a white blaze just ahead.
Hiking up the mountainside, we have a trail that narrows with many sharp rocks and roots along the way. In the distance we see a metal bridge across the river. As we approach, we see it has been mangled and understand why it has been closed. But then across the river, we see a couple and figure if they can cross this bridge, so can we.
Nimbly, we step up and over the twisted bridge and cross easily. On to Laurel Falls, we now have a trail which is a combo rock scrambling/foot path. Again we come to what seems to be a dead end, having lost the white blazes. Looping back after a few minutes, we find that there is a tunnel through the rocks where we are supposed to go.
After three miles of hiking, we take a side trail to a stone wall of mountain – at last Laurel Falls! Except…
…there is not even a trickle of water coming down from what is usually an 80’ falls.
Such is life and thank you Davy, for adding some much needed perspective: Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.
*In July 2017 a statue of Clarence Darrow was placed next to the one of William Jennings Bryan in Dayton, Tennessee. Click on this link to learn how the “Scopes Monkey Trial” controversy lingers into this century. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/14/us/darrow-bryan-dayton-tennessee-scopes-statues.html?emc=edit_th_20170715&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66895847