2 Weeks, 1500 Miles: 1 Epic Roadtrip around Tennessee!

While I’ve been noticeably missing from my blog, newsletter and social media for the month of May, I’ve been out exploring the length and width of the great state of Tennessee, and we never once took an interstate. I’ve taken the time to visit some fantastic historic sites (look for a newsletter soon about our amazing visit to the Green- McAdoo Cultural Center.) We stepped off well-travelled paths to see monuments and museums, state parks, murals, and some truly beautiful views. Along the way we stayed in historic and luxury cabins, ate some delicious meals, and met some truly incredible people. I’m finally unpacked, and have enjoyed some time with all of my adult kids back at home, and now I’m ready to organize my thoughts and start sharing all of my amazing adventures with you! (Well, I have a few June trips in the works, but I hope to write more on the road this time!)

My May travels took me in a giant figure eight around the edges of TN, with our Lynchburg home at the center, tying our West and East Tennessee adventures together. I hope you enjoy following along on my travels that ventured from Union City in the Northwest corner of the state all the way to Carvers Gap in the very northeast portion of the Tennessee mountains at the very spot where they meet both North Carolina and the Appalachian Trail.

This trip was the first time my husband and I have been away alone together for this long since we were married 23 years ago. It seemed like it was time to get out there, do some exploring of the state we’ve called home this whole time, and just get reacquainted with each other as we move into this next phase of life together. We had so much fun! I can’t wait to share all of my reflections on our travels; especially the day a WWII soldier stepped out of the fog and asked for a ride, the day I learned what “tall people secrets” were, and the afternoon we spent tracking down a church in Crossville, TN built from an old army surplus building from right here in Tullahoma.

While neither of us are from Tennessee, we have learned to love this place we call home, and both truly enjoy exploring its history, nature and beauty from north to south, and east to west. One thing that I have definitely learned from my travels so far is that every place, no matter how big or small, has a history. There are stories of the men and women who came before current generations wherever you go, and every single one of those stories is worth hearing. If you get a chance, get out there and explore your local area, see what’s there, talk to the people you meet, and your life will be richer for it. Meanwhile, keep following along here as I explore further and further afield from my own home base, and you never know, maybe I’ll see you out there.

Cabin Camping

Every January for the past 5-6 years, my friend, Tina, and I have loaded up whatever kids we have handy (hers, mine, other people’s) and headed to a state park where it’s likely we can see some snow. Cabin camping gives us the opportunity to go to a park, enjoy all the great things there are to do there, and we still get to sleep in a real bed out of the weather, away from the bears. It’s a win-win in my book. In the past, park cabins have often been steeply discounted in the off-season months, and this last year they instituted a state resident discount. There are also discounts available for active duty and retired military, and state employees. We have enjoyed snow at both Standing Stone State Park and Cumberland Mountain State Park in various years. This past year we took the last two kids we have at home between us and went further east to Norris Dam State Park (where I was inspired to start this whole project.) Here are some other cabin camping trips I’ve taken over the years.

Cabin 18- Norris Dam State Park (sorry, we’d already taken out the linens when I remembered to snap a photo)

All three girls and I went to Natchez Trace State Park one year that it was 105° and thunderstorms kept popping up and we wanted to camp, but tent camping was out of the question. They have Camping Cabins that are essentially 2 sets of bunk beds, and an air conditioner, with a charcoal grill and picnic table outside. You’ve probably seen this style of cabins at a KOA at some point (those are fun places to stay too!). It’s still camping if you have to walk to the bathroom in the campground in my book.

The girls and I all went to Pickett State Park on a last minute midweek discount one summer. The fresh bear poop on the trail and the bear proof trash cans convinced the girls they had done the right thing by refusing to sleep in a tent there. It also poured at the end of the trip, further justifying their “no tent” stance, but in the middle we did some great boating and hiking, and once it rained we painted canvases we had brought along.

We all stayed at a cabin at Chickasaw State Park to be close to a friend’s wedding one year, Montgomery Bell for my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday -it snows on her birthday every year, that year didn’t disappoint- and Standing Stone for a different birthday. We also stayed in a cabin at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park for one of our middle daughter’s birthdays, with her less than outdoorsy best friend in tow. She was a great sport about our version of outdoors weird. 

Finally, I’ve already written about how my youngest and I just stayed at Standing Stone again for her spring break. Looking back, I realize this is the park we have cabin camped at most often, though we’ve also tent camped, and taken our pop-up there as well. What can I say? It’s a great park!

Cabin 16- Standing Stone State Park

Now, to celebrate being fully vaccinated and our upcoming second 23rd anniversary, my husband and I are planning a park hopping adventure in east TN in the next few weeks. We’ve chosen to cabin camp because it’s been three years since we went away anywhere by ourselves, and it feels like a fun way to explore some parks (in bear country) that we’ve not visited together before. I’m going to use my planning for this trip as an example for what I pack on a cabin camping trip in mild weather, and when we get back, I’ll share with you where we went and what we did!

In my next few camping posts I’ll share my standard packing list and the logic behind it, and what we like to plan for menus, since they can be a little fancier than at the campground since we will have a full kitchen available. One year, Tina really upped the game by bringing a pasta maker and having all the kids help hang homemade fettuccine all over the cabin; on chairs, utensils, the faucet, the stove handle, from the light fixtures… It was fantastic! I’ll also talk about the easy way we divide up chores when we camp as friends, because it works flawlessly every time. I’ll also share more about what I keep in my daypack, in my truck box, and in my camping box.

One thing I already mentioned was taking canvases with us to paint. I always try to have some activity planned, usually based on what the weather will be like. In the past we’ve made cookies, baked birthday cakes, had birthday parties, done scavenger hunts, held our own winter Olympics, attended junior ranger programs, hiking, boating, swimming, ranger led nature walks and activities, visited nature centers, painted our toenails, gone to flea markets, done puzzles, and we always bring a few games with us. Our family’s favorite games are travel Scrabble, Yahtzee, Banana-grams, UNO, and good old fashioned card games. Of course we don’t do all of these things every time, but I usually at least have scrabble, UNO, and a deck of cards with me.  

So maybe you are a diehard minimalist backpacker, and these posts may not be for you, but you never know, maybe you’ll get some ideas for new menu items (flatbread pizza?) or new activities. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a camper at all, and would rather stay in-town at a fancy hotel. Stick around, you might learn just how nice state park cabins are these days, and may find that this kind of camping just might work for you after all. Either way, I hope you’ll come back and read more about the way we camp, and where we go along the way. There’s no right or wrong way to camp, the point is to get out there and enjoy these wonderful public spaces that belong to all of us, and contain some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. It’s a big wide world beyond the city limits- maybe I’ll see you out there.

Total immersion: Writing at Standing Stone State Park

The last two weeks have been a little busy around here, and while I haven’t updated the blog much, I’m still out here doing my thing, and writing about it. Today I wanted to share about my trip to Standing Stone State Park in Hilham, TN at the beginning of the month. I’ve mentioned that we took the trip in my other March posts, but one of my favorite parts of the adventure was the cabin we stayed in. Here are the thoughts I wrote down while we were there:

Cabin 16

This week has been Spring Break from college for my youngest daughter, and we decided to go to Standing Stone State Park in Hilham, TN to stay in a cabin and do some hiking and relaxing. While it has been a fantastic place to spend some time together and do just that, I also had the unexpected chance to really immerse myself in the time period I’m interested in. Standing Stone is a park that was created in 1939 as part of a collective WPA, CCC, and Forestry service plan to relocate local farmers off poor soil areas and to reforest overused slopes and add recreational facilities to the area.

The cabins have been recently renovated, but retain a vintage feel while being totally comfortable.

It is purely good luck that I found myself staying in a WPA cabin this week. Shortly after our arrival there was a power outage, and it felt like we had slipped through time back into the 1930s for sure. There we were at sunset watching the gorgeous view from the top of the ridge overlooking the CCC dam below us, on a stone terrace, at a rustic picnic table playing Scrabble by lantern and the sun slipped below the horizon. Back at the cabin, the power returned in time for dinner, and we had the (gas) fireplace going to keep the cabin cozy as we enjoyed a simple supper of pork chops, rice and green beans I had canned over the summer and brought from home.

Sunset from the Tea Room Deck

That evening I was fortunate enough to have the time to sit down to my research at a rustic writing desk tucked into the corner, reading about the very programs that had built the room in which I was sitting, sipping the last of my hot cider. The cabin has no TV or WIFI, but it was something we actually really liked, this sense of being unplugged for few days. What the cabin does have is a simple radio, and after a little fiddling with the dial, we were delighted to pick up an AM station out of Ontario, Canada that happened to be playing a Big Band Sunday Night program. So there I was, in a WPA cabin, cut off from the outside world, a single lamp, and the music from the same era fading in and out across the airwaves. It was like I had slipped back in time, and it also made me reflect on the simple things, and how we really don’t need as much in this world as we have all become accustomed to.

my new happy place

If you get a chance to go stay in a Tennessee State Park cabin, I highly recommend it. Pack some board games and a deck of cards, make use of the rockers on the front porch, and don’t forget to take time to watch the sunset. You won’t be sorry that you did. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

There was never a bad time of day to enjoy this porch.