Sometimes you can take a trip without going anywhere.
01.02.2009 - 01.02.2009
Last weekend presented one of those rare and glorious winter days full of sunshine and mild temperatures. After months of gray skies, rain, ice, and snow, it seemed foolish not to take advantage of such a gift. With no real plans, we piled into the Wrangler and headed out into rural East Tennessee to see what we could find. Surprisingly, we found a lot!
Sometimes just looking around in your own backyard can be a lot of fun.
We first came to the Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant. A mom & pop diner that sits at the top of Clinch Mountain, with a sweeping view of the valley, this little restaurant is well known throughout the state for its Vinegar Pie. Yes. You heard me. Vinegar Pie. I have always been intrigued, but well, not quite enough to try it. Today, however, the sign was tempting me, like a dare. I can't resist a dare.
Inside was like stepping back in time. Buckets of candy with paper signs, a stack of greasy laminated menus, and a long formica counter with red vinyl bar stools stretched before me. I ordered a "Vinegar Pie to go, please." A few moments later, I was staring into a piece of vinegar pie. When I opened the lid, I was reminded of coloring Easter eggs. The smell of vinegar wafted up toward my nose. "This is crazy," I thought, "I am not eating this." But vinegar pie was my quest and I could not back away from a dare. I took a bite.
Tastes EXACTLY like lemon pie. Delicious. You know, I've never met a pie I didn't like.
With some pie for strength, we headed up to Cumberland Gap. Cumberland Gap is a prominent V-shaped indentation in the Cumberland Mountains. It is situated on the Kentucky-Virginia boundary approximately one-quarter mile north of the point where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet.
After a visit to the Pinnacle, it seemed like a good time for some lunch. We headed down into the small town of Cumberland Gap. This tiny town sits at the base of Cumberland Mountain, which rises steeply behind it. Comprised of a few tiny blocks with historic homes and a few quaint businesses, "Mayberry" springs to mind when you see it. You can visit places like the Whistle Stop Antique Store or the Cumberland Gap General Store. There is even an old soda counter where you can get the best homemade peanut butter milkshakes.
You can also find Webb's Country Kitchen, the perfect lunch stop for an East Tennessee kind of day. With old brick walls and worn out wooden floors, it's like eating at Grandma's House. I had the "Pinto Special," a big bowl of soup beans with onions, fried potatoes, turnip greens, and a giant slab of cornbread.
After lunch, in need of some exercise, we headed to Gap Cave. What used to be a commercial cave is now owned by the park. They open it twice a day, provide you with a flashlight and a guide, and take you on a 2 hour walk through. It was much more than I had imagined. The cave is enormous and is filled with incredible formations like a 3 story stalagmite, "forests" of columns formed when stalagmites and stalactites join, and secret pools. Civil War soldiers used this cave and you could still see places where they had carved their names into the rock.
Two hours and a lot of squatting, climbing, walking, and stepping later, we emerged from the cave back into the beautiful sunlight. After a short hike back down to the Jeep, it was off to the Clinch Mountain Winery.
You didn't know you could get wine made in Grainger County Tennessee did you? You can, although I can't say whether that is a good thing or a bad thing! This old barn was filled with every sort of rusty, old, decaying piece of junk that one could imagine and this sweet girl greeted us when we arrived.
After looking through bottles with names like "Scooter Trash," "Hound Dog," "Boss Hog," and "Bulldog Blush," we selected a few to give a try. We tossed our bottles in the Jeep and headed down the road.
The last stop was at the water spout that sticks out of Clinch Mountain. Water is literally cleansed by the mountain and flows out of a pipe placed into the rock in a continuous stream. Cars literally line with people who have brought several gallon jugs to fill with drinking water. The water has been tested and is incredibly pure. Having never slurped water from a mountain before, I just had to know.
I stooped. I scooped. I drank.
I didn't die.
Who knew that right in my own back yard, I could eat vinegar pie, stradle the state line, find cornbread as good as Granny Cook's, wander through a cave with fairy tale formations, buy some Scooter Trash Red, and drink from a mountain? Sometimes you don't have to travel to go somewhere.
Just look around you.
You might be surprised at what you find.