It was only fitting that on our journey through the land of orange dirt, we should stop at an old copper mine. The mine has long since closed, but I had heard that this mine, in Ducktown, Tennessee, had one of the largest open copper craters in the area and I wanted to take a look. Although we arrived after the small museum had closed, we had a nice chat with the woman who ran it. She told us that on an ordinary day she’d stay open late for us, but she had to get home to see her daughter. No matter, we were able to see the crater and be on our way.
After a day and a half of exploring Chattanooga, we headed up to our highlight of Eastern Tennessee, the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton. I’m a sucker for living history museums, and this was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The curation was as interesting as the contents themselves. It was pretty clear that this was not the work of a museum committee made up of historians who are at arm’s length from the history they are describing. Instead, it was a more personal look at a community’s attempt to save, define, and communicate a sense of itself. We were able to spend several hours there (it helped that there was a lot of outdoor space for Van to run around), but I could have easily spent a full day or so if I wasn’t tethered to a small child.
We finished our stay in Eastern Tennessee with a couple of nights in Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. We technically camped in Virginia, but all three states meet right there, so we considered it more of an extension or our time in Tennessee. We did some great hiking, but by far the coolest thing for me was walking along the Wilderness Road Trail. This is the trail that Daniel Boone blazed in 1775, following the footsteps of many Indians and bison before him. The Wilderness Road was recently restored to its original appearance as it crosses the Gap. I spent all of our short time on the trail envisioning the many, many people who had crossed this Gap with all of their belongings, heading west not knowing exactly what to expect. Certainly one could draw some loose parallels to our trip, but those folks had guts well beyond anything that travelers with motorized transportation, a cell phone, and ready access to clean drinking water and food sources could understand.
Alan’s favorite thing in the park was standing in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee at the same time. I admit that it was cool, and made even cooler by the fact that this point is on a mountain, which is conveniently named Tri-State Peak. We would have liked to have done even more hiking, but Van was having a particularly tough day (meaning lots of tantrums, crying, and not listening) and the hikes we were most interested in were rather long with a screamy two year old in tow. Regardless, we were able to see a lot and get a few miles of hiking in before we headed north into Kentucky.