Comet Lovejoy visible from Cragrock

Orion the Hunter


Comet Lovejoy should be visible for the next few weeks. While it is getting farther away from the earth, the moon is waning and so it may be more observable over the next few days than at it’s peak on January 7. If you miss seeing the comet this round, it will be 11,000 years before you get a second chance.

Brave the cold, it is worth it. Though visible to the naked eye, binoculars make it quite vivid. From Sparta TN, after 8:00 PM, Orion will be in the East South-East Sky. Currently the comet is near Orion’s belt (the three bright stars in the middle. Orion is probably the second easiest constellation to spot in the night sky. His visibility over the eastern horizon is how ancient people new that winter was upon them.

The farther that you get from city lights the better. The moon will be rising later during the next few days which puts viewing the comet in your favor.


January Moon Table

10  22:07 09:54    90.0 272.7    49.9   03:36    0.74   19.94
11  23:04 10:22    94.8 267.8    46.0   04:18    0.65   20.94
12  ..:.. 10:51   ..... 262.6    42.2   05:01    0.56   21.94
13  00:01 11:22    99.9 257.7    40.3   05:45    0.46   22.94
14  01:00 11:55   104.8 253.2    36.9   06:30    0.37   23.94
15  02:00 12:34   109.0 249.3    33.9   07:19    0.27   24.94
16  03:01 13:17   112.4 246.4    31.6   08:11    0.18   25.94
17  04:02 14:08   114.6 244.9    30.3   09:06    0.10   26.94
18  05:02 15:07   115.2 245.0    30.1   10:04    0.04   27.94
19  05:57 16:12   114.0 246.9    31.2   11:03    0.01   28.94
20  06:48 17:23   111.1 250.6    33.6   12:03    0.00    0.41
21  07:34 18:36   106.6 255.7    37.2   13:02    0.01    1.41
22  08:15 19:49   101.0 261.7    41.5   13:58    0.06    2.41
23  08:54 21:01    94.8 268.4    46.2   14:53    0.13    3.41
24  09:30 22:12    88.8 274.5    51.0   15:47    0.23    4.41
25  10:06 23:21    82.4 280.5    55.5   16:39    0.33    5.41
26  10:42 ..:..    76.9 .....    59.4   17:31    0.44    6.41
27  11:20 00:27    72.2 285.8    61.2   18:22    0.55    7.41
28  12:01 01:31    68.5 290.0    64.1   19:14    0.65    8.41
29  12:45 02:31    66.1 292.9    66.0   20:05    0.74    9.41
30  13:33 03:27    65.1 294.6    67.0   20:56    0.83   10.41
31  14:24 04:18    65.4 294.8    67.0   21:46    0.89   11.41

Meteor Shower over CragrockUSA

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We are currently experiencing one of the best meteor showers of the year. The earth is currently passing through a belt of dust that creates the Geminid Meteor shower. The weekend of December 13, 2014 holds a special treat; this weekend will be the peak of the Geminids. The crisp winter air is clear and a perfect excuse for a campfire. Tonight, you might see 3 to 4 Geminids per hour, at the peak (this weekend) in rural areas you may see 30 to 60 shooting stars every sixty minutes; I’ve seen as many as one hundred meteors per hour during this shower – - yep, more than one per minute.

The streak behind the meteor is called the train. Geminids meteors are known to be bright with long trains. To view Geminids from Sparta TN, find a field where you can view the Northeast sky as far away from city lights as possible. There are many points along Eastland road that are perfect for this. A thermos of hot chocolate or coffee can help you to both stay warm and awake. The meteors will increase as the night wears on, you will see some after 7:00, more after 9:00 and lots of them by midnight. Be sure to give it as least a half hour. Your eyes need to adjust to the dark, and showers come in surges; you may go 10 minutes and not see any, then suddenly you will see several within a minute. The moon will rise after midnight and begin to occlude the visibility but some Geminids will be visible all night long.

Shooting rocks from CragrockUSA.





Saturday in Cragrock

Well disguised as a sleepy little town, Sparta TN has a lot going on, regardless of weather. For instance, Saturday, December 6, one could stay busy with a multitude of activities, many of them free.

0700 Saturday, breakfast at Eastland Fire Department. Many local fire departments conduct these breakfasts as fundraisers. Almost always these volunteers include a choice of country ham,

Carolyn Holland is a paradigm of why they call this the Volunteer State, cooking for the Eastland Fire Department.

bacon or sausage; unlimited eggs, biscuits, gravy (sometimes even red-eye), potatoes and most importantly, coffee and camaraderie. ALL FOR $7.00? Cracker-Barrel eat your heart out. If you want to meet the who’s-who of the community, show up for some of these events. Local, and state leaders often attend these venues to listen to our concerns. Perhaps the only thing better than the food that you are eating, is that you are also helping a good cause.


Eastland Fire Department interior

Piggin out at the Eastland Fire Department

Eastland Fire Department Country Ham Breakfast

Eastland Fire Department Country Ham Breakfast







Welchs Point on a beautiful rainy day

Welch’s Point, beautiful – - even on a rainy day.

0830 Saturday, Welch’s Point. Yep, it’s rainy, foggy, cold – - but still beautiful. As I passed by the Virgin Falls parking lot, this was the first time I had seen it empty on a weekend in years; someone could have that entire trail to themselves today. If you’ve never hiked in the rain, don’t worry; your mom lied – - you won’t melt, and you won’t catch a cold. What you will experience is a peaceful trip. With the white-noise provided by the wind and rain, you may find yourself getting closer to deer and wild turkey than you have ever been. You will see cascades that are only there during the rain; brooks swell into creeks and the creeks into small rivers. Most hikers never experience the subdued light that can only occur on a rainy day. The forest takes on an entirely different ambiance – - it’s like being on the same trail, through different terrain.

Welch’s Point is known as one of the most spectacular overlooks in the state. On clear days you can see for miles; on foggy rainy days you stand above a good portion of the weather and peer into an ever-changing landscape. As the clouds blow through the canyon, you go from moments of clarity where you can see into Van Buren County; to instances where you can barely see the rocks underneath your feet. You will hear increases of rain long before the shower gets to you, and you might be surprised that minutes later, the rain is gone and you can see miles and miles again – - only now, the air is even fresher than before. In lighter rains, larger birds often continue to soar. I suspect that being savvy hunters, the birds of prey are taking advantage of distracted squirrels and rabbits that on days like today aren’t forewarned by shadows and they can’t hear the air-assault because of the gentle rain.

Intrepid Hikers at Virgin Falls

Intrepid Hikers at Virgin Falls

As I left Welch’s Point, I met four cars pulling into the Virgin Falls parking lot. All of them were from the Nashville area and the occupants were not intimidated by the weather; after talking to them for a few minutes, I could tell; they were eager to enjoy that trail to themselves.



1030 Saturday, it is small business Saturday in Sparta Tennessee. A number of businesses are catering both their wares, and free yuletide snacks. Hot chocolate and cookies at one store, hot apple cider and cheese balls at another, popcorn here, brownies there, and there may even be a little Calfkiller (and I don’t mean the river) floating around as well.

Music at Oldhams

Music in Oldham’s Theater

Musicians are standing in line for their turn to play in Oldham’s Theatre (and it’s free). The upstairs of the American Legion building is packed from wall-to-wall with craftsman and their crafts. One of them is selling GREAT theme birdhouses for only $10; these are made of real wood, cleverly painted, and made here NOT China. How can someone work for hours and make beautiful, truly unique jewelry and sell a pair of earrings for $5. I asked one craftsman if they had anything with a ladybug motif. She pulled out a box that had tiny beads that were shaped and painted like ladybugs. She custom-made a pair of earrings for $5. Last year I got over half of my Christmas shopping done on this day; I put a pretty good dent in it this year was well.

1300 Saturday, its Christmas on the Mountain weekend at Fall Creek Falls. One of my favorite drives anywhere is Cherry Creek Road, to 285, and the back way to Tennessee’s most-visited state park. 285 is a narrow ribbon of pavement surrounded by mountains and bordered by Cane Creek for a good portion of the drive. The creek has become a raging river by this time and it runs so close to the road you can hear it above the rain. I’m now under the clouds that I was above while at Welch’s Point just a few hours ago. Mountain tops disappear and reappear as the low-lying clouds collide with the surrounding hills. I had to pull off the road and just watch the scenery change as I sat still.

Now I wish I hadn’t eaten so much at the Eastland Breakfast and downtown Sparta, but I manage to

Fall Creek Falls Inn during "Christmas on the Mountain"

Fall Creek Falls Inn during “Christmas on the Mountain”

choke down samples of homemade intense dark chocolate, peanut brittle, and locally boiled peanuts. The Inn at Fall Creek Falls also has a line of musicians (hey, we are in Tennessee) waiting to perform on their stage. You can hear the ever-changing music in the background as you walk through conference rooms full of competing craftsman. I’ll remind you that even with the rain; there were only three parking spaces available in the Inn’s large parking lot.

1900 Saturday, Hillcrest Restaurant. With this much to do, this was a long day. The huge breakfast, and scads of snacks have worn off. Besides, it gets pretty lonely on Bon Air Mountain. My favorite

Hillcrest Reataurant, near Center Hill Lake.

Hillcrest Reataurant, near Center Hill Lake.

restaurant is just over 20 miles from my home and well worth the drive. The Hillcrest Restaurant has been through many iterations, but this is the best one yet.

Where else can you get a huge flank steak cooked to order and two sides for under nine dollars – - yep!  They also have three flavors of Calfkiller (and I don’t mean the river), and deserts that are as good as I’ve had anywhere. The service is great; sometimes they’I have a wood fire burning. During the spring and summer, Hillcrest hangs humming bird feeders outside their picture windows and I think that all the hummers that leave Brazil must have heard of the Hillcrest. The entertainment of those birds buzzing just outside the window is a draw unto itself – - it’s like an aquarium for birds.

If you’ve read my food reviews before you know that I have a ratio of quality to price – - this is a TEN. I don’t know of any better “bang for the buck” ANYWHERE!

Huge Flank Steak and sides for less than nine dollars.

Huge Flank Steak and sides for less than nine dollars.



Hillcrest Restaurant near Center Hill Lake.

Hillcrest Restaurant near Center Hill Lake.






Just another rainy day?   Not in CragrockUSA.



What’s the story behind Wheat’s Curve?

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Wheat’s Curve

Wheat’s Curve, the rest of the story.  Just outside of Sparta TN,  There is an interesting twist in the highway listed on many maps as The Broadway of America. Also-known-as US 70, this was the first paved road in the United States to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

As a rule, road builders try to make highways as straight as possible. So when you encounter an almost right angle in a highway, you know that there must have been a reason. This bend is so pronounced that someone erected signs announcing (or warning) its position. Dubbed “Wheat’s Curve” for the family of Morgan Wheat who lived along the cusp, this curve has continued to slow traffic for the better part of a century.

Of course, for a segment of the population, a curve notorious enough to have its own moniker becomes a dare. It has been the site of many accidents through the years, some were sincere mishaps; others were caused by waging on who could travel the fastest through the curve; and of course, this has been the site of many traffic fatalities.

The alleged Wheat’s Curve speed record was set by a moonshiner who made the quarter-circle at 105 miles per hour. Interestingly, yet another segment of this same highway and still in Tennessee is where the story that became the movie Thunder Road took place.

Along with the sadness of the injured and the killed are a few anecdotes that have humorous twists. Ricky Mcbride remembers standing by the guard rail waiting for a school bus when a truck carrying pigs overturned unleashing startled swine that soon covered three subdivisions. Ann Holland recalls that incident and adds that the neighborhood children made sport of trying to catch the little pigs.  Carless Wiinnett remembers a similar day when a chicken truck overturned.

Civil Engineers spend years learning to calculate trajectory for vehicles likely to travel a given road so there must be a compelling reason to include a sharp change in direction at that locale.  We may never know for sure, but after studying maps of the area, and noting that the Louisville & Nashville

L&N Railroad Map. Note that Bon Air and Monterey predate Cookeville and Sparta

Railroad spur, that had been built decades before takes a similar turn in the same area; I think we might be able to deduce the reason for the curve. Apparently underlying geology resulted in these speed-breaking turns for both the highway and the railroad. White County Tennessee has more caves than any other county in the entire USA. Both the railroad and US 70 converge, just south of Sparta, on a ribbon of stable land bordered on one side by the Calfkiller River, and one the other by a huge, cave-induced depression called a “sink”.

Note the topo-map below. The contour lines illustrate elevation change. The contour lines that have tick-marks denote the geologic anomaly known as a sink. The tick marks point inward, and as you can see, this sink is probably over 3000′ long. Sinks are avoided for construction purposes because they flag unstable earth. Engineers for both the railroad, and the highway sought to avoid the mountains to the west, the river to the east, and at all cost, they skirted that unstable land in the sink. The cost of avoiding those three natural wonders was a temporary reduction in speed on both the rail and the pavement. Wheats Curve topo

2014-11-14 14.30.08

JR’s Place in Wheat’s Curve

One more good reason to slow down at Wheat’s Curve is JR’s Place. Known for ages as Webb’s Package Store, and operated for decades by WWII POW, Carl Webb and wife Margie.  Jimmy Ray Cantrell purchased the business last year and has converted it to a friendly tavern complete with a great selection of brew, karaoke, and various entertainment offered by local talent. I suggest that you try the “Third Shift” beer, but watch out for the boiled eggs that are soaking in napalm – - but I guess that fiery flavor sells a lot of brew.

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