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There is a reason they call this Sunset Rock.


Sunset Rock, near Sparta TN. (taken near summer solstice)

What a suitable moniker, Sunset Rock.  From solstice to solstice you can follow the sun across the western horizon. In the summer, the sun almost disappears behind the trees to the north, in the winter; it almost makes it to Spencer Mountain. As the earth tilts, from this longitude it appears that the sun travels about sixty degrees from June 21st to December 21st. Every sunset is different, some with clouds; some crystal clear. My favorite sunsets are the ones where there is a gap on the horizon between the earth and the clouds and the last few moments of twilight are broken by blazing orange tufts across the sky. Like a campfire, there is something primal about a sunset.

In high school, I used to come to Sunset Rock to practice climbing and rappelling. The west-most point, where the parking lot meets the highway is not much more difficult than a ladder to climb. I once brought a friend to teach her to rappel and rather than rigging along the vertical face, I thought I would start her on that corner to build up her trust in the ropes. To this day, I do not know what happened to the rope, but as she descended, the rope swung her clockwise around to the side where she suddenly found herself dangling about 30′ off of the ground and too far away from the wall to plant her feet. Her screams became hysterical laughter as she realized that the rope had held; the only injury – – she lost a contact lens.

In college I had a 1000 cc BMW Cafe Racer. I would often play the game of trying to time my ride from Cookeville to arrive at Sunset Rock just at sundown. To make it more interesting, I would travel different routes. US 70 to Mill Creek Road, down into Calfkiller and Hwy 84 one day; another day I would take Cherry Creek Road, and on some days I would test my luck on roads that I had never traveled before. When I sensed that I might not arrive in time to see the sun go down, my risk-tolerance would increase and I have drug a few grooves in the pavement with my footpegs on more than one day. I remember once  in particular topping a hill to see the largest herd of deer that I have ever seen crossing the road in front of me; that was the only time I had ever seen those dual disc brakes literally emit smoke. Whew!

Sunset Rock via Charlie Floyd

Sunset Rock before highway 70, courtesy of Charlie Floyd

The protrusion we call Sunset Rock was formed when Hwy 70 was built. You can still see the vertical boring marks along the western face over the parking lot. The cliff apparently became separated from the mountain when they straightened Crossville Hwy and cut another vertical face on the east side of the rock leaving the closest proximity that White County has to a butte.

I no longer climb the rock faces of Sunset Rock, but I do occasionally climb the same rock post in front of Sunset Rock to take my sunset pictures. This gives me a stationary point to monitor our solar system’s star as it swings from summer to winter.  The two photographs below were taken only nineteen days apart from atop of that same stone fence post. With Baker and Short Mountains in the distance, you can see what a difference less than a month makes in the sun’s progress.

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October 22, 2014

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October 03, 2014







If you have a favorite Sunset Rock photo or story, please use the posting feature to place your text and email me the pictures and I will add it to this blog, giving you full credit of course. Note that this is a moderated website so that your posts won’t appear until I’ve been able to log in and approve them. After they are posted, you can return to CragrockUSA and link them back to Facebook for every one to see. If this is working as intended, after you have had one post accepted, you will be able to automatically post in the future.


 Robert Sparkman added: Love your article. We used to practice rappeling on Sunset Rock because the face was flat and good to learn on. Spent many a day watching the sunset there. I remember it before they cut the road behind it. We have not lived in White County for twenty years now, but love remembering such a great landmark.

Charlie Floyd Sunset Rock did not used to be a rock. Rather it was a bluff around which the road ran (parking lot side). The “rock” was separated from the rest of the mountain when Hwy 70 was straightened in the early 60’s (I believe). SOmewhere I have a photo of my Father hanging on a rope off the original bluff. I believe I found it. (posted – – and priceless, thank your Charlie).


Visit Welch’s Point

2014-10-26 08.33.39TWRA welcomes visitors to one of the most spectacular overlooks in Tennessee. The gate is open this weekend. For many it will be the first opportunity to visit Welch’s Point. For over a decade the gate has been locked and access limited by a three-mile hike. Today, you can park within 400 feet of the overlook and walk down to Welch’s Point.

Driving directions to Welch's Point.

Driving directions to Welch’s Point.

The fall leaves make this a special invitation. To get to Welch’s Point; about half-way between Sparta TN and Crossville, turn south off of US 70 onto Eastland Road. The closest GPS address will be 5747 Eastland Rd, Sparta, TN 38583 (Gulf Trading Post).

From the Gulf Trading Post, turn south onto Scott’s Gulf Road. Follow the gravel road and fork to the right immediately past the parking lot for Virgin Falls Wilderness Area. About four miles past the Virgin Falls parking lot you will get to a large gravel parking area with the remains of an old cabin and the hint of a view into the Caney Fork River Valley; then follow the foot trail (about 400′) to the overlook. You will be peering into Scott’s Gulf, the headwaters of the Caney Fork River. Across the gorge is

Sunset at Welch's Point

Sunset at Welch’s Point

Van Buren County, look west and you can see the break in the mountains called “Big Bottom”, where the river exits the Cumberland Plateau into the Tennessee Valley. The kayaking in the upper Caney Fork is so good, I have met paddlers from both Europe and Asia carrying their kayaks out of that canyon; they came just to run that stretch of river. The river is also brimming with fish from small trout to four-foot musky. It’s a site to see; see it today.


Virgin Falls Dedication at Welch’s Point.


Some days I feel like the squirrel; some days I feel like the hawk.

For a few weeks, while I drank my coffee and read the news, I would look out the window and see this squirrel sitting on a stump; he was there more mornings than not. Then I noticed for a a 2014-04-06 10.00.16few days I didn’t see the squirrel.

Later, I was looking out the window and saw gray feathers descending like snowflakes in front of me. I went outside to see what was amiss and saw this creature not 30′ from the squirrel’s stump. I don’t know my birds well 2014-05-19 08.48.09enough to identify this hawk; and I don’t know if it is large enough to take a squirrel, but it was definitely large enough to remove a dove from existence.

Some days I feel like the squirrel; some days I feel like the hawk.

Mill Hole

What’s in a name? In this case, the name Mill Hole says it all. There was a grist mill in a huge 2014-09-15 20.12.10sinkhole on the side of a mountain above Big Bottom and across the Caney Fork River from Virgin Falls and not far from Sparta TN. I had thought that I had meandered over every acre of soil from Clifty to Lost Creek. Years and years ago, I went on a trip to Mill Hole Cave, but we stopped at the cave entrance and didn’t descend into the bottom of the sink. Then a few months ago, I was perusing a topo map and was reminded of the cave trip. Looking closely at the topo I realized how large this sinkhole is and that there was probably much that I hadn’t seen at that site. So off I went with a friend, Mike Oneal as a guide, to see the rest of this karst depression. If you’ve never visited a sinkhole, think of it as a concave mountain. No matter how you approach it, there are steep slopes only now you are faced with the return trip requiring an often grueling climb up, rather than gravity helping you return , it is battling you all the way back.

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Fording in the Ford. Stay close to the break that you see to the left in this photo; the water a few feet upstream is much deeper.

From Cragrock, you approach Mill Hole through Lost Creek, Big Bottom, and cross the Caney Fork River – – nope, not at the bridge; through the river. Beware, if there is any threat of rain, you could find yourself stranded on the far side of the river for several hours or maybe even days. What appears to be a docile mountain stream, can quickly become a raging torrent that has been known to uproot houses and wipe out bridges. In a major storm, the river can become impassable in minutes.

With four-wheel drive, and a little extra ground clearance, the road isn’t too bad. In places, the river rock looks much like cobblestone and any speed faster than slow, it can shake you up pretty bad. While you are driving on this road, keep in mind that in days past, this was the main street going into a milling community named Dodson. Other than a few foundation cornerstones, nothing remains of the village and it is another one of those places where I remain in awe that anyone was ever hardy enough to reside there.

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There is nothing here for scale, but this cascade has about a 60′ drop and lots more water than what this photo implies.

About a mile past the river, there is a side road that forks off to the right. Sally Gap Road even appears on some maps. The Mill hole is closest to Sally Gap. Lest you envision Sally Gap as a maintained road, it is much worse, narrower, rougher, and less maintained than the road along the river where you ford the Caney Fork. Presently, Sally Gap Road is more of a path where a few four-wheelers may travel, but with great difficulty. I think that hiking is a better way to deal with the fallen trees, and eroded trace of what was once designed for horse traffic only.

There is enough water flowing into Mill Hole that you can hear it from Sally Gap as you hike up. I was watching the GPS as we approached and assumed that there would be a trail into the depression – – NOT!  We walked a good portion of the perimeter before we conceded that we would just have to take a guess and plow into the bush knowing that from whatever direction that we approached, our destination was going to be DOWN.

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Bent Tree? This is the largest one that I have ever seen.

It is a treat to find a place that is so seldom visited that there are no trails. This property was purchased by the state a few years ago from a timber company. As you make your way to the sink, the trees are pretty skimpy; what a pleasant surprise to find some old growth close by. The loggers probably didn’t want to risk loosing a skidder, even for some of the giant hardwoods that stand in the bottom.

Much like neighboring Virgin Falls and Lost Creek, water comes out of the side of the sink, and disappears farther down inside the same sink hole; but this hole is much deeper, and wider than any of it’s neighbors. The flora that gives way quickly in areas less remote and therefore more traveled are quite intact. I suspect that the thermal boost coming from the cave is the reason that the ferns are so much larger than those only a few hundred feet away – – they have a longer growing season.

The volume of water coming into this sink is not as great as Virgin Falls or Lost Creek, but the depression is deeper and the “pristineness” of being so far off the beaten path that we may have been the only humans to visit this year certainly made it worth the trip.

Happy hiking.  [mashshare]

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Mill Hole Cave

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Mile Oneal with the cascade in the distance.

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Note the peculiar color of the limestone.






Good Sign?

virgin falls signFall Creek Falls State Park draws over one million visitors per year, the majority passing through Sparta on Hwy 111. What would it do for the businesses in downtown Sparta TN if they had one-tenth of that traffic driving through town?  Baxter Tennessee reports that they are collecting 20% more sales tax out of one location that is directly attributed to the three-year-old Cummins Falls State Park.

If someone has two hours, they can see Lost Creek. If they have all day, they can visit Virgin Falls. If they have several days, soon they will be able to walk in at Lost Creek, and walk out at Fall Creek Falls and have more waterfalls and scenic overlooks per mile than any other park – – perhaps  anywhere in the US. What kind of draw do think that will be? It will dwarf Cummins Falls.

Please share this with all Sparta groups and friends. If we get enough people talking about it, perhaps it will get done. Tourists are a great industry, they come, they spend money, they leave.


Rylander Cascades

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Rylander Cascade

One of the closest trailheads to Cragrock aka, Sparta TN, is Rylander Cascade Trail. Rylander was the name of the family who gave us Lost Creek falls and cave. In fact, you park in the Lost Creek parking lot and head south on Lost Creek Rd toward Big Bottom to get to the trail. The official trail is a short easy stroll on an old roadbed along Dry Creek. Let me emphasize the word dry in Dry Creek. When you get to the trail, the dry creek bed going under the road would make you think that  the falls would not be flowing that day – – there is a reason that they call this area Lost Creek; it is riddled with streams that emerge from caves, flow a short distance, and then disappear into another cave. You can add Rylander Cascades to this list.

As you hike up the gentle slope, stop and listen on occasion; prior to getting to Rylander Cascade, twice I heard the distinct sound of water plummeting along the hill on my left. Upon investigation, I found two smaller falls/cascades that come out of the hill, run a few feet and disappear into cracks in the valley floor. Rylander is the third and largest of these micro-water-water-falls.

I am not recommending anyone else going past Rylander, the trail ends at the cascade; but I could not resist hiking farther up Dry Creek.  The creek that is dry at the road and still dry when you get to the cascades, is quite wet as you get closer to the top of the mountain. It too, disappears and reappears a few times along the way. It is not a huge volume, but I’ve been back three times and I have NEVER seen it empty and it is ohhhhh, sooooo, clear. Happy Hiking. [mashshare]

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A wet spot in Dry Creek


Unnamed Overlook

For years, a group of friends would make an annual motorcycle trip from the Cumberlands to Cade’s Cove in the Smokey Mountains. Then one year, one of the riders asked “why do we go to Cade’s Cove when we live here”?  That was an excellent question, there is even an area close by that strongly resembles Cade’s Cove, only this valley has a river that runs through it that is stocked with trout, and you aren’t choking on carbon monoxide from the thousands of cars that are passing through the Smokey Mountains. The local Cade’s Cove is known as Big Bottom; it is formed as the Caney Fork River exits the Cumberland Plateau into the Tennessee Valley.

Big Bottom

Big Bottom, the outcrop is visible.

For years, I have looked at the mountains behind Big Bottom and asked how to get to a particular rock outcropping that is visible on the south side of the river. Every one who I’ve asked, had no idea. I’ve always enjoyed looking at this valley from the bottom, but I’ve craved seeing it from the top; not to mention, what a wonderful addition that overlook would make to the Mid Cumberland Trail. I knew that peering through the gap that allows the Caney Fork to pass into the flatter lands of the Tennessee Valley would be worth the adventure. So I plotted, and platted, and used google earth, and a compass, and tax maps, and a GPS to make my best guess of how to reach the top of that rock. In the back of my mind, I knew that a view like that would have a well-warn path leading straight to it – – boy was I wrong.

The closest that I could drive, even in my 4×4 truck is in a community called Mooneyham, on a road called Graveyard Ridge Road. I had set the calculated coordinates in my GPS the night before, as I approached, I meandered up and down several logging roads watching the blip on the screen to optimize my hike. The closest point that I could park was 1.25 air-miles away.  I left the truck, dashed into the brush and sometime after the GPS registered six miles, the batteries died; I was on my own.

In places, the brush was so thick, I literally could not see twenty-five feet, and I had to pull out my hand-compass to make sure that I wasn’t walking in circles.  When I finally got to the edge of the escarpment, the point where the top of the plateau plunges into the Caney Fork River Gorge, the pine thickets gave way to beautiful hardwoods. And I walked that edge, and I walked that 2014-09-25 12.07.31edge, and I walked that edge. A few times, I came across paths, or four-wheeler trails, I was convinced that they would be headed to the overlook; I followed each to their end, and they didn’t. I finally found this vista, but it did not compute; I should see more vertical drop between me and the tree tops. But none the less, I could see Big Bottom below, the rock quarry in Doyle, and if you look in the upper left corner of the photograph, I could see Short Mountain in the distance which would be at least 25 miles away. I doubt that I am the only human being who has ever stood in that spot, but judging from the fragile, inches-thick moss at my feet; I suspect that it had been a long long time since it was disturbed. And as much as I hate to acknowledge it, when I finally got back to my truck, and drove the twenty plus miles around to Big Bottom, I confirmed that the overlook that I was standing at, could not be the rock outcropping that I am searching for. The bluff that I was standing on would be shielded from view from the valley by the trees that rise above the crest. My 6′ stature is the only reason that I could get the above photograph from that point. And to make matters worse, while I was walking that edge, at another point, I could peer through the trees and spotted yet another outcropping, on the far side of the river – – another quest for another day.

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Huge Rock House on the north side of the Caney Fork

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This fragile moss indicated how seldom this vista was visited.


Crusher Hole

My parents brought me here as a child. I had never seen water this color, or a place more beautiful. It stuck in my mind and as soon as I had a driver’s license I started returning; sometimes to fish, sometimes to swim, and sometimes just to sit and look.

Crusher Hole

Crusher Hole

The generic name for this geologic feature is blue hole denoting an underwater spring. As you can see, the water close by is sort of green, but as you swim across the creek it becomes more blue and clear – – and much more cold.

This blue hole occurs along Cane Creek in Van Buren County. This is the same Cane Creek that flows across Cane Creek Falls in Fall Creek Falls State Park. The stream doubles in volume at this confluence when the warmer greener water flowing along the western shore mingles with the cool dense resurgence from Camp’s Gulf Cave. To visit the Crusher Hole; from Hwy 111, turn east on Hwy 285 and go 6.4 miles. When you get to the bridge over Cane Creek, the property is on the left. You may access it through the field, or cross the bridge and turn left on Owl Hole Road.

Trout love it here – – I do too.


Hemlock Falls

2014-09-14 18.20.20 The land of falling water, the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Four counties, seventy-two waterfalls. This area is home to the highest waterfall in the eastern United States; but vertical drop doesn’t necessarily determine spectacular. Sometimes the beauty of a falls may be the clarity of the water, sometimes it may be the surrounding landscape, sometimes the sound is so unique you can enjoy it with your eyes closed, in this case all of the last three criterion apply. Nestled on the edge of Fall Creek Falls State Park, the discovery of this falls was so recent; it doesn’t yet show up as a Tennessee landform.

The falls marks the end of the Prater Place Trail. Though the sign at the trail head says it’s 2.7 miles; two GPS’ indicate it is 3.67 miles each way with a 500′ elevation change. The trail takes you near one of my favorite caves, Camps Gulf; and the Prater home place – – how did I settler eek out a living here?2014-09-15 19.55.42

As you hike the trail, note that the stream bed may be dry. During rainy weather, it can swell substantially as water will dump out of the cave systems into this creek. But on a typical summer’s day, you may be discouraged – – don’t be. Somewhere, between Cane Creek and the falls the water disappears. Die tracing shows it winds up in Camps Gulf Cave only to flow out a few miles away at the Crusher Hole.

To get to the trail, from Hwy 111, head east on 285 6.4 miles. When you cross the Cane Creek bridge; the trail parking lot will be the second road on the left. It’s worth the drive and the hike.

2014-09-14 16.50.03[mashshare]