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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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!
Just another rainy day? Not in CragrockUSA.