When I see the leaves beginning to change in Sparta, TN, my mind triggers, much like Pavlov’s dogs, and I begin to salivate for a trip up Bon Air Mountain for the multi-colored show that awaits. It is a lazy Sunday afternoon so Bill and I jump in my super hip minivan and head right through the middle of town and continue on eastward.
The Rock House
We make a quick stop at the Rock House, built around 1835 as a stagecoach resting place.
Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Sam Houston used this charming Tennessee sandstone home as their overnight lodging on their travels along this early wagon trail which continued on to Knoxville and beyond. When they arrived, they would have just crossed over the rugged Cumberland Plateau or would have been preparing to cross. It’s fascinating to think about. The Rock House holds tales within its walls, secrets of our past. I lean close to its stone walls to hear the stories but am left only to my imagination.
Two chimneys rise on each side of the home. I think the interior used to be divided by a wall inside splitting it into two rooms but now it is one big room. Unfortunately, Bill and I did not preplan our trip. If we had, we could have made an appointment with Sparta’s Chamber of Commerce to have someone meet us out here and let us in and give us more historical information. I make a mental note to do this soon.
What I really love about this is the idea of the old stage coach trail that the lovely people of the 1800’s traveled, famous or not. To the right of the Rock House you will see the actual trail. (So neat!) It didn’t follow Highway 70 into Sparta as it is now but actually went down past the Rock House somewhat along Country Club Road into Bear Cove. I will show you a treat on your return trip if you want, but for now, I have another surprise.
Bill and I actually did not do this but my dad took me back to this spot to show it to me. If you get back on Highway 70 continuing east, look for your next road to the right, Old Bon Air Road. Take this road and travel just up the hill and around the first curve to your left. Look to your right and you will see a little pull off and the path where the old wagon trail came out from the Rock House! Cool, huh? Can’t you just see grumpy ole Andrew Jackson passing by?
You can continue on Old Bon Air Road and it will curl you around to Highway 70 again (It’s a lovely drive) or you can turn around and get back on Highway 70 for the rest of our journey.
We turn right onto a gravel road, the super hip minvan kicking up dust. (You are going to wonder if you are going the right way. You are.) We keep on trudging until we see Virgin Falls trailhead on our right. There is a sign and a small parking lot so it is hard to miss in spite of the fact that the drive in is enchanting and I am quite sidetracked looking at the colorful trees and woodlands to my right and left.
Just past this is another gravel road to our right, Welch’s Cemetery Road. We turn right here. (Once again, you are going to wonder if you are going the right way. You are.) We keep rolling until the road ends in a big field. We see a small sign to the right of the field that says “Welch’s Point” up in the trees.
We can look through and above the trees beside us and get a glimpse of what is to come. I feel like I’m 7 again when my dad would take me to the Sparta fair. On the way there, I would see the ferris wheel all lit up in the distance. My dad would park and I would all but drag him to the entrance, busting with anticipation. Can. Not. Wait. I am now equally excited and begin to tug on Bill’s hand.
The trail is gravel mixed with earth and covered somewhat with leaves but is fairly level as far as trails go. I’m going to guess it is about 150 yards. At any rate, it is not far. (If you are looking for a lengthy hike, Virgin Falls, just down the road, is your best bet. You can read about it in a blog I shared a few years ago.) The leaves are orange and red and yellow on either side of our path and seem to wave us on in further. We pass some people having a picnic lunch along the trail and greet them briefly before reaching our destination. There’s really nothing to say here but, “Wow.” We walk out on this big rock on the edge of a steep hillside.
I feel like God has placed it here just so we would have a place to stand and gasp. The Caney Fork River is below us, way below us, cutting through the orange and red painted mountains into Scott’s Gulf. You can see mountains layered upon mountains in the distance. This view is worthy of a day’s hike over rugged terrain but was only a hop, skip, and a jump from the parking lot in our dear White County.
I impulsively want to sing, really loud, but fear I will ruin the moment and most certainly would. I feel humbled and exalted at the same time, if that makes any sense. Humbled, because I am so small in this larger-than-life exhibition of God’s magnificence. Exalted, because in spite of my smallness, I have been given great gifts from such a huge God: His astounding creation that surrounds me, His acceptance, His love…ultimately His salvation, as have you if you believe in Him. If you don’t, you would, if you stood here with me. And you might sing.
At any rate, I feel like I have been dropped into my childhood Sunday School picture of Elijah, standing on the side of the mountain, except there’s no wind, no earthquake, and no fire…but there is certainly a whisper from God. Be sure to listen when you go.
I’m not sure what I’m looking at as I gaze over these endless mountains, but my dad gives me some after-the-fact information the next day. As we looked straight ahead off the blessed rock, we were looking south to southwest. Turning from that point, just to the left a bit, we were looking onto the edge of White County and on into Van Buren County. Turning to our right about 30 degrees from center, we were looking over Virgin Falls then on over Lost Creek Cave (Ben White Cave) and the Lost Creek/Big Bottom community.
Bridgestone/Firestone owns and manages the property we are standing on. Adjacent to us, Virgin Falls State Natural Area is state owned and managed and now nearly meets the newly acquired Fall Creek Falls State Park land which includes Ben White Cave in the Lost Creek/Big Bottom area of White County. It is a vast wilderness land every way we look. Breathtaking and inspiring. Even Andrew Jackson would have softened if he had seen this.
No length of time is enough to saturate this view, but Bill and I move along anyway. We reach Eastland Road again and head back toward Sparta. In spite of a light drizzle, we swing into the Sunset Rock scenic overlook just off Highway 70 on the way home.
This parking lot was once the main road and Sunset Rock was part of the rock face you see across Highway 70. At some point, (maybe around 1962) they decided to straighten Highway 70 and cut through the rock leaving Sunset Rock as it stands today – isolated, but thoroughly loved. As a teenager in a small town, with very little to entertain us, we made frequent trips to Sunset Rock to enjoy the view at sunset or the lights of the city of Sparta at night. If you find yourself wanting a free kiss from your sweet thing one evening, this spot is sure to do the trick.
The sunset view from here is worthy of a lengthy, well-timed drive. And the kiss you get may merit a return trip. Kiss or no, you can officially see 4 counties from this lookout point on a clear day although I have heard tell, you can see 7 counties and even tree tops in Kentucky. I’ll let you decide.
I have climbed Sunset Rock too many times to count, a relatively easy hike for a 16-year-old but it involved a bit of dexterity and strength or perhaps a nothing-bad-will-ever-happen-to-me attitude, as I remember. Unfortunately, I hear it is now illegal to climb the rock which is too bad because I want to take Bill to the top. The view from up there is special and I might could steal a kiss. Hmmm. Instead, we obey the law and mosey along in our super hip minivan. How times have changed.
We then turn right toward Sparta, but drive slowly to see how much water is coming over Wildcat Falls, a 35 foot waterfall to our left. In the winter, it often freezes over leaving magical icicles in its wake. It is lovely in all seasons and does not disappoint this day either.
I will call another time-out here. Although Bill and I did not do this, my dad was gracious enough to show me this and I want to share the treat with you. I hope you like! On your way back down the mountain, take a left on Country Club Road where the Rock House is. You can reset your mileage here to help with this treasure hunting. It will be worth it if you are into this kind of thing. Keep creeping on carefully because the road is quite curvy and going off the side is not a good option. You will go around a big curve to the right, slight curve to the left and then another big right curve before you enter a sharp turn to the left called John Buck Curve. This is where I want you to start looking to your right (Okay, you will need a passenger because someone has to keep eyes on the road. Very curvy, remember?) You are going to see a stretch of the old wagon trail up on the hillside, maybe a tenth of a mile past John Buck Curve. You will know it when you see it. When you do, you will most likely point and say, “There it is!” My mileage from the Rock House was at 0.7 of a mile and stretched onto 0.8 as I followed the trail. If you miss it, turn around and come back because I actually think it is easier to see on the way back up, maybe because you are on the other side of the road and at more of a distance.
So amazingly cool! A blip of the 1800’s right there hidden in the woods! Can you hear the horses’ hooves and old wooden wagon wheels? Amazing that our 7th President went by on that very path! I bet he would have loved my minivan.
Time-in: Calling an end to our adventures, Bill and I make a stop at the car wash to give the super hip minivan a bath and navigate our way home. We have been fully entertained this day by the beauty and history that Sparta, TN offers but have just scratched the surface. We have spied other trails we want to explore and unearthed some of our history that leaves us hungry for more, which only means one thing: another adventure in the super hip minivan is inevitable! We would love for you to join us!
*If you want to make an appointment to see the inside of The Rock House, call Jenny at the Chamber of Commerce and she will take care of you. I think you can only go on Thursday through Saturday afternoons but you might want to check to be sure.
*For more info on Andrew Jackson, our 7th President, visit his home site in Hermitage, TN just about an hour and a half from Sparta. Andrew Jackson was a “man of contradictions” as you can read about in “Lessons In Manliness From Andrew Jackson.” There were many reasons to admire him, many reasons not to, and many excuses for his behavior, but overall, I don’t think we would have asked him over for Sunday dinner.
*You can read about Elijah in I Kings 19 in the Bible. Read it before you go to Welch’s Point and then see if you don’t feel like you are in the story.
*If you are able to time it right and get a sunset picture from Sunset Rock, please add it to the comments. Bill and I were there too early and it was quite overcast with a bit of a mist. Maybe next time. But I would love to see your pics!
*If you think Sparta, TN would be a great place to start creating memories, we would love to talk to you about a New Home In Sparta and our lovely town.