I was traveling north one Friday morning with my wife and daughter up the great state of Tennessee to a place called Sparta for a weekend wedding. I had been asked to run audio at a small church for a friend of mines son's wedding. We were staying in the city of Cookeville, Tennessee Friday night with the wedding on Saturday. My good friend David, along with others from my local church were driving up that way as well. On Friday of the drive up, I opted to travel the back roads and end up in Cookville rather than take the usual GPS routing on interstates. David, with his family, decided to do the same thing as well. The mistake I made was selecting to go to a store in Cookeville and shop upon arriving. David was looking for a place of nature to take his family, so he was looking for signs pointing him in the direction of nature and trails. David chose to follow the signs of a little known State Park to go see. I am glad he did!
Friday afternoon, when we met up at the hotel we were staying at, I asked him, well, did you find anything? With a look of anxiousness, he replied, "oh yeah, I got to show you a place that we found!" In a conversation later on after we got moved in to the hotel room, we decided to head out early Saturday morning about 6 a.m. and check it out. The wedding was not until 2 p.m. so we decided we had time to check it out and get back in time. I was up for adventure and exploring, but had no ideal what lay ahead and how it would change my outlook on what I have seen in the south so far.
The Exploration Begins
Saturday morning, David and I head out with him as the driver. We head south out of Cookeville, Tennessee. As we get off the beaten path onto some roads, it is clear we are headed into the middle of no where. Very few signs dot the landscape as you drive along. Only an occasional 3x3 brown sign with white letters that says Burgess Falls State Park with an arrow. As we pull in, I am somewhat disappointed. A very small mini-park is all I see with a small building for the headquarters, playgrounds, picnic tables, and a restroom. The sign says park closes 30 minutes before sunset, opens at 8 a.m. No one in the park after dark. This is not even a campground, it is just a day use picnic area I thought. That is about it. As we exit out of the van, David says "wait to you see this." I am thinking to myself, from what I have seen so far, it doesn't even come up to the expectation of a "State Park". As we start out walking down a fairly large trail beside the creek (Falling Creek it is called), I see what I would call a fast moving river instead of a creek. There is a sign that says "100 foot waterfall" on the first sight beside the trail. The usual water flowing sounds abound! The scene is pretty and well worth the time to stop, take pictures, and admire. As you move on down the trail, you come upon what appears to be an old bridge with the cables still in tact that supports beams that go across the creek. This shows that some kind of bridge from long ago that extended across the creek. It looks very old, so I stop to take pictures of it. As we move down the trail, we notice lots of tributary streams that normally empty into this creek and flow under the trail/bridges along the way, but with the drought going on lately (July of 2012), nothing excess is flowing into the stream. It is all dry, however, the main river or creek rages with water flowing and the noise is intense. As we move on down, we come upon a sign and we can hear the noise of another waterfall. A sign says "Middle Falls". We soon see a beautiful waterfall that has a sharp slope on it. Water is raging down this slope and the waterfall is wide and beautiful. I snap some pictures and shoot some movies of it. You have a great vantage point to take pictures of the entire falls. David says "and now for the grand waterfall, lets go". We move on down the trail and come upon a site I have never witnessed while living or traveling throughout the southern United States. It was this massive, monstrous, shaking the ground with thunder loud, waterfall! An observation deck allows you to move up to a point and get a view that is soothing to the soul. It is a massive canyon that opens up with this massive waterfall spilling into it. It is like a scene taken from South America, on a much smaller scale. I am beside myself with words, so I just start snapping pictures and taking video left and right. David had brought his family up to this point the day before and had to turn around and head back. It is a 3/4 mile trail to this point and easy walking, they were just out of time. After I bathe in this beauty from the observation point, David smiles and points to a sign and says "are we up for the challenge?". The sign says "To the base of the waterfall-Difficult Hike" or something similar to this. We both say, hey, we got to do this! We head down the trail and wind around getting closer to the top edge of the falls. The noise is intense. As we get right beside the top base of the falls, we see some elaborate metal steps going done to the base of the falls. A long descent in 2 or 3 sections. We head down. As we get to a level spot, we see we are about half way down in the height of the falls. I pause to shoot some video and snap some more pictures. We continue on and realize at this point, we are going to have to climb down rocks to descend to the bottom of the falls. We finally arrive at the bottom and he and I are really taken back. You don't know what to say. This massive and tall wall of water is tremendous in terms of size, noise, and beauty. There are what is called "Katabatic Winds" that cause a tremendous and continuous 20-30 mph winds that race outward from the base of the falls. It has a jet mist spray and the foliage is roaring back and forth from the outflow winds of this waterfall. There is a vat of 2-3 feet of dirty foam that is in on one side of the waterfall that "jiggles" every now and then from the strong outflow winds. Occasionally, you see a chunk of foam blow off from this and sail off into the wind. David and I are beside ourselves. We are on an emotional high. I have traveled all over Alaska and I have seen waterfalls there, as well as in Washington State, Oregon, California, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and other states. THIS waterfall is THE most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen in the Southern United States. Little known, little talked about, off the beaten path, hidden from the majority of the public, and absolutely one of Tennessee's BEST kept secrets in my book!
Rich in History
This area is teaming and rich in this countries history. The land on which this very small 150 acre park rests dates back to 1793. Thomas Burgess, was paid his final veterans compensation for service in the Revolutionary War with a land grant from the newly formed United States Government. The Falling Water River played a central role in the nearby logging and farming community in later years. The river once powered a grist mill and a sawmill. The City of Cookeville recognized the power production potential of the river in the early 1920's, long before the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA was formed. An elaborate gravity-fed piping system channeled water from a concrete dam (still there) down flumes and across the creek with an elaborate bridge of cables and supports (still standing to see) and weaved it's way down to a pump house (foundations still there) near the base of the falls. During it's path, it even when through a tunnel in the mountain (now closed off to the public). The power plant where this ended provided power for the area and for Cookville. In later years when TVA was formed in the south, they rendered the the system obsolete and it was all shut down. The remnants of this site remind us of the resourcefulness and engineering skills of the people in this area and from this time period.
"MUST SEE" LIST
Regardless of where you are reading this blog from, put this area on your "must see" list. It will only take you a half a day or a full day to explore, but you will never regret it. I plan to spend many more trips up here to explore this absolutely beautiful and historical place in America at a tiny footprint in the road called Burgess State Park.