Grainger County Tour Update
We will meet at Veterans’ Overlook near the top of Clinch Mountain at 9am Sat. 22 July 2017 for the Grainger County Tour and drive to the Birdsall’s home for a cookout. Please RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan on attending.
Paper maps with this route will be given for each car before we start out. It’s a 1 1/2 hr drive from Veterans’ Overlook to their house, not counting stops. This tour will mostly avoid main roads instead circumnavigating the county on secondary and back roads.
The county is generally located between two rivers; the Holston River (Cherokee Lake) on the south and the Clinch River (Norris Lake) on the north. The county is split by its most dominant geological feature, Clinch Mountain, an erosion resistant sandstone ridge standing about 1,300 feet above adjacent valley floors.
Here is a link to an online topographic map of the county so one can follow these directions on the map:
Load the map, then zoom in with the + sign or the wheel of your mouse. Once you have zoomed in, slide the map around holding down the left mouse button to show the southern most part of the east boundary which is the US25E bridge from Morristown.
For those of you coming from Morristown, as you cross the bridge over Cherokee Lake you are on part of the Dixie Highway, one of the named interstate roads that predated the US Route system of 1925. After you cross the lake you will pass Lakeshore Drive (State Route 375) on your left. That intersection is the end point of the tour for cars heading north after the cookout.
This is Bean Station, the county’s oldest community. Soon you pass under an interchange where US11W joins briefly with US25E. US11 is one of the main north-south roads running from the Canadian boarder to the Gulf Coast and the main road through Grainger County. The segment through Grainger County is one of the oldest roads in the Southeast, having been built in the early years of the country as part of the “Great Wilderness Road” that included 11W and 25E to Cumberland Gap. It was built on the pre-existing Indian trail called the Great Cherokee Warpath. US11W was also incorporated into State Route 1; the first paved state road, built in 1915 from Bristol to Memphis and it was the Lee Highway during the time of named roads. But, much of that old road and the old town of Bean Station were flooded and relocated in 1941 when Cherokee lake was impounded. Your time on 11W is brief however, because 11W veers away from US25 E to head down the Richland Valley toward the county seat, Rutledge.
Those heading for the assembly area stay on US25E and begin the climb up Clinch Mountain to Veterans’ Overlook near the top of the mountain. Enjoy the view.
We will leave Veterans’ Overlook a little after 9AM crossing the mountain and going down hill and turn left (south) onto Bullen Valley Road, just before US25E crosses part of Norris Lake. On Bullen Valley Road we will go about 4.5 miles west-southwest turning right onto Cracker Neck Road for about 1 ½ miles. Shortly after a “hidden road entrance” sign we turn right onto Log Mountain Road.
We will group up before making this easy to miss turn. Newly paved, this narrow curvy road reminds me of mountain roads in Colorado - no guard rails, so we’ll keep the speed down, but it’s worth it to get to Dutch Valley Rd on the other side of Log Mountain where we follow the rail line down to Liberty Hill passing old churches and an old wooden schoolhouse.
Dutch Valley Road terminates with Tater Valley Road to your right and Cracker Neck Road to your left. Turn left and after a short distance turn right at the Petticoat Junction General Store onto Washburn Road. As one might guess, Washburn Road leads to Washburn, the largest town on this side of the county. At Washburn, we will turn right onto SR131 and proceed west-southwest to Joppa Mountain Road the only pass across Clinch Mountain southwest of the US25E pass we took earlier.
Joppa Mountain Road is longer, wider and curvier than Log Mountain Rd. and has guardrails. As soon as we get off the mountain we will turn right onto Highland Springs Road. This road reminds me of the British country lanes you see in old movies from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s very pretty. At this point we are going down Poor Valley, named so because of the relatively thin and poor soil quality resulting from the breakdown of the Chattanooga Shale that underlies it. We will stay in this picturesque valley by turning onto Lea Lake Road that will take us past Lea Lake, site of a famous 19th century resort hotel.
We ultimately leave this small valley at Blaine, turning right (southbound) on US11W for about two miles. There’s a Food City in Blaine, if a fuel or bathroom break is needed we can go about a mile down US11W and stop there.
At the Blaine Post Office, we will turn east onto Indian Ridge Road which will take us 2 ½ miles to Richland Creek and the community of Richland, so named because, you guessed it, the soil is deep and rich (compared to Poor Valley). There we cross a one lane arch bridge that was built by the WPA in the 30’s.
After the bridge Indian Ridge Road turns sharply to the left while Nance Ferry Road goes straight. We stay on Indian Ridge Road to the Holston River and then back up again eventually passing Indian Cave Road, the route to one of Grainger County’s historic tourist sites – Indian Cave. But, we’ll stay on Indian Ridge until it terminates on Owl Hole Gap Road. Turn right onto Owl Hole Gap Road and go .6 miles to a small parking lot at Buffalo Springs on your right (just past Game Farm Road) where a standpipe allows people to fill water barrels in trucks. We’ll stop there to regroup at the spring and appreciate the beauty of the waterfall. (And get wet, if you so desire.)
Roads that cross from valley to valley in this part of the county have at least one thing in common - curves, and Owl Hole Gap is no exception. It terminates at State Route 92 where we turn right and go about a mile to State Route 375, Lakeshore Drive. There’s a gas station with pure gas there. Turn left onto Lakeshore Drive (SR 375) which runs along Cherokee Lake back up to our starting point at US25E. But, about 4.5 miles off of SR 92 on Lakeshore we will turn onto Wani-Village Rd. to go to Alan and Jane Birdsall’s home for a cookout. After the cookout, those heading to points north can go up Lakeshore Road (SR 375) the 13.4 miles back to US 25E. Those heading south can go back to SR 92 and turn left to pass Cherokee Dam on the way to Jefferson City and 11E. Happy Motoring!
Grainger County Tour Pics
Contributor - Eddie Ballard