A Morning in the Sequatchie Valley

I know this isn’t a typical post about railroad history, but I really want to share some of my recent photos with you from an early morning adventure to Pikeville, TN in the Sequatchie Valley. (This area does have some rather interesting railroad history and I’m sure there will be a future post about that). To me, there is nothing better than starting the day very early and watching the sun cast its first golden rays out from behind a mountain still lightly blanketed with fog or across an open field covered in dew. Experiencing the sunrise is something I look forward to every morning, weather permitting, either during my long drive to work or on a relaxing ride through the country on my day off. I have a fear of wasting my life and missing out on interesting things, so I am normally awake early and eager to see what the day has in store. I hope you enjoy these photos and if you’re one of those people who find it difficult to get out of bed early, then I hope you are inspired to get out and enjoy a nice sunrise sometime soon! It will give you a renewed outlook!

What could be better than a beautiful sunrise to start the day?
I have always been partial to old red barns.
One thing I enjoy is taking black and white photos that appear vintage.
I’m not certain of the history at this location, but the scenery did make a great photo opportunity.
A view of the crystal clear Sequatchie River near its head at the north end of the valley.
I thought this moss-covered tree next to the river made for an interesting shot.

Finding Nemo in Tennessee

Join me on a short trip to find Nemo… We’ve all seen or heard of the Disney movie “Finding Nemo” before, right? Well, all joking aside, there is a unique destination in Tennessee called Nemo and it is very much worth the time to see. It is located in Morgan County just a short drive from the town of Wartburg. I have frequented this place for several years and it is easily one of my favorite places to watch trains (known as railfanning). Some people visit for the swimming and water activities in the Emory River, while others enjoy taking their Jeeps through the abandoned railroad tunnels and along the areas numerous primitive roads. If you’re like me, however, then it’s all about the history and trains!

Nemo is along the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) mainline, which extends from Cincinnati, OH to Chattanooga, TN. It is also part of what was nicknamed the Rathole Division of the former Southern Railway. If you know anything about this area, then you can understand how it earned that name. There are plenty of ratholes, or tunnels, to be found. More used to exist, but many were daylighted or bypassed to allow for larger trains and improved efficiency. Today, Norfolk Southern operates this very active line and it’s not uncommon to see several trains pass by within an hour timespan. I personally enjoy setting up my camera and a fold-up chair near the newer Tunnel 24 and just watch trains all day. This is especially true during fall when the weather is cooler and there’s some nice color in the gorge. It’s the best!

Regardless of the reason for visiting, there’s something for everyone at Nemo. Take a look through my photos and then plan your trip.

This is the old Tunnel 24 at Nemo which was bored in 1878 and currently abandoned. The tunnel was bypassed by a larger one during the 1960’s (“new” Tunnel 24) located within walking distance. Adventurous people enjoy taking their Jeeps through the old tunnel. I’ve been once, but it’s been a long time ago. While it was very fascinating experience, it was also a bit creepy.
Concrete marker with the tunnel number (24) just above the south portal.
This preserved steel truss bridge was rebuilt after the flood of 1929. It parallels the modern-day road bridge and is used by hikers to view the Emory River from above.
Another view of the steel walking bridge at Nemo from the Emory River level.
Any way you look at it, it’s “steel chaos.” LOL This picture turned out great in my opinion. There’s just something appealing about the disorder and craziness from this view.
The cool water of the Emory River beckons you on a hot summer day! It’s no wonder why so many people enjoy Nemo for the water.
Beautiful wildflowers can be found in abundance. Nemo is close to the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, which offers miles of dirt roads and trails through the mountains.
This orange daylily is one of my favorite flower types. I always look forward to the time of the year when they can be found blooming in abundance.

Laurel Snow: Where Coal Mining History Entwines with Nature

If learning about Tennessee coal mining history while surrounded by nature sounds appealing to you, then consider adding Laurel Snow State Natural Area to your bucket list. It is only a short drive from downtown Dayton, (which is known for the Scopes Trial), to the parking area and trailhead. The history buff will be taken back by the old mine openings, railroad remnants, and reservoir. The nature lover will also feel at home since Laurel Snow is home to many pristine creeks and streams, unusual plants, breathtaking overlooks, and towering waterfalls.

The mining history of this area dates back to 1877 when Sir Titus Salt, of England, acquired 40,000 acres of land in Georgia and Tennessee. Included in this purchase was 800 acres that became Dayton Coal and Iron Company and, eventually, the Laurel Snow State Natural Area of today. In 1887, Titus Salt Jr. took over the project in Tennessee until his death at age 44 of the same year. For the next 38 years, which brought an end to the mining operations, it was under the control of British and Scottish successors. During peak production, up to 1,200 men earned their living here. Over the course of their existence, the Company built and operated 7 coal mines, 375 coke ovens, 2 blast furnaces, 17 miles of rail, and around 200 employee houses in the area.

The last time I visited Laurel Snow I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a local historian. He was eager to share his wealth of knowledge about the area with me and I was fascinated by the interesting stories he had. My favorite was probably the one about the mules. In the very original days, mules were used to pull carloads of coal out of the mines and transport them to the furnaces and ovens. Apparently, some of these mules stayed in the mines continuously and, due to the darkness, went blind. They were still able to continue their duties, despite not being able to see, because they had performed the same job for so long and could remember exactly where to go. When I heard this story it absolutely blew my mind!

Below I will give you a “picture tour” showing some of the significant places and things you will see while visiting Laurel Snow. Enjoy!

This entrance is hard to miss and is only a short walk down the trail. According to the historian, it was actually built as a ventilation shaft for the nearby Dixon Slope Mine. While it may be tempting to venture inside, mines can present real dangers and this one contains a lot of water.
This stone arch marks the now-collapsed main entrance to the Dixon Slope Mine and is located just off the trail and up the hill. Its purpose was to intersect a highly productive coal seam an explosion in another nearby mine (Nelson Mine) had sealed off. Despite great efforts, it never actually reached the seam.
This mine is accessible directly from the parking area, but isn’t on an established trail. According to the historian, this was known as the Easy Money Mine. Now, I wish I had asked why it was called that.
This picture, taken during fall, shows the old railroad trestle piers crossing Richland Creek in the direction of the North Pole Mine.
Old stonework and walls for stabilization are a common site, especially since the trail follows what was once a railroad.
This small reservoir once served as the water supply for Dayton. As you walk the trail, you may still notice some of the old metal pipe that was used to carry water towards town. Today, its only use is for recreation.
Laurel Falls, seen here, is the larger of the of two waterfalls you can hike to. The other is called Snow Falls. A combination of their names is how the Natural Area received its name.
In spring, vibrant wildflowers can be found in abundance. These are a type of “catchfly.”
Always take the path less traveled… and thank you for reading!!!