The Nation’s Longest Truck Convoy

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North America » United States » Tennessee » Crossville
November 22nd 2011
Published: March 1st 2013
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Ozone FallsOzone FallsOzone Falls

Waterfall in eastern Tennessee
Today, the rain was still falling, for the third day straight.

That mattered less than it would have earlier, because I only want to see the pavement on the way home.

I’ve seen the hills of Tennessee before, when they were covered in beautiful green trees.

Now they are bare, and brown.

Today was a long soggy grind of a drive.

On this Interstate, I had to deal with the big negative of driving away from Memphis.

I had to deal with it before, or course, but then I was on a voyage of discovery (see Nature’s Aftermath).

Now, it’s just one more thing to deal with.

Memphis has the remarkable property of being within a two day drive of all but five major cities in the United States (the exceptions? Spokane, Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, and Honolulu).

It has a port on the Mississippi River and descent rail connections.

Forty years ago, people realized these facts, plus cheap land, made Memphis the perfect place to set up long distance trucking businesses.

Now, over half of all motor freight in the United States passes through the city.

The natural
Ozone Falls topOzone Falls topOzone Falls top

Waterfall from the top of the cliff
result, though, is that any Interstate leading away from Memphis has become a huge truck convoy.

Interstates 40 and 81 to the northeast, the very roads I need to take the next two days, are the longest and most crowded convoy of them all.

Driving through it is scary, constantly dodging big rigs.

At least, the highway moved, for the most part.

This time through, the river crossings actually looked like rivers instead of wide brown lakes.

Nashville city planners have handled the trucks well with efficient bypass roads.

The road then got steeper and curvier, pushing through the Appalachian foothills.

Along this stretch I saw large numbers of cabs driving without loads; they are burning fuel without a job to pay for it.

I finally realized the drivers are doing the exact same thing I am, trying to get home for Thanksgiving.

Ozone Falls

By the time I reached Crab Orchard (yes, the real town name) I was sick of being in the car, and really needed a break.

My guidebook revealed something sweet, Ozone Falls, a major waterfall only ten minutes from the
Valley viewValley viewValley view

View of the downstream valley from the top of Ozone Falls

I flew right by it back in April on my drive to Falls Creek Falls (see Winding Roads and Falling Water).

After the exit, the road twisted up the side of a mountain valley.

It quickly reached a dirt parking lot next to a bridge over a stream, with a weathered bulletin board containing no signs.

I figured this had to be it.

An obvious stretch of bare rock led away from the parking lot through the trees.

After a few minutes it reached an exposed cliff with a view of a gorge beyond.

Pine trees grew in cracks.

The cliff had no guardrails, a major concern with the rock wet from rain.

Very carefully, I picked my way to the edge, where I saw a long single drop waterfall in a big grotto.

Ozone Falls is 110 feet high.

The view from the top was nice, but the view from the bottom must be spectacular.

I really wanted to get down there.

Careful study of the ravine revealed a possibility.

The side on the right was steeply slanted instead of vertical,
Roadside fallsRoadside fallsRoadside falls

Waterfall near the parking lot for Ozone Falls
and a possible scramble path appeared through the rocks.

At the edge of the open cliff, I found a path heading right, and followed it.

The path ended up on the road.

Directly across, a little stream dropped down the side in a fluffy curtain waterfall.

Disappointed, I hiked along the road a bit.

That brought me to something that looked more like a rock filled drainage ditch than a true trail.

It was certainly passable, and it headed down, so down it I went.

The drainage ditch brought me to the base of a cliff.

The path was wider here; clearly people have used it before.

The cliff was almost certainly the one I was hiking on top of earlier, so this had promise.

I followed the rough path, into a nasty surprise.

The water from that nice curtain falls from earlier flowed under the highway and then over the cliff, directly into the area I was now passing through.

The dripping I could deal with, since it was raining already.

The bad part
Ozone Falls TrailOzone Falls TrailOzone Falls Trail

Trail to the bottom of the waterfall disguised as a brook!
was that this water turned the rocky path into a true stream, which I now had to rock hop.

Everything was wet and very slippery, with bad implications for footing.

I stepped very carefully; getting an ankle sprain at this point in my journey would be really ironic.

The stream ended at the top of a large rockslide, with a perfect view of Ozone Falls in the distance.

It’s a classic single drop pour over, the water falling away from the cliff into a pool in the middle of the grotto.

Thanks to all the rain the last two days, it was quite full.

The slide was steep but could be scrambled with caution.

A bigger danger was slipping on the wet rocks.

As I made my way down, the view of the waterfall grew and became even prettier.

About half-way down, a little rock shelf appeared with a nice view from the middle of the drop.

Finally, I reached the bottom, where the waterfall was too large to fit in my camera’s viewfinder.

A rock shelf
Ozone FallsOzone FallsOzone Falls

View of the waterfall from the top of the rockslide
ran around the edge of the pool behind the waterfall.

I carefully made my way out.

This showed the waterfall dropping from overhead and hitting the pool at nearly my level.

I’ve been behind other waterfalls on this trip (see The Land of Falling Water), but usually in the middle of the drop.

Here, I was at the bottom.

The gorge showed around the ribbon of falling water.

Climbing back up was harder than going down.

I’m more tired, and the rocks are slippery.

I made it up the rock slide fine, but slipped while rock-hopping through the stream.

Thankfully, I didn’t break anything.

I worried little about soaking my boots and clothes since I’m already soaked from the rain.

Thankfully, I made it back to my car and could dry off before I got really cold.

Valley Turnpike

I needed that break, because afterward the drive got worse.

The rain increased, and I hit Knoxville close to rush hour.

The road slowed to a near parking lot.

After a patience testing hour, I was out of there.

East of Knoxville, the
Ozone fallsOzone fallsOzone falls

The waterfall from directly behind it
highway changed; even more trucks appeared on it.

I’m now on the Valley Turnpike, which runs through eastern Tennessee and western Virginia all the way to Harrisburg Pennsylvania.

It’s named for the Shenandoah Valley near the northern end, and has been a major transportation route since colonial times.

This is the highway where every rest stop is filled with big trucks, exit ramps have ‘No Parking’ signs, and gas stations feature only six gas pumps but at least twenty diesel ones.

For a car owner, it’s a frightening drive.

The one good thing is that I did this part at night, when the traffic is lower.

Most of the Valley Turnpike, with two exceptions, was a long blur.

Town names were just labels on the highway signs, watching the miles click away to get home.

The first exception was the Virginia state line, which is unmissable.

A fundamentalist church next to the interstate built three huge crosses, lit up at night.

The more important exception was when I saw a sign for Interstate 64, Lexington Virginia.

For the first time since Richmond back in March (see Crossing the Rubicon), I’ve
Behind the fallsBehind the fallsBehind the falls

The pluge pool from behind the waterfall
reached somewhere I’ve seen on a previous trip!

I’m now back in the world I already know.

More importantly, I know from experience that I can get home from Lexington in a single long day.

The fatigue from being in the car all these hours finally became unbearable, and I found a place to sleep for the night.

Surprisingly, the hotel rate was discounted.

I expected the opposite thanks to the impending holiday.


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