WEEKEND WARRIOR CHRONICLES
Here's a fun fact ... I've lived in Nashville for almost a decade and a half and I have never done the "tourist" thing. I've never taken the time to wonder around and explore all the cool things hidden in and around the middle Tennessee area. Now, I'm not going to go on and on about the bars and honky-tonks here in Nashville, the Ryman Auditorium, or the Opry Mills Mall. Nope. The local sites, sounds, cuisine, and things to do in town are Conner and Katie's area. What I decided to do is find things to do that are within a 2 hour drive from downtown. Just pick up and leave on Friday night and then come home on Sunday. Weekend trips and day trips. That is what my Weekend Warrior Chronicles will be about.
So .. let's get started.
Volcano Room, Cumberland Caverns, TN
Last weekend, I was feeling very antsy, like I wanted to dig a hole and crawl into it for a while just to get out of the crazy hot sun. So, that is exactly what I did. Well, kind of. I'm way too lazy to grab a shovel and dig it myself, and why would I do that when Mother Nature has done the heavy lifting for me. My wife and I left Nashville on Saturday morning and drove about an hour and a half to Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, TN.
Calling these caverns a hole-in-the-ground is a little bit like calling an aircraft carrier a dingy. They are huge! At one point, there is a mountain inside the cave that is around 350 feet taller than the surrounding terrain. We did the Walking Tour, which lasts about an hour and a half. It's a pretty easy walk, with a couple small uphill jaunts and about 200 stairs. Discoverred in 1810 by a guy named Aaron Higgenbotham, the Cumberland Caverns are made up of (get this) 32 miles of caves and underground passageways.
There are rock formations that are estimated to be millions-of-years-old, underground waterfalls, pools of mountain spring water that are 99% pure, so when you look down into it, the water acts like a magnifying glass, and even a room called the Volcano Room where they have musical concerts. Yeah you heard me right, it's an underground concert venue! The chandelier that hangs from the ancient ceiling is 15 feet tall and about 8-10 feet wide.
Stalactites, stalagmites, and other geologic features surround you as you wonder through a well lit and utterly spectacular cave. Like I said, we did the Walking Tour, but they also have other tours as well. You can throw on a helmet, some knee and elbow pads, and go exploring through the areas that are not lit for lazy tourists like myself too. They have a guide that will make sure you don't get lost. (That was my first question) The cave itself is a constant 56 degrees year-round, so it's the perfect way to escape the grueling summer heat as well. And to top it all off, I bought an RC Cola and a Moonpie in the gift shop on the way out. If you're going to be in Nashville for any length of time, go check this place out!
We left the Caverns in mid afternoon, so we had some time to drive around a bit. We ended up on top of the mountain at Monteagle, TN. We were trying to find a place to stay for the night, so we stopped in the best place to ask for directions ... the liquor store. We grabbed some wine and a bottle of something strong, then we found out that we were just down the road from Sewanee University. We had both heard about how beautiful the campus was, so we headed that way. That's when we stumbled on the hidden gem of our weekend journey. The Sewanee Inn.
It's a hotel that is located on campus. It was stunning. The old architecture and traditional charm was not lost on either of us. We got a room that had a huge balcony with a view of the golf course.
We cracked open the wine and spirits and relaxed while watching, what I can only assume, was supposed to be golf. At one point, there was a guy that ended up picking up his ball and throwing it at the green. He still missed. Aside from the grade-school-level golfers, the view was spectacular. It got much better once we started playfully heckling the bad golfers from our second floor perch alongside the 9th green. We were getting hungry watching all the people making triple and quadruple bogies on a 400 yard par 4, so we headed down the to hotel bar for some food and conversation. The bartender was Brian.
I can say without hesitation that he is one of the most personable and fun bartenders I've ever met, and I've done quite a bit of research in this category. As a matter of fact, everyone in the bar was a local and some of the nicest and friendly people I've met in years. We had a blast!
The conversation went from cocktails to classic pinball games, from golfing to Vince Gill, and everywhere in between. By the end of the evening, the bar was full and everyone was talking to one and other as if we had all known each other for years. I can't recommend this place any more than this! The food was unbelievable too. And here's the kicker .. it wasn't expensive. The same meal at a restaurant in Nashville of the same caliber would have been well over $100 for the two of us, but at the Sewanee Inn, we walked away from two entrees and a few drinks a piece for under $100. I would have happily paid twice that for the time we had. We headed back to the room around 11pm and crawled into the super comfortable bed and fell asleep immediately.
The next morning, we went down to the restaurant and had the breakfast buffet which consisted of freshly made pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits-N-gravy, and the most perfectly made home fries I've ever eaten. It was around $12 per person. Astonishing!!
We said goodbye to our new friends we met in the bar the previous night as they sat down for their breakfasts that morning and hopped in the car for our next adventure. We drove about an hour to ... wait for it .... the Jack Daniels Distillery.
Yep, the most popular whiskey in the world made right here in Tennessee, and you can tour the facility. So here's the strange part about the Jack Daniels Distillery; it's located in a dry county. If you don't know what this madness is, let me explain. A dry county is a county where it is illegal to sell alcohol. As hard as it is to believe, there are a few places in America that still hold on to the prohibition rules. Insanity! But it is true.
So, this is the genius of Jack Daniels. You can visit the distillery and tour the facility, even have a whiskey tasting at the end of the tour, and then they send you into the "bottle store". This is where you can buy a Jack Daniels bottle. The fact that it has Jack Daniels whiskey inside it when you walk out is just a formality. haha No kidding, you are buying the bottle. Just the bottle. They are "giving" you the alcohol as a gift. At least that's the way they sell it to the authorities. Brilliant!
I'm not going to go into all the details of the tour, mainly because there are so many amazing facts that I just can't remember them all, but the story of Jack Daniels and how his whiskey empire began is astonishing. As a matter of fact, it was one of the family members of Jack Daniels that got himself elected to the state legislature in order to change the laws of prohibition in Tennessee. He was elected to the legislature in 1937, and by 1938, the distillery was back in business. Here's another fun fact: did you know that the guy that taught Jack Daniels how to make whiskey was an enslaved man named Nathan "Nearest" Green. As a matter of fact, Nearest Green became a free man and was the first Master Distiller, and a member of the Green family has worked at the Jack Daniels distillery ever since. Cool, huh?
Once the tour was over, we bought a couple "bottles" and grabbed a bite to eat in the town square next door to the distillery. Southern style BBQ, it was awesome! Then, we drove one and half hours home to Nashville. The trip was incredible, and the memories will be long lasting. So, my little weekend warriors, if you're in Nashville and want to go exploring for a day trip outside of town, I would highly recommend any one of the stops on our trip this past weekend.