My dog Tucker and I took some time off and traveled down to East Tennessee to visit some friends who just moved there. We traveled down through PA to I 81(Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee) on the way south. On the way back, we followed I 81 to I 64/77 to US 19 and I 79 again (Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, PA).
Here are my pictures from various spots, including the small town of Jonesborough, TN, which is the oldest town in Tennessee.
Some of my impressions:
- Western PA may be among the most economically backward areas in the US, and definitely socially backwards, Pittsburgh and Erie metros excepted. If there are NOT more house trailers per capita than in East Tennessee, then there certainly are more crappy single-wide mobile homes than elsewhere. I've lived 10 miles from the PA border for nearly 15 years, and have never been tempted to move to PA although, technically, various taxes are less, even though I've never been ashamed of my redneck roots.
- The Shenandoah Valley was as beautiful and picturesque as advertised. I was surprised that the valley was rather hilly compared to the much flatter and narrower valleys you find in NYS. I drove through downtown Winchester, VA, on our way to the suburban motel, and I'm going to have to visit again. Winchester is full of Civil War history plus the Cedar Creek battle historic site is about 20 miles away, but it was rainy, so the pup and I just crashed. The cloudy and rainy weather the next day kept us from taking the Skyline Drive, but we'll back the next time. One thing I noticed is that there were a lot of colleges through out western Virginia, which has to help the economy by providing a solid employment base.
- East Tennessee was both somewhat like I imagined, and somewhat surprising.
- The small cities of Jonesborough and Greenville were both busy and looked to be fairly prosperous. Both have historic districts (I didn't get to see Greeneville's because of the lousy weather). Sprawl is filling the areas around both cities like it is the rest of America.
- Agriculture remains a staple in Greene County, especially cattle grazing. I swear, I saw more beef cattle in SW Virginia and E Tennessee than I've seen since I spent a couple of years out in Nebraska. I didn't see much truck farming and just a little tobacco farming.
- In the rural areas near the mountains, virtually all the houses, businesses, and small farms were clustered in small valleys, or, "hollows". If you saw the movie Coal Miner's Daughter where the Loretta Lynn's home was one of several clustered in a hollow, then that's what it seemed like in the mountainous valleys. You can see the evidence of past and current poverty: tiny homes, lots of mobile homes (including people apparently living in campers), and multiple houses/trailers clustered on tiny lots.
- The hills in Tennessee were much steeper than in VA or WV, even when used for agriculture.
- I found the presence of so many churches to be somewhat oppressive. They were almost all either Baptist or Free Will Baptist with only a few other denominations, and those mostly in the larger towns. In some of the small communities, it seemed that there had to be about 1 church for every 40 or 50 people. This wasn't true in the bigger places, but in the rural areas, these small churches were ubiquitous.
- Not only were the roads winding and twisting, but there were literally no shoulders. A bit unnerving.
- I was surprised at the diversity in East Tennessee. The South has a reputation for being pretty conservative, but the people in East Tennessee seemed at least as tolerant as most Americans (and more so than many in my least favorite state). There was a significant number of Hispanics in the towns of Greenville and Jonesborough -- and lots of Chinese and Mexican restaurants, too. Also notable was that I didn't see a single Confederate flag anywhere in our wanderings.
- West Virginia was almost exactly what I imagined it. It seemed to be less prosperous than the Shenandoah Valley but more prosperous than East Tennessee. The secondary roads were winding and twisting, but a little wider than the ones in Tennessee. The hills weren't as steep and the valleys were a little wider. Berkley Springs is a gorgeous little town in the northern part of the state that I will have to explore in the future. I stayed a night in Fairmont, off I 79, south of Morgantown, and the pup and I had Valley Falls SP all to ourselves the next morning.