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Attractions around Fall Creek Falls...Annie's Travels & Treasures

There is so much to see and do in the Fall Creek Falls Region. Every year we highlight special places worth visiting in our annual visitor guides. There is truly something for everyone. Since we've collected so much information to assist you during the journey, it couldn't all be placed on a single web page. So just click the link and learn more about these fantastic places! View and download the entire online guide by clicking HERE.

Pluto’s Hotdogs
Tribute to Aaron Shafer
Skip’s Restaurant and Market
The Reserve at Collins River
Mountaineer Folk Festival
Penny’s General Store
Cumberland Caverns
Cotten’s Marina
Blue Orchid Bistro

Fragrant Mushroom
The Cookie Jar Café


Pluto’s Hotdogs is a fun, sixties style hot dog restaurant on Bockman Way in downtown Sparta, minutes from the Fall Creek Falls area. It is the place to be for lunch. Jeannie, the owner, and her family moved from California about fifteen years ago. They fell in love with the mountains, rolling pastures and hospitable people. Their son, Aaron, followed them to the land of paradise several years later and wanted to offer a quality hot dog place with great food and ambience. Tragically, Aaron’s life was cut short by an accident. Pluto’s has been open for several years and today his memory and legacy live on with his mom, Jeannie continuing his dream and serving up scrumptious hotdogs loaded with toppings and love. Pluto’s uses the freshest ingredients and offers their all beef hot dogs topped with a variety of toppings. Being a Michigan girl, I/“Annie” love their chili dogs topped with onions, jalapenos and cheese and their wonderful taco salad oozing with chili, taco chips, tomatoes and cheese. Other distinctive options include their Cajun dog that has a mean kick and their original Shaf Dog with mustard and onions. They also have a loaded baked potato with chili and cheese or a turkey dog that you can dress with any of their toppings. During the fall and winter, Pluto’s also serves a nice piping hot bowl of soup, changing the recipe every week. Make sure to leave room for one of the best milkshakes in the region! Their delicious hand dipped milkshakes come in many different flavors with chocolate being our favorite. Make sure to ask for a combo card which allows you to buy nine hotdogs or milkshakes and get the tenth one free. Pluto’s is a great place to come and eat, read the newspaper, or even have a refreshing coffee punch over ice or ice cream. This coffee punch is awesome on a hot summer day and is so refreshing. You can also check your emails using the free Wi-Fi. The atmosphere is very inviting and pleasant. Pluto’s is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Come have your favorite dog and give Jeannie a hug and tell her “Annie” sent you. Pluto’s Hotdogs can be reached at 931-837-5886.

Tribute to Aaron Shafer
Sometimes a person’s life is taken and no one understands why. Aaron Shafer’s life was taken on February 13th, 2010 in a tragic automobile accident. Little is known about what caused him to lose control of his work vehicle, but the loss of Aaron is still keenly felt in the close knit town of Sparta. For his mom (Jeannie), dad (Ray), and only brother, Adam, the loss of their beloved son and brother was heart wrenching on that cold day in February. However, the outpouring of love from the community was abundant and overwhelming for their family. Close to a thousand family members, friends and folks from all over the community and region came to pay their respect to Aaron – a young man that had given so much and truly expected nothing in return. Aaron was an angel, always humbly in the background, making sure that the community children got a special gift at Christmas. To make sure the children were taken care of, he quietly purchased $500 worth of gifts for the names off of a Christmas tree one year. He was quite the handyman, and was always there to help someone with an odd job around their home because they couldn’t afford to hire someone. Aaron was the one that would be there early in the morning to give mom a hand at Pluto’s along with a morning hug, then back at the end of the day to help her clean up and give her his everlasting smile. Aaron touched so many lives and made such a difference. He is sorely missed. His legacy and passion for life live on. In Aaron’s memory, the Aaron Shafer Memorial Foundation was formed to continue his dream to have a circuit bike race in the beautiful Sparta countryside. This was Aaron’s project and he would be so proud to know that the race took place in 2010 with 150 bike riders. The race will continue in 2011 and offers 18, 40, and 70 miles routes along some of the most beautiful roadways in the southeast. In 2011, those that would like to ride that are not part of the circuit can ride 5 miles, or along any of the trails after the official race takes place. A celebration will also take place in downtown Sparta with activities for the riders, families and children. The legacy of Aaron continues and his love for people, for humanity and life lives on. For more information about the Aaron Shafer Memorial Foundation or the bike ride, call Jeannie Shafer at Pluto’s Hotdogs 931-837-5886 or Thor McNeil at the Fragrant Mushroom, 931-836-8190.

Skip’s Restaurant and Market is very conveniently located on Highway 111, as you are traveling south towards the Fall Creek Falls State Park (between Sparta and Spencer). They are a seven day a week diner offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. Skip serves breakfast from 9:00 AM through the week and 10:30 AM on Sunday (after church) and has some wonderful omelets, eggs, bacon, sausage and piping hot coffee that is available all day long. Skip hand forms his all beef hamburgers and my/“Annie’s” sons, Grant and Blake, tried the double cheeseburgers and gave them their “thumbs up”! They offer Kid’s Meals for $2.75 (at press time) and specials throughout the week. Skip’s also offers homemade chili in the fall and winter that will warm you up! This is a great place to come for breakfast or lunch, if you don’t feel like cooking a meal while staying at the park, or if you are driving through and need a spot to eat. Skip’s offers a drive through window. Call in orders are welcome or you can drive through to get a gallon of milk, pop or other drink to go.

Skip loves to serve families. They were offering a special at press time - a family meal for $19.99 which feeds four, including the drinks. One of Skip’s most popular dinner items is the catfish dinner served with hushpuppies, slaw and French fries. They also offer a delicious grilled chicken dinner, hamburger steak and some wonderful salads. There is also a room for a private party that holds around twenty five guests. Skip’s has been serving up regular clients for fifteen years and loves to see new faces. Stop in and see Skip and tell him that “Annie” sent you. Skip’s Restaurant and Market is located at 16936 State Route Hwy. 111. He can also be reached at 931-946-2975.

Golfing around Fall Creek Falls is exceptional when you visit The Reserve at Collins River. Panoramic vistas of the mountain ranges framed by the tranquil serenity of the Collins River; golfing on the natural contours of the land makes this one of the most picturesque and best kept secrets on the Cumberland Plateau. Warren County, known to many gardeners as the “Nursery Capital of the World”, has earned its claim to fame by the enormous variety of luscious plants, trees, perennials, and annuals that are grown by hundreds of family nurseries that respect the land. These nursery professionals have taken what God has given them to produce a bountiful harvest to beautify homes, lands and gardens across the county. Dwight and Hannah O’Neal saw what God had created for them and used it for fifteen plus years as their family nursery business while sending their children through school. However, Dwight knew all along that this precious land would make a sensational golf course. He decided it was time to follow his vision and created a wonderful golf course for enjoyment and relaxation. Today, the Reserve at Collins River is a links type course, where very little dirt was moved. Jerry Lemons, a golf course developer, was brought in to assist Dwight in crafting his dream. Though worthy of club status, the course is open to the public and offers the warm southern hospitality that is so common in the area. The bent grass greens are maturing well, with the fairways of 419 Bermuda coming along nicely. The roughs are a hybrid Bermuda. The mild climate is perfect for a variety of grasses – warm and cool season. Son, Chris maintains the golf course and enjoys giving the golfers an exceptional experience. He loves being outside caring for the grounds. A driving range and practice green are available for golfers to practice their skills before an enjoyable game of golf. Many of the holes are along the picturesque Collins River and the view of the Harrison Ferry mountain range is spectacular, especially in the fall when the colors of the fall foliage can take your breath away. The clubhouse is a popular place after a round of golf or if you are just coming to have a bite to eat amidst the fabulous scenery. Truly a family business, Dwight and Hannah’s other son, Joe, is a magnificent chef and shows off his signature BBQ at the clubhouse and at the McMinnville farmers’ market. He offers pulled pork sandwiches, smoked wings, whole chickens, barbecue ribs, brisket and occasionally - Boston butt. Visiting the clubhouse one beautiful fall day, my family and I got to take pleasure in the aromas of over 75 Boston Butts going around Joe’s special hickory cooker in preparation for a special catering event. The O’Neals are wonderful people and would like to invite you to stop by and experience their little piece of “heaven” called The Reserve at Collins River. Come see what southern hospitality is really all about. You can visit them on the web at www.CollinsRiver.com or give them a call at 931-668-7749. Be sure to let them know that “Annie” sent you!

One of my absolute favorite festivals to go to in Tennessee is the annual Mountaineer Folk Festival held at beautiful Fall Creek Falls State Park the weekend after Labor Day. This three day folk festival has lots of activities in such a beautiful setting - nestled in open grassy areas with lots of trees for shade. There are at least a hundred craft vendors set up from around the region, some demonstrating their craft and talking to the thousands of visitors. Ms. Donna Adkins of Wicker N. Weave of Cross Plains, TN was there this year weaving and repairing chair bottoms. She said she was called by the Almighty God to take her love of repairing furniture to the next level. Today she repairs, restores and beautifies distressed chairs, wicker furniture and upholsters all across the country. This is a craft, some would say “a gift”, and a dying art that only a few can still do. Parker and Alice’s of Pikeville hand paint wooden items cut by Parker, then his mom, Alice, paints the various objects such as paper towel and paper plate holders with sunflowers in bright cheery colors and other fun decorative colors to brighten up any kitchen or cabin. One of our favorites was watching Mark Guenther of Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill demonstrate the art of making sorghum the old fashioned way. He starts with the mule going around the corral creating a circular movement to operate the device that extracts the cane juice from the sugar cane to make the sorghum. This is a very laborious process. To make one quart of sorghum, you need approximately ten quarts of juice. Mark brought his own sugar cane, picked from the fields at Muddy Pond. After the juice was extracted, he put the juice in a special vat over a wood fire to cook. All this was done onsite at the festival. They were also offering their sorghum for sale that day. This is a great demonstration to see how a staple that has been, and is, widely used in kitchens around the world for centuries is still produced today by the skilled hands of local Mennonite and Amish families in the traditional manner. The soil is very important in raising sugar cane. I recently learned that Daniel Masiongale and Steve Reagan (Farmhouse Restaurant in Byrdstown) are growing sugar cane in Byrdstown, TN near where I live. Their sorghum is known for having a smooth, mild flavor due to the soil condition in their fields. The sorghum made from their sugar cane is almost the color of honey and much milder. Either variety is extremely delicious in so many ways. It is often used to make molasses cookies, breads, cakes and many other dishes. The Bickford Family was back with their mouth-watering homemade biscuits and sausage that they cooked onsite in a wooden hut on their new wood burning stove/oven. They also brought along plenty of their scrumptious sourdough bread. Cornhole is one of those games that has come on like a storm. People play at home, family picnics, at college, anywhere and nearly everywhere with tournaments popping up all over. As a hobby, Freddy Solomon and his friend, Michael Cope, of Spencer are making handcrafted custom cornhole boards made to order in their free time. Freddy’s wife is sewing and filling the cornhole bags. Their hobby is turning in to a full fledged business. There were some awesome football colors out there, including University of Tennessee’s Volunteer orange and white and Kentucky Wildcats famous Kentucky blue and white. Freddy had some cornhole boards and bags set up during the festival and games were being played all weekend. This is a great fun activity for the family and every cabin, houseboat or home owner needs one of Freddy’s cornhole sets. One of my favorite new food vendors was “The Italian Ice Guy” who served up delicious Italian ice like what has been made in Philadelphia since the early 60’s. It took David about ten years to convince his wife, Celia, to get into the Italian ice business, but today you will find David at festivals, fairs, and events all around Tennessee. David and Celia’s home base is in Bell Buckle, TN. Keep an eye out for their colorful cart because they will be serving up delicious, refreshing Italian ice. Be sure to stop in and have a scoop or two. My favorite flavor was the mango. It cooled Grant and I off on that hot Indian summer day. The great thing about the Mountaineer Folk Festival is that there is music flowing throughout the three days at different music stages that are set up in the shady/woodsy areas. There is a variety of bluegrass, gospel, and mountain music being played in 20-30 minute intervals by various groups throughout the day. If you are into history and the Civil War, the pool/snack area was the place to be. The 3rd US Artillery Civil War Encampment was serving up food and demonstrating how life was back in the trying times of the Civil War. Fall Creek Falls State Park is a glorious destination and this weekend is so special - bringing incredibly talented folks in to make crafts, play music, and demonstrate traditional items that are a part of our history. Come to the Mountaineer Folk Festival for the day or spend the weekend, enjoy the entire festival and the many activities at the park, as well as around the region.

Penny’s General Store is one of those old-fashioned country stores that offer a plethora of treasures that owner Penny loves to hunt for and find. Penny’s General Store is celebrating five years in business. They are conveniently located near the entrance of Fall Creek Falls State Park. It’s a great place to shop, browse and visit with Penny for a little while. Penny’s offers some wonderful antiques, a great selection of collectible mixing bowls in all shapes and colors great for the cabin, home or houseboat. They also have a great collection of primitive furniture and some unique farm implements. Penny has an eye for and a collection of nostalgic memorabilia displayed all around the store — all perfect for decorating. If you are looking for a special birthday gift or a “just because” gift, you can find some amazing estate jewelry and Trisha Waldron’s elegant designer jewelry. Penny’s also offers metal memorabilia (new and old), older comic books, hillbilly redneck items, Leaning Tree greeting cards (Annie’s favorite cards), collector knives and guns. Penny’s is an authorized Case Knife dealer and has a variety of styles available. The merchandising in the store is uncluttered and very inviting. Penny’s husband, Brian has custom made a lot of the cabinetry, shelves and bookcases using some of the pine trees that had been cut around their property. They decided to repurpose the wood and use it to showcase his craftsmanship in the store. Penny also greets her clients, friends and loyal customers with a smile and is happy to help with a gift selection or make a recommendation for your cabin, home or houseboat. Stop at Penny’s and have a look around and tell her that “Annie” sent you! Give Penny a call at 423-881-5362 or visit her website at www.pennysgenstore.com. Happy Shopping!

Cumberland Caverns, a U.S. National Natural Landmark in McMinnville, Tennessee is a must see while you are visiting the Fall Creek Falls area. Tennessee’s largest cavern has gone underground, not in the sense of hiding, but using their wonderful caverns to host “Bluegrass Underground.” This has been a huge success with the underground ballroom seating an impressive 500 people beneath a ¼ ton crystal chandelier. Bluegrass Underground is a monthly bluegrass concert series that has the most amazing acoustics and atmosphere. Imagine sitting in this huge cave opening and listening to the crème de la crème of bluegrass talent from around the Cumberland Plateau region as well as some headliners from Nashville and beyond — talent such as Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sierra Hull and Hwy. 111 with Ron Block, Mountain Heart, 18 South, Darrell Scott, Justin Townes, Will Hoge, Monte Montgomery, Rodney Dillard and The Dillards, The TN Mafia Jug Band, Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain, Cherylholmes, plus many more. The show is recorded live at Cumberland Caverns and can be heard on 650 WSM at 5:00 pm (CST) on Saturdays, right before the Grand Ole’ Opry. PBS has also taped several episodes. Live performances are also streamed world-wide on www.wsmonline.com and tickets and more info/schedule can be found on www.bluegrassunderground.com. Cumberland Caverns is an amazing place for the family, to explore some of the largest cave rooms and some of the most spectacular cave formations in Eastern America which includes an historic 1812 saltpeter mine, pools and waterfalls. You can arrange a scenic walking tour or daytime adventure excursion. Call Teddy Jones, Cumberland Caverns General Manager, and he will be happy to assist you with a birthday party, group tour, wedding, banquets, corporate and business meetings, or a great educational field trip for school and church groups. If you are into spelunking, this is the place to experience the true wonders of this amazing cave. Come experience the magic of the cave and camp in the hollows of the cave. Cumberland Caverns is open year round. It is an experience and a destination that will be entertaining, create memories and be educational. Visit their website at
www.cumberlandcaverns.com or phone 931-668-4396. Happy Trails!

Cotten’s Marina is a charming “Jimmy Buffet” style full service marina with a recently expanded dock and boat storage on the Caney Fork River in Rock Island, TN nearby to the Fall Creek Falls State Park. Nashvillians have flocked to the location for years due to the relaxed river lifestyle. The Cotten Family has created an inviting family friendly environment offering pontoon, boat, kayak, and river cottage rentals. Plus they are expanding the restaurant menu in April 2011 to include such favorites as steak and seafood. They will still have their signature chicken quesadillas, hamburgers, and fun atmosphere with dining on the river at either their inside dining area or outside on the patio beneath the colorful umbrellas. The 35-40 miles of navigable waterways provided by the Caney Fork, Rocky and Collins Rivers present a wonderful playground for swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing and relaxing. The Cotten Family is also the premier deck and dock builders in the area. These wonderful docks provide a safe place to harbor your boat and an outdoor living area for you on the upper level for sunbathing, grilling, or whatever your heart desires. Make plans to join the folks along the river for their unique 4th of July Celebration! Folks all along the river decorate their docks, bath houses and boats to show their patriotism with fireworks adorning the night sky. Grab your fishing pole too, rent a boat or kayak from Cotten’s Marina, enjoy a delicious meal and make it an exceptional experience. Cotten’s Marina can be reached by phone at 931-686-2373 or online at www.CottensMarina.com. Be sure to tell them that “Annie” sent you!

Blue Orchid Bistro is another jewel in the picturesque Sequatchie Valley and a prized treasure for those seeking fine dining. The concept of Blue Orchid Bistro was born in 2004 by Chef Christina Anderson as her senior project in college. She envisioned the Blue Orchid Bistro to be a place where guests enjoy high quality food in a remarkable, yet casual environment. Chef Christina has always wanted to be a chef since the age of 15. After attending several summer schools and the Johnson & Wales Culinary School, she interned at the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort in Naples, FL where she was hired when she finished her degree — graduating Summa Cum Laude. Her dream became a reality in 2008 when she, her mother (Linda) and dad (Randy) moved from Florida to Dunlap, TN to enjoy the quiet life and beauty of the Sequatchie Valley. The family owned Blue Orchid Bistro is nestled in downtown Dunlap, TN in a marvelous100 year old building that was formerly the Briggs Smith Pharmacy. Elegant, yet casual, all will feel welcome. This is a perfect place to come after hiking or exploring the Fall Creek Falls region, for a romantic dinner, an anniversary celebration, birthday dinner, or just a spectacular day trip with the girls, church group or family. The ambience is perfect and the food is exquisite. One of “Annie’s” favorites is the deep, robust french onion soup and the lovely Asian Salmon Salad — grilled citrus marinated salmon over a bed of mixed greens, sliced almonds, mandarin oranges, red cabbage and crispy noodles. All of Chef Christina’s dressings are homemade and “Annie’s” favorite is the Sesame Ginger Salad Dressing. Another favorite is the Key West Group blackened, wild caught grouper on a toasted Kaiser roll served with key lime remoulade. Don’t forget dessert! They are scrumptious, including a delectable crème brulee. The Blue Orchid Bistro is a destination for fine food and a memorable experience in a casual yet elegant atmosphere. Enjoy lunch, dinner or dessert and coffee in the beautiful restored building where the folks are there to serve you with delightful hospitality and memorable food. Chef Christina and her mother, Linda, will greet you and make sure that you have a wonderful experience. Bon Appetite! Blue Orchid Bistro’s daily specials and hours of operation can be viewed on their website, www.theblueorchidbistro.com or by calling them at 423-949-9567. Blue Orchid Bistro is on Central Daylight Time.

Fragrant Mushroom is an awesome shop and gallery in downtown Sparta that features some wonderful pottery handmade by Thor McNeil. Thor uses either traditional wheel thrown or hand building methods to create his beautiful projects. Thor and his wife, Cherri bought this historic building several years ago and have lovingly restored it back to its original brick walls and hardwood flooring. They have turned it into an open airy space with lots of light that accents the many art pieces around the store. Accents of purples and browns along with halogen lights bring out the natural lighting in this open space. They pride themselves in offering handcrafted items by local artists from Sparta and the surrounding area including wood turned pieces, art works, candles, pottery, furniture, jewelry and more. Renowned potter, Thor is known throughout the southeast for his excellent workmanship and offers one-of-a-kind art pieces that are microwave and dishwasher safe and free from lead and harmful glazes. Thor creates pottery that accents and adds to any cabin, home, houseboat or living space with beautiful colors, shapes and character. These masterpieces include coffee cups, candle holders, bowls, vases, pitchers, business card holders, decorative pieces and coasters to name a few. These make perfect birthday or wedding gifts. Thor also loves to create one-of-a kind kitchen counters and vessels for use as sinks or basins that allow him to use his architectural skills. Some of the new items by local artists displayed at the Fragrant Mushroom include glass wind chimes, wood scrolling and raku potter by Sherry Gard. Come by the Fragrant Mushroom and enjoy the ambience and open space and find that perfect gift you’ve been looking for. Enjoy! Fragrant Mushroom can be contacted at 931-836-8190 or toll free at 866-836-8190. You can also visit them and place orders online through their website: www.FragrantMushroom.com.

The Cookie Jar Café is one of those wonderful off-the-beaten path places tucked away in Dunlap, TN. It is surrounded by the beautiful Sequatchie Valley and mountain ranges. In the fall of 2001, three sisters, Peggy, Bonnie, and Sue Ann decided to take over the family farm which had been in the Gray-Johnson Family for over 150 years. The girls weren’t ready to let it go. So they brainstormed and came up with the idea to combine all the things they enjoyed and rolled them into one. The Cookie Jar Café has an adjoining petting zoo and farm. Home country cooking has always been a big part of the Johnson’s family life and the Cookie Jar Café prides itself in being able to offer fabulous country cooking to the bus loads of customers and families that come from all over to savor their down home comfort food, the scenery and spectacular views. Children love it, as they can visit the petting zoo animals and have the open space to run around and enjoy nature. The Johnson’s hope you enjoy their favorite things as much as they do. Today, Sue Ann owns the Cookie Jar Café after buying her two sisters out. She loves to cook and make her guests feel welcome. If you are looking for down home cooking, like Mama used to make, this is the place. Popular items on the menu are such things as chicken and dumplings, pork roast, catfish, and about 20 sides. The Cookie Jar Café allows you to create your own country plate and have a real country experience in one of the prettiest valleys in Tennessee. Happy Trails! The Cookie Jar Café is located at 1887 Kelly Cross Rd. in Dunlap, TN. You may contact them by phone at 423-949-5852. Keep in mind that they are closed on Mondays. Ya’ll Come!

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