South Pittsburg, TN may not be considered a destination city (unless you’re going to the National Cornbread Festival in April) but it is worth a pit-stop if you’re travelling between Nashville and Chattanooga on I-24 E. I’ve passed this quaint little town several dozen times on my way south over the years and have never taken the time to stop, despite the fact that I once misread the road sign for Russell Cave National Monument as the Russell Crowe National Monument (which if it were a real place would be worth a visit just to take photos for his biggest fan – my mother).
On our way to Cleveland, TN last weekend, we decided (on a whim) to stop at the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg. After learning more about the eco-friendliness of cast iron, Angie and I had been talking about getting an iron skillet. Lodge Cast Iron is made in South Pittsburg, at a foundry (Lodge Manufacturing) that was originally established in 1896. The factory store is one of the coolest places I’ve been in a while. When we walked in we were greeted like family and given snacks. (Everyone knows the way to our heart is through free food!). After snack, the wonderful Lodge Ladies directed us to the area we were most interested in – the factory seconds. These items have small, indiscernible blemishes in them that make them unsalable as first quality merchandise and are therefore discounted. Seriously discounted in some cases.
We bought a Dutch oven (for camping), 2 skillets, and 2 pizza pans (or griddles, I suppose) for less than $60. I still can’t find the blemishes in any of them. These items will last our entire lifetime and then some.
After leaving the Lodge Factory Store, we made our way to Russell Cave. And by “made our way”, I mean it was quite a scenic drive to get there. Russell Cave National Monument is part of the National Park Service and if you collect passport stamps like we do, you’ll be happy to know, they offer two of them. The second is for the Trail of Tears, of which the park is a part.
The walk to the cave is relatively short on a completely shaded boardwalk. The cave itself is huge. Primitive settlers used it for shelter and archaeologists are still excavating tools, weapons, and remains from the site. You can’t enter the cave but you can see inside the mouth of it from the platform at the end of the boardwalk.
If you have extra time, there’s a 1.2 mile nature trail that’s worth a look too. However, USE BUG SPRAY! Douse yourself in it like it’s cheap perfume. Or take a bath in it. I don’t care – just don’t casually spray just your ankles and socks like I did. The mosquitoes are fierce and they will bite through your clothes, leaving you looking like a leper. Trust me, I know!
While you’re hiking, be sure to look for the “J” tree. I’m pretty sure this is the most photographed spot in the park.