My first advice to aspiring travel writers is always: explore your own backyard. Meaning, before you travel to far-flung places in hopes of landing a hard-to-get assignment, you need to know how to—and make a practice of—covering your own hometown or state. I grew up in Tennessee, my maternal grandfather’s family moving here when he was young and my maternal grandmother born and raised in Knoxville. I’ve been back living here for seven years and change, and much of the past few have been spent exploring every nook and cranny thanks to projects like the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. However, I probably would have never discovered the slice of nature paradise that is Pogue Creek Canyon near the Tennessee-Kentucky border had it not been for my dear friends Matt and Jason.
It’s been going-on five years since I met Matt at a press event in Nashville, and about 10 minutes after that, we’d already swapped phone numbers. An hour later, we were texting about a mutual favorite subject (TSwift) and making plans for our first BFF happy hour. When he and his long-time partner Jason decided to get married in the fall of 2016, I was more than a little humbled to be invited along to this intimate family-only affair up in Jamestown and snap photos of the weekend.
It was also here that I was not only introduced to Matt’s lovely family, but Ron and Doyle—plus, their darling pup Roxy—who are also now family, maybe just not by blood.
Ron and Doyle have called Pogue Creek Canyon home for roughly 20 years. They own a substantial plot of real estate overlooking the canyon contiguous to Pickett State Forest and have been instrumental in the conservation of the area surrounding Pogue Creek Canyon. In fact, they even donated a portion of their land to the cause; Pogue Creek was then designated a state natural area in 2006 after the state purchased the land from the Nature Conservancy. What I’m saying is, they’re incredible souls, the type with whom you only hope you’ll be holed up in a cabin at some point in your life.
What I love the most about Ron and Doyle is how they want to share the expansive 3,000 acres encompassing their home—not to mention, nearby Pickett State Park—with everyone they encounter. Luckily for the masses, if you don’t know Ron and Doyle personally, you can still take advantage of the public access to Pogue Creek and its series of hiking trails, some with moderately steep inclines.
On both of my trips to see them, we hiked down into the gorge, limestone cliffs jutting out to form cavernous outcroppings and creating prime photo opportunities. I knew Tennessee and Kentucky were layered with limestone—after all, it’s why we do two things well: raise horses and make whiskey—but I’d never seen such formations locally that, to me, were reminiscent of the American Southwest.
As the hike climbs up a mile or two, you’re rewarded for your hard work. Can you think of a better way to kick-off a balmy fall wedding day than huffing and puffing out to a soaring bluff like this one?
Matt and Jason’s entire wedding weekend was an embodiment of love and laughter, a testament to their personalities: two of the most welcoming, entertaining, engaging and compassionate individuals I’ve ever had the good fortune of counting among my closest friends.
At the ceremony itself, I was behind the lens, but that didn’t stop my camera from being soaked by tears, a known side effect of the amount of love reverberating through that canyon as they exchanged vows and our friend Allen made it officially official. It was, quite simply, the best day—right up there, for me, with my own wedding.
Ron and Doyle often host gatherings like this one where they invite groups of friends and friends of friends out for one relaxing group retreat, a revitalizing getaway full of nature, community, and food and cocktails nearly as good as the company, and I not-so-secretly hoped I’d be on the guest list in the future. In fact, I may have asked Matt monthly since our first trip out two years ago: “uh, so when are we headed back to Jamestown to see Ron and Doyle and Roxy?!” Subtle, I know.
Because, as if the surrounds weren’t impressive enough, their house is something out of the pages of Architectural Digest and lends itself well to group gatherings. The views aren’t shabby either.
It took two years to coordinate, but that invite finally came when Matt, Jason, Maggie, Allen and I all returned to Jamestown just before Thanksgiving, this time with additional peeps—SVV and our friends Wes and Alex—in tow. It was fun getting to introduce SVV to the magic of Pogue Creek Canyon, and I had no doubt he’d get along like a house on fire with Ron and Doyle, both of whom have so many compatible interests to our own.
The weather was a bit cooler this time around, but that didn’t keep us indoors. We layered up and hit the same trail I’d fallen in love with two years prior.
This trip fell at the tail-end of fall, and it was already both a cold and wet one, but SVV and I launched the drone from Ron and Doyle’s back patio nonetheless, thinking we’d be met with naked trees for miles. But to our surprise, while from the ground the trees appeared to be bare, the aerial view delivered pops of gold and gifts of red.
This weekend was even more relaxing than the last, as there was no wedding to prepare for and nowhere to be at any certain time. I stayed in yoga clothes the entire weekend, as did the other gals, and rarely was seen without an Old Fashioned in hand. My gut ached from laughter by the drive home, and my heart hurt to leave this beauty behind. I hope it doesn’t take another two years for us to return to one of Tennessee’s most secluded parks because this isn’t the type of splendor that ever escapes your soul once it permeates it.
Have you discovered any new treasures in your own home state in recent years?