Dawdle: Sweetwater and Star Walk

On Monday morning, October 2, 2017 weekend campers cleared out from Harrison Bay State Park and only about a quarter of the sites in campground C were still occupied.

Image: Campground C on a Weekday

Campground C on a Weekday

Our little Lily was more exposed, but the wonky triangular camp set-up we had configured still worked well enough.

Image: Site 18 Set-Up

Site 18 Set-Up

The site had a small strip of woods to view from the shelter set in back and we enjoyed the quiet of sitting in its shade, feeling the light cool breezes of warm early autumn weather.

Image: Woods at site 18, Campground C

Woods at site 18, Campground C

We had planned to drive into Chattanooga for a touristy boat ride, but changed our minds. The city is just a day trip from home and we have visited a lot of its sights. The boat ride could wait for another time.

The little town of Sweetwater, TN had come on my radar while researching viewing sites for the Total Solar Eclipse. I thought it “sweet”, and business savvy, of a little town to invite basically anyone and everyone to their front row seat of the once-in-a-lifetime event. I imagined the town was back to normal now. It had appeared to be a picturesque little place. So, driving to Sweetwater became our destination for a late lunch.

The layout of Sweetwater is definitely driven by its many small businesses and, seemingly a history with lack of zoning. It has a scatterbrained mix of manufacturing buildings, business lots, store fronts and offices; with a type of landscaped town center thrown in.

Image: Sweetwater, TN Historic District

Sweetwater, TN Historic District

Instead of a prominent court house square, in the part of town we saw there is more a rectangle with a long silver train car and a gazebo (perhaps bandstand) tacked on at one end. In front, the gleaming train car is surrounded by a stand of flags and various memorial markers, crowded with shrubs and flowers. The street parking doesn’t surround the park area. There’s a variety of types of street parking and a confusing tangle of intersections, with walkers probably making a mad dash across heavy traffic from some angles in order to reach this town centerpiece.

Image: Sweetwater Train, Back Side

Sweetwater Train, Back Side

While the landscaping on the back side of the train is kept plain and simple.

Image: The Hunter's Cafe, Exterior

The Hunter’s Cafe, Exterior

We parked on a dead end side street, and walked over to the corner restaurant: The Hunter’s Cafe. While there, Earl texted with our daughter who lives near Las Vegas and we learned of the tragic mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. The pain and heartbreak of victims, their friends’ and families’ trauma, will last far beyond the single day of the tragic event. We are left to consider what each person must do to help make the nation’s laws and values safer for every American.

Image: The Hunter's Cafe, Interior

The Hunter’s Cafe, Interior

Meanwhile we are sitting in the cheerful interior of  a renovated and clean restaurant, with comfortable seating. Small town USA.

The menu had soups, salads and sandwiches with a few entrees and desserts. (Standard fare, nothing stand out, but we are city folk and our perspective is totally spoilt from living near numerous dining choices.) Earl’s Cream of Broccoli soup was thin, watery, probably just made with milk. Our chicken salad sandwiches and were tasty and fresh. We ordered a piece of Carrot Cake and Apple Cake for take-out, which were both delicious and moist over the next two days.

Image: Sweetwater, TN Sidewalk View in Autumn

Sweetwater, TN Sidewalk View in Autumn

The restaurant was on a city block to one side of the train. The town’s sidewalks were decorated for autumn and Halloween. I especially liked the lamppost banners which each highlight a different historical building and business sponsor.

Image: Sweetwater, TN Depot and Visitor's Center

Sweetwater, TN Depot and Visitor’s Center

From the sidewalk, we saw a glimpse of what looked to be a small train depot building in back of the train, so we hopped into the car and rambled around to take a look at it before leaving town. The Sweetwater Depot serves as the town’s Visitor’s Center and was closed on this afternoon.

Back at Harrison Bay State Park we spent some time roaming around to find a good site to stargaze.

Friday night I had woke up and opened the trailer’s door to see a few very bright stars through our campsite’s canopy of trees. I thought twice before doing it, but woke Earl up to enjoy the sight with me. We sat on a cool bench of the picnic table and enjoyed the view of the stars together. On Saturday and Sunday night there were clouds. With luck the clouds would clear away for good stargazing on our last night in camp.

Image: Harrison Bay SP StarWalk Sign

Harrison Bay SP Star Walk

Yes, Harrison Bay State Park has Star Walk an amazing plot of land with a cleared circular path and stations with glow in the dark lettering to “enlighten” people about the stars.

Image: Harrison Bay SP Star Walk Project

Harrison Bay SP Star Walk Project

We went to check out the Star Walk area about sun down and noticed a few problems.

Unfortunately, at night there just seemed to be access to the Star Walk from the public road into the park. Each campground and the main road to the campground area has a gate, any of which may be locked closed at 10 PM. Plus, if we did get to drive up the long road to the campground entrance, in order to crawl through or walk around that gate, there’s no parking on the camp side.

Also, there is a bank of extremely bright security lights at a store on the public road facing the Star Walk. On the opposite side, within the state park entrance by the Star Walk, there is a single brightly lit flag pole.

So, we scouted around the state park more and came up with a alternative site, still without total darkness, more workable for stargazing in one direction. There’s an area beyond campground C that has picnic tables down a slight hill with a lake view.

Image: Picnic Area at Sunset

Picnic Area at Sunset

It does have some light poles at the hilltop in the parking area, but they don’t seem excessively bright. Campers can walk through the small stand of trees from the campground area to that picnic area, so you just have to be brave enough to do so at night.

As it ended up life did not give us any luck Monday night, the clouds lingered.

So, we got a good night’s rest and packed up Tuesday morning. We took time to pull over for a few last photos of the area before heading towards Interstate 75, homeward bound.

Image: Harrison Bay SP Sign

Harrison Bay SP Sign

Image: Neighborhood Day Use Area by Harrison Bay, TN

Neighborhood Day Use Area by Harrison Bay, TN


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