Knoxville and Oak Ridge in Tennessee

Saturday 10 to Monday 12 June

We continued our journey along the Blue Sky Ridge and then into the Great Smoky Mountains. On the border of Tennessee we dropped off the ridge via the Newfound Gap. From there we travelled alongside Little River. Now it was darker, the tall trees hiding the sunlight.

We were recommended to take the Cades Cove Loop Road. It was Saturday and the going was very slow. A bear and a deer seen in the distance slowed the traffic to a crawl. 

Our advice was to take the Parsons Branch Road from the loop road to reach the 76 highway to Knoxville, but about 6km down this gravel road it turned into a horse riding track and was closed to vehicles. We had to turn around and go back to the slow loop road with its cars filled with families trying to spy bears and deer.

It had been a long day to reach Knoxville but the experience in market square for dinner was great. There was an ambience usually only found in the wonderful squares of Europe. It was Saturday evening and there were buskers of all kinds, singing, playing instruments, juggling.  There were children running around the fountain and there were restaurants lining the square, making a pleasant dining experience.

On Sunday morning, we wandered into Knoxville. It was a quiet sleepy place. We started with breakfast in the French Crepe Café, only to find everything was served in plastic! You discard your plastic plates and cutlery at the door as you leave.

Knoxville is such a compact little city. Like Barcelona and other cities that have had international events, it must have been cleaned up and facilities put in place for the World Trade Fair in 1982. The Sun Sphere was built for the event and it towers over the gardens and waterway of Second Creek.

In the afternoon, we drove to Oak Ridge, about 30 miles south west of Knoxville, to see the American Museum of Science and Energy and learn about the Manhattan Project of the 1940s.

Oak Ridge was a secret and closed community, set up by the USA government in 1940 to develop the atomic and hydrogen bombs, that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Two other installations were also created, in Washington State and Texas to contribute to the project.

Stories of creating Oak Ridge for the development of the A Bomb were interesting, but the emphasis was always on the catalyst to win the war. Having visited Hiroshima and seeing the devastation that the bomb created there, including deaths and horrific injuries, I was disappointed that no acknowledgement was made of the suffering of the Japanese in this installation.

Bruce and I had both studied the book of the discussions of the time ‘Brighter than a Thousand Sunsby Austrian Robert Jungk, when we were studying Matriculation (Year 12) at school. The book is now discredited, because a lot of people who are credited as contributing the story claim that they were not in fact interviewed. 

The museum was interesting but tired. As a museum of science and energy, there was little information after the 1990s, for example there was a lot of information relating to coal, oil and hydro power, but current renewable energies were barely discussed.  But this is Knoxville in the heart of coal country.

That evening, after dinner we wandered into the Market Square again to find hundreds of people seated in neat little rows – to support the Nashville Predators play ice hockey on a massive TV screen. We really hadn’t seen a community viewing a sporting activity to that extent since in Jordan, where they watching Barcelona defending their status in the European Cup in 2012. What a magic atmosphere. 

Sadly for Knoxville, the Nashville Predators lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.