The Waterfall Project: Rainbow Falls
July 29th, 2014

   About two months ago at the start of summer break, the SETTA team decided that we wanted to compile a list of the top ten waterfalls in Southeast Tennessee. Naturally, we were all so excited to get started so we could get out and test the trails for our readers. I won’t go into any of the long and tedious hours we spent researching waterfalls in our ten counties—trust me, there’s a bunch—and I definitely won’t go into the disappointing experience Melissa and I had on our first attempt at tackling this large project.

   What I will say is that, before going on this hike, I had no idea Rainbow Falls existed. During my research, not once did this Signal Mountain jewel pop up on my radar, but thanks to my friend, informant, and hiking companion Will Taylor this gorgeous falls is the first official waterfall in our series. Now, let’s get to it!

   At the beginning of the hike I was too excited to be outside on such a beautiful Saturday morning that I didn’t think anything of Will’s warning, “These steps are going to be killer coming back.” The steps he was referring to was a steep, twisting staircase that welcomed hikers at the Signal Point trailhead. This plunging descent into the white-blaze trail, which eventually crosses paths with the Cumberland Trail, was misleadingly easy on the way down.

   Once at the bottom of the stairs, we followed the rock-scattered trail for about one-fourth of a mile until we came upon the overlook. (Side note: There are many things I wish I had done on this hike to better inform y’all about the path, one of which is take a picture of the actual trail so you can see what I mean by rock-scattered. There are very few places along any of the trail that are smooth and flat. Most of the trail is covered in broken rocks of all shapes and sizes so make sure you wear sturdy shoes that can withstand the constant changes in step size.)

   Back to that overlook. It’s hard to put into words just how breathtaking this view was so here are some pictures instead.

(Nothing beats this view of the Tennessee River. The picture doens't even do it justice.)

(Meet Will, my hiking companion and red-headed friend.)

   After a short photoshoot and chat with one of my high school English teachers that we just so happened to run into, we were back on the trail and headed for the falls. From the overlook, the falls is probably about half a mile away. (Side note: The other thing I wish I had done is actually track the distance. Sorry, travelers, but estimated distance will have to suffice.) Part of that half-mile, though, is easily the hardest and most dangerous portion of the hike—the descent down to the falls. Taking a sharp left where the trail forks, we were led down a muddy and slippery hill that I would guess to be angled at about 45 degrees. At such a steep slope the trail is lined with climbing rope for hikers to grasp onto on the way down. I cannot stress this enough—use the rope! This hill is extremely dangerous and, though it is the only way to get to the falls, I do not recommend it for everyone. (If you can’t get down this hill, don’t worry! There is a man-made dam at Rainbow Lake that flows like a waterfall and the trek is much easier.)

(It's hard to tell, but this is the beginning of the dangerous descent down to the falls.)

   Once we conquered the difficult cable-lined slope, we were welcomed to the secluded beauty that is Rainbow Falls. The waterfall plunges about 40 feet or so (I'm not the best judge of height) into a small pool formed by surrounding piles of rock and is encased by a wall of rock on one side and forest on the other. Though we did not partake, the water pooled at the bottom of the falls was deep enough to swim in. The base of the falls was picturesque and surrounding rocks provided many different angles from which to photograph the water. After such a rigorous descent, Will and I rested for about an hour at the edge of the pool, chatting and skipping rocks. The cool, serene mist from the falling water was enough to recharge our bodies for the not-so-difficult-but-still-challenging climb back up the slope.

(The cold, rushing water makes it ten degrees cooler at the base of the falls than on the trail, creating the perfect cool-off spot for hikers.)

(Dedicated hikers can visit Rainbow Falls in the winter to see the falls frozen from top to bottom.)

   Back at the top of the hill, we continued on the trail to Rainbow Lake, which was another half mile or so. Because there hadn’t been much rain, the lake was low enough that we could cross in order to reach a large boulder where we sat and ate lunch. We rested here to talk, eat, and watch the water flow over the man-made dam just a few yards away. At the base of the dam is another swimming area and at the top of the dam is an access where hikers can view the man-made falls from above.

(These rocks are usually at the bottom of a flowing river. In the back, covered by trees, you can see the man-made dam that works as a waterfall when there has been enough rain.)

   The trip back to the car was easy until we made it to the homestretch—remember those killer steps Will warned me about? Killer indeed, but nothing compared to the cable-lined slope to reach Rainbow Falls.

   Overall, I feel really good about the hike and hope y’all can make it out to Signal Point to see it too. Though the views at Rainbow Falls and Rainbow Lake are well worth the leg-strain, I’m hoping this hike is the most difficult in the series. But, who knows? I’m constantly surprised by the twists and turns nature throws at me and the unexpected journeys my job brings. So until we meet again remember that adventure is out there. Now go find it.

   Wander on,

   Gianetta Reno


Directions from Chattanooga: Take 27 N to Signal Mtn. Rd. exit. Take Signal Mtn. Rd./US 127 for 5 miles to left on to Signal Mtn. Blvd. Follow 0.1 mile to left on Mississippi Ave. Follow for .8 mile to right on to James Blvd. for 0.2 mile to left on to Signal Point Rd. Follow 0.3 mile to parking area.

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Taste of the South: Wineries of Southeast Tennessee
July 22nd, 2014

(While the DeBarge winery is located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, the vineyard is tucked away in North Georgia. Photo: DeBarge Vineyards & Winery)

One of the greatest American authors, Mark Twain, once said, “There are no standards of taste in wine, cigars, poetry, prose, etc.” Now, I’m not saying Twain was wrong—he did, after all, write one of the most respected novels of all time—but here in Southeast Tennessee there is definitely a standard for wine: sweet, elegant, and homegrown.

Though the wineries in the region are small, the quality of their locally produced wines fuses a small-town country feel with top-notch taste. From flavorful fruit and muscadine wines to country-inspired berry reds, these local wineries offer wine connoisseurs the opportunity to experience the charm of the south while sipping on the world’s most dainty beverage.



(Photos: Monteagle Winery)

Monteagle Winery
847 West Main Street
Monteagle, Tenn. 37356
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12pm-5pm (CST)

Perched atop Monteagle Mountain is this locally owned and operated winery and vineyard. Under new management since 2007, Monteagle Winery offers 19 southern-inspired wines that reflect the countryside where they are produced. Among the wines is customer favorite Purple Reign, a blackberry wine that is perfect for the summer months. Cumberland Plateau Red follows in close second and its sweet and spicy taste truly reflects the mountain air. While you’re in for a tasting, make sure to ask about the winery’s Adopt-A-Vine program. The program gives guests the opportunity to become foster parents to a grapevine in the on-site vineyard. All wines are produced and bottled on the premises and vary in price depending on type.


(Photo: Morris Vineyard)

Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Winery
346 Union Grove Road
Charleston, Tenn. 37310
Open: Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 12pm-7pm

Tucked away in the foothills of Charleston, Tenn., is the family owned and operated Morris Vineyard and Tennessee Mountainview Winery. Established in 1965, this vineyard grows grapes as well as muscadines, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries for its wines. Native only to southern habitats, the winery’s owner says the muscadine carries a unique flavor that is quite distinguishable from its smaller cousin. With 17 different varieties, Concord grape wines being the overall best seller, wine prices range from $9.99 to $15.99 depending on the style and fruit. Along with free wine tastings available every day, the vineyard also offers pick-your-own fruit during the various berry seasons. Check the Morris Vineyard and Winery Facebook page for updates on which berries are ready to pick.


(Photos: Ocoee Winery)

Ocoee Winery
5365 Waterlevel Highway
Cleveland, Tenn. 37323
Open: Everyday 12pm-8pm

Ranging from sweet, semi-sweet, dry and even non-alcoholic, close to 20 wines are produced and exclusively sold on-site at the Ocoee Winery in Cleveland, Tenn. Owner Steve Hunt says his top-rated wine is hands-down the Ocoee Red, a blend of Concord grapes that packs an intense grape-flavored punch and pairs perfectly with a slice of cheesecake. This customer favorite is sold for $11.50 according the winery’s website, but other wines, such as those made from blackberries, apples, and strawberries, range between $8.50 and $17. Established in 2006, this location offers tastings of their delectable wines and also carries locally-made cheeses, jams and other homemade goodies in their gift shop to compliment the drink. Also available in the gift shop are tools and supplies to create your own wine for those interested in attempting this southern tradition.

(Photo: Savannah Oaks Winery)

Savannah Oaks Winery
1817 Delano Road
Delano, Tenn. 37325
Open: Mon-Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 1pm-6pm

Located in the beautiful Delano, Tenn., Savannah Oaks Winery offers a variety of wines for every palate. With a plethora of wines to choose from it’s difficult to choose an outstanding favorite, though Casey Davis says that, without a doubt, customers enjoy the muscadine wines best. All wines available at Savannah Oaks vary in cost depending on type and are cost efficient so you don’t break the bank buying quality taste. But Savannah Oaks doesn’t just offer wine—the winery and vineyard also hosts weddings and other special events. Music events are held at the facility year-round, as well, so be sure to keep up with the winery via Facebook.


 (Photos: DeBarge Vineyards & Winery)

DeBarge Vineyards & Winery
1617 Rossville Ave.
Chattanooga, Tenn. 37408
Open: Mon 12-6pm, Tues CLOSED, Wed-Thurs 12-6pm, Fri-Sat 12-9pm, Sun 12-6pm

Named Chattanooga’s first ever urban winery, DeBarge is located in a restored historic building directly behind Main Street Fire Station 1, and is split into four separate sections. Adorned with a centerpiece barrel bar, guests are welcome to partake in complimentary tastings in the tasting room during business hours. Though there is a great variety to choose from, Candace Ledford, tasting room manager, says the two most popular wines are Chardonooga and the Trillium White, both of which are made from locally-grown grapes. Though grapes are imported from the DeBarge vineyard in Georgia, all processing and bottling happens on-site and can be seen through glass windows in the processing area and barrel room. Weddings are held at the vineyard pavilion while private events can be reserved in the event space at the Chattanooga location. Wines from DeBarge range in price from $15 up to $28.


(Photos: Georgia Winery)

Georgia Winery
6469 Battlefield Parkway
Ringgold, Ga. 30736
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm

Though it is not in Tennessee, this winery is just a hop and a skip away from Chattanooga in Ringgold, Ga. Founded in 1982, Georgia Winery is a family owned and operated facility that produces high-caliber wines from fresh fruit. Though the ever-familiar Concord is a customer favorite, the winery produces over 20 wines ranging from blush and rose, muscadine, and the traditional white and red. Depending on which you choose, wines range in price between $12.95 and $18.95, and specials are available on the winery website. Complimentary wine tastings are offered at the tasting bar and tours are offered every Saturday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Those interested can also reserve to have their wedding or special event in the organic vineyard located directly behind the winery.


(From Morris Vineyard in Charleston, Tenn., guests can sip on wine while overlooking the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains. Photo: Morris Vineyard)

Calling all wine connoisseurs and history buffs:

Be sure to check out Wine Over Water, Chattanooga’s annual premier wine-tasting event on September 27th. All proceeds from the event go toward Cornerstones Inc., Chattanooga’s only nonprofit historic preservation organization. More information about the event and how to buy tickets can be found at


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“A Historic Tour through Cherokee Lands” at Red Clay State Historic Park
June 19th, 2014

(Red Clay is the site of the last seat of the Cherokee Nation before the removal in 1838. Park Manager Erin Medley says the park is to the Cherokee Nation what Washington D.C. is to Americans.)

The other day Jenni and I had the great honor of visiting Red Clay State Historic Park in Cleveland as an exhibitor for its first teacher workshop, “A Historic Tour through Cherokee Lands.” Having grown up in Chattanooga, an area saturated in Cherokee history, I can honestly say that my education on the topic was seriously lacking. Naturally, I was excited to get out of the office and play at the park, but I was even more excited to see Red Clay taking initiative on instructing local teachers in a topic so unrecognized in our school systems.

(We got to be "table neighbors" with our good friend Gerald Hodge, the executive director of the Tennessee Overhill. Great display, Gerald!)

The moment we drove into the park, I knew it was going to be a great day—the sun was shining and, unlike the week of Riverbend, there was no sign of rain in sight. With beautiful weather and a great view of the park from our porch-side table, Jenni and I were ready to begin a day of learning.

The morning portion of the workshop featured two outstanding lectures about Cherokee culture. The first, given by Dr. Michael Toomey of Lincoln Memorial University, discussed the three major impacts of the European invasion into Cherokee lands. As an associate professor of history and the chair of the Department of Humanities and Fine Arts at Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Toomey was a joy to listen to and his lesson had a lot of great information that I was completely unaware of. For example, did you know that in order to remain on Cherokee lands the European settlers had to . . . oh, wait . . . spoilers. :)

The second session was given by genealogist and researcher for Cherokee Genealogy Services Anita Finger-Smith. Her lecture, “A Walk through Our Historic Landscape,” was a perfect lesson on significant Cherokee sites in our region that teachers can take their students to for field trips. With suggestions such as the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood and the Sequoya Birthplace Museum (one of our fellow exhibitors) in Vonore, Anita had some great tips on fun and educational places to take students.

(On our tour we learned that sleepy huts were built by the Cherokee, but not for them. The tribe would rent these out to travelers passing through. The logs were placed with large spaces between them so the Cherokee could spy on the visitors and make sure they weren't tricking them. Sadly, many did.)

After the morning sessions, teachers were invited to eat a catered lunch and peruse the many exhibitor tables for reading material on Cherokee culture. Along with ourselves, some of our fellow exhibitors were the Tennessee Trail of Tears Association and Tennessee Overhill. Teachers were also treated to a special sampling of authentic Native Cherokee cuisine that was prepared by the Native American Services of Tennessee. Although I wasn’t able to try them personally, I heard fantastic things about the traditional treats.

As much as I loved the lectures, I have to say my absolute favorite part of the workshop was the guided tour of the grounds by Park Manager Erin Medley. Not only was it great to get out on the hollowed lands of the former Cherokee Nation’s capital, but getting the chance to listen to Erin talk about the history behind the land was phenomenal. If you ever come to Red Clay, make a point to talk with Erin or Jane Switzer, Erin’s right-hand park ranger. Their passion for their job is apparent in everything they do and say about the park and will definitely make you excited about Cherokee history. Here are some pictures from the tour:

(This is Blue Hole Spring, an underwater spring that was used by the Cherokee as the main water source for council meetings. Though it may look small, the spring measures up to 14 feet deep!)

(After having to cut down this 7-part tree because of safety precautions, Red Clay brought in Cherokee artist John Grant to carve the masks representing the seven clans of the Cherokee tribe. The clans are [in no particular order]: Wolf, Deer, Bird, Paint, Long Hair, Wild Potato, and Blue.)

(Seasonal Interpretive Ranger Thomas Anderson and Park Ranger Jane Switzer demonstrated how to prepare and shoot flintlock rifles. It was a blast. . . literally.)

(Thomas also demonstrated how to shoot a blow dart. Man, is he a great shot! I got to try my hand at it and, though I hit my target, I cannot imagine hunting with one of these things.)

The workshop wrapped up with a final lecture from Kathi Littlejohn on Cherokee myths and legends. Kathi used her experience as a Cherokee Legend Teller to instruct teachers on different ways to incorporate traditional Cherokee stories into the classroom. Though she will not be present for the second workshop in July, Freeman Owle, another esteemed Cherokee story teller, will take her place to teach on this important topic.

If there is one thing I learned from our trip to Red Clay it’s that Cherokee culture is deserving of more than the one Native American day I had in second grade. Though sitting in teepees while wearing feather headbands is fun, our Cherokee roots in southeast Tennessee go so much farther than that, and I’m so glad that Red Clay is finally stepping out to lead in this cultural awareness.

The next workshop at Red Clay will be July 15. The workshop is open to public, private, and home school teachers of grades K-12 and is only $30 to attend, which goes toward activities, lunch, and training materials. Registration information can be found at

Also be sure to out Red Clay State Historic Park on Facebook to keep up with special events, such as the Cherokee Heritage Festival going on the first weekend in August. This year Michelle Hicks, principal Chief of the Eastern Band, will be present so it’s definitely something you don’t want to miss!


Red Clay State Historic Park

1140 Red Clay Park Road SW

Cleveland, Tenn. 37311






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