Over the years many explorers have spent much time and effort to identify the source of numerous rivers. 

John Hanning Speck finally identified Lake Victoria as the source of the Nile in 1858 after years of exploration and disappointment. Lake Itasca may or may 

not be the source of the Mississippi, and Bower’s Spring in Montana is probably the source of the Missouri.

As you follow any river upstream, you often encounter different branches. How do you know which branch to follow that is the source of the larger river? That is why the source of a river does not always have a clear answer.

But you can visit the source of a river right here in Cumberland County.

The Sequatchie River comes right out of the side of a mountain with no upstream branch to cloud the issue of source. All of the rain that falls in Grassy Cove, several miles away on the other side of Brady Mountain, sinks into the ground and emerges together as the beginning of the Sequatchie River.  You can walk right up to the point where the water bubbles out of the mountainside and Sequatchie begins.

The river then travels approximately 100 miles down the Sequatchie Valley, which parallels Hwy. 127, until it joins the Tennessee River beyond Chattanooga near the Tennessee-Alabama state line. 

Drop a stick in the water of the Sequatchie and look for it the next time you visit New Orleans.

The Sequatchie is not a whitewater thrill ride like the Ocoee River in Tennessee. There used to be a canoe rental company in Dunlap whose advertising slogan was “gentle thrills on the historic Sequatchie river.”

I visited the Head of the Sequatchie area a week ago at an event led by Tennessee State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath. Ranger Hedgepath is equally knowledgeable about birds, mammals, geology, wildflowers and Tennessee history, and he explains it all with a sense of humor.

The short walk around the area revealed many varieties of wildflowers already in bloom or ones that will be soon. 

We saw trout lily, trillium, spring beauty, bloodroot, bluebells, violets, hepatica and others. Some parts of fields were covered in white with spring beauty flowers. 

It should only be better by the time you read this. Take your wildflower book or wildflower knowledgeable friend, if you have one.

A short quarter mile hike takes you to Devil’s Step Hollow Cave which is a significant archaeological site of native American petroglyph. The cave is so important that it is gated and protected, but you can see the entrance from the edge of the sinkhole where it sits. 

When I was there, the area around the entrance was surrounded by hundreds of wildflowers that thrive due to the year-round temperate air from the cave.

The Head of the Sequatchie is part of the Cumberland Trail State Park and includes the headquarters of the 300-mile-long park. Currently, the Cumberland Trail is being rerouted down Brady Mountain, through this area and onto Hinch Mountain, where it will connect to completed trail further south.

To visit the Head of the Sequatchie, look on Google maps for Devil’s Step Hollow. It is about 9 miles south of the entrance to Cumberland Mountain State Park on old state Hwy. 28, off Hwy. 127, but there are no signs until you get there.

Like the gentle river itself, the Head of the Sequatchie area is perfect for a pleasant sunny weekend day to spend a few hours enjoying nature, history and geology and declaring that you have discovered the undisputed source of the Sequatchie.

The area is open every Saturday and Sunday and is definitely worth the visit.

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Comments, questions or suggestions for future nature articles are welcome at don.hazel@gmail.com

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