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Virginia Kraft
July 07, 1958
For summer travelers in search of unexpected vacation adventure, Sports Illustrated explores the South's most impressive valley
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July 07, 1958

Discovery: The Tennessee Valley

For summer travelers in search of unexpected vacation adventure, Sports Illustrated explores the South's most impressive valley

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But this area is big water, and it can be dangerous. Storms come up on these river lakes with less warning and only slightly less fury than they do on oceans. I encountered such a storm this spring and spent an anxious 10 minutes fighting it in the middle of one of Guntersville's broadest stretches. It came with no obvious warning. One moment the sky was blue, the next it was black. In seconds the lake was slapping and pounding against the sides of the boat. The Cavalier is sturdy and easy to handle. It took a beating that day which a smaller craft might not have survived.

If you do get caught in such a blow there are safety harbors marked with wooden arrows all along the river, and a particularly large number of them in these broad, unprotected areas of Guntersville Reservoir. Any one of them can be reached in a maximum of 10 minutes' fast running. With a watchful eye on the weather, that's usually sufficient time to beat a storm to shore.

The George S. Houston Bridge stretches across the river at the city of Guntersville, destination for this lap of the cruise. There is an inexpensive motel with small dock, the LAKE SHORE, directly under the bridge on the right bank of the river. But the finest place to stop in Guntersville is VAL-MONTE RESORT, the newest on the entire Tennessee River.

Val-Monte belongs—or will shortly—in a class with Bermuda's Coral Beach Club. It is an exclusive, first-class resort, operated as a public club for guests who are willing to pay for the best. Because this is Val-Monte's first season, many of its buildings have not been completed. An ultramodern waterfront hotel is currently under construction and will be opened later this summer. A sleek motel on the white-sand beach has already been completed, as have the clubhouses, restaurant, pro shops, lounges and wall-to-wall-carpeted locker rooms. Val-Monte has a par-3 nine-hole, electrically lighted golf course, a streamlined marina which can dock over 100 boats, bridle paths and horses, playgrounds, beach cabanas and extensive boat rentals.

The GUNTERSVILLE MARINA nearby serves good fried shrimp in its restaurant and carries a large stock of fishing tackle at its dock. The GUNTERSVILLE YACHT CLUB in the city extends its privileges to members of other clubs.

Because of great expanses of deep water in the area, aquaplaning, water skiing and sailing are very popular near Guntersville. Dozens of stumpy coves and bays offer good bass fishing year-round and particularly fine quail shooting nearby in the fall.


Sleep late the morning you leave Guntersville for Wheeler Lake, because brunch at VAUGHN'S FISHING CAMP, less than an hour away, shouldn't be missed. Guntersville Dam is nine miles downstream from the George S. Houston Bridge. It is 94 feet high and takes about 10 minutes to lock through. Vaughn's is a mile downstream on the right bank. For $1.25 a plate, they serve a delicious fish fry.

The first gas stop on Wheeler Reservoir is 24 miles from Guntersville at the MADISON COUNTY BOAT HARBOR (mile 334). From here the river passes Huntsville Arsenal and runs through WHEELER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, a vast, protected wilderness which stretches undisturbed for almost 20 miles along either side of the river. Bird watchers will be glad they remembered to bring along binoculars here.

Decatur, Ala., a city of 25,000 population, is on the left bank of the Tennessee at mile 305. Near Keller Memorial Bridge, the WHEELER LAKE YACHT CLUB at Decatur Harbor offers its facilities to transient boat owners. The INGALLS SHIPBUILDING COMPANY, two miles downstream, does an excellent overhaul, if one is needed.

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