Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Murphy NC Weekend Get Away--Hiking and Exploring Waterfalls

Murphy NC Weekend Get Away--Hiking and Exploring Waterfalls 


Dana & Kenny Koogler

Sat. Feb. 4 and Sun. Feb. 5, 2017



   
    I am way behind on blogging and hiking for that matter.  I've got two previous trip reports still unwritten.  We are helping raise a grandson at the moment. It has turned out to be a blessing, but a challenge.  At 52 years old I thought I was done having and raising babies.  I have not quit hiking or blogging, but when you've got someone waking you up at 3 am hollering "Bah-bah bah bah bah!" (Gabe's word for bottle) your priorities change.  

         I took Gabriel over to his other grandparents home on Friday afternoon.   I used Friday to decompress a little.  Saturday morning we left early and went prepared to either stay in Murphy or drive home... whichever we preferred.  We spent Saturday just hiking and enjoying Fires Creek WMA.  It was a perfect day for hiking. Sunny and warmed up to fifty degrees by midday.
We found Bald Spring Falls without any real trouble. Kevin Adam's directions were very good.
It helped being somewhat familiar with the area, and having a map.   We sat at the falls and ate lunch.
The waterfall is actually three falls on the same stream. We only went to the first one.   We did not
try to bushwhack to the other two.  We will do that another time.  There was enough water coming over to make it pretty, but not enough to have made Bald Spring Falls.. the furthest one up... really pretty.   The stream was nice and clear.  A few patches of ice and ice bats hung from limbs in the creek.   I have found that my frustration level has been so high at home that I cannot tolerate much
when things go wrong.  It has been so bad that while I want to get out and hike I prefer sticking to sure bets instead of gambling.  My nerves just won't handle any more right now.

 Lower Bald Spring Falls  Here is a link to the video of it.  Bald Springs Falls video
Icicles under a log in the stream.

   
    We went on out one of the gravel roads in Fires Creek and found a long, sliding type falls we had seen last Spring.  We did not go down to the base of it then, but today we came prepared with a long rope.  We tied it off and used it to go down the steep slope to get to the base.  We were able to get some fair shots of it.  We named it Long Branch Slide since it was on Long Branch and was like a slide. Very original and well considered, eh?  :-)   Taking photos of it from the base eliminates the view of the upper parts of the slide in the photo.  It is about 60 feet long or better.  Plenty of water coming over it today.  

Long Branch Slide Long Branch Slide video on You Tube

I set these videos to gospel songs of praise and worship.  Don't watch them if you are offended by God and Jesus.  I am leaning hard on the Lord during a tough time.  Psalm 61

           We left with the sun dipping low on the horizon.   We were tired and happy and hungry.
We found a motel room in Murphy and opted to spend the night. We tried out Brothers Restaurant.
It was very good and they have several locations. Lots of good reviews. We were not in the mood to get real dressed up tonight for dinner.  Country casual was just right.   We did a little bit of shopping in Murphy before we turned in for the night.   Kenny had me laughing at dinner until I thought I'd pee my pants.  It was a fun evening.  Much needed night away from home and the routine.
We both slept well. I remember waking at 5 am to go pee. I felt good and thought I was done sleeping for the night.  I woke up two and a half hours later!  It did not take long to pack and check out.  We grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and headed out to do some more hiking and exploring.

      We headed toward Andrews to try to find Cover Falls.  A friend had given me great directions.. PERFECT directions! We also had a way point in decimal. I was thrilled that I converted it just right. I had not converted a way point in so many months.  Cover Falls lies on private property, but sits below a forest service road that provides a chance to drop down to see it without tromping through the homeowners property.   It is worth the stop.
Cover Falls is a little over 30 feet high.  It is quite pretty.  There is some sort of little grotto up above it to the left (facing the falls).  There is also an old water pipe going past it!  If you trek on by the falls a bit further there is a valve sticking up out of the pipe in the middle of the trail. It was leaking.
Britton Creek is the stream it is on. You drive Tatham Gap Road to approach it.  Tatham Gap Road is part of the Trail of Tears.  A sad thing to remember, but an important part of history to recall lest we forget and repeat it.    We have driven the other side of Tatham Gap Road when we went to Teyahalee Bald fire tower.      We did not drive it through today out of concern we'd find it gated way out near the bald, then have to turn around.   We went on toward Robbinsville to head home.

Here is a link to Cover Falls video

       We stopped in Robbinsville at Ingles to buy a few groceries before heading home. I did not want to get home and have to go back out again.  We just put the cold stuff in the cooler until we were back home.   It was not much to fool with.  The weather had been cold and drizzly this morning. It was warming up and turning sunny!   We decided to try to find Burgan Creek Falls from Atoah Road on the west.   We had made a futile attempt from Long Creek Road on the east several years ago.  Kevin Adam's description of it being confusing and difficult was dead on.   His directions are perfect and you get a good start, but then as he promises.. all evidence of a trail disappears leaving you to guess your best.  Casey Marcum had bravely found it from that direction and warned me to try it from the west. On his bushwhack he spied a trail coming in from the west!  I had already figured bushwhacking in from Atoah Gap side would at least be shorter if not easier.   We were blessed in that someone has created an actual trail from that road all the way to the falls. It is flagged the entire way.  Easy to follow.  Whomever did it..... Thank you!

I put directions to the falls on the front page of my blog. Burgan Creek Falls Directions
Please feel free to print them off and make use of them.  It is an extremely pretty waterfall and now easy to reach.  We were very pleased to find it at last.   We were tired,happy and ready to head home. I napped in the car all the way home so I did not have to deal with the Tail of the Dragon today.  I am not a fan of that road.  It was easier to go into a coma and wake up near the house! Good to go. Good to come home.  We were both grateful and recharged to face life again.
*Note to self* I am already planning a return trip to Murphy to shop.  I am a Thrift Shop junkie, and I saw at least four I need to check out.  A day of shopping and a day or two of waterfalls would not hurt my feelings!

 Two views of Burgan Creek Falls.  It was exquisite in my opinion.

     
Here is a video of it below. It is about 60 feet tall.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Alpine Mountain WMA

Colorful pair of leaves on the forest floor. 



Alpine Mountain WMA

Monday Nov. 7, 2016
Dana & Kenny Koogler




    Monday was our last day of a long weekend get away.  We slept in. We had a light breakfast.
We got our stuff together and decided we'd try riding at Alpine Mountain WMA near Overton County.  We had heard mixed reviews on it from buddies. Most said "It's okay." with no real enthusiasm.   We wanted to see for ourselves.   Not to toot our own horn, but we have found that
many of these same persons who give a low to middle opinion miss a lot.   We had investigated
access before so we knew where to go. I will put some directions for access at the bottom of this blog entry.   We still do not know enough about the trail system to share detailed info on that part.

        Once we parked we hit the road and soon the trail at the base of the mountain.
It sits off to itself in the middle of nowhere. The small historic community of Alpine is at the base.
Alpine being in the Upper Cumberland Plateau it was very poverty stricken.  A desperate lack of education opportunities existed for the children of the area.  Lack of education leads to lack of prospects for the future. It keeps folks locked in a cycle of poverty.   Reverend John Dillard 
came to the area and saw the need. He appealed to the Presbytery for help in establishing a school.
Alpine Academy came into being. Later WPA  helped the school by building a gymnasium.
Many of the old buildings still exist today and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
 Christ Church Presbyterian
The back of the old historic gymnasium of Alpine Institute.

      We started up the trail onto the mountain and we saw the only person hunting all day. He was not on the WMA land, but on adjacent private property.  We encountered a pair of horseback riders later. We encountered two or three hunters prepping to go into the woods when we were loading up to leave.    The day was pretty and clear. The foliage colors were good!   The trail was dusty in places and muddy in others!   Riding up the mountain through the forest the higher we went the bolder the hues of color got.  Reds, yellows, golds, oranges,  copper. Mostly maple trees were there.
Having never been to this area before to ride we just wandered around rather aimlessly looking at this and that with no destination in mind.    The trails are in pretty good shape on the mountain.

      We turned and started back down to explore a different section of trails. We ran into the horse riders here.  They were two retirees who were fun to chat with.  One rode a horse the other a mule!
The mule rider told me that it IS possible for a mule to founder.  He said he had one at the vet at that moment who had foundered, but was going to recover!   Once past the riders and their animals not spooked we found ourselves winding along a ridge.  It was really pretty and kind of odd.  Above us were slopes filled with bright Autumn foliage. Below us was like looking back a month in time. The leaves there were mostly green with a tiny bit of yellow. Reminded me of the month of September!
The terrain grew more interesting here.  We passed by hollers with some fascinating rock features.
Big sinks, terraces, and cliffs were to be seen north of us.
 A perfect rose gold day on Alpine Mountain.
Sun star peeping down through the trees.
        We were going along and something caught my eye.  We ran upon a man made structure to the left.  It was the ruins of a very old stone structure!  It was cool looking.  I was intrigued.  I got out and
circled it taking pictures and peering inside.  I walked around the woods looking for additional detritus from human occupation.  I did not see anything more.   I would love to know a bit more about the history of it.  It appeared to be WPA era contstruction.  It was a similar stone that I have seen on WPA dynamite shacks and other buildings.  It was different from the crab orchard stone that was used on the church, shop, and gym.  I have read that the original Alpine School was on the summit of the mountain to start.  It was moved to the base after Bushwhackers burned it during the Civil War. Later it was destroyed again by the Ku Klux Klan.  After the second tearing up they moved it to the base of the mountain.   I can't help wondering if this had something to do with the original school?


Above and below  Stone house on the mountain.

The back of the house was just boards. in the center. the ends were capped with stone.



    We went a bit further on still enjoying the pretty woods.  I knew we should be able to ride from Alpine Mountain all the way through to Deck Cove and Hell Hole.   We were heading in the right direction.   Further out past the old stone house we saw another man made structure. It was the outlet or overflow of a pond.  We stopped to see it.  It was a wildlife pond with standing black water.
A spring is the source of the water way back in the holler.  It flows out a pipe and fills the pond then continues down to the old road.  I have seen a pond like this three times now. Once on property in the Blue Ridge mountains owned by my Daddy. Once on Skinner Mountain. Now here on Alpine Mountain. This is the neatest one far as construction goes.


Outlet of the spring pond.

Spring pond.  


  We kept heading westward.  We passed a double wide to the left of the trail!  Out in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, no water, no nothing!   We wanted so badly to keep heading west to try to find Hell Hole, but we knew we did not really have the time.  We had to get back and eat lunch and pack to go home. I did not want to be so late getting home.  I might as well have put that out of my mind.    We will definitely come back and try the rest of the trail system. The Gazetteer shows most of the trails!    

        We stopped on the drive back for me to take a walk along the West Fork of the Obey River.
I had long wanted to do this.   We found a good spot to pull off.  The river is pretty, but not as pretty as the East Fork.   We were interested in the trail that went along the river.  You know we wanted to aimlessly follow it to see how far it went, but again limited on time.   I thought I smelled diesel fuel on up the river.  I saw an oily sheen on the surface of the water.   I would love to know what went on there?  I know petroleum products when I smell them.  
 Two views of the West Fork river.   It must be reasonably healthy as I saw lots of fresh water mussels and minnows and small fish.
It was up in this area of the river that I saw the oily stuff and smelled diesel fuel.


   I walked along the river bank and shoals picking up shells, acorns, and natural items. I want to make a wreath for Sharon's new house.  It must have lots of pretty things from nature.  We drove back to the campground. I visited with Betty a little bit.   She is a good friend and will soon be moving.
Exciting for her and Klaas, but bittersweet for us.  Once we finally rolled out to drive home it was getting late. I talked Kenny into stopping in Rockwood for dinner.  He agreed and laughed like crazy... "We always try to squeeze the most out of a day, don't we?"  That sums it up perfectly. 
Wear it out!  Until the next episode......Below are directions how to access Alpine Mountain WMA to ride or hike.   Also a short video of leaves falling in the prettiest spot on the mountain.

Directions:  
From Hwy 52 in the community of Alpine turn onto Campus Circle and drive round behind the old gymnasium building.  It is now the Alpine Community Center.   Park here.  
Ride from there out Mountain Lane which goes briefly through a residential area.  You will curve past a small white house on the left and the road continues sharply right and up the mountain. From there it is gravel or dirt.    Just stay with the main trail until you get up the mountain. From there stay left to head toward the summit and bear right/west to head toward the old stone house. It is right by the trail.






        

Woo Hoo Holler in Autumn--Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Stiff Gentian still in bloom by the river

Woo Hoo Holler in Autumn--Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Sunday Nov. 6, 2016

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Sharon McGee




    Sunday we slept in and wallered.  I got up and started the coffee and set out the orange juice.
Kenny fixed bacon and pancakes. Yummy!  I love my tupperware husband. :-D 
We packed us a quick peanutbutter sammidge and grabbed our stuff. Out the door we went.
We met up with Sharon and planned out our strategy for the day.  We'd go first to find
Will Wright Branch Tunnel.  Once we had completed that we'd figure what to do next.
I did not feel super ambitious, but just wanted to be with my friends.  John was working today on their house with their carpentry helper.  We figured we'd ride over and check out their house later.
We started out in the direction of Pall Mall to find the tunnel.
Pretty spot we passed on the way.
     
    I knew the trip was going to involve going north on Hwy 127 through Pall Mall and past
Alvin York State Park.   I also knew we had to turn left onto SR 325 Moodyville Road.  Past that it was guess work. We had the GPS coordinates, but if you plug those in you can rest assured the Tom Tom will take you around your ass to get to your elbow.  Kenny and I had our usual navigation spat.
He thinks I should automatically know with 100% certainty where this stuff is even when I have never been before and he KNOWS I haven't.    We found it without any real trouble.  One real pretty, but unnecessary shortcut was all.  Soon we were sitting atop the arch on the road where it drives over.
"You have reached your destination." said the TomTom.  We turned around and parked at the only
reasonable place.  We sat looking at a cow pasture with sparse woods.

     We got out and entered the woods.  We saw a single strand of fence wire which looked like it might be electrified.  I just stepped across it and went on.   We ambled through the pasture and followed a path that lead down and swing right at the base of the hill.  Before us was the tunnel entrance in the side of the hill leading under the road.


What you see when you first round the bend. You can see the flat spot that is the road up there.

 Tunnel entrance.  Will Wright Branch Tunnel is the largest naturally occurring tunnel in the state of Tennessee. 150 ft through passage that is listed on Tennessee landforms as "complex". It is not a straight shot through.
Kenny stands at the opening on the other side.

    The creek flows through the tunnel and out the other opening.  We followed it. The tunnel itself was interesting with lots of formations and little side passages.  We easily found the second opening which leads to the other side of the road.  We did not want to try that one just yet and went into the dark one wearing headlamps.  It was a tight squeeze and duck down and watch your head.  It curved  back and forth and we just kept following it. It didn't take long for us to see a tiny bit of light above some rocks.  We were wading in mud so thick it would nearly suck your boot off.  We just stayed in the water as the creek bed was slightly less muddy.  We went over there and found we could climb out that hole, but it was not going to be easy.  It involved a slimy crawl up a slanted boulder the size of a Volkswagen.  We were able to tell it came out in the same general vicinity as the other hole.
We back tracked and on the way back saw some bats, spiders and cave crickets.  Sharon doesn't like spiders.   We wandered around and checked out the interior a little more.  Once we were satisfied with that we went to hole #2 and took a look.  We were out on the other side the road.
What is neat about this is that the scenery is pretty.  We must come back after a good rain.  Why? Below the opening of this tunnel is a waterfall.  It is not huge. Only eight or ten feet high, but it looks pretty cool.

 Looking out of the tunnel on the far side we are at the top of a waterfall.
 That black hole in the center of the photo is where hole #3 comes out.
Mo in the tunnel.  I am so thankful I have a best friend who likes to explore!  She is hilarious too and puts up with my nonsense.

    Once we got done exploring the tunnel we started our short walk back. We stood looking at the single strand of fence on the return trip.  I reached out my finger and touched it. It was electrified. I felt a little zap!  Sharon held the strand down for me with a large stick. I held it down for her.  We stopped on the drive back at the Forbus store in Pall Mall.  My boots were caked with thick mud. I was stomping them off in the parking lot when an old timer stood up and addressed me. "Gal, you stompin' that off 'fore you go in thar? Don't worry bout it. Go on in." I grinned and told him thanks that I had been under the ground in a tunnel.  His eyes got big and he questioned me as he wasn't sure he heard me correctly.
"Tunnel?!"  Yup.   Forbus Store is quaint.  I finally got to see it.

Forbus Store in Pall Mall.  It is not far from Static, Kentucky.

     We decided we'd go see the view from Rick and Lorelle's new house.   They were not home, but she took us up there to check it out and see the view. It really is something. Pretty house that still smells brand new.  View from their back yard that just won't quit.

View from Star Point

            Next we all went in the direction of Woo Hoo Holler so we could see the new house construction. We also planned to do some four wheeling and go back to the Hood Cave.   We stopped and visited with John and saw the house. It looks great and its going to be marvelous when it is completed.   I was standing in the area that will be the kitchen when it is done. I found myself overcome by emotion.  My friends dream and plan and it is coming to reality!  What a great feeling of joy.  Good friends who share common interests are the best.  They help restore my soul and are a source of comfort and joy.

      We scarfed down a quick sandwich so we could get going with our adventures for the rest of the day.    Sharon went ahead and Kenny and I hung back to avoid the dust.  It was dry and powdery.
We met back up at the cemetery. We continued up the river in the direction of Zarathustra's Cave.
John had said the river was nearly dry, but we were pleased to find many of the springs and holes of water still flowing.  Sharon was on a four wheeler and after a time holding the throttle with your thumb wears your arms and hands out.  Kenny put me behind the wheel of the RZR  with Sharon riding shotgun.  He drove her four wheeler to give her a rest from it.  I don't usually drive it especially in areas where there are lots of obstacles.  I did it though and he said he was very proud of me. I took my first mud hole and slung mud ALL OVER Sharon.  It was a total accident. She threatened to get me back on the return trip.  Dry as it was and we were still hitting mud holes!



Swift Ford is beautiful as ever.


 Autumn colors reflected on all that blue water at the Big Rock swimming hole.

Copper Beech leaves and the river.


      We drove several miles up the river to Hoodtown and finally found ourselves across the river from the cave entrance.  The cave has numerous entrances.  I found another one today!  I think it is the one the cavers call Dragon's Breath.  The wind was rushing out from under the ground at shoe level and rustling the weeds around it.   Getting to the main entrance requires fording the river, climbing the bank, walking along a narrow ledge, and climbing into a small hole.  That is what it takes to get to the first cave entrance.   Sharon had been before, but missed most of what we showed her today.  It was very cool.  We got across the river easily thanks to low water.  The bank scramble was tricky, but we did it.  Now we had to odd man to see who was going in that small hole first?
I just volunteered so I could get it over with.  Once you are in the room opens up and is larger.
Lots of laughing as we squeezed in the hole like dogs.  The air was nice and cool inside.  It was prettier than I remembered!  Lots of formations. Columns, stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flow stone, rim stone.  It is gated at the back.  We did see one bat and some guano.  We also got further back in another passage than we did before. It had been filled with water the first time. Today it had water, but it was a lot less.


 Looking back out the hole we crawled in.

This cave column looks like "This is a stick up!"  

Sharon and Kenny have made it in too. 

 Sharon in the part that has just enough head room in the center
Pretty cave formations, drapery, soda straws. 


  We enjoyed this cave so much. It was far prettier than we recalled from the first trip.  We spent more time in there and saw more this go round.  What fun!  Sharon had missed this one when Howard brought them here years ago.   Next we crawled back out the hole one by one.  We had to crawl a ledge 10 inches wide or less for about 20 feet in order to reach the next opening to the cave.  That doesn't sound so hard, but it sure isn't easy.  A fall from there might not kill you, but you'd sure be dinged up.  No one got photos of it as we were all too focused on getting across safely.  The next entrance is seen below.  
Looking out of Zarathustra's Cave entrance #2

This entrance and cave Sharon had seen before.


  We didn't spend as long in the second part of the cave as it was not as interesting. 
We went back out and had to crawl the ledge back again.  Going back is sometimes easier, but not this time.  Kenny told me later he was really proud of me. My fear of heights and balance problems are gone!  I handled it like a boss.  Thank you Lord!   Once back out we had to go down and across to get to the next set of openings.  They were way cool.  Check it out below. 



Looking out of Bigalo Jingoist Hole.   Three views above.


This is looking back down at the river below the caves.  

  We were losing daylight fast after the time change.  We realized that we had a good distance to ride back so we needed to get going.    Lots of obstacles between us and the clear path to home. I had dinner in the crockpot at home for all of us.  We were all going to be tired and hungry after today's adventures and work.    Sharon drove the RZR on the way back. I knew she'd get the chance to sling mud all over me so once we stopped I saw a giant glob of black mud on the windshield. I could reach it. I got a handful of it and painted my face in a tribal motif.  I sat there while she and Kenny conversed. They paid me no attention. Finally she turned and looked at me and her eyes grew wide and she seemed a bit startled.  She laughed and said she would expect nothing less.   I wore it for a good while, but it got to stinking so I scraped it off once it dried.  We were all very dirty from dragging around underground.  We were also powdered with gray road dust. I looked like Ashy Larry.

Ashy Larry-- from the Chappelle show.

  We got back to the main path in great time. Sharon's four wheeling skills are excellent. She will tell you otherwise, but don't listen.   She is being modest.   We got back just before pitch dark to the Shabin and Baby Butt Lane.  John was already gone back to Maple Hill.  We had a brief scare that Sharon's purse was stolen, but it was located. We were all relieved and loaded up to get back to the campground to eat.  I wished I had time to shower, but instead I just took off my muddy boots and washed my hands and wiped my face off.  Kenny helped me and we got to cooking right away.
We could smell BBQ chicken when we pulled up to the camper.  Not a good sign.  It had overcooked.
It was eatable, but on the dry side.  We were all too hungry to care.  We sat down in our little K├╝gler Haus on wheels and shared a meal together.  Overcooked BBQ chicken. collards brought by Sharon, fried potatoes by Kenny, french style greenbeans and corn on the cob by me.  It was a good supper and a fine time of conversing with friends.  Very mellow.  We were all exhausted and finally turned in.  I had made coffee and we had cinnamon pound cake for dessert, but no one had room for it. 

      Kenny and I sat up and watched The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston. It is the movie about U.S. Customs and the DEA bringing down drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Meddelin cartel back in the eighties. It was good, but a bit depressing since it was too true.   If you don't know about the history of the CIA, the drug cartels and the DEA agents back during that time period.. read about the predecessor to Robert Mazar who the Infiltrator was based on.  Ernesto "Kiki" Camarena.  What a brave, dedicated man.  I stayed up yet a bit longer to get a shower and wash off the filth. And yes! I moisturized!   No more Ashy Larry.  We generated a lot of dirty laundry this trip.  We went to bed and slept like the dead. It was a good thought knowing our weekend was not yet over! 



    

      The East Fork Obey river in the gloaming. Evening shadows lie in the river bottom, but up above there is still a little golden sunlight left.   This place is restorative. It also gives me back a bit of my soul taken away by the daily struggles of life and the stuff the world takes away.


     Zarathustra was an ancient priest and son of a nobleman from Iran.   Not a lot is known with certainty about him. He followed a false god, but he was a loving, caring person and a gentle soul.
He wrote beautiful verses.  Here is an excerpt I particularly like from Zarathustra's Rondelay. It seems fitting in a time such as this when the world is filled with both deep woe and deep joy. 

“O man, take care!
What does the deep midnight declare?
"I was asleep—
From a deep dream I woke and swear:—
The world is deep,
Deeper than day had been aware.
Deep is its woe—
Joy—deeper yet than agony:
Woe implores: Go!
But all joy wants eternity—
Wants deep, wants deep eternity."”



*You can also find directions to the Will Wright Branch Tunnel on the front page of my blog at present. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

O & W Country-- Needle's Eye and Devils Den



O & W Country-- Needle's Eye and Devils Den


Saturday Nov. 5, 2016

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Total hike distance 4.4 miles

Pictures are here: Big South Fork Photos

Needles Eye & Devils Den Directions
(FYI-- You can also find this on the front page of my blog at present.)


   Friday evening we left and headed to Jamestown to camp ,and spend the weekend.
Crab Orchard Mountain and Luper Mountain tops were on fire on the drive there.   It was a strange sight seeing the glow of fire in the dark from the interstate.   We went through Arby's to get something to eat before heading to the campground.   We arrived at Maple Hill and were tired.  We got to see Klaas, John, Sharon, and Pat.. John's mom who was visiting.   We stood around and chatted a bit.
All of us were tired and the air was turning cold.  We hit the sack pretty quickly so we'd be rested up for a full day of hiking and exploring on Saturday.   The flannel sheets felt great on the bed along with the quilts.   I slept like a log.

Eerie glow above the mountain top seen from I-40 West.  Forest fires!

    Saturday morning we got up and after breakfast we visited briefly with John, Sharon, and Pat.
They were not joining us to hike today as they had to take Pat to the airport for her flight home.
We gathered our gear and went out to an area of the Big South Fork  new to us.
We had never hiked or done any exploring around the O & W area just outside Oneida.  I had long seen photos of the old O & W bridge. I wanted to see it for myself.  I had a brief sinking feeling
while reading a trail narrative on the way there. I was concerned the old O& W road was not open for vehicles.  We were in for a pleasant surprise finding that the road is  open.  We were able to get where we were going.   The old road is very appealing. Pretty drive the whole way.  Water levels in streams were low as expected, but the scenery was still attractive.   We both agreed we want to get back to this area again when there has been plenty of rain. Spring would be excellent.

       It was not long until we parked by the O& W bridge. We walked down to the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.  It was pretty and had a good bit of water. The gum trees foliage was pretty along the river banks.


Above and below-- two different views of O&W bridge.


Autumn colors along the river.


    We drove across the bridge. It is rickety walking on it and driving on it.  We spotted the trail head for Devils Den to the left.  We'd come back for that.  We continued out the road and soon encountered some folks on horseback.    We pulled over at a wide area and put the window down.  They passed us without their animals getting spooked. We were able to speak to them regarding the location for accessing Needle's Eye.  I knew it was not on the park maps or literature.  It is only on Tennessee Landforms.  One man was happy to tell us we could access it further down just before the end of the road.   He went on to say "It's quite a hike up there to see it."  We have learned not to let that sort of assessment by horse riders upset us.   

       We found the only place it could be. One lone, unsigned trail heading up the hill.  
We parked here and started out using the GPS to assist us.  I had read a good trip report by blogger and editor Ben Garrett so I had some idea what to expect.   The climb up the trail was indeed steep and very rough and rocky.  The forest was pretty and leaves littered the path.
We passed by a rock shelter on our left.  I could tell the terrain was going to get less steep.
Pretty soon we did get to the top.  We saw horse stile number 1.  We kept going to our right.. the west.   We passed horse stile 2.   The trail climbed yet again to the top of the ridge line.
It was not long until we came out at a big intersection that was flagged in a couple spots with neon pink survey tape.  We turned right and headed out the ridge. It was not long til we passed a picnic table and a lot of horseback riders eating lunch.   We finally came to a point where the trail drops over the edge of the ridge.   Once down there we had arrived!  Before us was The Needle's Eye. It is the largest natural cave in the Big South Fork.  It is very unique and way worth the effort to visit.  

 The Needles Eye.. you have to duck under the arch to enter the next part.  Size 10' x 4'


Ladder down into the Crypt.  or the cave.


Fellow hikers and horse folk in the cave at the far end.  

Here is a photo of a partial view off the back side of the cave.  


  Once we had checked out the cave and the views and the Needle's Eye we decided to move on. 
It was very neat place to visit and worth every step to get there.   We saw signs as we left that someone is bringing horses down right to the Needles Eye where they are not supposed to.  It damages the trail, the bank, and puts the horse at risk for an injury. No one in this group was that kind of rider.   We hiked back the way we came and it was much easier as it was nearly all downhill or level on the way out. 

Lunch by the Big South Fork Cumberland River 


 By the time we got back to the truck we were very hungry.  We had lunch and headed down to the river bank near the confluence of Whiteoak Creek and the Big South Fork Cumberland River.   It is an extremely pretty area.  We talked to two fishermen while there. Nice men who were more familiar with the area.  We learned from them that efforts had been made in the past to close the road to vehicle access, but because it is a county road they had been unsuccessful in doing so.   Persons who feel it should be closed to traffic drag logs out into the road and rip up boards from the bridges.  The dirt ditch you have to climb down to reach the river bank here is steep, rocky, and shifty.  Leaves on it don't make it any better.  We scrambled down and back up.  Parking here is really tricky. There was space for only two vehicles. Once we'd gotten to see the river up close we headed a bit further down the road to hike to Devils Den.

Whiteoak Creek

Big South Fork Cumberland River .. the confluence with Whiteoak Creek. 

       

Devils Den


    There is a fair amount of space on the far side of the bridge near the trail head to park. When we came back through the horse folk had tied up horses to the hitching posts leaving no space to park on this side.  We drove back over the bridge and walked to the trailhead.  
We had to be careful to avoid the hind ends of the horses tied to avoid getting kicked.  We climbed up around a large boulder rather than use the stile and maybe get nipped. 
Once on the trail we were soon confronted with a steep climb. The trail goes up and up here steadily.   It is only 0.6 miles one way to the Devils Den, but you don't stop climbing until you are nearly there.   We encountered a backpacker on his way out whose name was Doug. 
We chatted with him while we all took a breather.  He had gotten disoriented on the trail system further out.  He was going back to Bandy Creek.   I offered him a ride with us. He said he would think about it.  We told him to wait at the truck if he opted to let us take him back. 
We knew we would not be up there very long.   

     We passed a small cascade with a bare trickle.  I think that is Jakes Falls when it is flowing.
The trail climbed and then leveled off right past that.  We kept watching for an unsigned path to the right.  We found it without any problems.   It was very simple getting to Devils Den.
It is a pretty cool rock shelter, but not nearly as intriguing as Needle's Eye.   Kenny remarked he'd have been mad to have hiked 3 miles round trip to something as mundane as Devils Den.
He felt the primary redeeming factor was that we were in the area already and the hike was very short.  I would have to agree. I'm sure the hike would be a little prettier in Spring with plenty of water on the falls and wildflowers possibly in bloom.   


 Devils Den .. first look at it.
 Pretty weathering like ruffles on the rock shelter.
Devils Den with Kenny in it for scale!  It is a good sized rock shelter.  

  Once we had checked it out, we headed back.  We did not see Doug the backpacker at the truck.  We started our drive back to the campground.  Along the way and past Leatherwood Ford we saw a man with a backpack hiking up the road. It was Doug. We stopped and offered him a lift which he accepted.  He had covered a good bit of ground by taking the trail already.
He was from Southeast Indiana.  A very nice fellow.  We made sure he got back to Bandy Creek Campround.  We had never been there before and so we took time to drive through.  It is extremely nice!  We would like to camp there sometime!  

          We were tired and sweaty and dirty.  We made it back to the camper and I gathered my shower stuff and headed to the bathhouse at once.  A little while later I was all clean and smelled better and was dressed for a date with my sweetie.   We went out to dinner at Vegas Steakhouse  in Crossville.  It was delicious. After all the exercise I had a hankering for a good steak.  We had steak, baked potatoes, and salad.  It is a nice place to eat and the prices are not bad.   Service was good and though they were busy we were seated almost right away.

   After dinner we were both wrung out tired.  We still made ourselves stop at the store on the way home to get milk and bananas.   We hit the sack pretty shortly after getting home.  Tired, but happy.