Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mill Creek Falls Off Trail Hike-- Trip Report, Photos and Videos

Buck looking me through the woods.

Mill Creek Falls Off Trail Hike
(This is the 5th time we visited this falls)
Dana & Kenny Koogler
Monday Dec. 26, 2011
6 miles round trip difficult


     The day after Christmas and all I wanted as one last gift was some time in the woods.    I finally guilted Kenny into going to Mill Creek Falls with me.  He gave me the usual litany of why we could not do this today.  Reasons included:
  • I don't want to
  • Too hard
  • Creek crossings too hard
  • Too cold to wade the water
 I reminded him I had been very gracious during his time working every weekend away from me and had not fussed at him the previous four months. He conceded and we packed up to go. There was considerable foot dragging on his part.
I could see him trying to procrastinate. One delay tactic followed another.
He tried to persuade me we needed to go to Target to get an SD card for my new video camera I got for Christmas.  I put my foot down and said "Forget it. We must get going now."  The SD card will have to wait for another day.  We finally got under way and hit the trail at 11:15.  Cades Cove traffic never really lets up anymore and I always hate dealing with it. 

     We started hiking and picked up the old wagon road back into Tiptons' Sugar Cove.    The first 0.5 mile is not bad since it is level, but there are lots of old logs down across the wagon road.  It necessitates striking out through the woods and avoiding part of the old trace and picking it back up later.   It usually takes both Herr and Frau Kugler to make up enough brains to do off trail hiking.  We're a good team.  What one does not recollect the other one almost always does.
Today was no different.  One thing we've both learned about off trail travel is this:

If it seems like you may be making it harder than it has to be... you probably are!

    We arrived at the first creek crossing and decided to do something different.
We used a log that has been there every trip, but we have never fooled with it before.   It worked, but it was something else awhile.  We did not bother with it on the return trip, but just forded in our water shoes.  Stobs on old logs and the slickness of barkless logs makes them treacherous.  

Kenny butt scooting a log on the first crossing. Ouch!

Once across we picked up the path again.  It disappears entirely in places and much of the trip is just dead reckoning.  We have never done this trip exactly the same way. 

     We forded several more times. Enjoyed a few flat open areas. Swam through rhododendron hells. Climbed over and under logs.  Clambered up and over shale ridges. I sat down for the second creek ford which was going to be a wet foot ford with another one right behind it.   I zipped off the legs of my pants.  I pushed my long handles nearly up to my butt and donned my Chacos to cross.   Trekking poles really  help on this trip for both fording and bushwhacking and negotiating the banks.   We were both glad to have brought our trekkers today. 

    We came to a wide sweeping bend of the river and did not recall having ever forded here?  We made a hard left and climbed up Cobb Ridge and continued.
The steep shaley ridge is always ready to send you peeling off there on a sled of rock.   It is littered everywhere with chunks of blue rock.
Kenny tried to convince me I should zip the legs of my pants back on, but I flat refused.  It was pretty warm most of the day and I was not concerned about it.
I came down off Cobb Ridge wearing my long johns and shorts.  He laughed so hard he could not make any noise. He decided maybe having an Outlaw Hiker wife was not the best look for me.  He threatened to send me to John Quillen to raise if I didn't act right.  He'd be so bored if ever did become a traditional Tupperware Wife.  He prefers the fool who goes round town terrorizing people with an uncombed mane and no makes up on her face.   She's more fun and less predictable.  Truthfully I think the turn on is in having people think of him "Now that's one heck of a man who can subdue a varmint like that for 31 years!" 

What? Ain't nothing wrong wid how I'm dressed!

     We finally did sit down once we knew we had all the wet foot crossings behind us and put on our hiking boots, but I still rocked out my previous look. It really was refreshing.   We continued on with the terrain growing gradually steeper.  I saw a chimney pile far off in the distance I knew we'd never seen before.  I looked up in the sky and noted the position of the sun. 2 o'clock PM.  I asked Kenny what time it was since my watch had quit working this morning?  He said it was 1:41 pm.  I did not know I could tell time that accurately from just looking at the sun. I knew I had gotten better at it, but that was pretty close.  It hit me that we were going to be running short of time to finish this trip before darkness overtook us.  It caused me to feel anxious and not take as many pictures as I would have with an early start.

     We crossed what I call "Grateful Dead" crossing.  Dave Landreth knows why.
We headed up the steep bank on the right side of Mill Creek.  We picked our way among boulders and massive fallen logs.   We stopped and hastily ate our lunch and rested a little.  We pressed forward and soon passed the record giant chestnut oak tree on our left.  It is still standing, but not for much longer in its present state.
It is rotten and looks like the next wind storm will at least get the crown of it.  There are quite a few large trees back there. 

    Before we knew it the falls were in view.   The water volume today really made this trip worthwhile.    We sat and enjoyed the falls and being back after a five year hiatus.   I took pictures and shot some video footage.  I loved looking back down the creek and seeing the stream cascading endlessly out of sight.
The terrain back in that holler is more than just a little dramatic. 
Not having time to tarry we turned and made the trip back.

Looking back down the steep terrain of Mill Creek.

I slid down into a rhodo hell once and hollered like the preachers coon I was so aggravated.
We saw several deer back in the cove while hiking.  We made it out before dark, by about an hour.  It took us a shade under 6 hours to do this trip.

I was tickled to get to see this beautiful waterfall again. It was like an old friend.
I felt a bit wistful and reluctant to leave, but maybe it won't be five years between trips next go round.

Mill Creek Falls main section

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Table Rock State Park Camping & Hiking Trip

Isaqueena Covered Bridge

Upstate South Carolina Camping & Hiking Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Friday Nov. 4-Sunday Nov. 6, 2011

Photos are here:

Upstate SC smugmug

**This is a repaired blog with two missing photos.
Lower Whitewater Falls and the bridge over the White Water River.**

      We packed on Thursday night and got up at O' Dark-Thirty Friday morning and headed to Table Rock State Park, South Carolina to camp.    We had reservations and the trip over went well.
I slept for a good chunk of it.  We were fortunate  that they let us check in early.  We were on site
and had the camper set up by 10 am.  I had asked Kenny prior to the trip if the furnace worked on the camper and he indicated it did.   Upon trying to get it to fire it refused to ignite for him.
I was cold and still sleepy and could see this might be trouble so I went in the bedroom and covered up with a quilt and my coat and went back to sleep.  I said a prayer before I fell asleep that the furnace would work and the trip would be spared. I woke an hour and a half later to my sweet husband saying "Oh there you are! Wake up sleepyhead! Let's eat some lunch and go hiking?!"
Bless him and Thank the Lord for the furnace was now working and the camper was finally getting warm.   

       We had a late start seeing as it was now nearly 1 pm.  We decided to hike to the Table Rock summit since it would not involve driving.  It would be a longer  hike with a distance of a little over 7 miles.   We gathered a few items and hit the trail.   The hike to the summit in Autumn is gorgeous.
Peak Fall colors were everywhere we turned.  We were both thrilled to have chosen this park for camping and this trail for hiking.  Table Rock is a monadnock, or a remaining chunk of elevated stone where the rest of the mountains have eroded away.   Upstate SC is full of such mountains, but Table Rock is chief among them.   The trail is tough, but has a pattern of climbs then levels off for a distance and then climbs some more.  Thank heaven for switchbacks.  There is a CCC hut along the way with a pretty view. 

       We first came to Governors Rock.  It is one of the bare, sloping, exposed stretches of stone along the hike.   It has 180*  views.  There are shallow steps cut into the stone sides of the mountain.  It is really something to see. I would not want to negotiate this area during rain or icey weather.   We talked to lots of people along the way, most of them very nice.  One man accompanied by a lady was kind enough to give us better directions for the trip home. Thanks man!
He was the kind of person I love to meet out. Knowledgable, ready to share the info, encouraging and obviously having a good time. 

       We hiked along the flat ridge of the mountains summit and passed the summit marker.
We next found an overlook to one side and stopped to rest and check out those views. We could see the "footstool" mountain to this side very well.   We continued on then to the very tip end of the mountain and the prime views of the lakes and hardly any manmade structures.  We could see a large, lengthy waterfall flowing down the sides of a mountain to the north of us.  I have since learned that it is called Slicking Falls and is off limits since it is part of the protected watershed for the areas water supply.   Puts it in the same category as Glassmine Falls in NC. 

Slicking Falls viewed from Table Rock Summit, SC

View from the Table Rock Summit

     The hike to Table Rock Summit was pretty strenuous and was 7.2 miles round trip so we opted for doing lots of shorter hikes the next day.  We had so many waterfalls and sights we wanted to see anyhow.  This seemed like the solution to another day of strenuous hiking.  I wanted a day to recover a little then do a longer one on Sunday.  We started off doing just that. We hit Isaqueena Falls, Stumphouse Tunnel area, Station Cove Falls, Oconee Station historic site. We ate lunch, but then Kenny did something he almost never does.  He got out the hiking guide and got a wild hair. He wanted to visit Lower Whitewater Falls. It didn't take much to convince me and since he never has a preference there was no way I was going to say no. He said "its only 2 miles."  Well that turned out to be untrue.
It was more like 4.4 miles round trip.  We got to one point after hiking 1/2 mile that said the falls were 1.7 mile further.  Damn. We kept going.  I was concerned about having enough daylight to finish, but again Kenny reassured me that "Naw! we got plenty of day."  We finally passed a road and a parking lot. I was highly pissed.
Musterground road is closed to all but hunters in these months. If we had done it any other time we could have hiked to it for a mere 1.8 mile round trip. 
Nothing for it, but to keep going.  We made it. We saw the falls which are breath taking.  We hiked the road back out because at the pace short legs here was moving we'd have been way past dark getting out.  I was cussin' out everthang dat move by dis pernt.  We got back to the truck just before dark. On the walk back we heard the siren go off for the pumped storage project. That sound will stand your hair on end.  You may realize you are not where they are going to be harmed when they release water, but that thing will get your attention just the same! 

**Image Missing** 
Lower Whitewater Falls gets far fewer visitors than Upper Whitewater Falls which is just across the state line in North Carolina. I want to go back and see these again both on the same day and do the hike the short way just on general principal. 

Pond at Stumphouse Tunnel. Never been here before and loved the scenery. What a lovely place to have a picnic. I am a fan of black water ponds.

Table Rock Mountain is a monadnock. It is what is left of the subterranean rock after the rest of the softer rock and earth has eroded away.  Lots of these in Upstate SC.

     We came in at 6.5 miles the second day of hiking. Nothing will ruin thing for me like injuring myself while doing it.  So I told Kenny @#$%^&* and %$#@^&* and I was NOT going anywhere the next day except home.  I wanted food, drink, warmth, sleep, sex, love and no more trips to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries that involved camping or hiking.  Nope.  Those things should involve balloons, strippers jumping out of cakes, pink fuzzy house shoes, warm puffy sheets and stuff like that.  I'm raising my standards and quitting being such a cheap date.

Below is a video of Lower Falls on the Whitewater River in Autumn.

 Table Rock State Park is a great place and we'll hopefully return here for more trips.  Bring whatever you need with you though because the nearest stores are a long ways off.   The store at the park has a few essentials but is open at the whim of the owner who runs it.   She flat said so to my face.   I just blinked and walked off from her.
**Missing Photo of 2 part bridge over White Water River**

Bridge over the Whitewater River. Its built in two sections to reduce the chances of it washing away. Seeing this river in flood stage would be amazing, but crossing it would be suicidal.

Below is a beautiful video of Twin Falls SC in Autumn. It is one of the favorite videos I've ever shot.  It is set to my favorite hymn "Like a River Glorious".  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Skinner Mountain Ride

Skinner Mountain Ride

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Sunday Oct. 9, 2011
Ride distance 30 miles RT

Pictures are here:


    Kenny and I left early Sunday morning and drove over to Fentress County to spend the day exploring and riding the four-wheeler.  We had found a new area to ride and had been anxiously waiting to get over there to see what we could find.  The Nature Conservancy purchased and preserved 4,200 acres on Skinner Mountain and the surrounding slopes.
The main goal was to protect caves and karst features that are habitat for bats. White-nose syndrome has been wreaking havoc on bat populations. Efforts were made to protect bat populations from further harm. Caves had been closed off to even spelunkers who are a pretty conscientious bunch. Last I heard efforts to isolate the causes and slow down the spread of disease did not appear to be helped by keeping the spelunkers out of the caves.
I had heard of and seen photos of petroglyphs found in one of the caves on Skinner Mountain.   Finding these was bonus to TNC.  They'd had no idea these were in the cave.

      We are not spelunkers and while caves are fascinating they are also terrifying when you don't know what you're doing.  We were mainly interested in checking out the views from on high.  We also just wanted to see some new sights. One goal was to find a cave that has a waterfall gushing out of it.  I did not hold my breath that we'd find it today.
One big reason was that there is a maze of  trails going every which way. A second important reason being that it was very dry and the likelihood of there being any water flowing out of the cave was slim. 

    We headed up the mountain and found the overlook with no problem. The view from the new overlook was great!  They call it the Phil Bredesen Overlook named for our former governor of Tennessee.  He was a good governor and did many things to preserve and protect wild lands.

View from Bredesen Overlook on Skinner Mountain

View from the overlook on the opposite side of Skinner Mtn. This one was a little harder to get to as there is no trail.

     We found a second place to look off the mountain back in the direction we'd come.  It was really rugged and beautiful.   The Fall colors here were very pretty.

      We turned around and took a spur trail to the left.  I knew a fire tower had been up on this mountain, but had been removed.  I also knew there was no way the tower was out on that point of land where the look-offs were. The strip of land was so skinny in one area I could have stretched from one side of it to the other. It was so deeply incised on both sides by erosion.  I figured the side trail to a spot near the summit was probably the old tower site.  Turns out I was right.  We found a concrete foundation and over from that the four cement and metal stanchions that held the tower down.  We also found wooden boards, metal tie down bands and other human junk.  I  am guessing the tower had a wardens cabin and a cistern. The water supply up atop this mountain is nearly non-existent.   We followed a path out from the tower site through a rock garden with huge boulders.
I saw fiery red and orange trees in this spot.  No good vantage points here so the tower had to be what provided the view.  The ground was level so it would be a good spot to put a structure.  During times of better rain fall there is a spring flowing about 0.25 miles down from the tower site.  


This photo shows three out of four stanchions of the old fire tower.

Red orange leaves of Sugar Maple near the old tower site.

    We left the old tower site and headed on our way.  We back tracked the way we'd come then started heading left.  Our goal was to see if we could loop around and descend the mountain and make it to the East Fork River.  We knew that heading right or west would eventually bring us out on another dirt road.
I had wanted to go down to the river to fix our picnic at the old Beatty cemetery There are picnic tables there.   I figured either that or sit down on the river bank to fix lunch. We brought the backpacking stove and warm ups from the previous nights dinner to prepare a hot lunch. 

     It sometimes happens especially on exploration trips that things don't go as planned.  We found the mountain to be criss-crossed with a maze of trails. We arrived at one intersection that was a five-way!  Counting the way we'd just come, there were five trails merging.  So that left four choices.  We took the one that went straight ahead first as I felt it went up and dead-ended.  It did after about 100 yards. That eliminated one possibility.  The next one.. middle and straight ahead angled slightly southwest.  We tried it and found that it makes about an eight mile loop.  It does take one past a lovely little woodland pond.  We later learned that the pond was man-made to water livestock.  It is rimmed with the prettiest sweet gum trees. The entire lip of the pond was lined in red and brown fallen leaves.
There is supposed to be a second fire tower site near this pond, but we did not see it this trip.  We'll have to look harder next time.

Woodland Pond on Skinner Mountain

    We headed back to the intersection to try again.  The path to the furthest left went sharply downhill and looked very little traveled.  It was extremely rocky and rutted. It was obvious it wasn't used much at all.  It went so steeply down and left that it appeared to go back the way we'd come.  As if it paralleled the trail we'd just arrived at the intersection on.
Kenny made an executive decision. "We're taking this trail to the right. It is a better trail. It is well traveled. While it starts off heading to the right and the dirt road.. it may turn and head south around the bend. We took off again.  It was a beautiful trail with awesome Fall color. Sourwood trees, tupelo trees, persimmon trees, maples, and chestnut oaks of all shades.  We got splattered with mud and coated in dust. It was great fun.

     We found the trail wound on and on. It seemed to have no end. I could tell two things for certain.  1. We'd lost a significant amount of elevation. Evidenced by the land of the land and the tree leaves changed back to nearly all green. 2. We were NOT anywhere close to where we thought we'd come out.    I was hungry and grumpy.  I wanted to be near that pretty river.  Not spend the entire day aimlessly wandering.  We passed through a rocky gorge and then by a natural gas well near the base of the mountain.  I could see a gate looming. Grr! Please don't tell me we've come all this way only to be turned around by a gate?!  All turned out ok though.  There was plenty of room to get around the gate to one side.   I told Kenny we should just stop and fix our lunch on the tailgate.   That is what we did.   As we were finishing up eating I thought I heard a vehicle. It was a four-wheeler coming!  We were on a dirt road, but had not one clue where we were.
     Kenny flagged down the older gentleman and his little boy to ask him where we were.
His name was Cravens.  He was very nice as was his son.  They were just out messing around going to the local store. He chatted with us awhile and provided us with some day saving directions!  He cautioned us that it was marijuana harvest season and to be careful.
We followed his directions to the letter and finally found ourselves heading down a rugged path along Bill's Creek.   All creeks we encountered thus far were bone dry.
Kenny spotted something to our left and remarked there was a big sinkhole. It was more than just a big sinkhole. It was a large karst feature with some recent dramatic events having occurred there.  The low lying area had flooded and it was apparent that the cave to the right had swallowed the creek as it flowed.  Another inaccessible cave or swallet to the left had also consumed a portion of the flow.  Both entrances were clogged with debris mats.  The floods back in September likely had water twenty to thirty feet deep in places in that sink.   We walked over and checked out the cave entrances, but did not tarry.
The ground was loamy and soft. We were both aware that the ground here was not necessarily stable.  We'd already seen several sinkholes.  One was about seven feet deep and cut out of the earth as if by a cookie cutter. It was about 6 feet across and hidden in weeds.  It would be a nasty surprise to have the earth open and swallow you.

Millard Filmore Cave entrance. Thanks Kristen for the i.d. on the cave name!

 We never did see the waterfall cave we were hunting for, but found out later from Kristen we were within 1600' of it at one point thanks to Kristen Bobo. She's my hero. :-)   I admire all those spelunkers, but I can have my picks.

East Fork River, Fentress County, TN

     We finally came out on a recognizable road/trail we had driven in my jeep back in the Summer.   We made our way down to the Beatty cemetery and on down along the river.  It was beautiful!  I had seen Tim Curtis' photos of this river in Autumn and I was so wanting to experience it for myself.  The only thing I did not like was for the first time ever all the jarring on the river jacks combined with my full stomach to make me feel very bad.  I won't do that again.  I don't handle greasy food well and I've been on a real low fat diet so the combination of lunch and motion had me miserable.   I whined and bellyached a lot. Then I'd get distracted by some new sight and be okay for awhile. I never did get sick and throw up, but I might have been better off if I had.  I felt better as time went on.

      We had a great time exploring the river and its banks. We could see that the water had been eight or ten feet higher during one flood event and debris was clogged in the tree branches.  The East Fork River has the most incredible mineral aquamarine color. Pictures don't do it justice.  That combined with the Fall colors was like being in a dream.  We saw where beavers had gnawed trees and formed a dam that was now blown out by the flooding.   We have only scratched the surface of the riding and exploring there is to do in the area.  We made some new friends and will be back. They said they'd like to show us round!   I can hardly wait.

Kenny and  the rhino on the river bank.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hiking to the Frozen Head Lookout Tower from Armes Gap

Hiking to the Frozen Head Lookout Tower from Armes Gap

Dana Koogler solo hike
Friday Oct. 7, 2011
5 miles round trip
**Repaired blog with photos missing**

    Friday I got out and did a hike I'd been wanting to do for awhile now. I love "back doors" into various National Parks and State Parks simply because they are different. I like traveling trails that aren't as well known or used.  I got an early start on Friday and there was not a soul at the trail head.   Armes Gap is just a short distance up the highway on Fork Mountain past the old, closed
Brushy Mountain Prison.   I had kept an eye on this trail for a long time and finally got directions and a map and just went ahead.  The gate had been changed from a single metal bar to a more ornate metal gate. I was not sure if I was in the right place, but figured I'd find out soon enough.

     I hiked past a turn off on the left for the old prison mines at about the right distance into the hike.
The side trail to the  mines did not interest me at all and looked like it had not been traveled in a long time.   Since it was not traveled or marked I just kept going. I figured I'd find out if it was wrong and just turn around.  I trudged on in the comfortable temperatures and beautiful golden morning sun coming through the turning leaves.  I got to a point where I could tell I'd gained a fair amount of elevation from looking at the surrounding terrain.  I figured I was about half way done.

    A sign appeared on my left facing away from me.  I approached to read it and try to determine where I was?  I got closer and saw an opening and rock wall of obvious human construction.
The sign said Tub Spring.   I had only 0.5 miles to go to the tower.  I could hardly believe it.
Tub Spring had plenty of water in it. I was surprised that the water was not moving at all.
The surface of the water was filmed over with dust and a little murky. I've drunk filtered water out of hog wallered springs before so I know I could drink it if it was filtered, but it did not appeal to me.
I figured it being covered would make the water pristine.  I saw ditch water coming up the mountain that was clearer and prettier than that. Maybe it isn't like that all the time?

     I checked out the Tub Spring back country campsite. It is lovely! Flat and level.  It is spacious and there is an actual rock fireplace there and a wooden table.  I wouldn't mind camping there sometime!

     I passed the trail junction and headed up to the tower site.   The old style firetower has been replaced by a modern, heavy duty construction metal observation platform.  It was very cool.
The campsite up at the tower is pretty nice also.  There are tables and soft, level ground to camp.
The view from the top of the tower is 360 degrees!  The leaves are turning color up there.
I saw a chestnut tree bearing fruit. A couple  trees were turning deep purple in their crowns.
I saw a cedar waxwing for the first time in the wild.  I also saw a pileated woodpecker. Lots of male and female goldfinches were at the tower site. 

   I spent plenty of time checking out the beautiful view on this clear day.  I am really liking this whole fire tower fascination I've found.  It gives me lots of new possibilities for future trips!


**Photo missing**

Hiking in from Armes Gap to the Frozen Head Tower.
**Photo Missing**

Tub Springs was constructed by CCC workers. The spring is well put together and a reliable source of water even during the driest times. The BBQ grill in the wall is clever!
Frozen Head Fire Tower It has been replaced by an observation platform. It provides a 360* view of the area. Camping is permitted at the tower site, but the nearest water far as I know is 1/2 mile away back down at Tub Springs. 10/7/2011

Frozen Head Lookout Tower
View from Frozen Head Tower to the SW

One of many views from the tower.

Below is a short video clip of climbing the tower and the views from up there!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Waterfalls and Mules Trip with Michael

 Michael is a bear in a cave! 

Waterfalls and Mules Trip with Michael

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Michael Lindsey age 2 1/2
Sunday Oct. 2, 2011

Pictures are here:


    We kept Michael Saturday night for Crystal and Adam to go on their anniversary trip.   He told us on Saturday evening that he wanted to go see some waterfalls.
I had told Kenny the week before we should take him hiking to see waterfalls and he was not convinced that was a good idea, but when the baby asked on his own to go he was all about it.  Michael weighs 40 lbs now but is only 2 years old.  He won't fit comfortably into a backpack type baby carrier for me to tote anymore.  Yet he is too young to walk a long ways.  I had a selection of waterfalls that were either roadside attractions or very short, pretty hikes.  We headed over to Morgan County to visit them.

      We went to Potters Falls and Lower Potters Falls.  They are pretty and both have good swimming holes in hot weather.    Michael got out of the jeep and started pointing to the creek telling us there was a waterfall!    We spent time checking out these two falls which are 1/10th mile apart.    We had not been there in about nine years and had forgotten just how pretty they were. He loved the falls and threw rocks with his Pawpaw. He pretended to be a bear in a cave.  He's a fun kid and loves outdoors.   We had a couple others to visit so we didn't tarry long.

    Next we went up the road to nearby Lamance Falls.   We found the gate locked today so we had to walk  1/2 mile down to the falls.  Michael walked part the way and ran part the way. Pawpaw gave him a piggyback ride part of the way.
He loved the falls, but  didn't like these falls as much as the first ones.  They are prettier in Winter when the water is blue green and there is more of it.  It was still a pretty walk  and not too hard.  On the way back I took a picture of Kenny toting Michael.   I was coming along behind them.  I noticed Michael laughing and doing something to Pawpaw.  He switched their hats. He put Kenny's trucker hat on himself and the bear hat on Kenny.  I had to get a photo of that. :-)

    We stopped by Sonic in Wartburg for lunch.   While eating on the patio some men rode up on horses to the drive-in.   They came in to eat lunch.  They tied their animals nearby.   One was a horse and one was a mule.   Michael is like his Nanny in another way. He loves waterfalls, but he also loves animals.  He wanted to check out those critters.  I went over there and sat in the grass and we watched them. Then we had to pet their noses.  The mule was off her tether.  Michael told me  he wanted to ride the mule.  I explained to him we'd have to talk to her owner.  The man who owned her walked up to retie her. Michael asked him if he could ride her. He said of course so he helped him.  He told us her name was Ruthie and she was 14 years old.
He was named Jim and a very nice man.   I think when Michael is a little older he will want a horse or a mule.   He has horses and ponies living across the road from him. He can see them out his bedroom window or from the front porch.  I don't think think he's going to be put off or forget it. I am not sure what it was about that mule that won Michael's heart, but he loved her.  We learned that mules are easier to care for than horses!   They won't founder and they are cleaner than a horse selecting one area of their pasture for a bathroom spot.  The horse was also nice with a very soft nose, but we didn't get the horses name or her owner.

     We told Cowboy Jim and Ruthie goodbye and thanked them and headed home.
What a good day outside hiking to waterfalls and visiting with animals.    We passed by Middle Fork Falls, but did not stop for that one. Crystal and Adam were on their way home and we had to head to meet them.   We will save Middle Fork Falls and DeBord Falls for another trip. I see a visit to that and a picnic and hike at Frozen Head in our future! 

Potters Falls

Lower Potters Falls--just a portion of it.

Downstream from Lower Potters Falls

Being silly. Pawpaw is the bear now!

Ruthie the mule and her friend, horse at the Sonic.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slickrock Creek to Lower Falls Kayak & Hike Trip

Looking over the front of my kayak on Calderwood Lake

Lower Falls on Slickrock Creek-Kayak & Hike Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Sept. 25, 2011
Paddle distance 2 miles approx.
Hike Distance 2 miles approx. 

**Repaired Blog with missing photos**
Slickrock Pix

     Kenny and I loaded up a picnic lunch and the kayaks and headed across the mountains to  Deals Gap, North Carolina.  We fixed us a tailgate lunch since it was already noon.  We put the kayaks in the water at Calderwood Lake Access.  We had spotted loads of cars at the trail head for Slickrock Creek before we headed to the dock.  Lots of people were boating and camping today.  It was hard to find a spot to park.  The day was about 70 degrees. Crystal clear blue skies with just a few pretty puffy white clouds.  The lake looked like silver.

         We paddled from the dock about a mile.  Our goal was the mouth of Slickrock Creek and a hike to Lower Falls.  We spotted a bald eagle while we paddled.  We also saw a king fisher bird.  Everyone we met on the lake was in excellent spirits and very friendly. The water smelled fresh and clean.  Paddling my kayak or a canoe is to me the most Zen experience.
I always sleep like a baby after a day out on the water. It is a dose of Mother Natures Nerve Medicine. Good old fashioned exercise. Sunshine. Fresh air. Cool water. Beautiful scenery.  And no weird side effects!

      We soon made our way round the bend and paddled the rest of the way up Slickrock Creek.   We could hear the creeks cascades crashing down ahead of us.  Two men and two backpacking tents were camped by the stream.  They were smiling and admiring the kayaks.
The creek here is quite shallow just a few feet in from the lake.  Calderwood Lake used to be part of the Little Tennessee River until it was dammed.  The water in the creek was even clearer and colder.  We beached the kayaks and climbed up to reach the trail that heads upstream. 

      I had hiked this trail twice before. I hiked it in Spring several years ago from Cheoah Dam to Lower Falls. It is an excellent Spring wildflower hike.  We did a shuttle hike one Summer on this trail. We put a vehicle at Cheoah Dam and drove round to Big Fat Gap.  We hiked from the gap all the way through to Wildcat Falls, past it and continued through to Lower Falls and back round to Cheoah.  That day we got to take some good swims in the river and saw a rattlesnake.   Now I was seeing what this area looked like in Fall.

      A wilderness hiking trail is not much like the well traveled, groomed, maintained trails of a National Park or State Park.  The further you go from a popular trail head the harder it can be to follow.  We passed one group of about six or seven adults who were dismayed at the mats of washed down sticks and debris and rocky conditions. They turned around and left.
I always like the challenge of route finding and surmounting different obstacles. Creek fords can be hilarious unless it is so rapid and deep that its unsafe.   Today was warm. The water levels were low and fording was just a nice time to play in the water.

Hell yes, that is too a path! It's a wilderness. Ain't goan be no normal, maintained path!
 It was no time until we arrived at Lower Falls. It is not the most spectacular waterfall for size, but the whole scene is pretty. Great swimming hole too! I can say that from first hand experience.  There are lots of calm, deep pools of water with leaves falling into them. They gleam black in the light.  We passed lots of pretty cascades on the way.  There is a mossy cliff covered top to bottom in mosses, lichens, and cliff clinging vegetation like galax and grass of parnassus.  It drips water even in the driest times.

       We spent some time relaxing at the falls then turned for the trip back.
It was a nice easy hike and paddle trip.  By the time we returned it was about 4 pm and there was not a soul around.  Everyone had left. Once we passed those few people nearer the trails start we never saw another person. 

      The woods smelled of the coming of Autumn.  I look forward to many more hikes in crunchy leaves to beautiful spots this year.


Bald Eagle in the trees over the lake.

Golden light on Slickrock Creek and fallen leaves

Lower Falls on Slickrock Creek

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hike to Baskins Falls Today

Baskins Falls Day Hike

3.2 miles round trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

     Today we slept in and did a short hike without a long drive.  We hiked for the first time in a long time in the Smokies. We've had some recent rain and we knew the streams and waterfalls would be running well now.  The temperatures have cooled off to perfect and the skies were clear and crisp today.   We had not hiked to Baskins Falls in an unbelievable 14 years. The last time we went there it was Autumn and there was hardly any water coming over the falls.  Today was much better!


Baskins Falls from directly in front of it.  The falls is about 35 feet high and the hike to it is moderate.

Baskins Falls from the right side.

View from the first overlook on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

The Roaring Fork was beautiful today and really lived up to its name!

Gatlinburg on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

      We had lunch at Calhoun's in Gatlinburg and walked down the street to shop a little bit.  Traffic wasn't bad today and the crowds were less than usual.  What a wonderful Saturday!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Southern Fire Towers

Monarch butterfly on thistle
Frying Pan Mountain Fire Tower Hike
August 27, 2011


Dana Koogler

Pictures are here:

View from the steps of the Frying Pan Mountain Fire Tower

      We recently took a camping trip to Pisgah Forest, North Carolina.  I had with me all my guidebooks for hiking in the area.  Kenny and I opted not to hike to only waterfalls, but to hike to some mountain summits.  We both love great mountain views.  Two of the books we took along were Kevin Adams' Best Wildflower Hikes of North Carolina   and Peter Barr's  Hiking North Carolina's Lookout Towers.  Kevin Adam's book recommended Frying Pan Mountain as an excellent August hike for Summer wildflowers and views.    Peter Barr's book gave interesting historical details and full, clear directions.  We thought it would be fun to hike to the two area lookouts that faced one another.    We got hooked on hiking to opposing summits by hiking to Table Rock Mountain NC and Hawksbill Mountain, NC a few Summers ago.

      The hike to Frying Pan Mountain Tower was beautiful! It was not very hard at only 1.4 miles round trip.   The hike turned out to be everything Kevin Adam's promised for a Summer wildflower hike and more.  Within the first moments of stepping out at the truck I had photographed four different species of butterflies!
I am a butterfly nut and have redone our bedroom in wildflowers and butterflies.
I used my photographs for the decor and have loved being able to add to the collection.    The views were great although the weather was overcast.  The main wildflower species seen on the hike are as follows:

Hollow stem Joe Pye Weed
Sweet Joe Pye Weed
New York Iron Weed
Yellow Golden Glow
Thinleaf Sunflower
White Snake Root
Pale Jewel Weed
Spotted Jewel Weed
Pink Turtlehead

Great Spangled Frittilary on wild Clematis vine. Frying Pan Mountain, NC
     We made it to the top of the summit of Frying Pan Mountain and checked out the tower.  The cab is locked, but access to the steps is not restricted.   We hiked up as far as we could.    Kenny is a crane operator and deals with sites like this as part of his job. He pointed out all sorts of things to me that I didn't notice before. He taught me about ice bridges that are used to protect the structures and equipment place atop spots like this.  I did notice a vent chute on the side of a building that was dented from falling ice.  Interesting tidbits I'd not have paid attention to. 

     We spotted the privy for the old fire tower far below and through a path of briars.
I was surprised to find instead of being smelly and filled with bees and snakes it was clean and odorless.  It had no door, but was solid otherwise.  I doubt it has seen any use in a long time.  I grew up during the transition time for our family to indoor toilets from outhouses. The last outhouse was only torn down for our family about five years ago.  I'm no stranger to carrying a stick to shoo snakes away. 


Privy Behind the  Frying Pan Mountain Lookout Tower

We also saw grouse, goldfinches, mockingbirds, and many other birds on our hike to this summit.   We saw a praying mantis clinging to the side of one of the weather buildings up here.   Elderberries were in abundance attracting all these pretty birds with their songs.   Mountain Ash trees were bursting forth with their bright red berries!
What a truly beautiful spot.  The Blue Ridge Mountains rolled endlessly off in any direction viewed from here!


Praying Mantis giving me a hard look.

     We ate lunch along the Parkway at the Buck Spring Lodge site.  It was the Summer home for the Vanderbilts and it is interesting and a very short walk to visit.  We were able to find the spring house and the rock walls and foundations.  There is a pretty view from here also.

     We began our hike to the summit of Mount Pisgah and the observation platform.
The hike is only 1.4 miles round trip.   The first 0.4 miles are deceptively level. After that the hike gains 712 feet in 0.7 miles.   Knees to the Shoulders! is an apt mantra for these sorts of hikes.   I was shocked when even after all my huffing and puffing it only took us an 70 minutes to get up there.   The trail is very rocky and steep the last section.  We saw a hawk on this hike.  We met Meade Baker and James Groseclose today. They are very nice folks. I felt priviledged to make their acquaintance.  Both are interesting to talk to and love outdoors as we do.  

    The observation tower had a pretty view and the sun came out for awhile.   There are communication towers up here and so the view is not truly 360 degrees.  More like 270.
Behind you is the snarl of towers and equipment. Kenny spent time checking out the towers and equipment. James worked for a telecom company so he had helped with all that stuff and knew lots about it too.   Having someone interesting to talk with is an excellent diversion for the difficulty of a hike like this! 

View from the Observation Tower on Mt. Pisgah's summit. Looking back in the direction of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

          From the summit of Mt. Pisgah we could look back across to Frying Pan Mountain and vice versa.   It was pretty cool.  I had hiked to numerous other tower sites.  Sometimes the tower still stood while other times it was just a site and ruins.
Today's hike hooked me.  I decided I'd collect up all the photos of tower sites I could find and put them in one place.  It sparked my interest in actively bagging more of these  hikes.  It will be good for my body and my brain.  Fitness for my body and keep my mind sharp learning facts about these places.  I love history and these old fire tower sites abound with history.  

    I look forward to many more adventures and adding photos to my fire tower collection .  The views are good for the soul. 

Below is a link to Peter Barr's book  for sale on Amazon for anyone interested in obtaining a copy.   Also Kevin Adam's wildflower hikes book.

Frying Pan Mountain Lookout Tower

      The lookout towers of North Carolina, Tennessee and most other states are falling into disrepair and being lost to time and technology.  North Carolina actively staffs and uses only four of its remaining fire towers at the present time.   I plan to hike to see and enjoy them while I still can.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pisgah Forest Camping & Hiking Trip

Pale Jewel weed on  Blue Ridge Parkway

Pisgah Forest Camping & Hiking Trip

August 26 -29th, 2011

Dana & Kenny Koogler
**Repaired blog with photos changed**

      We left on Thursday morning and headed over the mountain to Western NC
on our first trip with Kenny's new truck and our new, non-hail damaged camper!  The drive over went by fast and Kenny's new Chevy Duramax diesel performed well.  It towed the camper like it wasn't even back there!  The previous truck was getting some age on it and the transmission was overheating while towing the travel trailer.   We stayed at Adventure Village Campground about 10 miles on the other side of Brevard, NC.
Dodge Ram Diesel Pickup. This bright and shiny ride belongs to our son-in-law, Adam. He had some foot surgery on his clutch foot the Friday before we went riding. We traded trucks for the weekend so he wouldn't have to put pressure on his sore foot to change gears. It was fun trading rides.

Kenny's beautiful new Chevy Duramax Diesel!  There's just somethin' women love about a pickup man. (at least for this gal)

                 We got the camp set up and decided to fit in a short hike for day one.
We stopped to see Looking Glass Falls, a popular roadside attraction. When we pulled up there was not one soul there!  As we were leaving one couple pulled up. This was a rarity.
We hiked The Pink Beds, but were losing the light and the trail was flooded by a beaver dam.

Pink Beds Loop Trail

We decided to give up on the trail and head quickly up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to try to see the sunset.  We made it just in time!

Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Pisgah Forest

      The next day we  hiked two mountain tops that face one another. Frying Pan Mountain to the fire tower first then next we hiked to the top of Mt. Pisgah to the observation platform. 

View from the Frying Pan Mountain Fire Tower.   I liked this so much I composed a gallery of all the fire towers and fire tower sites I've visited in TN and NC.  I'll post a separate blog about those.

View from the Mt. Pisgah Observation Platform

The hike up there was steep! It was not that long, but the last 0.7 miles gained 712 feet.
Knees to the Shoulders! Hup! We visited the Buck Spring Lodge site along the parkway between mountain tops. It was really pretty as well as an interesting historic site. It was the Summer home of the Vanderbilts.   Frying Pan Mountain was a gorgeous hike with loads of Summer wildflowers and butterflies!

Roadside full of cosmos at Cherryfield near our campground.

 Side view of Big Bradley Falls through the trees. I can say this now as I repair this blog.. I later went back
with Cathy and visited it from the base which was a much more fun, satisfying wayto visit this falls.   

     Saturday we drove down to Saluda, NC below Hendersonville.  We visited several waterfalls that were new to us.  Pearson Falls was a disappointment.  There was not enough water to make it worthwhile.  Big Bradley Falls was so so.  Little Bradley Falls was the best though.
We are planning to go back during a time of much more rainfall and water volume to revisit all four waterfalls in the area. We will also hike to the base of Big Bradley Falls. If you don't go to the base it isn't worth the trip. 

Little Bradley Falls near Saluda, NC

     Sunday we got up and cooked a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon. We squeezed in a short hike before our noon checkout time.  We hiked to Cedar Rock Creek Falls in Pisgah Forest.  We went by Sliding Rock also, but it was too cold to slide this morning!

Cedar Rock Creek Falls is about 30 feet high and very picturesque. Pisgah Forest, NC

      We had a safe trip home. It was good to get away from it all and spend time with my spouse.  I had been working and traveling to Virginia to see family so I had not seen him in about 2 weeks!  He's my best friend, lover and partner in crime. ;^D
Looking forward to many more adventures!