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!