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.