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.


  1. Thank you! I appreciate you taking time to check out the blog entry. Hope your week is going well and you are enjoying Autumn thus far!

  2. Hello! Thank you for following my blog. You have some very lovely pictures here. My favorite is that beautiful red/orange sugar maple tree.

  3. You are welcome Daisy. I really enjoy your writing and your world view. You made me laugh! Thanks I needed that! :-) I appreciate you taking time to check out my blog. Glad you liked it.


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