Monday, April 16, 2012

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau--Hoodtown & Xanadu Falls

Adders's tounge fern in Hoodtown

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau--Down in Hoodtown

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Saturday April 7, 2012

**Repaired blog set--Missing photos, damaged links**
Need return trip to Hoodtown Overlook and Rock Castle Falls

   We had taken a ride back Hoodtown Road two weeks ago and were eager to return.   I'd had the feeling good things lay at the bottom of this rough four-wheel drive track.    It turned out to be true.    We had a beautiful, sunny Saturday to spend exploring and adventuring.    We unloaded the rhino and took off. We first took the path to the right to Hoodtown Overlook. It was a gorgeous view of the surrounding gulf.  The trees were leafy now and greening up.  Lots of pines and moss up here on the bluff line. It was really beautiful and the air smelled so clean.
 We soon passed the very large semi-circular rock shelter a short distance down the path.   We continued on with lots of anticipation since anything we saw from here on out was new to us both!  The trail was rugged to put it mildly.  We came around a bend and were met with an uneven rock ledge extending all the way across the road.  We eased down past it without any problems.   At the bottom the trail split four ways with the most rudimentary path barely visible to the far right.
Kenny said "Maybe we should walk back there and see if that is where Xanadu Cave and the falls is?"  I disagreed since it seemed we hadn't gone far enough yet to be encountering anything of the sort. 
**Photo Missing** Replaced with video of ride

The view from Hoodtown Overlook--missing
We took the trail to the left and we forded the river.   It is a pretty spot with the river flowing by and the cliffs are dramatic.  All sorts of fragmented rock forms small caves and alcoves in the river banks.   A huge gum tree stood on a rocky island.  The stream glimmered aquamarine in its depths.   Downstream more gum trees were seen bowed down from the force of the river in flood stages past.
We got out and hiked around exploring for a bit then decided to continue our hunt for the waterfall. 

        We tried two other paths before finally going back to where Kenny suggested.  It turned out to be a by-pass trail to avoid going over that rock ledge!
We'd found another pretty cave area and cliff over hang on a middle trail. 
We could feel cold air flowing out of the cave.  Bleached, smoothed rock chunks littered the ground.   The cliffs were decorated with ferns and brightly colored wild columbine.    Neither of us had ever been here before, but this cave may be one I've seen mentioned called Zarathustra's Cave.   Maybe someday we'll find out.

     We pressed on along the river trail as far as we could go.   It was beautiful. 
The forest was healthy hemlock, poplar, beech, maple, chestnut oak, sycamore, and lots of sweet gum trees.   I also saw fringe trees in peak bloom like white frills.
Pinkster azalea bloomed along the river banks.    Wildflowers bloomed all around.  Purple and white phlox, ferns with their fiddleheads, rue anemone, prairie trillium, southern red trillium, and dwarf iris were thick!
We finally arrived at a point where the river ford was deep and swift enough to make it impassable.   We stopped and hiked around enjoying the forest and the sandy shores of the river.    Lots of different kinds of butterflies and dragonflies zoomed around.    The Zebra swallowtails really liked this area. I finally got a photo of one.    We turned around and headed back in the direction we'd come from.    Fording the creek filled the floor of the rhino up ALOT in most places.
The river is just barely at a point where we could ride down here at all. 

     We doubled back up a trail we'd tried earlier and got out and walked.
The trail was marked as continuing up a steep bank to the left, but we followed the hollow straight ahead.  It appeared foot traffic had gone this way in the past for some reason.  We were not disappointed.  We stopped and listened.  Soon we could hear water.   We climbed over boulders and logs and made our way ever onward.    The forest was deep and shady with the sun filtering through the canopy now and then.  The rock forms in this area were quite interesting and uniquely beautiful.   Lush ferns grew everywhere.  Purple phacelia bloomed. Little red birthday candles of prairie trillium sparkled on the forest floor. 
We could hear the sound of water growing stronger and soon we were met with our first glimpse of Xanadu Falls!  There had been three things we hoped to find today 1. Hoodtown Overlook 2. Xanadu cave and falls 3. Rock Castle Falls.
We had found the two we knew to be in Hoodtown!

       We stood staring open mouthed at a lovely stream that flowed down a flat area of the forest like a shelf......... then dropped about 35 feet down into a gully.
The water was like a white ribbon today slipping over the rocks and briefly forming a small plunge pool before seeping underground.    To both the left and right were massive rock openings and overhangs.   Room sized boulders flanked us.   Swifts dipped and swooped from under the rock cliffs.   We could see their nests.   We stood and just drank in the sight of this exotic and beautiful spot.
We climbed over into the left side where we could see the entrance to Xanadu cave with its gate.  Water was flowing over here too.  The stream having gone underground peeped out briefly then went back under for good. 
We took a last good look around and decided to head back to the rhino and eat our lunch.

Xanadu Falls
 We then continued back up out of Hoodtown and loaded up to go see what we could find down in Rockcastle Gorge. 

     We arrived in Jamestown and followed the powerline cut out to where we'd gone before. Last time we could hear the falls, but the descent was so slippery and steep and muddy we opted to come back with a rope for safety.   Rockcastle Gorge is one of many steep gorges in the plateau.    We walked the rim out to the only place we'd found where we could get below the falls and come up to them. We'd found a way in above them, but no way down from that point. 
Today we tied the rope off to a tree and climbed down the rocks through a cleft.
There is an impressive rock house that runs below the rim of the gorge for a long ways.    We carefully picked our way down the steep bank holding on to trees and working our way among boulders and over logs.   We could hear the falls down there roaring so we knew we were in the right place.  We soon glimpsed the first flash of white water.   We passed between two huge, flat boulders with loads of purple phacelia growing atop them both!  Lots of wildflowers appeared on the forested slopes.   We were able to approach the falls from below for a good view!

     Rockcastle Falls is not huge, but its quite pretty.   I would not make a special trip over just to see this falls, but it made a nice addition to a days outing.
There is a small  natural bridge nearby, but we did not tarry to hunt for it. 
We enjoyed the atmosphere at the falls for a bit then climbed back out of the gorge.   We explored the area at the top and the powerline cut a little more. 
Vernal iris and birdsfoot violet grew ever where in this field!  The ground was pretty in purple!  We want to return later and see about following the powerline cut out to Catpen Hollow Arch on a future trip!?? 

*Photo Missing** replaced with video of Rock Castle Falls
 We had a good time and a successful day in finding all three things we hoped we'd get to see!

View from Wilder Mountain on a blue bird day!


  1. I'd heard of Xanadu Falls but haven't been over there. It's very pretty. We did a wildflower walk in Buffalo Cove several years ago and the wildflowers there surpassed anything I've seen before or since. Jim

    1. Thanks Jim. I want to do some wildflower walks in Buffalo Cove. We were there last Summer, but I want to go there in Spring. I just need to plan to take off an entire month during Spring wildflower season! LOL I was busting to see the Beggars Castle and got to see it finally. I feel like there's still loads more to see and do.


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