Thursday, April 5, 2012

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau-- Stinging Nettle Falls & Spring Wildflowers

Wood Poppy--these covered the forest floor around Stinging Nettle Falls

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau--

Finding Stinging Nettle Falls

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Camping, Riding, and Hiking Trip
Friday March 23 through Sunday March 25, 2012
Hoodtown Pix 

**Repaired Blog entry--missing photos and broken links**

     We had been needing to get over to see our friends who live in Fentress County and so we all planned to meet and spend some time together over a weekend.  Sharon had come up from Florida and was at her place. Brenda and her kids and grandkids were planning to come over too.  We dropped off our things at the cabin we'd rented and went out to have some time to explore together  just the two of us for Friday.   Places to eat out are scarce in the vicinity so I prepared some chicken dinners in foil pouches to toss in the oven when we got back that evening.

       We planned to do some scouting this trip to get answers to some access questions we'd had.   Some answers were in the affirmative and some were disappointing.  We'd hoped to find an access on the east side of the Obey river heading down into the gorge. The East Fork of the Obey River is far too deep to ford now on horse, atv or foot.  You'd have to swim it.   Riding the river trail was out of the question and that was no surprise.  We were not to be so easily outdone and continued our looking around.   Kenny and I have both learned that while trips like this can be frustrating and disappointing, they can also yield great rewards!    One has to spend a little time checking out maps and then back that up with a drive or hike to see if what is shown on paper is reality.  

      We enjoyed some grandstand views from Wilder Mountain's summit.  We saw lots of beautiful scenery.  We put together some roads and trails we'd been on before, but needed to learn better on our own.  When we passed by Tay's store........I had a fit of sudden uncontrollable sobbing.  We lost our friend, Ed Choate, Brenda's husband back in the Fall after only knowing him a short time.  This trip was also about grieving a loss and reconnecting with friends.  It was sad in some ways, but sweet too.   Ed was a funny, caring, generous man with a quick smile and ever the skeptic.  Brenda and Ed were the perfect couple.  We were fortunate to know him and happy to still have her with us.  I don't often pray to anyone but God, but today I asked a special favor in my prayers. I was being more Catholic today.  I prayed that Ed would be our trail angel and bless us with his knowledge and good luck.  He was born and raised right there in Fentress County and knew the area like the back of his hand.   I was not going to be disappointed at all!

      We decided to head down Bill's Creek Trail to try to find Stinging Nettle Falls.
It is a waterfall that gushes straight out of the ground and drops about 30 feet into a cave.  We'd been near it back in the Fall on our first trip and felt we could find it today.  I had waypoints for it, but the GPS was not cooperating.  I didn't know if we'd find it today or not but we'd give it a try.  We found the upper end of the trail gated off.  Not to be so easily outdone we wiggled round it and off we went.
The trail was muddy, rutted and rocky. We passed by what appears to be the stream source for Bills Creek!  It flows out of the ground at a rock overhang and runs for a spell, then goes underground and forms a dry stream bed only to reappear later with a healthy flow!    There are streams like this in the Smokies and the Cumberland Plateau. 

      The day was clear, sunny and 65 degrees. The woods were bare, but the lower we went the greener things got.  I anticipated the lower elevations would be prettier and possibly have some wildflowers out.  We finally arrived at a level spot near the bottom. I knew we were getting near Millard Fillmore cave.  I had told Kenny I figured Stinging Nettle Falls would be at the base of a rock cliff or hill.  Kenny said "Where does this go?" and pointed to where the path swept to the right.   I looked up and saw a massive rock cliff like a great theater. I could hear water roaring.  "This is it! " I shouted and grabbed my camera and took off. I was wearing not my boots, but my good tennis shoes and I did not care. It was total abandon.  The forest floor was awash with deep green moss, brown loamy soil, rocks and bright yellow blooms of wood poppies!  Gushing out of the ground in the distance was a white cataract.. we had found it!  The rocks echoed back the roar of the water.   In climbing around exploring and taking pictures Kenny pointed out two other cave entrances to me.  They were down in the ground, not back in a bank.  You could hear water roaring in both, but in the one you could see it!   It sounded like two powerful streams under great pressure.   What surprised me was that the round cave on the cliff was dry!  I had seen a photo where water was shooting out of that hole and expected that was the falls.   It was not the case. 
We both wondered aloud what sort of rain event it would take to cause water to flow from that cave? 

**UPDATE** I got an email response from Tom Dunigan who agreed with me and Sharon that the photo taken prior to our visit shows water gushing from that now dry, round hole on the bluff.  He says there is a place down on the TN/AL line at Walls of Jericho where water gushes from a blow hole after heavy, recent rains.  I expect he's right that such a thing could cause water to flow from this hole. It would not go far seeing as how it would drain down into those two other cave mouths 20 feet out from it. 

       The slopes around it are rocky, boulder strewn and mossy.   Walking ferns and various lush green mosses grown on the rocks in the pit where Stinging Nettle Falls flows.  I expect in Summer the water dries up and stinging nettle plants make their own kind of cascade over the slopes, but right now we saw none of those nasty plants.  Brenda later told us that there is a stream in Alpine, TN one county over that is currently named Means Creek. Its former name was Nettle Carrier.  There was a Cherokee Indian named Chief Nettle Carrier!   One of the interesting features here was a hole in the rock that looked like the handle on a tea cup!   Trilliums, poppies, violets, toothwort, foam flower, ferns and other beautiful Spring wildflowers bloomed all around.

Stinging Nettle Falls
Wilder Mtn

View from the summit of Wilder Mountain along the rim of the gorge

     We went on down past Millard Filmore Cave and checked it out.  We found a couple pit caves with interesting rock forms caused by erosion.  Saw a sink hole and found the place where Bill's creek goes underground. It just peters out and stops flowing and seeps into the ground.   The area surrounding the cave was covered with green growth and wildflowers.  The trail is rutted, muddy, overgrown with briers in places and rough as a cob.   We loved it!

I was pleased to find prairie trillium blooming. It is my favorite trillium.

    Prairie trillium

  We were quickly losing daylight and turned and headed back up Bill's Creek trail to the truck.   The trees growing more stark the higher we climbed out of the holler.   The sun was setting and the angle of its golden rays striking the bare gray trees was strange and beautiful.  It looked like a gold-gray fog amidst the forest.  I photographed it, but the picture did not show how oddly beautiful it was.  Back up at the truck the sunset was beautiful.  Even then we could not quit and had to go flying down the road to see where it lead?!  It dead ended, but we had fun making sure!
Sunset on the Cumberland Plateau is like a benediction from Heaven.

     Sunset over the plateau

We found a shortcut thanks to my TomTom GPS who I call Babala. (Barbara as pronounced by Mr. Yakisota. The name of his  hot secretary) The trip home was ALOT shorter and quicker. Gurl done good! :-D   We were back at the cabin worn out and hongry.  I turned on the oven and got those chicken dinners cooking. I'd put mesquite seasoned chicken leg quarters with squash, potatoes and onions in there to roast.  We had a salad and drank some tea while we waited for those to get done.  I will remember to bring the slow cooker along next time since those things take forever!  They were delicious when they finally got cooked. 

     We met up with Sharon Saturday morning and took the wildflower tour of her property. What a lucky lady! She did good buying property alongside the beautiful Obey River. It is laden with wildflowers in Spring.  It would give the Smokies a run for their money.  We took  her back to see the waterfall we'd found the previous day.  There was no way I wasn't going to share that with my friends who had been hunting for it too.   She liked it alot and we got out and explored some other caves.   She knows how to take the party with her.  She's great.  We met some folks hunting morrels and got out and hunted some ourselves. Found a small mess.

   Brenda came over Saturday evening and we had appetizers and drinks.
We had plenty of time to sit around and visit and relax.  We put some steaks and baked potatoes on the grill.  Yum!  Sharon fixed hot bread and butter and steamed broccoli.  It started to rain so we ate in the shabin.  Kenny kept on making untoward remarks about the shabin til I thought maybe Brenda and I were going to be entertained watching a boxing match. He kept on picking.  ;^D  My money was on Sharon! LOL

     Finally we headed back to our own shabin because we were weary and wanted to rest up enough to have energy to play the next day. 

We're sophixstikated hillbillies. *hic*  See? All the elements one needs for a good time... red solo cup.. wine.. beer bottles with corks........ what else could you want?   This wine is excellent. It goes with anything from cornish game hen nestled in a bed of wild rice to a peanut butter and nanner sammidge.

      Sunday morning rolled round. We slept in a little and ate breakfast of orange rolls and fried morrels.  Kenny fixed them and they were great, but very rich!
I  just can't handle much fried food.     We packed stuff up so we would not have to double back for check out time.    We'd left the rhino over at Sharon's so we decided to go hiking today.   I knew something good was down Hoodtown Road and was determined to find out what.  We did find good things there, but that is for another trip!   Ed's people were from down in there!  Very cool.

        We climbed down in Rockcastle Gorge and found the falls, but needed a knotted rope or some gear to climb down safely.  It was so slick and muddy I thought Kenny was going to fall to his death. After that kayaking incident I was not as willing to do the Poorly Prepared Dayhiker thing. (Roger, I let you down)
I wanted to come back with a rope at least.  So we headed out of there and we're going back with a little better prep and a little more beta next time.   I got the scoop from Tom that we were on target.     I can hardly wait to return.

      We spent time with Brenda, Sharon, Melinda and Carson.  We met Sharon's kids and grandkids.   It was a nice Sunday and more fellowship with friends.
I look forward to more such trips and the warmth shared with them. John was missed as he had business to take care of in Las Vegas and home in Florida.
We had the kind of weekend we needed to replenish our souls with rest, fun, and lots of love from friends.

Down in the deeps of Rockcastle Gorge


  1. Great photos Dana! Enjoyed all the beautiful wildflowers.

  2. Thank you. It has been a particularly pretty Spring this year.

  3. I am going to be staying in Crossville April 10 - 14 and looking for some moderate hiking trails with good wildflower viewing. Have been to Smokes Wildflower Pilgrimage several time and want yo explore the Plateau for a change. Can you suggest trails. Where I'd this one posted snout here? THANK YOU Terri

  4. I was sent to this website while searching for information about my ancestors - Stephen Copeland and Chief Nettle Carrier. The son of Col. Copeland and the daughter of Nettle Carrier are evidently my ancestors. They lived on adjoining land and became hunting partners and friends. I would love to explore the area because it is the sight of the beginning of part of our family. This is such beautiful country and I would love to visit the area. I am so glad that you posted the photos. Dinah Daugherty

    1. Just now seeing this reply. I am glad you liked the blog entry.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.