Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mingo Falls, Upper Mingo Falls & Juney Whank Falls Trip

It's Crimson Bee Balm season again!

Mingo Falls, Upper Mingo Falls & Juney Whank Falls Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Saturday June 16, 2012
Pictures are here:

Videos are here:
Upper Mingo Falls

     Kenny & I had talked about how long it had been since we visited Mingo Falls and Upper Mingo Falls.  We decided to re-visit some of the nice areas and waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park we had not been to in a long time.   Kenny did not get home from work until after ten o'clock p.m. on Friday night.  I had dinner ready which he ate wearily.   I sat and talked with him a little bit. We went to bed Friday night.  I was down hearted. I figured Saturday one of two things would happen 1. I'd be home 2.  I'd be out doing things alone again. Neither appealed to me.

    Saturday morning dawned. We slept in a little bit.  Kenny woke and was game to still go hiking.
We did not get the early start I'd liked to have gotten, but I was pleased to be going and to have my husband with me.   We tossed a few things in the jeep and off we went.   It was a pretty day to be out.  I had read the weather forecast which called for a "twenty percent chance of evening thunder storms."  I was unconcerned. Those were pretty good odds in my book.

      We made it over to Cherokee and decided to visit Mingo Falls first.  It is a huge waterfall towering 180 feet high.   It is a short walk up some steps to reach it so it is heavily visited.
Its usually best to get there very early to see this before the sun gets on it and before the tourons flood the area.  We'd had good luck the last time we were there and while there were lots of people everyone was considerate.  Today we had a gaggle of folks and a large portion of them were NOT considerate. They plowed and fell through the creek right in front of the falls making shooting video footage and taking photos a challenge to say the least.  I tried patience figuring eventually they'd tire and be done and get back out of the creek.  I could not outlast this bunch. Oh no. Not today.
Kenny finally said he felt it was time to give up and get going lest they learn of the trail to the upper falls or see us going and follow us.  He didn't have to tell me twice.

       We quickly hit the trail for the upper falls and motored up it fast as we could til we were decently out of sight.   We then stopped to notice how very overgrown the path has become. It has not been maintained in a long time. Evidenced by the large amounts of downfall over the trail and weeds and briers that have grown up in and around the path.  I remembered there being one hairy portion of the trail that I was not looking forward to, but it was not a real long section so I knew I'd be ok.   We had some nice views of the surrounding area at one point in our hike up.   It was hot on the sides of that mountain! It was steep going.  Lots of erosion and trails going off this way and that where folks had made short cuts over the years going around stuff that had fallen.  We followed some survey tape flagging and soon we knew we had to be close.  There was no more elevation to gain!  I knew something was not right.  The trail as it were just went a few feet more and stopped in the worst mess of downed trees and shrubby growth.   We had passed a side trail. Kenny said that Has to be it! We could hear the upper falls right below us so I agreed we'd have to try it.

     We started down this side path. The upper falls was visible below. We were coming out right at it.  It was a steep, slick descent over mud, over dry thick patches of fallen leaves, and loose slick dirt patches.   BIG steps down.   Not enough to hold onto.  One false move... and down you'd go to the bottom like a pig in barrell right to the bottom.  I protested more the whole time I was creeping down that dirt ditch that THIS IS NOT RIGHT!   Once at the bottom Kenny agreed something was off and he intended to figure what so we did not have to climb back up that.  I started taking photos while Kenny set off to see if he could figure what went wrong? He headed in the direction of the main falls and the drop.   I took some photos and video footage of Upper Falls. It was beautiful. No one here but us!  It was quiet, mossy and picturesque.  Worth the climb.  A few cascades above the main falls and one below.  Very attractive, but the cascades above were in dense rhododendron.    Soon Kenny came back saying he'd figured out where we went wrong.
He said I was correct that we had not done the hike this way before.  He found the right way so we could not have to climb back up the dirt ditch. I was glad of that, but going up would have been easier than coming down it!

        We a very short portion of the path at the top is level, shady and scenic. The rest goes out past the main 180 foot brink of the main falls.  It goes across a short rocky section that would be potentially deadly in rainy or icey weather.  There is a chain link fence at the bottom of this which is rolled up like an old sardine can.  Once past that it gets better. Not as steep, slick or treacherous, but rocky and overgrown still.  Hot and exposed out there on the slopes of the mountain.  I kept a sharp eye peeled for snakes which I was surprised not to see today.   We continued down and corrected our course and found where we went wrong. I feel someone made the new track because it avoids the rocky precipice near the rim. I can understand it, but it was no better to me.


Mingo Falls is 180 ft high

Upper Mingo Falls is about 25 ft high with cascades above and below it.

      We went by Bryson City to get some lunch and continue our day.  After a quick bite to eat we headed to the Deep Creek section of the Smokies.   We were going to hike to see Juney Whank Falls, Toms Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.  These make up the classic "Three Waterfall Dayhike".    We found that trying to find a parking spot at Deep Creek on a Saturday in Summer is like pulling teeth.
Covered up with tubers and tourists!   We circled the wagons til we found a spot.
We began our hike and in minutes were standing at Juney Whank Falls. It was prettier than I remembered!  Lots of water coming over the falls. A few hikers today, but not too many.  I was enjoying taking photos and video footage.
Kenny sat down to rest and the sleepies caught up with him.  He said we needed not to tarry since he was becoming very tired.  So we wrapped it up and headed down.  We hadn't taken two steps when we realized rain drops were falling.
It rapidly progressed from a few drops to an all out downpour!  It was fun since it had been a long time since I was caught out in a warm Summer rain storm with my love.  I couldn't help laughing at some of the people carrying on crying that it was raining! Throwing dirt in the air and bemoaning the rain when they were already wet from having been in the river!   We had to head home and I ended up driving most of the way.  Kenny played out.  He was far too sleepy to put up with anymore.   At least I got out with him some today.

Stopped by Mingus Mill on the way home.

Juney Whank Falls at Deep Creek

His mistake was sitting down! Zzzzzzz~~~

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flat Creek Falls Trip Report

Flat Creek Falls Trip Report

Dana Koogler solo hike/bushwhack
2 miles round trip approx.
Tuesday June 12, 2012

Pictures are here:

     I had been wanting to get back over to Balsam Mountain in the Smokies for awhile now.  I knew the purple fringed orchids had to be peak bloom.  All wildflowers and flowering shrubs are about a month ahead of schedule so I knew if I was going I better make smoke!
I was bound and determined to make it to the base of Flat Creek Falls this time.  A couple years back my friend Maggie and I hiked here. We had a wonderful day's outing, but did not make it to the base of the falls.  We were both disappointed.  I was especially disappointed since I had been before and felt I should be able to recall the way down.  It had been a decade since I went the first time with Kenny. We made it to the bottom then. 
     Flat Creek Falls is seldom visited because of its location.  It is in a part of the National Park that receives far less use than all the other areas.  It has a trail that takes you to the vicinity.  It has a manway that leads to the top of the falls.  After that you're on your own.
Guidebooks describe there being a view of it from the road in Winter. The waterfall guidebook for the park also says bluntly there is no way to the base.  It goes on to say that the track to the left is NOT A PATH!  And it is true and a good warning.  Heading downstream there is a track that continues and you can see where others have tried it. 
It is a rocky crevice and slick. Almost perpetually wet.  It does not lead to the base. Having tried that twice before I speak from experience. 

     I drove over to the trail head today and enjoyed the beauty of the scenery on my drive.
The Carolina rhododendron was in bloom along the main highway.  Saw lots of mountain laurel, flame azaleas, rosebay rhodo, catawba rhodos all blooming at once!  The day was clearing off and promised to be gorgeous.  I stopped along the main road once to take photos of a mass of columbines blooming there.  It was quite pretty.    I arrived at the trail and parked. Not a soul around.  I had the place to myself!

Foggy Day on the Blue Ridge Parkway but the mountain laurel and azaleas did not seem to mind!

Roadside lined with wild columbine blooms.

    The Flat Creek Falls Trail is beautiful and runs through a boreal forest high in the mountains.   It is always lush and green and very little used.  Today it had been freshly maintained and was extra nice. It smelled good enough to eat!  Citrusy smelling and clean of pines and damp earth.   The tread was soft under foot and most of the path is in deep gloom.  Mountain laurel bloomed along the path and here and there mushrooms could be seen springing up yellow, brown and orange.

Flat Creek Trail
Flat Creek Trail in the shadow with just a little sun coming through.

    I enjoyed the beauty and ease of hiking the trail while I could. The woods smelled so wonderfully fresh today.  The temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. Perfect hiking weather! Sunny skies.   Before I knew it I was on the manway portion of the hike. A grassy, overgrown snarl that is narrow and goes over fallen logs.  Last time here grass and briers were up over our knees!  Today was not as bad. At least I could see my feet most of the time.  I quickly came to the top of the falls.  Standing facing downstream there is something that appears to be a path, but it is not.  It is merely a rocky track where folks have tried to climb down only to be forced to turn around and perhaps struggle back up it.  It is always slick and dangerous.   I crossed the creek at a cascade. No path from now on. 

     Once across the stream I picked my way up higher in the drainage and wound through rhododendron, dog hobble, briers, over fallen logs, around boulders always heading downstream.   I got to a point where I knew I was past the initial drop of the falls and things opened up a little. The going was still slick, but not as bad.  I was able to see the first drop of the falls. I sat down on a rock to enjoy the view and rest.

Bushwhacking! No Trail!

First drop of Flat Creek Falls. You can see where it gets its name!

     I worked my way down gradually and from here it was actually not as bad.
Just being able to not have to swim through rhododendron was great!  I picked my way down the slope and got right over against the stream and took in the falls from as many different vantage points as I liked!  It is an impressive sight and I was pleased to have the place totally to myself!   I managed to make it to the base of the falls. I was so thrilled.  I had wondered if I'd ever stand there again. I savoured the spot.  I got right in the creek. I sat down and ate my lunch in the creek.  It was just absolute Nirvana to me.

Flat Creek Falls from the base.

   Beyond here the stream splintered into many smaller streams and widened out. It no longer had the benefit of the rocky channel to help turn it into a waterfall. It was running beneath boulders and down Bunches Bald.   I decided against trying to go further.  I figured it probably was not worth it.  I knew I had to save some energy to get my butt back up the mountain and out.  I finished my lunch. I filtered some water to replenish my supply and I began my ascent back out. 

     I had one brief Uh-Oh moment.  I was not lost.  I knew exactly where I was.
I just had to cipher how I was going to get from where I was back to where I needed to be.   I spent a few minutes in the rhodo trying to decide should I work my way back closer to the stream or go higher into the drainage?  Going higher meant traveling further and possibly still not making my traverse any easier.  Going lower meant a possibly shorter route and perhaps easier, but also more dangerous. Potentially more slippery. Potentially getting too close to the falls upper rim to be safe navigating around it.  I'd done that bit before at Big Falls and really didn't want to tempt fate.  I was having such a rough go in the brush that I decided to dance a little closer to the edge.  I'd risk the fall rather than the rhodo.
I finally decided since I was sweat soaked and drowned anyway.. I"d just GET IN THE CREEK!   Traveling off trail reduces you from miles per hour to hours per mile!

      The creek was filled with cascades. They were covered in dark green moss like carpet. This helped my travel considerably and I was tickled about my choice. Until I realized I did not recognize anything around me. I had missed the cascade I came down to to start.  Ok so I'm not lost. I'm still standing in Flat Creek in the Smokies.  The trail is here I just have to find it.  I swallowed down that feeling of panic and looked around.  The stream goes down the mountain. I need to go UP the mountain so follow the stream. The trail will be along the stream on my right.
I went a few steps more and saw above me a level area. I just climbed out of the creek and went up the bank to the grassy, overgrown manway.  I was never more tickled to see that tall, snakey grass and briers. Oh well, a little trail confusion is part of it.  I sat down and rested and mopped the sweat away.  Halleluyer! I was going to be ok.



Trail Confusion will make your head spin!

      I  got back to the jeep and was tickled to change clothes.  A van was parked there. A man got out and started messing with his camera and hiking stuff in the back of it.    I put my stuff away.  Got out my dry clothes. Kept an eye on him. He wisely and politely averted his gaze while I changed. I opened both jeep doors and stood between them to shuck off the wet and muddy in favor of the clean and dry and comfortable.  I had leaves and sticks stuck in my hair and to my body.
I just wore that the rest of the day. It really scares people and how often do I really get to rock that look? Not often enough!  I was covered in black mud smudged on my face and legs. My nails were caked in black mud though I had washed my hands in the creek before coming back.  A woman's gotta eat a peck of dirt before she dies anyway. 

    I set to work photographing purple fringed orchids which were found all along the Heintooga Road!   I just left the vehicle there and set out on foot walking with only my camera and keys. 

Purple Fringed Orchid with bumblebee.

    The orchids were peak bloom and I saw lots of them.  I'd say about 200 total today.   They were growing on both sides of the road. More than I'd seen in previous years!  I saw a few people pass by in cars, but not many.  The guy in the van left to parts unknown.  No one bothered me.  I was free as a bird.   I decided to drive the Straight Fork Road today to see if the wildflowers were pretty along it?
I did see one more purple fringed orchid, but that was it.  The road had partial views, deep gloom, and I only saw three vehicles on it total from start to finish.
I saw lots of bright red fire pinks, bold yellow primroses, orange and yellow flame azaleas, milkweed, mountain laurel in white and pink, rosebay rhododendron, and deep blue spiderwort.     I passed by the trail head for CS 42.  Now that is a place to go! It is so high up there that if you go up there with the right person and you can see God! How do I know this?  I've done it. 

      I listened to some great tunes on my iPod and listened to the quiet. I took in the sights all along the lonely road.  I confirmed that there IS a waterfall coming off Ledge Bald. It's a nice one too! Perhaps sometime I'll get back to visit that and photograph it.  I was running out of steam and had a long drive home yet.  I saw a turkey hen and her brood of chicks.  I saw a ruffed grouse. I saw a downy woodpecker. I also saw an elk in full velvet!  

Deep gloom of Straight Fork Road at middday.

One open vantage point along Straight Fork.. the Heintooga Overlook.

I had seen both main things I came to see. The falls. The purple orchids.
And so much more! I soaked up enough beauty & peace to hold me for awhile.
I drove my weary self home and slept like the dead.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rock Creek Falls Hike

Rosebay Rhododendron is in bloom now in the Smokies!  Rhododendron maximum  Ericaceae  GSMNP

Rosebay Rhododendrons were the flower of the hour.

Rock Creek Falls Hike

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Obey the Pup
Monday May 28, 2012

2 miles Round trip

     I had worked all weekend and the rest of the family was in Charlotte,NC at the big NASCAR race.   I had little sleep and no fun at all for Memorial Day weekend.  I had been struggling with caring for the dog solo. Temperatures during the day were soaring to more than ninety-five degrees.
I was beyond frazzled by the time Monday afternoon rolled around. Both me and the dog needed to get away from this house!    I told Kenny I didn't care how tired he was when he came home....... that we were all going to the Ocoee to hike.  He agreed.

      We loaded up ourselves, our stuff and the dog. It was a gloriously clear, sunshiny day.
We took the top off the jeep and cruised down to the Ocoee River.   It was the first ride in the jeep for the year with the top off.  We grabbed some lunch and fed the dog and continued.  We arrived at Parksville Lake and there were tons of people, but not that many were hiking. Most were swimming or boating.   I bet we'd see at least one snake today.

      We started up the trail and let Obey be off the leash.  It was a hot hike, but not that bad as we were in the shade the entire time and the woods were at least ten degrees cooler.  The hike is not a very long one. It has some uphill to it, but not a alot and was a moderate hike.   The woods were so pretty and the paths were lined with lots of rosebay rhododendron.  Ferns were also abundant.  The flame azalea was already done for the season.  Despite the ample rain we'd had in Blount County where we live the Ocoee was rather dry. The creek had a so so amount of water, but it was clear that going upstream bushwhacking to hunt for other falls was not going to be worth it.   The creek crossings were easy rock hops today.  Winter time makes them wet foot wades up to the knees!

     We arrived at the the first falls and climbed down the rocky bank to see Lower Rock Creek Falls.  It was pretty today and the swimming hole looked nice. 

Lower Rock Creek Falls, TN

Upper Rock Creek Falls  Ocoee, TN
Upper Rock Creek Falls

Kenny on the trail heading back.**Photo lost**
A little blue sky showing above the falls
Beautiful blue sky with puffy clouds!

       We enjoyed the hike and the falls and then headed back to the jeep.  We were tired but happy and a short hike as a family was good for us all. Obey was worn out and slept almost the whole way home. Only waking up enough to gnaw big frayed areas in my seat belt!  Dang dog!  I'll have to replace it. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Going Home to Virginia

Columbine growing by Nana's water garden

Going Home to Virginia

Dana & Kenny Koogler
May 12 through May 20, 2012
Pictures are here:

    Mamaw Sadie passed away recently and it necessitated a return trip to Virginia.
Kenny & I and our kids were all born and raised in Virginia. 
The majority of our family is still there.

It was a time of grief, loss, comfort, answers, soothing, and just felt so good
to be home.   We recognize the changes that have come and are coming and want to
savor the times we are there.   Rural Virginia where we hail from has a different quality from anywhere else.  Virginia has been the birthplace of so much history from the beginning of our nation.  It changes a person if they'll let it. The pace is slower there.

    The place where we lived is an Ag-Forestal district meaning no development except homes, farms and woods.  The roadsides there are not trimmed like they are here in Tennessee. Rather the hayfields just overflow and run out into the ditches and stay that way until maybe the state highway department will mow them.  Fields of waving, feathery green grasses and leafy woods.  Old brick homes that have stood for decades, some for centuries that folks have fixed up and are living in.
I miss this when I am in Tennessee.

     Rather than try to explain it or write alot I'm just going to post some photos with captions of the highlights.  Love our parents and all our kin. Love our Mother State.........Virginia. The Old Dominion.  You don't ever stop loving your mother.

Our farm straddles the boundary between Augusta and Rockbridge counties.  It lies within sight of Jump Mountain.
Fence building at Ma's house. The Koogler Farm.
Spring fed farm pond full of fish, turtles and frogs. Built by my father-in-law, Elmer O. Koogler more than 50 years ago.
My husband Kenny and brother-in-law, James down at the pond.   Good times!
I learned about 15 years ago that if I hiked our farm back towards RR 252 that I could come down the bluff to Moffatt's Creek and wade the stream up to this waterfall. It is also accessible by road, but what fun is that?
Gingerbread Grist Mill near the cascade on Moffatt's Creek.
Roadside spring about 0.25 miles down from the farm as the crow flies.

Where we lived don't have a name on the map, but I finally figured out that the Rockbridge County folks consider that area by its name on the road atlas "Zack".

    I don't stop hiking or exploring just because I'm out there on the farm.
There are some good hiking & recreation opportunities not far away. 
My sister lives out at Rockbridge Baths just before you head into Goshen Pass.
I got restless one day and went out there.
Goshen Pass
Waterfall on Laurel Run. I went hiking and four-wheeling here.  I had suspected there was a waterfall on this creek and there sure enough was.  I also saw three cavemen here. I ain't lyin. I was so spooked and angry at having forgotten the weirdness of Rockbridge County that I failed to take photos of them. 
I went to my nephew Cody's little league game in Spottswood. The whole family was there.
My niece Lily seemed to think it was less of a ball game and more a wrasslin' match.
Wade's Mill is still functioning as a grist mill and gourmet shop. It's about 6 miles from the house. You know you're living in a Ree-MOTE area when the highlight of your day is a trip to the mill!
Mom's house. She's living in Grandma Edna's and Grandaddy's house.
Mom's peony garden.
Dad & Irene's house and the water garden.
My Daddy. Ok so now you know where I get the tude & the craziness.
  Me wading the creek at Laurel Run. Somethings never change!