Monday, September 24, 2012

Cumberland Plateau Day of Exploration--Nemo Bridge and Tunnel and Mill Creek Falls

Day of Exploring the Cumberland Plateau
Dana & Kenny Koogler 
Sat. Sept. 22, 2012

Pictures are here beginning with frame 290.

    Kenny & I woke up on Saturday and neither of us was interested in doing what we'd planned.  We'd planned on taking the kayaks and heading back to do some off trail exploring in the Smokies.   It just didn't sound fun for some reason today.  We opted instead to pack a picnic and load up and go for a day of "Wandering like the Hebrew Children in the Wilderness".  So off we went in the direction of Morgan County.

    We found the abandoned railroad tunnel at Nemo Bridge and drove through it.
It was awesomely fun and spooky.  The current, modern tunnel and tracks are still in use and right by the old ones.    The old tunnel is flooded most of the way and was filled with 2 or 3 feet of water.   I'd say its about 1/2 mile long.  It took longer to drive through it the first time because we were being careful. We did not know what the floor of the flooded parts would be like as far as objects, holes, and risk of popping a tire.  The water was up to the running boards at times!  We stopped in the middle and turned off the lights and experienced total darkness.  It was a neat experience. We spent some time just four-wheeling and seeing where we could get that jeep to go on those old 4x4 trails.

Abandoned Nemo Railroad tunnel

Here is a video of what it was like driving through the tunnel. Other than being there yourself this is the best way to experience it.

     We headed to the Nemo Bridge Picnic area and ate lunch and relaxed.  It was a perfect day. Sunny and blue skies with puffy clouds. Cool temperatures.  The leaves on the trees just beginning to change colors and float down.  We saw very few people at the picnic area.   Once we finished lunch we strolled over to the river to check out the swimming hole and rope swings and to walk on the old bridge to enjoy the views of the river from there.    It is a rusty old structure with lots of character constructed in 1929 and still standing.  A steel works in Greenville, SC put it together!   The view of the Emory River from the deck of the old bridge span was   amazing.  It flowed by deep and green with ripples of white in the distance.  Bright yellow patches of flowers could be seen along the river banks.   Too cool for swimming today.  Kenny pointed out that it did not take much of a dip in the temperatures for folks to lose interest in swimming.

View of the Emory River from Nemo Bridge.

Nemo Bridge has been replaced by a modern concrete structure, but the old bridge still stands for foot traffic.

Swimming Hole with no one interested in swimming today.  We'll bring a picnic back and go swimming next season Lord willing.

     We headed out to hunt up some of the many fire towers in the general area.  We had a falling out with " Babala"  my erratic TomTom system.  She was supposed to be leading us to the Catoosa Fire Tower about 21 miles away from the Nemo Bridge.  All was going according to plan until we refused to turn into someone's drive way at their trailer.
So instead of being 15 miles away we were now told it was 40 miles away!
I had a few choice words for her and switched to plan B.   I entered the coordinates for Mill Creek Falls changing the game on Ole Girl.  We'd hunted for it before unsuccessfully and according to the GPS it was only 11 miles from our current position.  IF you can believe anything you're told at this point.   We opted for attempt #2 at finding Mill Creek Falls.    I did get to see some New York Asters along the Catoosa Road because of our wandering.


New York Asters and a beautiful butterfly. Some of my favorite Fall flowers!

     We headed back through Morgan County and things began to look familiar to me.
The drive was gorgeous the whole way.    I remember us passing a sign for Ruppe Road and saying  we were getting close!  Kenny started recalling things too and we pulled up at this house we'd been at before on our last try at finding Mill Creek Falls.   I had gone up and knocked on the doors both back and front without any luck. No one home.
I knocked on the front door this time and a man answered. I introduced myself and told him we were interested in viewing the falls and would that be OK?  He was agreeable and told us how to get to the falls either to either the base or the top.  I thanked him and we headed out along the creek.   I met his grandsons there on the porch with him and they were both very nice high school fellows.

    We quickly arrived at the base of the thirty foot high Mill Creek Falls. What a place!
It was on a beautiful stream with a pretty rock outcrop and cliffs on the sides. What a great swimming hole it looked like.  It appeared deep and blue green.   Black alder bushes grew around the rim of the pool.   We hugged each other in congratulations at having finally found it!  

Mill Creek Falls is beautiful but is on private property. Ask permission of the landowner before visiting and please do not litter. 

     We spoke again with Jack's grandsons Isaac and Jared on the way back out.  They were heading up to the falls to visit.   We stopped back at the house and visited for a short time with Jack and I introduced Kenny to him.   What a pleasant fellow!  He knew all sorts of interesting history about the area!

     We headed out toward home.  Morgan County........ is one of those places you frequently encounter "You cain't git thar from hyere." and getting IN to the county is easier than getting OUT of the county.   If I'm lyin' I'm dyin.   We had the GPS take us some snarled up way out of that place and the sight of masses of kudzu draped cliffs, railroad tracks, bridges above us............ that looks like a main road........ but why can't we get to it?   We passed through Camp Austin and Babala wanted us to take the cut through 4x4 road through Camp Austin today to get home!  I loved that old road, but today I did not have time for this so we turned it down.

        We finally just went on letting the GPS lead the way as long as she avoided dirt tracks.  I guessed we'd emerge somewhere along Hwy 70 in Roane County.  Eventually we did come out in Harriman in a residential area in the middle of a funeral procession!
We extricated ourselves from that mess and Kenny suggested he knew a good place for a view and a fire tower into the deal!  He said he'd take me there for an icecream cone as a snack at McDonald's.  So that's what we did.

        We drove down to Rockwood and Mt. Roosevelt after our snack break at McDonald's.    He had been wanting me to see this spot anyway for a couple reasons.
One was that he had put up a cell tower there and a communications building on the site.
Another reason was that a friend of ours took us up onto a mountain top with a fire tower and a view years earlier.  Yet he did not think this was the same place. He was correct!
It was a different spot.  Mt. Roosevelt is a low mountain above Rockwood with Hwy 27 at its base and I-40 above it.  We both recalled the fire tower being in a different spot and in far worse shape than this one with lots more litter.    The view was spectacular today and the city or someone has put three or four picnic tables up there for public enjoyment.
The fire tower is in bad shape with about six steps missing along its entire climb to the cab.  Someone or something has set fire to the steps and they are burned badly.  The cab has a gaping hole in it and one of the decks on the climb up is missing a section.  The fence around it has been cut real bad.  Graffitti is painted on some of the structures.

    We found that there is a residence behind a fence up there on the mountain right behind the fire tower!  Old junked cars and trash make it not too hospitable when peeping back through the fence at the home.  Not a place I'd want to linger.

Mt. Roosevelt Fire Tower

View from Mt. Roosevelt

I found a piece of gnarly X-rated info spray painted on one of the fire tower stanchions.   I do hate graffitti
tags, but especially the explicit kind.  Those of you who feel the need to leave your mark on the world with graffitti are University of Iggnunce Grads. You are far less important than you think. Always remember..
Nature is supremely indifferent to whether we live or die.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness Hike

Blazing Star growing along the trail.

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness Hike

Dana Koogler solo

Hike distance 5 mi. RT

(Out & back to Laurel Falls)

Pictures are here:

Videos are here: 

Lower Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

Paine Creek Falls
(To see Paine Creek Falls see notes at bottom of page)

    I got up Thursday early and drove down to Dayton to hike. I'd been wanting
to hike Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness again.   Kenny and I hiked it about eight years earlier and it was real nice.  I don't recall everything about that trip, but I remember thinking I'd like to do it over when we'd had plenty of rain.   Today was my chance.  We got five inches of rain over the weekend with it finally drying up Wednesday.   I figured the crossing to Snow Falls would be a bust and it was.  The guide book warns that reaching Snow Falls at the far end of the hike is a wet foot crossing and that during times of heavy rain fall the creek is impassable.  Long way to hike only to have to turn around.    I contented myself with the idea of hiking the parts of the gorge that should be accessible this trip.  I was far from disappointed.

      The drive to Dayton is long at around 93 miles for me.   I got an early start, but after the drive I still did not get on the trail until 10 a.m.   Finding the wilderness itself was a challenge even with the tom tom to assist me.  I missed the turn, but realized it almost immediately and simply turned around.  I checked my directions and sure enough I was correct.  I need to update my tomtom as it seems to be on the fritz about half the time.    I had no recall of the road into the pocket wilderness.  I was not even sure I was at the right place.   It is worth mentioning that all the trash that had been in the woods at the parking area was now gone! That much I do remember.   I had called Bowater and the Tennessee Dept. of Natural Resources because folks were using the land as a dumping ground for old appliances,  household garbage, old furniture, you name it.   All of that is now cleaned up! The parking area is very tidy and improved.   

    I had not gone out of sight of the parking area when I heard a loud roaring to my right.  The creek to my left was raging, but even over that I could tell there was something off the trail to my right.  I recalled seeing that there was supposed to be a ten foot waterfall near the start of the trail.  I walked off the trail and went up the bank and followed the track others had trod.  Among room sized boulders, trees and logs was a beautiful waterfall about twenty-five feet  high. It was raging and from the point where I stood it flowed down the hill and formed a series of beautiful cascades.   The stream's flow split into about three parts among the rocks and gushed forth powerfully. 


Paine Creek Falls

    I continued on enjoying the view of the rushing stream to my left and the old stone structures from the mines to my right.  It was not long until I was flanked on the right by towering stone cliffs.  I passed the mine entrance and had to go in to see it.    It was dripping with water back there today.

Looking out of the mine.

One of many clusters of boulders and rapids along the stream.

      I saw only half dozen people on my hike in.  All of them were just day hiking.
I was surprised how quickly I arrived at the intersection where the trail continues straight up a short distance to the old Dayton Reservoir and the main trail veers sharply right and uphill.    I had visited the reservoir the last time so today I opted to stay on the main trail.
I saw a few blown down trees that were nearly all cleaned up and moved.  The trail was high above the stream now and provided good views of the bluffs on the far side of the gorge.  I got a good look at Buzzard Point complete with soaring, gliding buzzards!
I'll hike there next trip.

Buzzard Point viewed from the main trail.

  The trail up high continued for a short spell and soon I was rounding the bend where the forest changed character.   The air was cooler and the trail dropped to a lower level. The forest here was a healthy hemlock gorge.  I arrived at the first metal bridge over a stream.
All around me was verdant, lush and green with rushing white ribbons of water passing beneath the bridge.   Ahead on Laurel Creek I could see one cascade after another.
Just across the bridge the trail splits and goes right for Laurel Falls and left for Snow Falls.
I headed right and soon came to this spot where I had lunch. 

Lunch spot by some massive boulders and a lovely cascade on Laurel Creek.

    I followed the trail only a short distance until I arrived at Lower Laurel Falls.
It is a very pretty ten foot tall cascade on Laurel Creek.   The trail then continues
uphill.   I had to crawl through a hole in some boulders to keep going. That is how the trail is routed here. Makes it interesting.

Lower Laurel Falls

     I followed the trail uphill on some easy switchbacks.  I did not recall going this way before, but the blazes were consistent and I had no trouble finding my way.   I noticed lots of colorful Autumn wildflowers along the path.  Red hearts-a-bursting. Pale purple & white asters.  Golden asters. Goldenrod.  Pink Blazing stars.  I saw lots of bees, butterflies, and dragonflies today as well.   The stream was to my right now and filled with numerous cascades and small falls.  The terrain was treacherous and I was alone so I did not explore the gorge the way I would had I been with Kenny.   Instead I continued until
I glimpsed the top of eighty foot high Laurel Falls. I could hear it well before I could see it.
It was a raging cataract today and extremely impressive!   The spray from the falls had everything slick so I had to use caution getting close to the base.  I finally ended up
coming around to the far side of the falls to get the best photos and video footage without being drenched in mist.   The sun shining down through the spray was so pretty.  The wind was gusting. Above me against the high cliffs was another wet weather falls that was about sixty feet high.    I sat and soaked in the beauty and glory of this place today.
I was glad I had the chance to see it and I hope to be able to bring Kenny back to enjoy it.
When we were here before one thing I do recall is that it was nowhere near this much water coming over the falls.

Laurel Falls from the side.

    I can hardly wait to come back here to do some more exploring.
I eased on back toward the trail head. I encountered more people on my way out.
Most of them were kayakers!  It occurred to me that I wondered if anyone ever died kayaking Morgan Creek?   American Whitewater's statistics say no, but there have been numerous close calls.   Morgan Creek is one of the steepest streams in the area and descends the entire plateau in minutes.  Much of it is what they deem un-runnable and mandatory portages.  When extreme creek kayakers say something is un-runnable it gets my attention.   The North Pole run begins on the other side of the gorge at Snow Falls and continues down. I don't know what they consider the takeout point.

     I had a hankering to visit a fire tower today and managed to find one nearby.
I visited the attractive Summer City Fire Tower and what a day for views!

Summer City Fire Tower is accessible to the public, but the cab is locked.

View from the Summer City Fire Tower

Here is a link to a few photos from Summer City and other fire towers.

    I have a link posted up top to several really good videos of waterfalls from the day's outing.  I ended my day by hunting for Morphy Falls.  It was supposed to be in the area nearby.  I did find it, but was dismayed to find it was on private property.  I had pulled down into a lane and was hunting for a wide enough place to turn around safely.  I looked up and there it was right before me at the end of the road.  I figured no harm in snapping a few photos and a short video clip.  It was not a super great waterfall, but I was pleased to get to see it.   

     It was a fun day and I was tickled at having seen so many pretty and new sights.
I was also happy to get to practice using the GPS to successfully locate neat things!

**Paine Creek Falls and other beautiful waterfalls are on a side canyon where Paine Creek enters the Laurel Falls gorge from the right heading in.  You will have barely left the parking area before you encounter a side stream on the right. That is it.  There is no official trail to visit these falls, but it is possible to bushwhack/ creek crawl up there to see a series of falls. **

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Barnett Knob Fire Tower Hike

Barnett Knob Fire Tower Hike

Dana Koogler solo

Monday Sept. 10, 2012

Pictures are here starting with frame 37
Barnett Knob Pix

   I  was in serious need of some time outdoors so I planned on Monday to get out and hike to see the Barnett Knob Fire Tower.  I 
also planned to enjoy the views and Fall wildflowers and lunch at Balsam Mountain Picnic area.  I would then head back to Smokemont
and hike to Chasteen Creek Cascade.  A good days outing, but nothing
too extreme.   

     The day was gorgeously clear with temperatures in the sixties in the higher elevations.   I was blessed with sunshine, fresh air, and grand stand views.    Traffic was not too bad on a random Monday.

      I quickly found the turn off road for Barnett Fire Tower.
I parked and grabbed my gear and headed up there.  It was an easy hike and simple to find.    The fire tower was still standing including the old watchman's cabin.    I went inside the cabin and prowled around.  The tower was manned and used until 2004 according to Peter Barr's book.    It was the most modern watchman's cabin I'd ever seen.   Cowee Bald Tower is also very modern, but this one during the time it was used would have been the one to get my vote for "Most Comforts of Home".   Watchman's Cabin at Barnett Knob Tower

Watchman's Cabin at Barnett Knob--I found it still standing & unlocked.

Barnett Knob Tower

   I climbed up in the tower itself and enjoyed the views.  I'd picked the perfect day for this sort of trip.  It was very clear and the air smelled great.  It was cooling off and I could sense the gradual approach of Fall.    I could see the Smoky Mountains, the Plott Balsams, Mt. Noble and its tower in the distance.   I could see the privy down below. I had not been able to see it until I climbed up. 

My favorite view from Barnett Knob Tower taken from between the legs. I found the cab pad locked.  Looks as though it is still being used to gather weather info.

     I found a heater on in the cabin and it was cherry red hot.    It was in the ceiling of the bathroom.   I found a switch and tried to turn it off. Eventually it did go cold, but I
could not tell if the switch turned it off or if it was set to cycle?  I wrote to Peter Barr about it to see if he had any answers.  Hot as it was I'd feared it would burn down the hut!  I am waiting to see if I hear from him.

      I hiked back down to the jeep and proceeded out to Balsam Mountain.
The drive along the parkway was great.   My thermometer registered 59 degrees by the time I stopped for lunch.  I enjoyed the goldenrod, gentian, asters and other flowers along the way.  I began to feel poorly so I stopped to eat and rest.   I've been struggling with an illness that has made its way through my family for a month now.   I'd wakened feeling pretty good and believed I might finally be over it.   Now the fever, chills, body aches and cough returned full force.   Ever the stubborn mule that I am.. I was not going to be so easily outdone.  I popped a couple tylenol tabs, ate lunch, took some deep breaths, and rested.   I figured "Shoot! I'll get this temperature and chills beat back and ride on out to Smokemont. I'll certainly feel like hiking once I get there."  That is what I told myself.

      I headed to Smokemont and continued to tell myself I was fine.
I got out my hiking guide for a quick glance at the directions to Chasteen Creek Cascade.
I'd hiked to this falls before and found it very easy.    I sat there looking at the directions and the reality of my situation confronted me.  I was SICK.  Really sick. It was not going away. I was getting worse.    It was going to take everything I had to drive home. No one was there to call to come meet me.  I had to fix this myself.   I backed out of there and began heading home.  The drive seemed like it took forever because of the misery I was in.    I finally made it and boy was I pleased to be home.

       I started some antibiotics right away and went back and forth from the bed to the couch.    My day didn't go as planned, but I got out for a little bit.   I'm feeling better today.   The chills, fever, body aches and cough are gone.   Thank the Lord for that!

Mile  High Overlook Balsam Mtn Road  GSMNP NC  6/17/07
View from Mile High Overlook

Below is a short video of climbing the fire tower.