Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fentress County Camping Trip--Blackhouse Mountain and Pickett State Forest

Fentress County Camping Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler 
Thu. Oct. 4-Sunday Oct. 7th, 2012

      We had planned to run away from home to the Cumberland Plateau for a weekend to ourselves.   We camped at Maple Hill Campground which is convenient to all we like to do in the area.   Once we arrived and got settled we headed out to explore.   

        We hiked down into Buffalo Cove and enjoyed the scenery.  We found one of the caves and I believe it is Stephens Cave.  We found another one I don't know the name of. We went in the one cave, but not the other.  The weather was perfect and we soaked up the sunshine and blue skies and breezes.     The goldenrod waved in the wind down in the cove and the smallest bit of Autumn color was starting to appear on the mountains.   

       We then went to Sharon & Johns to park the truck.  We wanted to ride the River Trail today.   I stood looking forlornly at the picnic table through the gate at Sharon's.  The place just isn't the same without the gang.   We then headed down the road on the Rhino in the afternoon sun.   A nice day for a ride.   We were soon met with the river trail's cobblestone surface and something we had not counted on.  WATER! Lots of water.  The trail was flooded. Higher water levels than last Autumn.  The water was clean out in the trail from the river.   Portions of the trail were several feet under water.   We figured we might make it to the first ford and across.  We did with me laughing like wild hyena. Wheezing and giggling all the while.   The water was swift enough it was pushing us down stream as we tried to ford.     We made it and instead of going along the river trail where we'd be encountering one ford after another we headed UP the bluff.  

       The trails were pretty up there, but we had no idea where we were going and the wind storms in the past months had us encountering many downed trees.   Some were able to be cut out of the way and some we worked a way around them.   We passed a huge cave up there that was fenced to prevent folks from falling into it.  It was a pit type cave at the base of a bluff and truly scary to me.   We rode through hemlock hollers and glens with streams pouring down and massive boulders.  I could tell we were on the hip of the mountain and no views would be possible from here.   Unless you can reach the bluff line you're just down in there to ride and not look or see much.  We had a nice ride, but no destination and limited time.  We had to turn around and head back to make it across that deep river before it got dark.   Going back across went better than we'd expected and the whole thing turned out to be a fun little adventure.  

Buffalo Cove
Below is a short, funny video of fording the deep river!

      We headed back to the camper very tired to eat dinner, rest and get ready for a full day of riding the next morning.   We had planned on riding the entire river trail the next day which was no longer an option due to the water levels.   We decided instead to go ride Blackhouse Mountain and Pickett instead.

   The following day we got an early start and headed up to Blackhouse Mountain to ride.
We'd never been here without our merry band of much more experienced friends who knew their way around.   Finding our way around today would be something of a challenge even with the GPS and all Dan's trails entered.   The day was cool and sunny and perfect for riding.  We'd had enough recent rain to keep the dust down.  The Autumn colors were really coming out in this area.  We were a little further north and at a higher elevation.  For a beautiful Autumn day we saw very few others parked to ride today.

Blackhouse Mountain Road, TN

     We found the first overlook which I think is called Wagon Gap Overlook.
It was beautiful.  Just rocky cliffs and forest in view for miles.  We watched a hawk soaring and screaming there.  We tried to find the mineral lake which resulted in a spell of very pretty, but aimless wandering.  We could see it on the GPS, but every trail we tried to descend to it was just ambling up and down instead of heading DOWN closer to it.
We encountered another couple in a RZR.  Kenny pulled over to ask them if they knew how to get to the lake?  They did and as we sat and gabbed they got to asking if we'd see Granny's Crack, this arch, that arch to which we replied NO!  They were Shannon & Ronnie Privet and very graciously offered to show us these special places.  What luck!
We went with them and had a grand time.   They are really nice and so much fun.

      We found the mineral lake with their help and it was just as pretty as the first time we saw it.  

Mineral Lake at Blackhouse Mtn.

     We followed them onward to another rock house and an arch which do not have names that I'm aware of.   The really sad part is that when we were here before we drove OVER THE TOP of the rock house and did not realize it was down there! 

Rock House

Arch near the rock house.**original photo lost--substituted one taken in Spring**

We continued on to Granny's Crack which was where they'd planned to cook lunch.
We stopped and rested. Ate lunch. Socialized. It was very relaxing and such a cool place!
The smoke from the fire puffed out through a crack in the top of the arch! It was really neat. 

Granny's Crack is another arch that is a combination rock house/arch/cave they showed us! Shannon & Ronnie built a fire and cooked hotdogs for lunch!

   We continued on after lunch and the trails were all kinds of muddy fun!  We were laughing and carrying on.  Ronnie went through one mud hole that I was just sure they'd get stuck in.  No getting stuck, but sopped with mud!  Poor Shannon really got the worst of it.  She'd tried to tell him she remembered that mud hole was just too deep and to go round it.  Too late!  The floor boards filled up with about six inches of murky, muddy water. So thick it clogged the drain holes!  They finally got the RZR drained and continued. She stopped later to rinse her feet and shoes off in a creek with clear water.


Shannon & Ronnie in the RZR ahead of us.

     We followed them onward through the prettiest hemlock forest that now had changed from bright golden Autumn to deepest green gloom.   It was beautiful.  We rounded a bend and there to one side was one of the biggest arches I've ever seen.  It was jaw dropping beautiful. It has no name we were aware of.  It is massive and very interesting in its formation.   It has a cave beneath it which we crawled into.  Ronnie says that sometimes it has a waterfall flowing down the sides of the cliff.  

We were intrigued and after a little picture taking climbed down into the pit. The next thing I knew I was entering a really fascinating cave. It had three passages near its start.  We could hear an underground stream just out of sight. I kept going and going, but I could not see the underground waterfall. It was just out of sight and I had a poor light with me.
I was determined to become a caver. I was determined to return and see this place again and explore it properly.   Rope. Lights. Helmet. Boots. Cave Woman Gear!

Just thinking about it drives me mad! I guess I've felt myself inching closer to this decision, but there have been others who were watching quietly and knew it was coming.  I was going over to what Alfred & Kristen call The Dark Side. My natural curiosity and thrill seeking have lead me to this.

Waterfall arch cave that Shannon and Ronnie showed us.

Inside the cave looking out. Very cool!

 We continued on completing a loop back to the big intersection on the trail system.
We were able to take Shannon & Ronnie to show them an overlook they'd not visited.
Storybook Cliffs.  The sun was sinking low and the air was cooling off.   We were running out of light, but no matter.  We took in the view and when we left we enjoyed a night ride!
It was great! I got to see all kinds of bats in the head lights swooping around. Some small. Some big!  I might as well get used to bats. I've got a feeling I'll be seeing more of them in the future.  Here's to great new friends who are a blessing and a joy!  I look forward to more fun with y'all.  Thanks for a lovely day and lots of laughs.  It was perfection!

Storybook Cliffs in the gloaming.


  1. Have you been to Buffalo Cove during spring wildflowers? Most spectacular display I've ever seen.

    1. No. I have not. I knew it was a good spot, but I will tell you that I probably will get over there in the future during Spring. I was inspired by someone else's photos and went over there last Spring. Awesome! I saw stuff I'd never seen before. Rare stuff. Lots of flowers and few people!


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