Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ride Royal Blue Camping & Four-Wheeling Trip --Day 1

Pink Lady Slipper on Lost Ridge Trail 

Ride Royal Blue Camping Trip
Day 1
Dana & Kenny Koogler

May 17-19th, 2013

Pictures are here starting with frame 162
Ride Royal Blue Pix

Videos Here:
Meadow Branch Twin Falls

Rock Creek Falls

    I had been planning a backpacking trip with a friend, but I came up against unexpected
gear issues.  I went to Dick's Sporting Goods to purchase a replacement core for my water filter and new backpack.  I found that they had little to pick from in the way of overnight packs.  They have gotten to where they cater to the runners and fitness buffs instead of outdoors enthusiasts.  They sell an extremely limited selection of water filters and NONE of the replacement cores for them.  They were even less interested in helping me.  It is just as well because the guy not only did not want to help me, but was not competent to answer the questions I was asking.  I was told Dick's Sporting Goods hired people who knew this stuff to work the departments. I did not find that today. I went home and purchased all my things online.  The problem then became not knowing if the needed things would arrive in time for my trip?  I went ahead and phoned Cathy and asked if she minded re-scheduling our trip until I was certain I had everything lined up? She was gracious about it and it worked out well since she had a last minute Childrens Church to do on Sunday.  

       I talked to Kenny about what we'd do with our weekend?  He had worked several weekends so I had no problem convincing him to take a Friday off and go do something fun with me.   The weather forecast was looking dismal. Rainy all weekend was they predicted for our area.   We had long discussed taking a camping trip to Ride Royal Blue Resort, and yet kept putting it off.   We agreed now was the time to go.  We'd take the camper.  We had just gotten it back freshly repaired from a roof leak. I had missed it.
It would be the best and most fun way to enjoy a rainy weekend.  Camping in our little
home away from home and four-wheeling.   I had needed a Do Over for Tackett Creek anyway after that last episode.   Redemption Weekend was what I was looking for.


The "Battle Star Gallatica". This photo was actually taken upon returning home nice and muddy!

Inside the camper. Nice and warm and dry on a rainy weekend.

      We packed and headed out early Friday morning. I was surprised how fast
we arrived. It is only  65 miles from the house.  We set up the camper and got ready to ride.  We had planned to ride Royal Blue trails Friday and Sunday. We would ride 
Tackett Creek on Saturday and avoid the crowds at Royal Blue. They were planning a charity ride and hundreds of people were to attend.   The cool thing about this campground is that the trail system starts at the back of it!   We had never been to this area. We always came in from Flatwoods Rd down at the Huntsville exit.  Stinking Creek is the name of the area with Pioneer being across the interstate and Elk Valley on out the road to the north.  The best thing about this campground was convenience.  Easy access & they were very laid back. They let us check in early and check out late! That point alone wins points with me toward a return trip. 
Drawbacks to the campground were:
  • a bit pricey $38 plus per night for a campsite.
  • no trees for shade at all. You are camping on a gravel lot.
  • noise. We like to ride, but we also want to be reasonably quiet when we are trying to sleep or watch TV.
  • the water here is horrible. They don't call the area Stinking Creek for nothing. The water seems to contain iron and sulfur both. They sell filtered water for $1 a gallon at the store. It is the same water.. just run through a filter and it is only marginally better after filtration.  Bathing in it is not much better. 
  • The website does not give you the option to choose a campsite
  • No dump station .  You either have to hope for full hookups or hope that one of the full hookup sites is available to pull through to empty the holding tanks on the camper.

    We had a good time and made the best of it. I am not saying we will never be back there, but if we do we will bring plenty of bottled water, fill the reservoir with fresh water from home, and book reservations through a person ensuring full hookups instead of doing it online.

    The first day of riding we got a free updated map from the general store at Ride Royal Blue.   We had our colored topo map of Royal Blue and the surrounding area.  We compared the two and they have added so many new trails that we were amazed.  I checked the maps available in the local stores and they are the same out of date ones we had.  Don't spend money on them to get an update yet.  We would have been in rough shape without the new map.  We headed out the back of the campground and had not gone any distance when I spotted a yellow lady slipper up on the bank! 
Single yellow lady slipper

   We liked Trail 27 coming up from the campground. It is very pretty.  We decided we'd go round to see the Meadow Branch Twin Falls and the pink lady slippers in that area.
We also wanted to head way out to the far north end to ride some trails we had never explored.  I learned of a new waterfall out that way and had the waypoints to it. 

Meadow Branch Twin Falls

Saw lots and lots of Pink Lady Slippers

    We had two other goals in mind today which was to visit the new waterfall we'd learned of way out there on the far side of Royal Blue.  The route we selected took us out a trail that was supposed to be for an overlook or "Scenic view".   We had never been on this trail and were eager to learn if it was a good one.  It was very pretty. We did find a couple decent views along it.  Tulip poplar bloomed along the trail and drooped right down IN the trail in places. 
One of the views. It was real pretty.Out over the misty Cumberland Mountains.

Tulip poplar bloom up close. Such a cool looking, neon flower!

   We crept around trail sections that were like a real rollercoaster without any safety features!  Out on the edge and precipitous drop off to one side.  We came up through the weeds, brush and brambles to the back side of the elk viewing platform on Hatfield Knob.  We've been there a couple times before and hiked all around that meadow. Today we did not bother with it.  We were waterfall bound!  We had waypoints leading us, but there were still decisions to make as to how to approach.  We did great except for one wrong turn. We encountered a gated section across private property and had to backtrack.
The second way we tried was the correct one and we found ourselves crossing a nice stream of water and coming out on what the GPS said was Rock Creek Lane.  We were getting close!  We passed a few houses.  All were small and some looked like weekend dwellings. "Shabins" where people stay part of the time.  We only saw five houses in all.
We were way out here in the depths of Campbell County.  
Rock Creek Falls is right by the dirt road and about 20 ft high. It is real pretty.

We soon noticed a shady pullout along the dirt road and glimpsed the falls down there!
We stopped for a break and to check out this nice spot. We turned around and tried to find a different way back , but after speaking to a fellow out in his yard realized the gated road we passed was the short cut we hoped for. We couldn't go back that way so we had to backtrack.

    I was growing very bored and restless after all this riding. My stomach felt gross too.
Kenny suggested I drive awhile and see if that helped? It did help with the motion sickness and soon I was having fun again.  I still prefer hiking but four-wheeling and splashing through mud is great fun.  Ripping up dirt roads and carrying on is good for the soul!
I surprised myself that I remembered as much about the area as I did.  We went back down toward Hickory Creek and visited what the map calls "Barley Falls".   It was running good today but not very pretty. Murky and muddy. 
Barley Falls aka Hickory Creek Falls. Looks terrible today. Here is how it looked the first time we visited it.

Nice pretty blue hole of water

   We decided then to try to locate Small Hollow Falls. It was not much further by the waypoints, but we did not find a waterfall there.  It was a piddly stream.  Maybe we'll hunt for it again sometime.  We had a long way to go back so we began to make our way back in the direction of the campground.

     I had wanted to ride a ridgetop trail we took before #10 to see if we could find any yellow lady slippers. I had seen them there in the past.  They were not blooming there, but it sure was a pretty ride way up there in the forest with partial views down below. We turned onto another trail and kept looking for another place we'd seen yellow lady slippers.
We did not have to go far until the second location panned out! There they were up on the slope!  Some of the lady slippers were past peak bloom and one was totally dried up.
The others were quite pretty!  I saw nine plants in all. 

Yellow Lady Slipper in peak bloom

    We were both growing tired and getting hungry. I had a roast beef with carrots and potatoes and all the fixings back in the camper.  We headed that way and tried to make the best time.  The trail system is so pretty with such variety.  I have evolved so much from the first time I ever came riding here.  I remember crying the first time I came to Royal Blue. I was upset at the mining and so forth that has gone on in the area.  I have come to realize that the same thing I fretted about is the very thing that makes the land available for use!  Prospecting for and accessing mineral resources in the earth as well as logging have
kept areas like this free for multiple uses.  Recreation is one of them.   East Kentucky and East Tennessee have a certain character to them and I have had to adjust my thinking and accept reality.  I may not like everything about it, but I do like the access it provides. I also have been proud to see how the Royal Blue Rangers maintain the trail system.  When a section of trail becomes too eroded or muddy they close it.  They re-route it and let the area rest.   I see the value of it now and I am glad I've come past the initial upset.

     We ended up riding 67.5 miles today. I found that while that was enough to dog me out it was not as bad when I have the freedom to choose. When I can have a say in it and freedom to do some of the driving. When I can get out and take pictures and enjoy the surroundings and investigate a little I am fine.

     We made one wrong turn on our way back and ended up at the Stinking Creek Access parking area. We then had to ride the road back to the campground, but we did not get lost and that was the main thing.

Trail winding on through a green forest.

We made it back tired and hungry and very dirty and a little wet, but very happy.
A good dinner and a change of clothes and we were happier yet.   We spent some time
planning and preparing for the next days ride.  I was too tired to even take a shower and wore mud on my face to bed! Cool!

 Tackett Creek & the Cloud Forest tomorrow.  Sweet Dreams!

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