Thursday, July 3, 2014

Little Creek Falls and Heintooga Auto Touring

Climbing Prairie Rose in Metcalf Bottoms area.
I had to pass this on my way to the NC side.

Little Creek Falls and Heintooga Trip

Dana Koogler solo 
Friday June 20, 2014

Hike distance 3 miles round trip

Pictures are here starting with frame 101

Heintooga Pix 

    I  was aiming for 40 miles hiked  during the month of June.  I love it so it was not hard motivating me.  I had been on a kick of really wanting to see the stuff that not everyone visits.   
I had been considering hiking to Little Creek Falls again.  I had hiked to this much less visited waterfall about eleven years ago. It is about sixty feet high and quite pretty.  I'd been putting it off
and finally I took time to consider why?  What was making me not want to go here? 

      Little Creek Falls was one I hiked when I was completing all the guidebook waterfall hikes 
in the Smokies many years ago.   The guidebook was the Charles Maynard Waterfalls of the Smoky Mountains guide.    It was the thin paperback edition.  It lists the hike as difficult and gave two options to reach it. I later learned there are three ways to approach it, but I won't go into that here.    Option number one was a convoluted, difficult 13.6 mile hike on the public trails of the 
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Option number two was a 3 mile "difficult" hike
taking a short cut across private property and onto the trails of the National Park.
Now which one do you think I wanted to do?  I tried finding the trout farm and Cooper Road the first time only to get upset and confused and give up.  I went back with Kenny and hiked it.
We succeeded in finding it and it was an enjoyable hike.   Thanks to the short cut across private property and the need to request permission... the hike has been a dicey one over the years.
Always had to be prepared to be turned away if they said no.  I reasoned with myself that 
I was a far more experienced hiker and navigator now.  I also looked up the trout farm and saw that many improvements were made to the business which seemed to be thriving.  It was settled.
I would go!

       I loaded up the cooler with food and drinks. I packed anything I might need in the jeep.
I wanted to wear it out and not have to be home until I was ready.   I had to work Saturday so
I would have to at least get home in time to get some sleep before morning.  The weather today 
was glorious. I had clear skies and nice temperatures.  I was hoping to see some purple fringed 
orchids today if I was lucky.  My drive over through Metcalf Bottoms was pretty. I saw lots of
bright pink climbing prairie roses along the roadside.    I had to stop and check those out.
I spoke to a man who was exercising and picking up litter. You gotta love people who do good deeds like that!

       I drove on through the mountains enduring the delays of road construction on Newfound Gap 
Road.  Bright red bee balm bloomed by the road and that was pretty to see.   I also saw rhodo minus, rosebay rhodo and little bits of leftover mountain laurel along the trip.  It was not long until
I began to see purple fringed orchids peeping at me from the roadsides!  I stopped to take pictures
and enjoy the view at Newfound gap. 

Top: first purple fringed orchid of 2014 

Bottom: view from Newfound Gap 

       I considered driving out the Clingman's Dome Road, but quickly dismissed that idea.
I had a lot of my plate already for the day.   I'd do that if the spirit moved me on the way back.
I continued on toward Cherokee and once past the road work I was surprised how quickly the trip went.   No more delays.  Pretty views. Nice weather.  I was grateful for that.    I had the phone number and address of the Coopers Creek Trout Farm just in case.   My crazy GPS "Babala" 
told me to turn on Goose Creek Road. I listened to her, but had misgivings. I had not turned here before and just did not trust her.   I doubled back and went further down the road and turned at Coopers Creek Road like I did last trip.  No sense tempting fate in getting me mixed up again.
I passed the other end of Goose Creek Road on my drive in so I realized that would have been ok.
The drive in was pretty.  I saw lots of orange daylilies, nodding wild onion, and  yards dotted with roses.  Rural life is surely sweet.
Daylilies line the sides of this structure on Coopers Creek Road.

  I found the trout farm today with no worries.  The trout farm used to be a small operation that just raised trout and sold them to stock streams.   It was a rather nondescript place in the past.  It is now an actual trout pond! Here is a link to the place Coopers Creek Trout Farm & Pond

They allow parking and hiking from their place to Little Creek Falls. They ask that you do so during regular business hours. They also want you to sign in at the rental kiosk and sign out when you are done. They will instruct you where to park.  Parking to hike is up the driveway past the old cement foundation.   It is a gorgeous spot now and has had lots of improvements. I was impressed.

Top: landscaped waterfall with lilies at Coopers Creek Trout Farm
Bottom: the trout pond itself under blue skies! 

     I signed in and parked up at the trail head. I had seen another vehicle ahead of me. I absentmindedly watched another pair of hikers head down the trail before me.  We were the only ones around that I could see. I was taking photos of the stream and checking things out.  I grabbed my gear and started down the trail.   It is a pretty hike, but it is also on the rough side.  The hike here is a muddy one where stream and trail merge in more places than one.  I remembered that above all else. I also remembered there was some climb involved toward the end.  I was making my way along through one of the watery sections when I spotted people in the bushes.  I think I spooked them and they spooked me.  They came out of the woods and
we hiked along together.  I had made the acquaintance of Mark and Rosalinde Vann.  They turned out to be great people and I had a better hike for their company.   It is a little bit of a sketchy hike and we got the book out once to check directions for a turn.   They like photography and hiking too and I felt blessed to have encountered them.  It was one of those moments when I knew I was meeting someone I was supposed to meet. It may take a long time before I realize the why, but I don't mind. Today I was just glad for the company of a pair of other hikers on a hike that 
was iffy in my mind.   It was reassuring to be accompanied.   It was bonus that they are fellow Tennesseans!  It was a triple grand slam that they are those rare persons who talk when they have something to say, but can go along and not have to talk.  Sweet!  Just right.  

      Little Creek Falls is pretty and the hike seemed short since I had folks to visit with on the way.
The forest had lots of big old growth trees.  It was pretty to see the sun filter through the canopy.
The falls does have lots of debris in the way and the dappled light of that time of day did not help 
produce the most wonderful photography conditions.  I was like Mark in that I was going to be happy with a snapshot.   No sense fighting it.   I'd like to come back to see this falls again
after a heavy rain and with better lighting!    I passed the falls a bit and enjoyed seeing red fire pinks and blue Virginia spiderwort.    I then turned around and headed back promising to trade
contact info with the Vann's back at our vehicles.    I saw something funny on the way back.
I was wading through that last deep stretch of creek/trail/mud and saw a guy and a girl heading in.
They were dressed like they were going to church. The girl had on a skirt and neither of them had on appropriate footwear for a three mile round trip, very wet muddy hike!   Pfft! I did good and 
contained my laughter, but we had a chuckle about it back at the vehicles.  


     Little Creek Falls is big, but is not any 95 footer as described in the Chas. Maynard guide. 

     Once I left the trout farm I headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Balsam Mountain area.
I had seen numerous purple fringed orchids on the way there and hoped I'd see more up high.
The spur road, Balsam mountain campground and all of Heintooga was closed the previous year.
I was eager to go enjoy it while I had the chance.   The parkway itself was gorgeous. The views were clear and sparkling today in all directions at every overlook, but one.  I encountered one overlook where the view had become obstructed by vegetation.   Going higher in elevation in Summer does a couple things for the visitor. You get above the heat and things are usually a lot cooler.  You also can find wildflowers still blooming after they have quit in the lower elevations. 
Today I was treated to mountain laurel, flame azaleas, purple fringed orchids, wild columbine, 
bowmans root, wild geraniums,smooth flowering raspberry and golden alexanders to name a few.   I had the feeling  that the spur road was going to be somewhat of a crap shoot today.  They would have mowed upon opening it since it was not done the previous year while it was closed.  I hoped that had not totally screwed up my wildflower spots.    



Bunches Bald Overlook off the BRPW
Potpouri of wildflowers along the parkway.  White= bowmans root, red= wild columbine, yellow= golden alexanders.   I like the combo of colors on that green background of Summer leaves!

        I saw turkeys, another  grouse, and elk along the Balsam Mountain Road.  
I saw a few other motorists.  I was pulling over every little bit examining flowers and taking pictures.   I was like a kid in a candy store.  Everyone I encountered was in good spirits and 
friendly. I spoke with a nice couple at Mile High Overlook and a few other folks out the road.
Flame azaleas and mountain laurel abound along this road.  The only saving grace for me today was that I have worn it out up here botanizing. I was not quite as compelled to turn over every leaf
today as I have been in the past.   I had no desire to go down to see Flat Creek Falls today.
It is a doozy of an off trail adventure and I was not in the mood for it today.  Instead I spent time
taking photos of and counting purple fringed orchids. I counted a total of 86 today from the time I began seeing them at Newfound Gap to the end of my days journey.  Less than in some years, but I am certain the mowing affected them.   It is worth noting that I saw more on both sides of the road this year instead of only one side. I also saw them in areas I had never found them before!

Purple fringed orchid. I took close ups and it appears this year that every single orchid I photographed was platanthera psychodes.. the small variety. You tell them apart by the shape of the nectary. 

Clump of PFOs. 

 I stopped by Polls Gap and it is curious that the start of the Polls Gap trail.. appears to have been grubbed out.  It looks like someone is cleaning it up and doing some work on it.  It is at least recognizable as a trail head now.  I moved on to the Heintooga Picnic area and there was not a soul around.  The place was deserted.   The bathrooms and water fountains were operational this trip.
I found myself feeling a little sad and not wanting to hang around here today.  Kenny being out of town and some of our fun trips here just hit me hard.  I'd like to come back here later in the Summer with him.  I moved on rather than upset myself.    I did not want to mess up a string of 
good memories with sadness.  
Heintooga Picnic grounds. It looks like a Bavarian Scene!  It ain't no good without my honey.

    I decided to drive the entire Heintooga road. Once you pass the picnic area the traffic is one way on a dirt road until you get to Straight Fork. I  had wanted to try to photograph the waterfall on Ledge Creek. I saw a bear on my drive. I also spooked two grouse. The first one ran off, but the second one had attitude and told me she'd heard her sister beat my ass for me.  I told her sadly that it was true.  :-)

See the grouse flying up? 

     The road was quiet and dark. It was drier than last time I was here.  I saw lots of fire pinks along the way and some bright yellow sundrops.  I love August along this road.  August is the queen month of wildflowers at high altitudes! Its my birthday month too so maybe my birthday should be here?   I did stop and hike about 1/2 mile up Balsam Mountain Trail but my heart wasn't 
in it.  It was quiet and pretty, but there were loads of diseased turks cap lilies here.
I moved on. I had not gone far when I heard something odd.  It was a fellow on a dirt bike doubling a woman on the back going the WRONG way on the one way road.   What? 

     I had been hoping for little or no traffic so I could pull over and photograph Ledge Creek Falls.
I got that part right, but I will have to go back accompanied for that task and take some rope. 
The skies turned suddenly black and rain began pouring down.  Ledge Creek Falls is small and scenic, but a steep, slippery bank lay between it and me.  I will plan for this better next go round.

     I continued on to Straight Fork.  The whole drive was quiet and pretty.  I love the Cherokee Reservation and was thrilled to see on my drive that many places which had been run down and 
impoverished were fixed up and looked much improved!  I think I could live on the reservation and be quite happy.  It is beautiful.  
Bridge over Straight Fork.  Two way traffic past this point. 

     I continued on my way home. I was very tired and had a long drive to go.  I did stop to view the elk at Oconoluftee.  I saw two bull elk in velvet!
I had favorable conditions and did not get delayed anymore on my way home.
I had a head full of memories and had satisfied my curiousity and urge to ramble for awhile.
I hope I can manage an August trip back here for a picnic and Summer wildflowers and maybe some more waterfalls.   I would not mind taking a hike up to see Waterrock Knob again! See how I am? Barely home and already daydreaming about the next trip.

Below is a short video of Little Creek Falls from today's hike.

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