Cardinal Flower blooming near the entrance to Catoosa
Catoosa WMA Four-Wheeling Trip
Catoosa WMA Four-Wheeling Trip
Dana & Kenny Koogler
Saturday August 16, 2014
44 mile ride
Kenny and I did some scouting on Saturday morning to go riding in an area we wanted to
re-visit. We had Plan A and Plan B and Plan C. Plan A did not pan out. We were unable to access the first area without risking getting in serious trouble. We moved on to Plan B which was Catoosa. I
admit I had leaned in that direction anyway. I foresaw how Plan A was going to work out, but sometimes
with Kooglers you just have to let it go. We headed up the road to explore Catoosa next. Today would
be just that. Exploring. We knew nothing about the area.
I had read up on the Catoosa area and learned a little of its history. I had also done a little studying up
on features there we might want to see and access points and directions. Catoosa used to be a large grassland with sparse shrub growth and few trees. It was presumably kept that way by the grazing of large herds of animals like buffalo, deer, and elk. Several Indian tribes hunted here and used this area as a trade route, but did not settle here. They likely maintained the grasslands by setting fires much the way we now do controlled burns. Later "long hunters" came to the area not to settle, but to hunt game. The first outsiders who traveled here to settle described it this way: In 1797, Francis Bailey wrote, "...about five o'clock we arrived at Crab Orchard. Here we found a large plain or natural meadow, containing many hundred acres covered throughout its whole extent with a tall, rich grass." Two years later, in 1799, Martin Steiner wrote, "...then we crossed barren hills where only bushes grew. Now and then one saw a little tree."
My blog is "Cumberland Gal". I am going to back up a bit to say it refers to the Cumberland Plateau and mountains of Tennessee. The area is wild and beautiful to me and I so enjoy exploring there. It provides
a solitude and an escape and a wildness I don't find in the Great Smoky Mountains. I love both, but they are very different. Especially the spirit of place. Out in the plateau were Indian tribes, long hunters, exploiters of natural resources like miners and those who took its timber, and later settlers. Many who settled
here hail from the Scots-Irish, Swiss, German and a few English settlers seeking better lives.
Many of these settlers were idealists seeking freedom from religious persecution and freedom from a class
system that was like a social leg trap.. I find something good in all of that. Many a story exists from the plateau and its wild places of families and individuals who survived grinding poverty. Some I cannot bear
to think on long because they are so extreme. I am a conservationist, so what do I find good to say about
the taking of mineral wealth and the taking of the timber? One thing is to start by saying its easy enough to judge them in hindsight from the distance of the twenty-first century. It would have been quite different to be
there. They did it to make a living and to survive. The other thing is that while Tennessee has been mined and timbered...... they've found the Southern way to spin gold from straw! The mined areas are being
restored and used for recreation opportunities that are marvelous fun for many. ATV riding paradise. Co-existing with mountain bikers, hikers,backpackers, jeepsters, and horse and mule enthusiasts!
Another example? The deforestation caused by timber operations and devastation of the pine beetle infestation has caused another unique opportunity. Instead of bemoaning the trees being gone.. through insight.. they are seizing upon the chance to re-create the grasslands and oak savannas that existed before!
It is all part of what you set your focus on.
Shawnee warrior on a buffalo hunt
We have so much to learn about the Catoosa area we decided we'd just have to pick a point of entry and go from there. Kenny asked me what I wanted to see there? I was hoping for wildflowers and butterflies and pretty scenery. Maybe a glimpse of a cool, pretty river? I was most interested in the oak savanna restoration project so we followed the directions for that. We went in off Genesis Road.
I have passed by that road so many times. Peavine Road .. the same. I have gone past it, but never taken time to see what is out there. I had the feeling I was missing something good. I found little info on wildflowers there, but what I did find was tantalizing. It is one of the areas that has a population of monkey-faced orchids which are globally rare! It is also a site for prairie lily which has the botanical
name Lilium philadelphicum. I read an excerpt from a botanist who said more work needed doing in the
Catoosa area to botanize and catalog what grows there. My imagination was stoked now and I was ready
to go begin the search!
The drive in to access the area from Genesis Road was pretty. It is quiet and rural and the scenery idyllic. We soon came to the turn for Potters Ford and followed the directions to a turn out. We were relieved to read the signs which indicated it is OK to ride four-wheelers at Catoosa as long as you stay on the trails that are signed for that purpose. Some trails are either closed or signed "foot travel only".
Catoosa is near the Obed Wild & Scenic River. Potters Ford is at the far end of it. I was hopeful of seeing
some different portions of the Obed.
The Obed River at Potters Ford. The first glimpse I got of the river was this spot.
It brought tears to my eyes it was such a neat place. When we pulled up there there was a family who had set up in a picnic spot across the river.
They had a big banner up saying "Happy 91st Birthday Mamaw!" They had bluegrass music playing.
It was she's a good ole gal.. best I've ever seen. I thought to myself THIS is the kind of birthday party I want for my next party. My family and friends in a place like this with the beautiful river and country scenery
around me. What could be sweeter? I can't think of a thing. I saw green-headed cone
I saw Summer phlox and more cardinal flower. The river flowed by slowly. It was deep green, clear, cool with sandy banks. Tree limbs languished along the river sides dipping low toward the water. I love
being a Southerner. It is hot here in Summer, but the Lord gives us places like this that cool us off. Along the river in addition to the trees and wildflowers green great swaths of cane.
Native Bamboo aka Cane along the Obed River. Native bamboo species or canes
are important to all wildlife communities especially birds and butterflies. Some species depend upon them
heavily and it is important to allow stands of this to remain.
We proceeded up the hill through more beautiful hemlock forest. We came to the T intersection where we
had to turn left to head out to toward Otter Creek and the oak savannas. We enjoyed good weather today. It was overcast and about eighty degrees with a nice breeze blowing. Being up on the table land of the plateau we could get occasional glimpses of the Cumberland Mountains in the distance. Blue mountains far out there over expanses of fields with sparse trees and shrubs and grasses. Birds and butterflies are coming back to this area as they see the results of the restoration project. Today we saw a fair amount of wildlife.
We saw fish and minnows in the streams, frogs, toads, a coyote, deer, turkeys, hawks, gold finches, a luna moth, tiger swallowtail butterflies, spicebush swallowtails, frittliaries to name the few I could really identify.
Bottom: Glimpses of the blue Cumberland Mountains on the horizon across the oak savanna.
Riding down these dusty red dirt trails and gravel roads was fun. The scenery and mood changing every little bit. I had the image in my minds eye of riding along over Granny's Crazy Quilt with all the varied textures, shapes and colors as we passed different scenery. The flower textures, shrubs, grasses, trees, all changing. Pale lavender asters. Goldenrod with its mustard yellow glow. Dainty white and yellow false asters delicate as a bridal veil. Tall sunny yellow ozark sunflowers. Far past that the blue line of mountains.
The green shades of the grass and shrub layer of the savanna. It was what I had craved and needed today.
I was seeking the rough, unmanicured look of the plateau. I also saw steeple bush today. It is a tall pink
flower that is a butterfly food. It is a native spirea species.
We also saw some unexpected things in Catoosa. We passed by two swamps! The streams themselves were low water, but we did pass two good sized swampy areas. We saw ostrich ferns four feet high.
Lush grasses and carpets of ferns and spaghnum mosses grew in these areas. Soft rush, spike rush, water lilies, and other wetland species grew there.
Above and below.. images of two different swamps in Catoosa
Below is an image of goldenrod, lespedeza, cowbane, queen annes lace and other wildflowers blooming in the oak savanna. I waded right out into it. I got chiggers for my trouble!
Below is one shot of the folks with their covered wagon rigs and their horses and mules. I like mules and so does Kenny. They are good looking animals and far easier to care for than horses. What a great set up! They were all very nice, friendly people and animals. We shared the trails courteously toward one another. We were considerate not to spook their mules and horses. A good time was had by all. These type trails were ideal for all.
Below see a close up of a type of aster.. Blazing star has several forms. This is liatris squarrosa or Scaly Blazing Star. It is so pretty. It was blooming along some parts of the roads and trails.
We both began to feel tired. We did not want to go home, but headed back toward the truck.
We talked over what to do next? We explored another few trails and found a path through a hemlock forest. It was gorgeous! The river here was shady and green and cool. Deep and dark.
Hemlock Forest along the Obed
The Obed river in the Potters Ford area viewed through forest gloom.
We were worn out. Kenny looked at the odometer and we had ridden 44 miles! It was so much fun it flew by. We both wanted to go home and rest. We've been burning the candle at both ends with work, grandkids, home fixer uppers... We decided to slow down a little.
Home it was for a nap and church on Sunday with the family. Life is good. God is GREAT every day!
Thank you Lord for your created works and the chance to enjoy them.