Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau--Big Bottom Unit

I don't usually post ATV trip reports anywhere other than my own blog.   I much prefer hiking and backpacking to ATV riding, but I still like it.  It gets me to places not everyone wants to go.
I usually end up being one of the few or only who will take pictures and/or write a trip report.   The significance of this post is that several years ago someone told me there was once a
time you could ride a four-wheeler to within 200 yards
of Virgin Falls.  I knew that was no longer possible, but I did not
realize it was still POSSIBLE, just a further trip on foot than
200 yards. Now it reduces the hike to 2 miles one way.
The other significance is that it provides much easier access to
Davis Cemetery and the ghost town of Bethesda.
Davis Cemetery is supposed to have the comb style graves
in it.  Bethesda is an entire community that has disappeared as
people moved out of it.  A fair comparison would be Proctor
in the Smokies.   I think it would be interesting to see all of that.
I want to do it late this Winter IF it is possible.
The Caney Fork River rises to full force in Winter and
it might not be possible at all.  Just want to do it one time to say
I've had that experience. 
 Bright red Hearts-a-bustin' berries along the trail

Big Bottom TWRA Unit Ride
Sunday Sept. 14, 2014
  Ride distance approx. 10 miles

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Pictures here: Big Bottom Unit --TWRA 

    We wanted to head out to the Big Bottom Unit of the TWRA to ride.  We knew a hunt
club had gated off one access, but that was only for one side of the area.   We got there and found two other trucks that appeared to have unloaded four-wheelers to ride. The hunt club gate was closed and locked. We never saw these riders all day so we had no idea if they were hunt club riders over on the one part or if they were riding down in the TWRA land where we planned to go.
 It wont none of my business so I did not concern myself with it.  

Kenny unloading our rig.  


Down the road we went.  

   I had no idea what this area would be like. I did not know where it went.  I figured it must go out
through some cow pasture and into the woods.  I admit I had not studied it on the map the way I usually scrutinize things.    The upside was the adventure and the mystery.  The downside of not knowing what this area is like and where it goes?  1. The Sketch Factor and 2.  Being unprepared 
The Sketch Factor is one thing we should have been prepared for.  The other thing we could have been prepared for was to make the most of the trip.   We also learned this important lesson from 
Game Warden James Hodges.   
If it rains while you are back in Big Bottom and you are going
to have to cross the river... you'd best get out while the getting is good or
learn the other points of egress on the same side of the river as you.
  You are in the river bottoms of the mighty Caney Fork River.
It can dry up to holes of water or it can unleash its full fury
and trap you in there or drown you.  He says if it rains that within
about 12 hours the river levels will rise to where you cannot get out.
The other access point is Mooneyham on the far side of the river. 
   The area was beautiful, lush and green with that tinge of the coming of Fall.
The leaves on the sycamore trees were starting to turn brown and fall.  We saw a few late
Summer wildflowers, but they were nearly done.  I wouldn't mind coming back up here in Spring or Summer to see what blooms?!  I did see lots of very faded collinsonia.  I also saw what looked like 
sea oats!  It is a relative of theirs called River Oats.  I had never seen them before anywhere.
      We could quickly tell this road sees some significant use.  We soon saw water.
I had not expected that.  I later looked at the map and figured out this was the bottomlands 
of the Caney Fork River.  It is just holes of water in Summer as part of its flow goes subterranean.
It resurfaces down the road a piece and flows like a normal river again.  
           We came upon a horse trailer on the side of the road.   We stopped to check out the 
water hole near it.   We saw two groups of people camped. One on either side of the water hole.
We weren't worried about either group, but again we were surprised to find camping back here.
 Below is a  view of the water hole that is left of the Caney Fork. There is a rope swing here.
Notice the attractive chalky white rock bluffs on the far side of the river?
This end of the water hole is shallow. There are also grassy shoals downstream from here.
       We went on past this spot and turned and forded the river and continued our ride.
We got stopped in just a short distance because of a downed tree which left no good way around it.
We regrouped and followed another trail. It was a pretty ride, but not that great back in the woods.
I did not see anything too interesting back here.  It was just aimless wandering which I am not a big fan of.  I like to be seeing pretty things or have a destination.   We did see a hunters blind.
Hunting blind. Good thing we went today because soon hunting season
will be upon us and it will be ticket time for anyone back here who is NOT hunting!

We made a wrong turn and ended up at the power line easement. I snapped this shot of the view before we turned around.

View from the power line.

Two meadow frittilaries on a thistle.  We saw a few pretty asters and late Summer flowers up here in the power line cut before we headed back down.

        I was not crazy about this area and we weren't seeing anything. I wanted to get down nearer the water and try another route.   We found our way back down to the area near the water and it was better.   I finally figured out one of the things I liked about this area is the contrasts.  

Dry river bed where the water has gone underground or evaporated. 
The river bed and these holes of water smelled strongly of fish.  ugh! 

And then there is water again!   We saw this pattern repeat over and over up this old road/trail.

Another contrast was this because of the variation in high bluffs of stone and openings in the tree canopy.


and Darkness

Gloomy spot where the trees and bluffs block the sunshine!

      We did not see or find a whole lot interesting but we did see this old dry stone wall.

Stone wall at the old Tillman Davis place.   It was very long!  It was about 3 feet high and stretched on for
about 50 yards.   Most of it was still in tact, but this spot shows where some of it has crumbled.

              I was growing tired and hungry and not seeing enough to hold my interest.  I have trouble
sitting still to ride for any distance. I am a hiker first and foremost.  Riding is tough for me especially if the scenery is not that great or we are just doing the aimless wandering thing.  Riding must serve a purpose for me or I cannot tolerate it.  I complained and so we decided to call haw and head back to the truck.

    We did take one side trail to see what it lead to. It was just a turn around spot where a logging company
had made a place to load logs and to park equipment.   We stopped there momentarily for me to snap
a photo of some pretty lobelia in a wet area.  I saw some soft rush and other wetland grasses.

Large cluster of great blue lobelia where the ground was very swampy.

       The sketch factor kicked it in high gear now and scared me silly.

I stood there snapping photos of the flowers. A man and woman approached on a four-wheeler going fast and turning around and staring.    I smiled. They did not smile back.  He glared at me.
I got back in the RZR and told Kenny we needed to get going.  We did. We had only gone a short distance
down the trail til we saw dude and woman again. He was off the four-wheeler lighting up a cigarette.
He was still wearing an angry scowl.  He pointed at me accusingly and I told Kenny loudly "DON"T STOP!"   He started off then stopped!  I hollered "Go go go!" and he did.
He asked me what was wrong and I told him I had a feeling the man was possibly drunk and wanted to fight with us. I did not like his body language and I was scared of him.

      We passed the area where they had been camped. This was one of the couples who was camping on the trail side of the river.    I wanted out of here in the worst way. I had to put up with bullshit like that for years
from patients and their families, but I don't have to anymore and I did not plan on listening to one word of it.
We had gone only a tiny bit further when the road was blocked by a TWRA truck.  Gawd. Now what?
We both figured we were in some sort of trouble and about to get ticketed for some offense.
We don't even have to try to have run ins with the law. I was so sad and disbelieving.  Damn. Its happening again.  We can't catch a break.

             The warden walked up. Kenny killed the motor.   He asked us if that was our red truck out at the end of the road.  Now we really think we've done something wrong and are in trouble.  Kenny answered him
in the affirmative.    The warden asked if we had seen anybody back there riding horses?  We told him no.
He asked if we had seen anyone drunk or carrying on.  I shared what I was worried bout with the guy who was scowling and pointing. I was just sure he was trouble based on his body language.  About that time
the guy pulled up and we said our goodbyes and split.  

       We were relieved we had not done anything wrong and were not the focus of the wardens
search.   Back at the truck we loaded up and prepared to leave.   Just before we left the game warden
rolled up again and we rolled the windows down to speak with him.  We spent quite a while taking up a chunk of his time.  He turned out to be an incredibly interesting and nice fellow who does a great job.
He has the right touch for this work.  He is the property manager for the area Warden James Douglas.
 He lives in the area and is really invested in this work.  He enjoys it and it shows.  He shared all sorts of
interesting tidbits of history, directions on how and what to see, times to go, times to avoid.
Big thanks to a new friend..

    One thing we learned from him that was important?  He told us about the river rising and other access points.  He told us that the man who came pointing and scowling was the person who called in the complaint.
He is a former criminal, but was not drunk or drugged up.  You can't get cell service there so apparently he sent two riders who were leaving earlier.. to call the TWRA on the folks across the river.  They had been
getting drunk, partying hard, talking loudly about buying drugs and smoking dope.  He did not want that
around him harshing his mellow so he turned them in.  He had thought we might be with those folks initially.
He was a convicted felon, but apparently trying to stay clear of trouble. The reason for his affect and
body language is that he is a dullard and that is just how he is to everyone all the time.  I had totally misinterpreted his intent.

    However we did pass a little honda car on the way in driving on an old muddy road.
According to Warden Douglas that is the biggest passel of trouble around. Two brothers who are drug
dealers. Probably on their way to sell pot to the party animals across the river.   Any future trips
back to this area will be after hunting season is over.   We will open carry the pistol.
We will just avoid human contact back there because you never know who is ok and who is not.
I say until proven otherwise... they're all bad unless they are known to me.

       I had heard long ago that one used to be able to ride a four-wheeler all the way to Virgin Falls.
I knew that was no longer possible.  This is the way, but it takes you to within 2 miles of it now.
At first I had no interest in it, but Kenny did.  I studied my map of  the Virgin Falls area after
returning home.  I would like to do it that way one time to say I've done it.

The old community of Bethesda is up there. The Davis Cemetery is up there.
I'd like to  ride in then hike to Virgin Falls. Let Kenny take the four wheeler back.
Let me hike the rest of the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness up and out to the trailhead.
Have him pick me up there a few hours later.

I also learned from Warden Hodge that the old stone wall was the Tillman Davis place and that folks
who lived there later never saw that wall! It was under the earth.  It was un-earthed by the rivers flooding
within the past 30 years.   That area where the trail was was level fields for crops and animals back then
with the soil having completely covered the wall.

   In my crystal ball of the future I'd say we'll be back. I can see it.  I will do it one time.
I won't make a habit of it because the folks who come back in there leave me uneasy.

We headed to Sparta for dinner. Yuck. There is nothing to pick from in Sparta.   Not much. McDonalds
was fly blown and nasty.  I won't do that again for sure!  I had wanted to pack stuff for a cook out,but
Big Bottoms was not a good place for that. Sparta I knew as going to suck and it did.
We ended up catching a perfect sunset from Sunset Rock though and that was awesome!  A big hug and a kiss from my crazy man at Sunset Rock made the other stuff more bearable.


  1. Well it sure sounds like you had a "mixed bag" kinda day! Yeah, that guy would have freaked me out too! I always tell people that it is not the bears or other animals that concern me - it is the human animal. They are wildly unpredictable and dangerous. They also kill for no reason. At least bears and other animals kill with purpose.
    Been to Virgin Falls and the other waterfalls associated with that hike. Lots of other waterfalls in the Pocket Wilderness. Great place for sure.

    1. Mike, I wasn't having it. I had a knee jerk reaction to his body language and expression. Turns out he was on the same page as us.
      You, Maples and some of the gang would probably be interested in the Davis Cemetery and the ghost town of Bethesda. We'll go back and open carry the pistol and do this trip over in later Winter or early Spring. Yes, humans are unpredictable for sure. We need to learn the other ATV access there before any further trips. It would be wise. Winter and Spring that water will be high in there. It may not even be doable then.

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