Monday, April 13, 2015

Seven Waterfalls in One Day

Southern Red Trillium 

Seven Waterfalls in One Day

Dana Koogler
Mike Gourley

Friday April 10, 2015

Total hike distance 3 miles approx. 

Cumberland Plateau Waterfalls

   I want to get Rogers Creek Falls off my bucket list THIS Spring.   Plan A was for me, Kenny
and Mike to hike there and finish it.  Mike has been before, but was unaware when he visited that
there was a second waterfall about 1/10th of a mile from the one listed as a Tennessee Landforms 
waypoint.   He also visited during a time of low water flow.  He was keen to go and hit up the second 
waterfall and once we'd done those we'd revisit Puncheon Camp Creek Twin Falls as well.

      The forecast called for ninety percent rain on Friday. Kenny was not sure he'd be home from 
Nebraska and able to go.   None of us wanted to attempt a descent into the gorge to visit Rogers Creek 
Falls in the rain.  We decided to have a Plan B in store so that if the day turned rainy we could still meet
up and hike. I thought of several good falls Mike was interested in visiting.  We would not mind
going back either since we'd only been once before ourselves.   Friday dawned raining as predicted.
Kenny did not make it back Friday.   We settled on Plan B.

        We headed down the road to Van Buren County having agreed to leave it loose and just 
enjoy the day.    One thing about hiking on a rainy day is that if you're hunting waterfalls in many ways it is easier.  Driving along the road they just jumped out at me in several places.    Some were of the wet weather variety and almost certainly don't have water on them during drier times.   Others were authentic waterfalls
worth submitting to the database.  We were the dynamic waterfall finding duo today.  I had conned Mike
into driving my jeep which left me free to navigate.    I wanted to be certain I was focused fully on that task.
I did not want to let my friend down and fail to find the area. No worries about that.
We found it just fine.  On the way we kept stopping to see various other falls.  We had visited three
before we ever got to the planned, main event!

This is a new one which has water all the time.  Mike named it DK falls.  good a name as any.

   Next up I got a HUGE surprise off my wish list.  I had long dreamed of hiking off trail in the Dry Fork 
Gulf addition of Fall Creek Falls State Park and finding something beautiful.  We found it today! 
A verdant Springtime gorge with ribbons of white water, green velvet moss, pale green budding leaves, redbud trees drew our eyes and we stopped again.    Before I knew it we were bushwhacking out along
the banks of this ravine and my dream was coming true!  We saw three varities of trillium in bloom.
Southern Red, toadshade, and prairie trillium!  Jack in the pulpit was also found along with
Virginia pennywort.   
Above and below are a couple views of the waterfalls and cascades in Dry Fork.

 Looking out of a large rock shelter high above the stream.  You can barely make out Mike's blaze orange hat in the distance.

View of the beautiful pale pinks and greens along the road.  

A pretty waterfall pair framed up by red bud trees.  Wet weather falls. 

       The rain was easing up as we made our way toward Spencer.   It started and stopped a number of times. The forecast called for it to stop for good around two p.m. which is exactly what it did.
We arrived at our destination and parked the jeep.  We had spied a large waterfall gushing out of the face of a rock down in a quarry area or gravel pit on our way.  We thought if it worked out right we'd try to get back there to see it for ourselves.     We wanted to get going though.  

        The area where we parked was littered with trash of every sort. It looks like at some time in the past it was someone's combination party spot and dumping ground for unwanted household items.  We passed a couch which has grown mossy from being out so long.   All this was here on my previous visit.   It doesn't look any worse, but it is surely no better.   We passed the ruins of an old house, outbuildings and a barn. The barn is damaged, but still solid and standing.  
        Cool looking formations on the little side road. 
 We continued and today we turned down a side road to the right that Kenny and I had not
noticed before.   It was lined with some interesting rock formations.  We couldn't be sure it would lead us to where we needed to go.  In the interest of time we had to stick with the original route.
We will have to return for a more thorough investigation of where that path leads. It may provide
a more sensible route to see all these falls.   I had told Mike today was going to be a short, easy hike.   He identified a problem with me which IS:  Yes, the hike is short and easy to FIND the waterfalls.  The Hike is very DIFFICULT to reach a point to actually VIEW the falls and photograph them!  Well stated.   Honest. I had to own it.    

      We soon heard rushing, roaring water.   We were at the top of the falls!
I was stupefied to realize that while we waded the creek straight across last time with no problem, 
today that was going to be trickier.    The water was deep enough to be running fast and 
would be a wet foot crossing to start the day off.   You are crossing within twenty feet of the top
of the main plunge of the falls. Getting swept over would plunge you sixty feet to your death.
No pool at the bottom of this to catch you to give you even a slight chance of making it. 
The water re-enters the ground.   Sullivan Falls source stream comes out of the ground, flows across a logging road, plunges sixty feet, re-enters a labyrinth of pits, channels and caves,
flows back out of the ground as a split stream and goes back in the ground for good.  All this takes place in about a hundred yards.  

      The cave above this area is dry.  We decided rather that start off wet we'd enter the cave, come out the other side.. and walk out on dry ground.  It was a good plan.   The cave is 
sitting above a rushing stream, but is powder dry.  The ceiling of it is alive and busy making formations.  We did not touch it.  
        Looking out of an un-named cave above Sullivan Falls. 
Living mineral formations on the ceiling of the cave.
Touching them kills them. We used care to avoid harming the cave.
Don't litter. Don't touch.  No graffitti. No rock cairns.  This cave did not have any creatures living in it that we could see.

     We walked a short distance past Sullivan Falls.   I found the spot to climb down and being the pro off trail hiker that he is.. Mike spotted it without any help from me.   Down over the bluff we went.  No trail exists here. You cannot even see where anyone else has trod really.  The ground was soft and loamy.   A small cane brake is starting to form along the slope.  

Switch cane growing in the steep bank.  The photo does not illustrate how steep this area is.
I was taking my time getting photos of wildflowers. I saw my first fire pink of the season here.
Mike was down the bluff like he had a magnet pulling him toward something.  He was shortly hollering for me to get down there that I was gonna wanna see this!!  I worked my way carefully down the bluff by circling round to the left and back down gradually.   I saw a tiny drip coming off the embankment.  I could hear a roar below me which grew louder as I approached.  
I had suspected based on the sound down in the gorge below the logging road on a previous trip
that there was some sort of pit cave.  It took Mike a matter of seconds to find it!  What a find it was too.   The pit is about thirty feet deep.  No telling if the water coming out the bottom really falls in a torrent straight down or if it only comes from part of the distance?  Perhaps a future trip
will reveal the answer.   It is very hard to get an idea of what this was like so rather than post an image I am embedding a video.  It is very cool!  We'll call this one Pit Cave Falls. 

You can see from the video all that water goes right back into the ground. 

     We stood and took it in for awhile.  At last we climbed back up the bluff toward Sullivan Falls.
I remembered we just had to work our way round the side of the hill to get to the falls last time.
Today was going to be worse.  All the rain had the ground spongey, soft, and slippery.  The thin, black loamy soil gave way easily as did the thin sheets of rock scattered on the ground.  We avoided stepping on any of those.  The approach to the falls had Mike and I both gaping.
I knew I had done it before, but standing here now I was not any better off than he for having 
the past experience.   We were finally able to get close enough for an unobstructed view 
of the main waterfall without sliding over the cliff.    

Front on view of Sullivan Falls main drop.

Once we had that hard part over we climbed down the bluff further and were able to approach this bottom portion of Sullivan Falls with a lot less difficulty.   You can see the falls splits into at least two above ground parts as it comes back to the surface!

    It had completely quit raining!  It dawned on me and I was really glad.  The sun was trying to come out.  It was warm.   It was humid.  I realized it was about 2 pm and I had not eaten lunch yet.
I made myself sit down to eat my peanut butter and banana sammidge.  I enjoyed my surroundings.  The green trees, the roar of the waterfall, the shush of the water as it re-entered the ground.  Around us on the cliffs other small falls pattered down.   Wildflowers and ferns grew lush on this slope.   Moss clung to the ancient boulders.   Below me Molloy Hollow spread out.
I could not help wondering what else is down there?  I hope we get the chance to find out.
Our waterfall count was up to five thus far.  

Clump of long spurred violets growing on the slope near the falls.

      We took plenty of time checking this place out.   I dreaded climbing back up the bluff.  It was
tough, but it was not far.  It turned out to not be easy hard as I thought.   I was very glad to be back on level ground and have what I knew to be the hardest part of the trip today over with.
Out the logging road we went.  We passed one more wet weather falls that looked like a massive, rocky set of steps. It was barely wet.    Not far past that we began to hear the roar of Laurel Creek Falls.    There is no trail to the base and the terrain is rugged around the fifty or sixty foot drop, but not as bad as the previous falls.  We carefully worked our way to the bottom.  The slopes around the waterfall were dotted with great masses of deep purple phacelia and green maiden hair ferns.    The trout lilies had been thick there, but they were long done blooming.   Lots more
water coming over Laurel Creek Falls today than my first visit!

 Laurel Creek Falls above, Below a closeup of the purple phacelia that grew on the banks all around it.    

      Laurel Creek Falls is a photographers dream.  It is approachable from all sides if you use care.   Mike having never been before provided me with another excuse to sit down on a rock and spend more time just enjoying being there.   I really need to do more of that.  It turned out to be one of the more enjoyable points of the trip. The sitting down and soaking in the surroundings. The sounds of the birds in the forest and the falls.  The smells of the fresh air and flowers.
The appreciation for the healthy hemlock forest and the sun coming out.  Mild temperatures.
The perfect day for hiking.   Below is a short, nice video of this waterfall.

        I am slow in my hiking and out of shape, so I began easing up the bank ahead of Mike.
I did not want to rush him, but I just wanted to go ahead and see what was beyond.  I had not gone
far until I came to a very scenic cascade right at the logging road.   It appeared to continue down
as another falls.  I hurried back to wait on him so we could see it together.   It turned out to be the the prettiest falls of the day in many ways.   It had four or five very scenic drops. The little shelves around the
various drops were lined with masses of purple phacelia.  The rock forms around it were incredibly carved.
We spent considerable time taking pictures. Shooting video.  Just enjoying the scenery.    Again there is no
trail down to the base of this, but if you are careful you can pick you way down the bank further out and come gradually down to it.   The water was gushing out of springs all around the logging road and the terrain
around the falls was more slopping wet mud.   Lots of yellow violets, canada violets, rue anemone, trilliums bloomed by the falls.   The little cove flattens out and it looks very inviting to just stroll on down through there.  It was growing late in the day. I was shocked to learn it was after five pm at this point.  I think
it was closer to seven when we finally tore ourselves away from our explorations.

    Sitting at Lick Branch Falls with the evening sun glowing down through the forest in those surroundings
was a sublime experience.   Today was one of those times when the "finding treasure" dream was realized.
I have a dream that recurs.  Sometimes I'm in a house with many rooms and I keep going from room to room finding unexplored secret passages and neat things in each place.  Sometimes I dream of being on a trail in the forest and this peaceful, elated feeling washes over me of finding treasures in nature.
Today I was living it.     To me there is nothing like it unless it is sharing it with a fellow nature lover.

 Looking at the various perspectives of an un-named falls.  I named it Lick Branch Falls, but it is not ON Lick Branch so it doesn't have a name now. 
This one was not on the database. 

Below is a short video of Lick Branch Falls which shows the various drops of it, 
even the uppermost cascade. 

The music in this video is Waterfall by Geoffrey Castle who is an electric violinist!  

    We had a great time.  We kept on exploring on the hike out.  Mike found two smaller cascades and 
a cave spring that all form the source water for Laurel Creek Falls!  He crawled in it.  I was over to one side 
taking pictures of that final small cascade and the pretty forest. I came back round and I saw this.

A blaze orange hat and a camera case by the cave mouth.  

 I got ready and waited for it.....

Here he comes out of the cave.   He's sure a good sport.  

             We made our way back to the vehicle.  We loaded our stuff up.  We did try to go see the rock quarry waterfall, but it was gated and they said no one admitted without a pass.   We left. 
We were tired and hungry.  We stopped by McDonald's in Sparta and grabbed some fast food.
It tasted mighty good and I was thankful for it! Our total for the day came in at seven waterfalls.
That is not counting the two smaller cascades Mike located!

What a good day with a great friend.   Thanks Mike for driving the Peep.

The waterfalls on this blog are listed in Tennessee landforms.  Beyond that I am not providing directions.   I look forward to many more days on the trail with this fellow and the rest of our hiking buddies.  


  1. Wonderful to relive this great day of hiking again. The waterfalls and wildflowers were exquisite and an added bonus being with someone who actually knows the name of all those flowers! It is always nice to hike with someone who is not in a hurry so you can enjoy those scenic wonders and explore to find unexpected ones.

    1. Mike, I agree. Hard to beat. I don't like being rushed either so I can sure dig that. :-)

  2. Love your hikes to waterfalls, and the great photos. You have some different wildflowers than I've seen yet...and I don't really go mountain hiking any thanks so much. Barb from Black Mountain, NC

    1. Thanks Barbara. You live in a beautiful area with some good hiking too!


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