Sunday, August 30, 2015

End of Summer Wildflowers

Bright orange butterfly milkweed 

End of Summer Wildflowers 

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Saturday August 29, 2015

 I can remember being a child and hating to see Summer draw to a close. I did not look 
forward to going back to school, the end of swimming weather, or the shorter days.   I maintained
that even as a parent for a long time.  I liked having my kids out of school and having them with me
more.  I liked the longer days and most things about Summer.  I am not sure exactly when I 
grew to really love this time of year, but I know it was after I moved to Tennessee.   I call it
the Season of Purple and Gold.  It is to me a season of its own. It is not quite Summer, yet not
quite Fall either.  It is the season of the last of things and has a color scheme all its own.  
I enjoy it every year.   

   I think part of what makes anything sweeter is knowing its the last of something. 
The last piece of chicken on the plate or the last slice of watermelon is always going to taste better
than the rest.   I look at these days.. this last month from the end of August through the 
end of September the same way. It is the last of the swimming. The last of the long days.
The last of the butterflies for the year.  The last of the deep green leaves on the trees.  The last of the Summer wildflowers.   

      Everyone in the bright and sunny south welcomes this time of year in some way.
It brings with it cooler days. Big, bright blue skies with soft breezes.  The leaves to turn that pale
chartreuse color and dropinto the river.   The fields and roadsides fill with tall spires of deep purple New York ironweed and mustard colored goldenrod wands, sunflowers, pink thistle blooms, 
pink and white gaura.   Jewelweed of orange and yellow hang on.   It is a beautiful time of year it is own way.   The butterflies feast upon late Summer flowers and prepare to either lay eggs and die or migrate South. It has its own smell too of fish, river water, sweet dried grass and hay, 
and decaying leaves.  

        I went into the Cherokee National Forest this past Saturday with Kenny to visit a special place.
I did not want to go alone.   I found what I had looked for so long. Monkey faced orchids.
I also found a lot of other beautiful wildflowers.  It was a pretty day and the end of a long hunt.
I felt grateful to finally see them, but the experience was tainted by a sadness I don't want to write about.   I will suffice it to say that in opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable and accept help... I have also gotten hurt.  It may or may not have been intentional.  It was a learning experience.
It didn't do anything to cause me to lose my belief that many kinds of "help" have a hook in them.

         I can feel my body healing and getting stronger from past illness and deficits.
That is a good thing.  I stood in the forest and a thought crossed my mind.   I wondered if as I 
heal I will lose the synesthesia completely?  I felt a pang of sadness for the end of things.
I hope that God will let me keep green.  I hope that if lose the synesthesia for all the other colors...
I will retain the ability to smell and taste green.  Sounds crazy, but that is how I feel.

      This time of year is an end to things that are fading and tired.  It just reminds me to savor it.
Stay in the moment.  Keep my eyes forward and look to better times ahead.

 Purple lobelia
Bright red cardinal flowers in the forest


Monkey Faced Orchid. past peak for the season, but found a few still blooming.

View out over McMinn County

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fall Creek Falls Camping Trip With Kids

Camp Fire to Roast Marshmellows

Fall Creek Falls Camping Trip With Kids 

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Crystal Lindsey

Michael and Tessa Lindsey

Friday August 21-Sunday August 23, 2015


Pictures are here starting with frame 149

Fall Creek Falls Photos 

     Last Friday we took a long planned camping trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park.
 Our grandson had asked to go and Tessa our granddaughter had never been at all.
We had brought Michael there on a day trip in the past, but I'm not sure he remembered it.
We arrived about 4:30 pm Friday evening and set up camp.   We had plenty of daylight left
before Supper so we piled into Crystal's SUV and went round to see some of the waterfalls.
We started off with Cane Creek and Rockhouse Falls from the overlook. 

 Tessa and Pawpaw
 Michael, Pawpaw, Crystal and Tessa hiking to the first waterfalls.
 View of Cane Creek Falls from the overlook
 Tootsa Rootsa is looking forward to a ride in the backpack. See that silly grin?!
Michael is leading us across the suspension bridge over Cane Creek Cascade. He was fearless!
After a nice dinner of grilled burgers and hot dogs we built a campfire and roasted marshmallows.  We found out something we did not know.  Tessa is not a fan of fire!  She cried and fretted about the camp fire. I think that's going to take some getting used to for her. 
I joked that she was like Frankenstein's monster when it came to fire!  
She was mainly just tired from a new experience and all the excitement.   Bedtime came early for all of us.  I think we were in bed asleep by 9:30 pm Central time. 

Fire Bad!

  Saturday morning we woke up to cool temperatures!  We knew the pool was closed, but we didn't care since it was cooling off anyhow.    We had a nice breakfast.  We went to play on the playground.  We went to visit the Bradden Knob fire tower.  It was very neat!  Another special start to the day was that Michael lost his first baby tooth!  He got $7 from the Tooth Fairy the next morning! 

 Michael working on being snagglepuss!

First tiny tooth lost! Age 6

Bradden Knob Fire Tower

Top image Michael on the catwalk of the tower

Bottom view through the metal work of the tower.

A far view on an overcast day across the Plateau! 

   We went next to get a treat at the store and check those out.   It was time to check out toys, goodies, t-shirts etc at the two stores.    Both stores at Fall Creek Falls are excellent.  They carry  most things you might get there without or run out of.  Long way back to Crossville or Sparta to get the essentials.    

        We went back to the camper and had a sandwich and once that was done we headed out to see Lost Creek falls.  We took a trip to Lost Creek Falls in the past, but our kids chose not to go see it and stayed at Rock Island in the cabin with Grandma Earline.   Today would be the first 

trip to Lost Creek Falls for Crystal, Michael and Tessa.    I carried Tessa down the hill on my back in child hauler.   She likes riding in it and likes ordering the wearer around to take her to what she wants to see. "I touch it. " while pointing to moss on the rocks.  " I rocks. A mouf. Choke!"  " I cave!"  She's a boss!  

Kenny, Michael, Crystal and Tessa at Lost Creek Falls. Everyone liked it a lot.

     Below is a video of Lost Creek Falls during our visit.

Dodson Cave. The Jungle Book movie was filmed here.  See the mist hanging in the mouth of the cave? 

The kids were all about cave exploring and no one was more insistent upon going in than Tessa.
Michael got to go in with Pawpaw back into the dark with a flashlight. Tessa just got to go in the mouth of the cave. It felt wonderfully cool.

      We had a good dinner Saturday night and a camp fire. Pawpaw made banana icecream.
It started raining on us so we went to bed early. It rained through the night and into the next morning.
We packed up after breakfast and headed home.   The only thing we did not do that we planned to do was play on the playground again Sunday morning and go to Piney Falls and Millikan Overlook.

 We had a good time and the trip went well. I think we're all looking forward to the next camping trip!  We missed Adam, so we'll have to take him too next go round.

     It is worth mentioning that  I purchased a new Fall Creek Falls State Park map.  It cost $8.73 at the Betty Dunn Nature Center.   It was money well spent as it contains the trail system for the entire park including SOME of the new additions. Hemlock Falls Trail is on there in Camps Gulf. 
Wheeler Farm loop is on there as well.    It has some excellent history on James M. "Judge" Taft who called himself Peckerwood. He is the father of Fall Creek Falls State Park. He lobbied tirelessly to get
the area protected for future generations.  He was a father, husband, preacher, soldier, farmer,
and educator.   He worked to help the residents of Van Buren County have a better life.   I was
so impressed with the life of this fellow who was known and loved by all.  I have a copy of Russ Manning's The Historic Cumberland Plateau and not once does it mention him.   Without his efforts
we would almost certainly not be able to enjoy the state park now.     Thank you Judge Taft for your
selfless work .

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alarka Falls, Bradley Branch Falls, and Wrights Creek Falls


Pink Turtleheads


Alarka Falls, Bradley Branch Falls, &  Wrights Creek Falls 

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Mike Gourley
Mike Maples

Sunday August 16, 2015

Photos are here starting with frame 507

Photos for the rest of the trip are here
beginning with frame 289

Bradley Branch Falls and Wrights Creek Falls 

     Sunday we got up early and met Mike Gourley and Mike Maples at Sugarlands Visitor 
Center.  We had planned a trip back to Alarka Falls so they could see it for themselves.  We had 
discussed going into the headwaters exploring, but that idea was a poor one. Rich had a startling
rattlesnake encounter last week . It is Dog Days.  Between the two things the prospect of bushwhacking in an area devoid of trails was not appealing. Kenny flat refused to do it.  
Rich wanted to go, but was not keen on it at this time of year. We put that idea off until 
Fall when things cool down and the snakes go to bed.   

      Kenny had met Mike Gourley and hiked with him before.   I introduced him to Mike Maples.
I had met Mike before and have been familiar with him for a long while.  Today would be the first time we would hike together!  I felt very fortunate indeed.   We talked it over and quickly decided
that we'd just take Kenny's truck and all ride in style.  I love me some wild eyed Southern boys and pickup trucks.  We decided to go to the base of Alarka Falls and climb up to the top, visit the various
drops of it, then climb back down.  We'd eat some lunch and then go round to the Qualla Boundary to explore some short waterfall hikes.   All of today's adventures would be new for the two Mikes.
The Qualla Boundary waterfalls would be new to all of us.  I had waypoints for all of them as did Mike Gourley.   Kenny's navigation system in the truck takes the decimal style that I had.  

       We realized on the way down the road that we had taken off without the cooler which
contained our beverages and lunch.   We got there with snacks and everything else important but that.
We made a quick detour in Cherokee on the way to our hike and grabbed some drinks and Subway 
sandwiches.   Problem solved.    

      I had brought a printed, bound copy of the Alarka Laurel Trail Guide with me. 
I wanted to see how useful it could be when put to practice.   Kenny disputed me on the 
exit and the direction of travel on the US 74 Expressway. I pulled out my written instructions and voila!  I had it right there in black and white.    I think this is going to be very good!

           The drive back to Alarka at the base of the falls trail is an experience in getting to 
the back woods.  Both Mike Gourley and Mike Maples are accustomed to it so they like us were not
put off in the slightest.   The sort of isolation in a place like that can be unsettling to some 
persons.   We lived in an Ag-Forestal District for decades so it seems natural to us.  

        We gathered our gear and hit the trail.   We passed by a few side trails that cut over to 
the stream.   We stopped for photos of a few smaller, scenic cascades on the hike up. 
We approached the base of the falls and  saw an owl!  It hung around for awhile and we 
were able to enjoy seeing it and get some photos.   I had seen an owl hear once before.
I realized today what the message of the owl was for me and what Alarka has been trying to 
tell me.   It was good to be there today.  It is such a special, beautiful place and I felt great getting
to share it with my friends.  

Hooty Hoo to you and you!  Owl in the forest at Alarka Falls. 

Alarka Falls from the main, first vantage at the base of it.    We spent some time goofing off here
and taking photos.  It is hard to take it all in.   It was such an easy hike up to that point.  
Mike Maples and Mike Gourley were thinking this was it.  I explained that there was a lot more.
We would not be able to see it from here. We would have to continue climbing if we wished to 
see the rest of it.  These two mountain goats don't mind it at all.   I knew they would find it easy.
It is not easy for me, but I surprised myself in a good way.   Climbing up the mountain to see it is
far easier than climbing down. It is also much easier than hiking out to it, climbing down, then climbing back up, and hiking all the way out.   It appears the manway up the slope is being traveled and has been improved.  Downed trees are now gone.  The way is easier and if you stay over away from the brink of the falls you can save yourself a lot of trouble and worry.   

          We climbed up and went over to a few drops of it for photos.   The climb up was tough for me.
I was stunned beyond belief when we got to a point where the trail turned and went down and right.
We went a few feet and I was standing looking at the little homemade platform and cable at the top of the falls! I exclaimed "We're here! We are at the very top!"   From there I went out and got photos of the very top cascade which is pretty.  Kenny waited on me and set up his Fantasty Football league.
Mike and Mike began climbing down to start photographing the drops of the falls below us.

     Uppermost Cascade of Alarka Falls.  

One of many slides and cascades on the way down. I read today that the height estimate for this falls is 280 ft.  I had said 200,but felt that was probably on the conservative side.  

     I was glad to not be here alone and to have Kenny with me.  I began remembering last September
being there with Cathy. We got way off course and got too close to the brink of the falls both going down and climbing back up.   I could see the mistakes I made as I went down the manway this time.
By the time we got to the next drop where we stopped to take photos my hands were trembling and I was having to take some slow, deep breaths.  Kenny reassured me and I calmed down pretty readily.

           We got some photos of the falls and the spray and the terrain made it really tough.

Middle drop of Alarka Falls. This one is my most favorite view of it.  

Mike Gourley liked it best too.  
Mike Maples at the brink of the drop below me.  Masses of pink turtlehead flowers in the foreground.

  Once we got done taking pictures here we packed up and headed down.  It went a lot better than 
previous times.  Karma really is a bitch.  I was telling Mike Maples a story about Mike Gourley falling at Smith Branch and rolling and I fell right then.  Mike Gourley was behind me and saw it and laughed at me.  Next HE fell and I got to laugh at him again. Mike Maples laughed at both of us.
Kenny remarked that Mike Maples was so nimble he was like a squirrel!    It makes me so jealous.

   We scarfed down some lunch back at the truck.  We loaded up and headed to hunt for more waterfalls.   The GPS tried to tell us the next batch of falls was thirty three miles away.  I knew that could not be correct and it wasn't.    We headed back toward Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary.
We stopped on the way back out Alarka Road for the two Mikes to get some photos of the old log
cabins in the area.     Once we got headed in the right direction on the 74 Expressway the distance 
dropped to fifteen miles.   

  World Waterfall Database is an excellent resource.   We had four green lighted falls shown on the list in one little area.  Crowe Hill Falls, Reed Falls, Bradley Branch Falls and Wrights Creek Falls.
My assessment of it based on google maps and the satellite view was that we'd find them all, but 
that Wrights Creek Falls and Bradley Branch Falls would be the two best ones.   Turns out that was how it went.  Waterfall hunters are never completely satisfied if they find all the falls easily, simply every time.   We have to have a little mystery and challenge left.   Crowe Hill Falls would be the 
mystery of the day. I will expound on that later in the trip report.  

     Mike Gourley sitting in the back with his handheld GPS turned out to be a far more sensible 
and effective navigator than Kenny's truck system!  He doesn't try to loop you ten miles out of the way to make a U turn either!   He even lined them up along the road as to what we would come to first.   Reed Falls is about 15 ft high, visible from the road. Not much water and has a house at the top of it.   Crowe Hill Falls we found, but the given way point was a two foot tall slanting, wet rock in a creek that looked like a drainage ditch.   Bradley Branch Falls is beside Wrights Creek Church.
You can pull in there and it is about ninety feet high.  It needs more water volume to be spectacular, but is so easy to access that it would be worth including in a return trip if we've had good rain.

 Bradley Branch Falls

    Cranefly orchids by Bradley Branch Falls.  Saw lots of these pretty, native orchids.

      We laughed and carried on. Mike Maples teased me about having pooped my pants because my backside was grubby dirty from all the falling around and scooting down dirt banks.   We were all clowning today and it felt mighty good to be silly.    

           We moved on to the last falls of the day which turned out to be the pick of the litter out of this batch of four waterfalls.     Wrights Creek Falls is located behind the Waterfalls Church. It is an easy 150 yard walk back there to see it. It is only about fifteen feet high, but so scenic.   It has rocky grottoes and old stone structures around it.  It is shaded for much of the day making it a good place to get waterfall photos.    We strolled back through gaura that was seven feet tall, golden wingstem about six feet tall, purple new york ironweed, four foot high orange spotted jewelweed.  The setting there in this residential area of the Qualla boundary is idyllic.    Being there with my husband and my friends was excellent.  

        Wrights Creek is a very healthy stream with a good Summer time flow.   That being said take along your water shoes or prepare for wet boots getting to the falls.   You pass a stone BBQ pit on the way to the falls. Mike Maples explained to me that style of old BBQ pit is a 'blacksmith style". Make sense. I remember a lot of folks having those when I was a little girl.    Right beyond that was a stone structure like a little house.   It was set in a stone grotto cut out of the bank. 

Old BBQ pit

Stone house by Wrights Creek Falls

Rock grotto within the stone house
 Rock outcrop you have to go round to reach the falls.
Wrights Creek Falls! Gorgeous!

   We had plenty of time to check out the waterfall and enjoy the cool green setting.  Mike Maples
explored up the creek above the falls.   I remarked that he and Cathy were cut from the same clothe. They both like to go up the creek or amble around to see what else they can find!

Below is a mellow video of Wrights Creek Falls.  It sums our day up very well.

I enjoyed my day with my hubby and our pals.  It was great.  Exactly what I needed.

  Solving the Mystery of Crowe Hill Falls

      I mentioned in the trip report that we found Crowe Hill Falls, but it was piddley.  The waypoint was dead on it.    World Waterfall Database has a criterion for what qualifies as a waterfall.  It has to be fifteen feet tall to make the cut.  I emailed them and related to Bryan what we found , and that I felt it should be removed from the database.  Making a long story short, it turns out that the way point  is incorrect and Crowe Hill Falls is a five foot tall cascade we saw on Wrights Creek on our way up there.   It is a pretty cascade,but still not big enough to be included on the database. I don't know what they'll decide to do about it.   Mystery solved? Maybe si, maybe no.   We passed a road
later in our day going through Cherokee that said "Crowe Hill Falls Lane". 

***Magicmomma's Crystal Ball of the Future***

I see an Autumn trip back to the headwaters of Alarka.
I see finding more waterfalls up there.
I see a movie made from the headwaters to the base of the falls.
I see the U.S. Forest Service removing the trash barrel.
I see the Mud Pit  pull off blocked to further vehicle access.
I see the trail to the top of the falls cut back.
I see myself hiking the trail from the Red Spruce Bog all the way
round to the Top of the Falls trail. 
I see the property owners at the bottom along Alarka Road
telling me it IS okay to visit Fall Branch Falls.
I see me and my pals and my hubby going to Mingo and Upper Mingo Falls.
I see a guidebook completed for Alarka Laurel!

Virgin Falls from the Caney Fork River Trail

Swallowtail Butterfly 

Virgin Falls from the Caney Fork River 

Saturday August 15,2015

Dana& Kenny Koogler
Jay Walker

( I started a Scotts Gulf album and will be adding to it. )

   Our new friend Jay, myself and Kenny had wanted to get out to the Davis Cemetery and then continue out to Virgin Falls from the Caney Fork River/Big Bottom end.    We had been to Davis cemetery before, but Jay had not. All of us had been to Virgin Falls before at least twice, but never
from the river side of things.      One of the reasons for the hold out on Summer Virgin Falls trips is
the diminished flow in Summer.  Who wants to commit to an eight mile round trip hike when the water volume on the main attraction may be pitiful?  We got lucky though and the falls was running
just perfect.     We saw spider lilies for the first time.  We made friends with people.  We had fun exploring the cave for the first time.   It was very nice getting to meet Jay at last. 

   The trail from Big Bottom to the Davis Cemetery is rough.  Rocky cobbles. Mud pits.  
Downed trees.    The Davis Cemetery trail from the cemetery to the Caney Fork and up toward Virgin Falls connector trail is in good shape.  Only one downed tree and less mud.   We never saw any snakes today ourselves, but talked to a fellow who had seen one.   The river down at Big Bottom and up until much closer to Davis Ford was dry.   There was one swimming hole left at Big Bottom.
The river approaching Davis Ford was running enough to be pretty, but easy to ford. No worries today about getting swept away in the current.  Slippery rocks though.   The Davis Ford had a big hole of water above it.    

Davis Cemetery with comb graves.

Spider lilies are waist high and very pretty.

Old stone walls and chimney piles down in Scotts Gulf are found in many places.

 Davis Ford up river of the ford.

Caney Fork River at Davis Ford not too bad to cross.

Virgin Falls front shot

Red hammock hanging up at the edge of Virgin Falls. They took it down later so we were able to get some shots minus the hammock.

In all previous trips I had not even been up to the caves of Virgin Falls. Jay had been up there before.
Today we met some really nice guys at the falls enjoying the day. They said they were my "fans".
I was honored that they even knew about my blog.   We went in the cave and around to the back entrance which I did not even know existed! Never saw a single bat, but did see one spider.

Kenny sitting on a rock in the dark.  You can see him back there with his head lamp.

Davis Cemetery Trail.  It is so pretty.

    We liked Jay.  We finally got that trip scrached off the list of things we wanted to do.
Already looking forward to the next adventure. Hoping we get some rain so the waterfalls will get
flowing good!