Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau--Hood Cave, New Waterfalls and Un-named Arch

Turkey tail fungus on a fallen log across our path.

Exploring the Cumberland Plateau--Pre-Christmas Ride

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Sat. Dec. 15 & Sun. Dec. 16, 2012
Total miles ridden approx. 62
Total miles hiked approx. 3

Pictures are here:

   Six  years ago at about this same time of year I was feeling very stressed out
Pre-Christmas.  I told Kenny I was going to take a day outing for myself and do some hiking, and exploring in the Cumberland Plateau.  I wanted to see the Alvin York Birth Place.   I also planned to visit Northrup Falls that day.  Beyond that I was open to suggestions.   I stopped at Highland Manor Winery and purchased a bottle of wine to take home.  The nice lady I spoke with there told me of a waterfall nearby I should go visit that was very close.  I took her advice.  It was one of the most exciting, best days ever.  The entire day was just what I needed.  I fell in love with Fentress County and the plateau and I've been coming here ever since.      All these years later Kenny and I decided to do a stress buster weekend to beat the holiday blues and so the tradition continues!

     We left Saturday morning early and got a room at the Jordan Motel so we could stay over one night.   We had two glorious twelve hour days of four-wheeling, hiking, and exploring.  No cell phones.  It was a blast!  I felt like when we returned home that I dreamed the entire trip.  It was that much fun!

       Kenny had brought Buck and C.D.  over to ride the river trail a week earlier so he had some good suggestions about where we should start.  He wanted to take me UP Lost Cane.  We began there and it was awful.  Everyone had said it was rough. Rough ain't the word.  It was horrible. I was soon ill from all the jarring around. I kept getting out of the RZR and walking.  We quickly decided it was not the thing to do so we got back out of there and will leave it for another day.  


This photo is just a small sampling of how rocky and rough Lost Cane is. From what Kenny says the bottom part here is the worst, but its pretty much all bad.
 This is a dry creek bed being used as a trail.

Sunshine in Tar Gap
     We forded the river and just barely made it across.  We got wet.  it was too high to go any further.   We did pull down to the next ford only to find it looking worse than where we just came across and very swift.  We turned around and decided to try to ride some different trails just to see what we'd find.  We were not disappointed.  The day was clearing off and turning pretty. Blue skies and moderate temperatures!  The forest trail was beautiful even in the bareness of Winter.   We made it all the way out to a gap where rock outcrops the size of buildings flanked the trail.   The trail narrowed so we parked and got out to hike. We walked up through a natural gap in the mountains that was one of the strangest and most beautiful places. 

Mountain Gap in beautiful sunshine.

We walked up through this gap to an overlook with a fantastic view. 

View from overlook out across the Plateau.

     We turned around and headed back the trail to see what else we could get into?  I was having so much fun I didn't care anything about eating though it was lunch time.

     It may sound strange, but I have something that calls to me and if I will listen to it
I find things.  Always good things.  Its an intuition or an inner voice or perhaps something else more spiritual.  I have learned to hear it and to follow.   We headed back down the trail and I knew it was time to stop and follow.   The stream before me was in a beautiful hemlock gorge.  Pretty enough on its own.  I knew to look and so I proceeded up the hill through the boulders high in the drainage.  I could hear it before I could see it.  A waterfall!  I stopped and used my "intercom" system and yodeled down to Kenny Woo Hoo! Waterfall!!.  He came hauling up the bank to meet me.   I stood atop a hemlock trunk curved like a giant J holding me.    Around me were massive cliffs and boulders jumbled around this stream.  The stream itself was a pretty series of cascades.  Capped by a very pretty waterfall.  Kenny crossed the creek below me and I continued working my way around boulders toward the base of the falls.  I saw what I thought would be a short cut to put me at the base.  A tunnel through the rocks.  I passed through it which was fun, but it brought me out with about a one foot view of the tail of the falls!   I had to cross to where Kenny was and climb the bank to get the full view.  It was a fun adventure though and I would not have missed any of it.


Newly discovered waterfall on an stream which has no name. It is about 20 ft high. There is more above it!
Bottom: J shaped hemlock tree

Here is a link to a short video that shows off all the drops of it better than the photos ever could.

     We finally tore ourselves away from the waterfall and chose a path to head down again.  Our walk back was easier as we picked  a place where we did not have to navigate the boulders.   Back at the RZR we finally ate lunch.  We then headed back down and forded the river again. We got wet once more, but not quite as bad this time.

    We kept going out on the road heading straight for the top of the mountain.  On the way up you can look over and see a rocky outcrop standing all by itself.   We had finally figured out how to reach it.   We climbed up the rope someone tied off and got out on the rocks for a grand stand view!  It was amazing.  I was being silly while out there. I saw where someone had built a fire and there were charcoal sticks laying around.  I set to work making my cave pictographs in honor of Ed Choate.   He had poked fun of the cave pictographs that had been discovered and carbon dated.  Saying they were not old that they dated back to the 1950's or so.  That he knew who did them and it was a Tipton who done it.  It bothered Sharon enough when he told it that she called TNC to make sure they knew and weren't having a hoax perpetrated upon them.  They were not happy to get her call. Long story short they had their doubts, but the carbon dating process satisfied them that the cave paintings found were "Mississippian" ( Indian) aged.    Ed had a wonderful spirit of fun that is sorely missed.

    We climbed down to get a better, closeup view of the natural Chimney and some of the rock forms which are impressive!   Once we'd had enough of that I took a notion I wanted to go round to where a sign  indicated there was supposed to be a waterfall. Kenny said we'd head down the mountain on the back side and try to make it out there.

     We hauled butt out the mountain and it really pleased me to be able to figure out where we were.   It is finally starting to come together for me now. All the trails and how they fit.
We made it out there before dark, but found fallen trees across the trail that would require being sawed up to get through.  We'd have to come back tomorrow to try it as we only had less than an hour of daylight.  We ended up having a fun night ride.  That's what comes of trying to be too ambitious which we always do.  It was great fun except for when I had a thorn hit me in the forehead. Ouch!

View from the stand alone lookout on Skinner Mountain. I liked the shot that shows the little pools of water.

         We headed back down the mountain in the dark and loaded up.  We drove back to down muddy and dirty and had dinner at Pizza Hut in town.  Then went back to Jordan Motel to get cleaned up and get some sleep. I would like to say I'll never stay at the Jordan Motel again, but seeing as it is the only motel in town.... I'll probably be back.
The prices are good, but you get what you pay for and the mattress was only slightly softer than a brick.  The next morning we were waked by the sounds of a cat fight outside our door.  Then round two of the cat fight.  When we walked out the door with our stuff there was a twenty pound possum sitting at the feet of Baby Jesus in the manger scene.  He and the cat had it out and the possum won.  He waddled away and went under a hemlock tree.

        We got some breakfast and set out to start our day. We went down into Hoodtown and witnessed the destruction caused by the logging operation there.  It made me cry it was so ugly.  We also witnessed the burned over area at the bottom. We  had seen smoke from Skinner Mountain overlook two weeks ago.  We saw today where the fire had been.  The forestry service had stopped it and the area will heal, but it was still awful smelling and looking.

Burned area at the bottom of the road.

     We headed up the river and found the Hood Cave entrance we'd located a couple weeks back.    We crossed the river and carefully made our way over to the entrance.  The first entrance was small, but big enough to squeeze through.   Once inside the ceiling was low in places, but in others you could stand up.  I shined the light in and it looked ok so I went ahead.   Kenny was not wanting to come in through that small hole.  He was not going to be left out so he followed me.  He had his misgivings about it, but once in he was fine.   I later had the chance to tease him about his reluctance. "What you scare for? WHAT?" using my best Impatient Asian voice. We had a great laugh over that.

   Kenny going back out the hole for Hood Cave. I'm outta here!

Live rock formations on the ceiling of Hood Cave. We were careful not to touch them.

    We saw many interesting formations inside the cave. Rim stone. Flow stone. crystals.  columns.  Stalactites and stalagmites.  The entire ceiling of the cave is "alive" still forming new structures so we used care not to handle these things.  I watched the floor also for where I was stepping.  We saw the gate at the back. We turned right and went to another passage where the cave went around the bend in a big pool of water.

     We spent a good amount of time in there not wanting to leave, but we had three other entrances to check out.  We crawled the skinny ledge to the next big opening of Hood Cave.  The ledge crawl would have been scarier if not for the fact I'd been roped up and climbing the day before.  By comparison this was not bad.  Both cave entrances have gates on back but the parts of the cave are connected.  Ed's family used this cave for cold storage of foods.  

Looking out the big entrance of Hood Cave.

Looking out of what Chuck Sutherland tells me is "Bigalo Jingoist Hole". I think he is making up stuff trying to pull a fast one on me. :-)

While we were here doing this I felt as if it were not real. Pinch me I must be dreaming!?
I had wanted to do this for awhile now and here we were doing it!  One of the coolest things we've done ever.  

     Reluctantly we left and headed out to find the elusive "Triple Falls" clear across the the mountain.    We stopped and had some lunch on the way.  We drove way round the country and finally set out to find this waterfall.    We had to saw logs out of the trail,but it was not bad.  We came to a place where the trail was blocked by an even worse tree across it.  We just got out and walked the rest of the way. 
Triple Falls? We found a waterfall, but it was not triple. It was quite pretty. Here is a short video of  Triple

    We walked back to the vehicle after finding the waterfall and did a little more riding.
We just explored and boy did it pay off.  We stopped at one place thinking there might be an overlook around some rocks.   There was not a view out over the gulf but something else interesting!  We found a natural arch or bridge.
Natural bridge from the top side

Ladder to the bottom. Through the trees I spied something man made. A very sketchy looking ladder. We walked round there and found it lead down to the base of the cliff and the natural bridge.  It was not as rickety as it appears.
Natural bridge from the base

  We spent some time checking out this fascinating natural feature. What a find!
It does not appear to be listed in any database. That is three land forms in one weekend discovered not included in any database or guidebook!  It pays to just amble around.

We finally packed it up and headed home.  I was so tired and so muddy and dirty. I thought I would take a nap in the truck on the way home, but I was too excited thinking over all we'd done to sleep.

I can hardly wait to take our friends back to see these places. I look forward to the next trip!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

River Trail Ride

Hamamelis virginiana bloom

Ride Across the River

Kenny & Dana Koogler
Sharon McGhee

25 mile ride for the day

Pictures are here beginning with frame 72:

     Kenny and I met up with Sharon on Friday and spent the day four-wheeling.
It was great fun.  We were fortunate enough to catch the water level down far enough to ride the river trail.    We have now visited this area in every season!
We found that with the leaves off the trees we could enjoy seeing parts of the landscape that were hidden during the Summer.


Gloom along a closed in part of the trail where the river is not visible.

We are sitting in the RZR in the middle of the river. Looking back at Sharon just approaching the ford.

High chalky white bluffs tower above the river here.

Colors of the Cumberland Plateau at this swimming hole.

The river here is hunter green with towering white bluffs draped in deepest green cedar and hemlocks. I love the copper beech trees too!  The river is so clear here you can see and count each stone on the bottom.

Can you see Kenny way up there climbing around on the bluff? We were hunting for a cave. We finally found it but this was NOT it! He climbed up all that way only to holler back "There ain't no hole to go in any cave!"

View from the North Overlook on Skinner Mtn.

    We wrapped up our day by going out to dinner at Baccara's Family Restaurant in Jamestown.  It was wonderful!  The proprietor is the same fellow who ran the Beggar's Castle.  I finally got to sample his cooking which is excellent.

Can't wait to go back next time!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kayak & Bushwhack to Panther Creek Falls

Sunshine over the ridge along Panther Creek

Kayak & Bushwhack to Panther Creek Falls 

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Sat. Nov. 10, 2012
28th Wedding Anniversary

Hike distance 6 mi approx
Kayak distance 1 mi. approx

**Another blog entry damaged by using
Flickr free photo account. I am repairing this blog entry
and will not delete it, but I may have lost some of
the photos for good.  If I have lost my pictures of
Panther Creek Falls it will be an excuse to borrow Andy's canoe

and re-do this trip. **

     Kenny and I decided to spend our anniversary tackling an off trail adventure we'd attempted about several years ago and did not complete.   We wanted to find Panther Creek Falls in the far back country of the western side of the Smokies.   We packed our gear including kayaks and set out Saturday morning.  It was a rather impromptu trip so we got a late start.   

     We enjoyed the drive down Foothills Parkway west from the house. The Autumn colors were still peak there!  The views were lovely.   We soon arrived at the put in point for the kayak portion of our journey at the mouth of Abrams Creek.  It joins Chilhowee Lake here.  We put in and paddled upstream.  We saw two men ahead of us who were also kayaking.  I could not help hoping they did not have the same plans as us?  I did not have to wonder long.  They continued ahead up Abrams Creek while we hung a right and paddled back Panther Creek.  The lake looked black and glassy and mirrored the stunning Autumn leaves and the sky today.  It was a perfect day for this trip.  It was supposed to be clear and sunny and warm up to about sixty nine degrees.  The water smelled fresh and clean and the lake was very quiet.    The sun was up but the bottoms of the hollers we paddled and walked today spend much of the time in deepest gloom because of the forest cover and high cliffs.  It can create a sense of foreboding. 

Dark as a Jericho Mile down in them hollers!

      We beached our kayaks on the beginnings of an old road bed that was used in the past for slate mining and logging.   We'd have to pass the slate mines on our trip today.  Lots of history in this part of the park that is far less visited than some others.   The stream was quiet and pretty. Some of the trees had shed their leaves, but the beech trees and sourwood trees and maples still sported bright gold, copper and orange leaves.  We donned our backpacks and trekking poles and set out on foot from this point.   We did not have to go far until we met with our first creek ford.  It was a rock hop. We could not recall if this trip had many creek crossings? We gambled on doing with one trekking pole each and left our water shoes in the truck.  Recreational kayaks don't fit lots of gear with the paddler.
We hoped we would not deeply regret our choice, but we figured we'd manage.

Approaching the old road bed that leads up Panther Creek

     Panther Creek is very scenic most of the way.  Kenny and I both remarked we had forgotten just how pretty it was.   It is a series of cascades, deep clear pools of blue-green, pot holes and jumbled boulders.  We had not gone far when we could hear the roar of Garner Falls. It is a small waterfall and hard to get a shot of.  It clings to the far right hand of the rock it cascades over. The terrain around it makes it difficult to view from the trail.
The plunge pool is more dramatic than the falls.  It is deep and would make a good swimming hole.  I expect from our past experience with it any season warm enough to enjoy swimming would find it clogged with snakes.   We were here in March last time and found a couple snakes near this falls even as cool as it was!

     We kept moving since we had a lot of territory to cover.  We made our way upstream
and it was surprising how many things came back to mind from the previous trip.  We could find exactly the spot where the wild hogs got after us.  I had remarked that as many mud holes as I was seeing it was a wonder we had not run into any hogs.  About that time here came a whole passel of shoats!  I went to hollering "Pigs! Where's the mama? Where's the mama?"  I just knew we'd get eaten up by a sow!  But they were big enough to be on their own.  We forded a couple more times. I looked up and saw some rusty metal artifacts.  A closer look showed we had arrived at the halfway point in our trip today. Before us lay lots of rusty metal and slate blocks.  They used this old rail line and cars to haul the slate out.  The blocks were used to build some of the structures in the National Park including Park Headquarters at Sugarlands.

Getting out of the kayaks and getting read to hike from here

Old rail car used to haul slate blocks out from the mine site.

    We were following the old road bed used for mining in the past as we made our way further into the back country.   It was often filled with so much downfall and rhododendron it disappeared outright or was impassable.  Many years of off trail hiking have smartened us up a little.  Keep the old trace in sight but go around it.  You have to be careful to avoid giving in too much to the "urge to go around" when off trail hiking.
The new Garmin GPS today was invaluable in helping us at least know which general direction to head.  It delights me beyond measure to see how we've both gotten really good at orienting topo maps with the real lay of the land. It feels great to be able to say "Ok, this is the big ridge coming in from the left".  It is rather surreal to me.
At some point on our hike this day I had a feeling of "finding treasure" envelope me.
I knew that I was living a recurring dream I have from time to time. I had felt the dream was not of a real place, but today I recognized it!   Here was a photo from that moment.


Panther Creek viewed from above on the old manway.
Photos don't capture the emotional tone of such moments of joy.

     One of my favorite trails in the Smokies is Goshen Prong.  It is flat and follows
along above the stream with vistas like the one shown above.  The rock forms are dramatic.  Panther Creek Manway is like that only after the tornado it is in far better
condition than Goshen Prong which is supposed to be a maintained trail.  Before I get too gushy I will remind myself there were ugly parts of rhododendron swimming and butts hanging out in space over cliffs whilst we clung to fallen trees in order to proceed.

**Photo lost here**

Trail? What trail?  This is actually not that bad.  The bad parts are to the point I can't get the camera out.

     We came to one creek ford that was marked with two rock cairns.  There was another ford beyond that unmarked, but a no brainer. The cliff on the left was sheer! We later saw some old cable and metal in the woods.  We saw one more rail from the abandoned dinky line.

   We got across the creek and pushed higher into the steepening drainage.   We had not gone much further when I could hear the falls!  Kenny called me down to where he stood and we could get a glimpse of it.   Getting down to it from here was going to be rough.
The falls was surrounded on all sides by thick rhododendron and rocky cliffs.  I could see the way down, but Kenny did not want to follow me.  He finally came to the conclusion it was the only way which it was.  We got in the drainage where a spring seep flowed down to join Panther Creek.  It was slick and mossy and rocky.  I finally just sat down and scooted.  Better muddy, wet and dirty than injured.  The only thing hurt today might be my pride.  I also gave up on the idea of staying dry.  I just got IN the creek and waded.
I was up to my knees in water.  I made my way up to the falls this way.  Kenny managed to cling to the rhodo and go through it in places.

Before us was Panther Creek Falls at last!  

Panther Creek Falls Video As I have lost the photos of it. :-(

The terrain above the falls flattened out, but in order to reach it you'd have to get in and swim across the plunge pool.  The walls on the sides are rocky and crowded with rhododendron and other vegetation.  There may be more cascades above here, but we'll have to explore that another trip with an early start and a longer day!

While this falls is certainly not the largest we've ever visited or even the prettiest it was one of the more rewarding trips.  Finding it was a challenge. We had to work together!
We're a good team.  Its something we both enjoyed very much.  We did not linger here much since we had about 2 hours of daylight left to get back out.

    We made it out in far less time.  We got out in 1 hour and 40 minutes.
We even had time to sit down on some logs near the kayaks and eat a leisurely snack.
Kenny was foot sore and glad to be back in the kayaks and off his poor feet.
We paddled out taking our time since now we should have no problem getting back to the truck before dark.   We did encounter a couple boats on the way out. The first was a man and his son fishing. They stopped and waited for us to pass to avoid capsizing us with their wake.  The second boat was SAR and they were flying by.  Kenny yelled for me to turn the kayak INTO their wake.  Timely advice for it probably kept me from turning over.  Once that was done I had time to relax and caught a few photos of the setting sun and fiery leaves as we neared the take out point. What a wonderful day! 

Fiery red leaves in the setting sun on Abrams Creek

Monday, November 5, 2012

Turley to New River Ride

Turley to New River 4x4 Trip

Sat. Nov. 3, 2012
Dana & Kenny Koogler & Friends

Pictures are here:
Turley to New River Ride on FB Pix

Good over all video from the ride.  A sampling of everything. 

Slogging through mud, a rattlesnake, the eternal flame, and beautiful fall colors.

 We sold our Yamaha Rhino and used the money to purchase something we'd been wanting. We now own a Polaris RZR!  We had wanted to take it four-wheeling and had first planned to take it out with Buck and Sheila on  Sunday Oct. 28th.  I worked the night before and on my way to the jeep that morning it was about thirty degrees and pouring rain. We had not purchased and installed the roof or the windshield.  Thankfully no one wanted to go out in that mess!  We rescheduled and went Sat. Nov. 3rd with Buck, Sheila, Sammy, Marie, and CD.  The plan was to meet at Cracker Barrel for breakfast. We would then head to the West Section of Royal Blue WMA at Turley.   We'd ride from there toward the New River WMA and North Cumberland WMA.   

 Lots of mud today on this ride

     We met up for breakfast as planned. We parked at the trail head for Turley and before long we were all ready to hit the trail.  It was frosty cold this morning!  We all had our blaze orange on head and chest since its hunting season.   Sammy had said Turley was rough but that the trails smoothed out more toward New River.  The Fall colors were beautiful today if a little past peak.  Some trees obviously had shed their leaves.  The morning sun was coming  out gleaming across the ridge and through the tree leaves.  It illuminated all the colors of the forest.  We could hear some shots being fired in the woods down a trail to the right.  Buck was the leader for the day.

Sun coming up over the ridge.

Fall colors along a trail at Turley.

     We passed an intersection that I recognized as the one we used to head back to Red Ash parking area on another ride this past September.  It was the day Kenny and I rode the "Water Trail" without really knowing where we were!  Besides that we saw little else that was a repeat.  Lots of sloshy black mud holes to run through made things interesting.
Kenny got a chance to use the winch when Sammy got stuck. I wondered if Sammy did that just for Kenny to make him happy?

    The day was warming up especially on the ridges where the sun was reaching the ground.   The frost had all burned off and folks were coming out of layers of clothing.
I was not feeling great, but I was not wanting to give up.  We stopped by a spot at Puncheon Camp where I got to see the falls. I pulled some wild ginger out of the ground and popped the roots in my mouth to chew on. I thought it might help the nausea.  It worked! I quickly began to recover and my tummy settled right down. I put some more in my coat pocket in case the feeling returned later.  I got to see the Eternal Flame which is a natural gas well that just flows out freely.  I was told it is usually lit and provides some nice warmth and something neat to see.  I was also warned that if I was ever to arrive here and find it NOT burning to be careful to gauge the wind direction before lighting it if I valued my eyebrows and facial hairs. A funny story was related about another friend who found this out the hard way and you could practically smell the singed hair as it was told.


Sammy by the Eternal Flame.

Should have gotten someone to take photos as "evidence" of why I was sick to my stomach. Found some rubbery old weenies at the flame. Someone had tried to roast them and the stick broke. I was clowning like I was gonna heat them up and eat 'em! Blech!

Autumn Colors at Turley

     We rode on more trails covering new territory faster than my mind could keep up with all the numbers!  I recognized the hard road at Norma when that appeared. I knew exactly where we were.   We went up to ride a trail across a big mountain ridge with pretty views.
I want to say that was trail #22, but I'm not sure.   It had signs for Brimstone, but according to Buck that was no longer the case.  He had said the trail now was included in New River WMA's system.   The views to either side of the trail were pretty.  Pine tree groves.  Blue and gray mountains. Fall colors.  We stopped for everyone to take a pee break and rest and enjoy the views.   Marie and Sheila found the black rattlesnake and were nice enough to walk us back down to see him where he lay.  He got agitated at us and began buzzing.  He was real pretty and had ten buttons on his rattler. I was surprised to find a snake still out and stirring as cold as it had been in the morning, but there he was!

Black rattlesnake closeup of his head. He was about 2 1/2 ft long.

    We stopped for lunch later on.  We enjoyed more up and down hills.  We saw more pretty views and Fall colors.   My tummy got torn up again only worse this time.  I kept trying to keep my mind on anything else, but I was getting sicker by the minute.  Finally we headed back in the direction of the trucks.   It was a long ride out of there for me as the bouncing of the RZR was not helping my situation.   Buck made sure we got out of there.  Finally back at the truck I just went ahead and vomited which helped a little.
Turned out I'd had a nose bleed that was going down my throat instead of out my nose. No wonder I was feeling terrible!

    I felt lucky to have good friends who didn't get upset with me for not being 100% .
I was also glad Kenny was understanding of me.  I went home and doctored on my stomach and bloody nose.   I mostly just lay on the couch and tried to be still.
I did take time to get a hot steamy shower and rinse the black dust out of my poor head.
I was mad at myself for being such a punk. I'm all better now thank the Lord and ready for next time.

Fall colors from Trail 22 up on the ridge.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Autumn in Asheville & Brevard

Fall Asters growing near Log Hollow Falls

Asheville & Brevard Autumn Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Thu. Oct. 18- Sun. Oct. 21, 2012

**This blog entry has been repaired and I have substituted videos
for photos that have been lost. **

     Kenny & I planned to head over to the mountains of Western NC to visit our son and see his new living quarters in Asheville and do some hiking with our friend Cathy.
We decided to do something a little different on our lodging since our daughter Crystal and son-in-law, Adam were using our camper.  I first looked up hotel rooms in Asheville only to find that it is peak season over there for leaf peepers and Biltmore visitation.   Hotel rooms were at a premium!  I tried Brevard and found the rates lower, but still high.
Most of the places we wanted to hike were in Pisgah Forest so I booked a cabin outside the Brevard City limits for a daily rate less than a hotel room!   It also allowed me a chance to head over a day ahead of Kenny to have most of the day Thursday and all day Friday to visit and hike.   

        I was glad to get up with Jared and see where his new housing is and visit with him.
He is doing very well.   We had dinner Thursday night and sat around talking at his place.
I had checked into the cabin and found it very nice.  I dropped Cathy's hiking stick off by her place and left her a note letting her know I was in town and where she could reach me.    I was pleasantly surprised to find she was off work that Friday and we made plans to meet up and hike.   I stayed out late enough with Jared that I was concerned about finding an open grocery store.  I ended up finding an open Bi-Lo Grocery which stayed open 24 hours a day.  I purchased a few groceries. Topped off my tank with gas and went back to the cabin to get some sleep.    

      I realized the alarm clock in the cabin did not work properly. I could not even set the time, much less the alarm.  I set the alarm on my cell phone. I did not trust it to wake me because I had never used it before and my cell phone battery is failing and doesn't hold a charge well.   I had my kindle with me that my mom purchased for me for my birthday.
She and my sister went together and got me a Kindle Fire and a stylus and a cover.
I am still learning about it.   The cabin had free wi-fi with a good signal.  I found a free bedside alarm clock app which within five minutes was set up and appeared to be working.    Very cool! Thanks Mom & Valerie!    I was wakened at 2 am by the malfunctioning alarm clock the cabin provided.   I pulled the plug on that and went back to sleep. The kindle's alarm woke me right on schedule the next day and my cell phone worked fine also.  

       Cathy met me at the cabin as planned and we headed out for our day's adventure.
We started off by visiting a couple falls near the cabin neither of us had ever heard of or visited!  Diamond Creek Falls and Lemon Falls!  As many trips as we've done to hike in this area over the past ten years we could not believe we'd never even heard of these before!   Both were nice and relatively easy to find.    Diamond Creek Falls was a nice 30 foot falls right by the road.   We managed to climb down the steep, slippery bank to see it.  It was worth it.   Next we continued out to see Lemon Falls.  It was also a roadside attraction, but not in view from the road.   We saw two couples while there and I don't think either of these pairs of senior citizens actually SAW the falls because they could not view it from the road.   Checking it out required a clambor down the bank through a boulder field slick with leaves and moss.  We forded the stream on a flat boulder partially submerged and worked our way around to the falls on the far bank.   It was much easier to reach that way.   Well worth the effort. Lemon Falls was only about 15 ft high but far more picturesque than Diamond Creek Falls.    It was framed by rocks and rhododendron and the sun filtering through the canopy formed a rainbow in the spray!

Diamond Creek Falls
        We enjoyed this glorious sight for awhile then decided to continue.  Cathy wanted us to head to Panthertown for an off trail adventure.   I agreed and we knew we'd have to make tracks to get it all done before dark today.   

Lemon Falls with a rainbow

     We headed in the direction of the western entrance of Panthertown Valley which is a wilderness area.   I had been hiking here several times, but always from the other entrance.   I was really looking forward to seeing a new side of it.  Cathy had been prepping for this off trail adventure with KT and knew just how to get us there.  She
had her map with her and was all set.   She had learned of an off trail waterfall there and wanted to see if the two of us could locate it?  We began our hike and I was extremely impressed with everything about this side of Panthertown. The day was perfect in temperature and weather.   The Autumn colors were at peak.  The granite mountains around us were impressive.   We saw lots of other folks parked, but still found a spot and got started.

     We hiked only a short distance until we arrived at Wilderness Falls. It was a huge waterfall with lots of water flow today coming down over a granite wall.  Fiery red Autumn leaves and a blue sky really set off the scene.   We stopped here to eat our lunch and take it in.    Cathy had not seen it either since the previous hike she and KT by-passed this falls in favor of motoring on to a spot she needed to arrive at in a limited amount of daylight. I admit I wondered if the same thing would befall us today seeing as how we were getting late start to this portion of the hike?  I knew all would be well as long as we were back on a main trail by dark.  If we could do that much we'd make it out safely.

Wilderness Falls

     We continued our hike and in only a short distance arrived at Frolictown Falls.
It was not a huge waterfall, but very pretty.  Cathy had seen this one before.  

Frolictown Falls is about 20 ft high.

 We passed a neat backpacker shelter just past Frolictown Falls.
**photo lost**

   The trail we were on now was called the Great Wall trail.  I had never even heard of this feature in Panthertown.  Cathy & KT had hiked it in May and while she was aware of the name of the trail she did not think much about why it was called that. Today we were amazed at the sight of a truly great granite wall towering high above all else to our left.  The leaves were off the trees now enough to allow it to be seen. A stark gray granite mountain wall highlighted by red leaves is very pretty! I took a photo of it, but no picture could ever do it justice. It goes on for a long distance.

The Great Wall in Autumn.**photo lost**

      The trail we were hiking on was mostly level now as it crossed the valley floor. It was sandy and easy and passed through a beautiful forest that smelled so good of pine trees and fallen leaves. Down in the very bottom of the valley all the leaves had fallen off the trees as they were primarily birch and beech.  We arrived at the point Cathy and KT scouted where the trail came to a junction at a wide bend and turned uphill.  We stopped for a bit to check the map and get oriented for our off trail portion of the trek.  I told Cathy the according to the scale of miles on the map Panthertown Falls should be less than 1/2 mile from our current position.  It was marked on the map, but there was no trail to it.  This was Burt Kornegay's map so I knew in order for it to be marked on the map, but no trail was a good indication of how things were going to be.  We'd have to make our own way, but this should not be nearly as bad as many other off trail trips we'd taken.
I told Cathy I figured it would take is 1/2 hour or less and that if we walked for one hour even in the brush without finding it we'd turn around and get back on the trail.

           We set out and the first part of our off trail we had to make our own way completely.   We went through briars and rhodo and brush.  Then about half way there I spotted some survey tape flagging. We pressed on forward and a manway began to be visible and as we followed it the survey tape kept showing up.   We could hear a falls below us and sure enough there was Panthertown Falls.  We passed it and kept following the survey tape and it lead us to a huge dead hemlock tree then stopped.  No more manway.  No more tape.  We turned around and went back to the falls and worked our way down to the stream to the falls to get a better look.

Panthertown Falls in Panthertown Valley.. an off trail adventure.
Panthertown Falls is only 10 or 15 feet high, but the setting for it is very rugged and dramatic. More cascades are below it. Above it is a huge rock grotto.  In order to visit here you must climb through the rhododendron that hems it in and a boulder field.  We spent some time checking it out and glorying in the fact we were successful in locating it!  We really had no trouble.   We made our way back to the maintained trail. This time we stayed higher in the drainage and it was even easier.  We found we came out on the trail higher up the hill and that the flagging actually went the entire way! We made our way back toward the trail head and the vehicle.  We decided that we'd head into Brevard to get some Barbeque  as a reward for our day.  The hike out was far easier than I'd expected.
Thank the good Lord for the South and switchbacks!   Once back at the trail head I stopped to look at that big map with Cathy. We had hiked about  nine miles today!
I had been such fun that it flew by and was a breeze most of the way.
The drive out of the mountains atop Panthertown was an experience in itself.  There is no capturing the red gold glow with a photo or a video recording. You just have to be there.
The views and the light atop that mountain were outstanding. I look forward to many more hikes in Panthertown.  I want me and Cathy to go backpacking there this coming Spring! We made it to Hawg Wild BBQ in Brevard and ate a delicious supper in a relaxed setting.   We were both tired and so we parted company to go get some rest. We planned to get together the next day to hike again with Kenny joining us.

        I had almost arrived at the cabin when I heard from Kenny. He was already there waiting on me.   The cabin I rented was fine for me, but it was tiny!  It was comfortable but small.  It was also a long drive from everything.   We had a fit laughing at the tiny sleeping loft "upstairs".  We also had fun struggling to get the trundle bed trundled. The corners were supposed to hook together, but that never happened.  The more we struggled with it the funnier it got.  We finally got the darn thing fixed and went to sleep so we'd be ready for the next day.   

     We had a little romance the next morning to start the day off and to use Kenny's words....... That trundle bed in all its instability was a "wild ride".  We found it funny.
We had a quick breakfast and met Cathy to hike. We figured we'd hike to some of the waterfalls in the Pisgah Forest area. I had picked out Twin Falls on Henry Branch and so off we went.  I knew the trail was supposed to be confusing and so it was great that Cathy was with us and had hiked it before.   It was a popular trail and we saw lots of other campers and hikers on the way there and while on the trail.  Cathy wanted to test us and said she'd have me and Kenny pick out the way and would only interfere if we got it wrong.

    We did fine finding the way.  The majority of the crossings were bridged and all the wet foot crossings had good bridges.   We worked our way through a forest filled with oranges, reds, golden, bronze, maroon, brown and yellow leaves.  It was a lovely hike.
We arrived at the left fork waterfall and for a headwaters falls there was a good amount of flow!   The left branch falls was about eighty feet high and so beautiful!  The Autumn colors were perfect under that bright blue sky.  The temperatures were perfect for hiking.
It was about 65 degrees today.   We continued over to the right fork falls which was nearby.   It was about sixty feet high and also very pretty. The colors surrounding this falls were mainly golden and yellow.   It was not quite as picturesque as the left falls, but still pretty.  Well worth the trek to see both of them.

      We hiked back and stopped off at the waterfall on Avery Creek. It was ten or fifteen feet high.  The colors around it and the clear sparkling plunge pool made it an ideal setting.
This would be a great swimming spot in Summer!  The rocks were carved up into interesting shapes and swirled with colors.  There are some cascades above the falls too.

Left Fork Henry Branch Falls

Waterfall on Avery Creek

      We continued our hike today after lunch by hiking to one of the waterfalls on Log Hollow.  It was beautiful.  
First waterfall on Log Hollow

We headed back and said our goodbyes to Cathy.  We were all tired.  Kenny and I needed to go spend some time with Jared.  We met him for some shopping and dinner in Asheville.  It was a very nice evening.

     Sunday morning we opted to drive home.  We had a nice leisurely breakfast at Cracker Barrel and enjoyed the drive home through the gorge with all the pretty Fall colors.

Looking Glass Rock viewed from FR 475B.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fentress County Camping Trip--Blackhouse Mountain and Pickett State Forest

Fentress County Camping Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler 
Thu. Oct. 4-Sunday Oct. 7th, 2012

      We had planned to run away from home to the Cumberland Plateau for a weekend to ourselves.   We camped at Maple Hill Campground which is convenient to all we like to do in the area.   Once we arrived and got settled we headed out to explore.   

        We hiked down into Buffalo Cove and enjoyed the scenery.  We found one of the caves and I believe it is Stephens Cave.  We found another one I don't know the name of. We went in the one cave, but not the other.  The weather was perfect and we soaked up the sunshine and blue skies and breezes.     The goldenrod waved in the wind down in the cove and the smallest bit of Autumn color was starting to appear on the mountains.   

       We then went to Sharon & Johns to park the truck.  We wanted to ride the River Trail today.   I stood looking forlornly at the picnic table through the gate at Sharon's.  The place just isn't the same without the gang.   We then headed down the road on the Rhino in the afternoon sun.   A nice day for a ride.   We were soon met with the river trail's cobblestone surface and something we had not counted on.  WATER! Lots of water.  The trail was flooded. Higher water levels than last Autumn.  The water was clean out in the trail from the river.   Portions of the trail were several feet under water.   We figured we might make it to the first ford and across.  We did with me laughing like wild hyena. Wheezing and giggling all the while.   The water was swift enough it was pushing us down stream as we tried to ford.     We made it and instead of going along the river trail where we'd be encountering one ford after another we headed UP the bluff.  

       The trails were pretty up there, but we had no idea where we were going and the wind storms in the past months had us encountering many downed trees.   Some were able to be cut out of the way and some we worked a way around them.   We passed a huge cave up there that was fenced to prevent folks from falling into it.  It was a pit type cave at the base of a bluff and truly scary to me.   We rode through hemlock hollers and glens with streams pouring down and massive boulders.  I could tell we were on the hip of the mountain and no views would be possible from here.   Unless you can reach the bluff line you're just down in there to ride and not look or see much.  We had a nice ride, but no destination and limited time.  We had to turn around and head back to make it across that deep river before it got dark.   Going back across went better than we'd expected and the whole thing turned out to be a fun little adventure.  

Buffalo Cove
Below is a short, funny video of fording the deep river!

      We headed back to the camper very tired to eat dinner, rest and get ready for a full day of riding the next morning.   We had planned on riding the entire river trail the next day which was no longer an option due to the water levels.   We decided instead to go ride Blackhouse Mountain and Pickett instead.

   The following day we got an early start and headed up to Blackhouse Mountain to ride.
We'd never been here without our merry band of much more experienced friends who knew their way around.   Finding our way around today would be something of a challenge even with the GPS and all Dan's trails entered.   The day was cool and sunny and perfect for riding.  We'd had enough recent rain to keep the dust down.  The Autumn colors were really coming out in this area.  We were a little further north and at a higher elevation.  For a beautiful Autumn day we saw very few others parked to ride today.

Blackhouse Mountain Road, TN

     We found the first overlook which I think is called Wagon Gap Overlook.
It was beautiful.  Just rocky cliffs and forest in view for miles.  We watched a hawk soaring and screaming there.  We tried to find the mineral lake which resulted in a spell of very pretty, but aimless wandering.  We could see it on the GPS, but every trail we tried to descend to it was just ambling up and down instead of heading DOWN closer to it.
We encountered another couple in a RZR.  Kenny pulled over to ask them if they knew how to get to the lake?  They did and as we sat and gabbed they got to asking if we'd see Granny's Crack, this arch, that arch to which we replied NO!  They were Shannon & Ronnie Privet and very graciously offered to show us these special places.  What luck!
We went with them and had a grand time.   They are really nice and so much fun.

      We found the mineral lake with their help and it was just as pretty as the first time we saw it.  

Mineral Lake at Blackhouse Mtn.

     We followed them onward to another rock house and an arch which do not have names that I'm aware of.   The really sad part is that when we were here before we drove OVER THE TOP of the rock house and did not realize it was down there! 

Rock House

Arch near the rock house.**original photo lost--substituted one taken in Spring**

We continued on to Granny's Crack which was where they'd planned to cook lunch.
We stopped and rested. Ate lunch. Socialized. It was very relaxing and such a cool place!
The smoke from the fire puffed out through a crack in the top of the arch! It was really neat. 

Granny's Crack is another arch that is a combination rock house/arch/cave they showed us! Shannon & Ronnie built a fire and cooked hotdogs for lunch!

   We continued on after lunch and the trails were all kinds of muddy fun!  We were laughing and carrying on.  Ronnie went through one mud hole that I was just sure they'd get stuck in.  No getting stuck, but sopped with mud!  Poor Shannon really got the worst of it.  She'd tried to tell him she remembered that mud hole was just too deep and to go round it.  Too late!  The floor boards filled up with about six inches of murky, muddy water. So thick it clogged the drain holes!  They finally got the RZR drained and continued. She stopped later to rinse her feet and shoes off in a creek with clear water.


Shannon & Ronnie in the RZR ahead of us.

     We followed them onward through the prettiest hemlock forest that now had changed from bright golden Autumn to deepest green gloom.   It was beautiful.  We rounded a bend and there to one side was one of the biggest arches I've ever seen.  It was jaw dropping beautiful. It has no name we were aware of.  It is massive and very interesting in its formation.   It has a cave beneath it which we crawled into.  Ronnie says that sometimes it has a waterfall flowing down the sides of the cliff.  

We were intrigued and after a little picture taking climbed down into the pit. The next thing I knew I was entering a really fascinating cave. It had three passages near its start.  We could hear an underground stream just out of sight. I kept going and going, but I could not see the underground waterfall. It was just out of sight and I had a poor light with me.
I was determined to become a caver. I was determined to return and see this place again and explore it properly.   Rope. Lights. Helmet. Boots. Cave Woman Gear!

Just thinking about it drives me mad! I guess I've felt myself inching closer to this decision, but there have been others who were watching quietly and knew it was coming.  I was going over to what Alfred & Kristen call The Dark Side. My natural curiosity and thrill seeking have lead me to this.

Waterfall arch cave that Shannon and Ronnie showed us.

Inside the cave looking out. Very cool!

 We continued on completing a loop back to the big intersection on the trail system.
We were able to take Shannon & Ronnie to show them an overlook they'd not visited.
Storybook Cliffs.  The sun was sinking low and the air was cooling off.   We were running out of light, but no matter.  We took in the view and when we left we enjoyed a night ride!
It was great! I got to see all kinds of bats in the head lights swooping around. Some small. Some big!  I might as well get used to bats. I've got a feeling I'll be seeing more of them in the future.  Here's to great new friends who are a blessing and a joy!  I look forward to more fun with y'all.  Thanks for a lovely day and lots of laughs.  It was perfection!

Storybook Cliffs in the gloaming.