Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring 2015----Day 2-Johns Mountain WMA--Keown Falls Loop

Hiking North Georgia --Day 2

Johns Mountain WMA & Keown Falls Loop 

Saturday March 21, 2015

Dana Koogler solo

Hike Distance 2.5 miles approx. 

Photos are here:
Keown Falls Loop

  The second day of my visit to Georgia I decided to hike  Johns Mountain WMA and see Keown Falls.
I had read that in a short hike I could see two falls and a nice overlook.  I hoped that wildflowers would 
be blooming there.  I knew from reading and checking out photos that if you don't visit Keown Falls in Winter or Spring it is apt to be a poorly flowing waterfall.   It is not as impressive as some even when it is flowing very well.   I chose to check it out to say I'd done this and because it was closer to the camper.

     I hiked it  clockwise and that turned out to be a wise choice.  Both sides of the loop hike are 
uphill on the way in, but I found that going  clockwise I got the worst part of the climb over with quickly while I was fresh.   The switchbacks help and once you get to falls #1 you have it licked.   No more uphill from there except for a few steps up to the overlook.    I approached the first falls and found it a modest
attraction.   I also saw a toad just waking up from his nap in the dirt over the long Winter.

Mr. Toad waking up

First waterfall I arrived at on Keown Falls loop trail.  

         I continued only a short distance further and arrived at Keown Falls #2 waterfall which is slightly more impressive and larger.    You can walk behind it which is always rather fun.  
 Trail approaching waterfall #2 

Behind the second waterfall. 

Keown Falls #2
View from the overlook
 View from the rocky outcrop above the overlook
Overlook platform 

Keown Falls loop hike and Johns mountain is nice.  It is an easy hike.  The picnic area and facilities are attractive.  The fields around the picnic tables were strewn thickly with hepatica blooms and toothwort.    I saw about a dozen people on the trails today.    It is a pretty popular place.   I would visit here again, but I don't think it will ever be a favorite.

          I headed back toward Calhoun. I stopped on the way by another part of the Johns Mountain WMA.   
 Blue Spring Branch 
Pinkest toothwort I ever saw growing along Blue Spring Branch.  

   I strolled along the banks of this pretty stream for a bit.   I saw a few wildflowers, but not many different kinds.  

I ended my day back in the camper.   I rested up. Cooked dinner. Took a shower. 
I was glad to spend some time with Kenny.  

    I am not crazy about North Georgia as I thought I would be.  I think it is a combination of
grief, poor sleep, and the chaos of life lately.   The campground I had picked out is not good,but 
there is none other in the vicinity that is open this time of year.    I want to come back to North Georgia when it is not related to Kenny's work.  I thought this would be more fun than it is.  

Spring 2015- North Georgia Hikes- Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail and Pocket Falls

Trailing Trillium growing along the trail. 

Hiking North Georgia-Day 1

Friday March 20, 2015
Dana Koogler solo 

Hike Distance 2.5 miles approx. 

Hiking in North Georgia--What You Need to Know First 

    I had wanted to hike the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail for the past three years. 
The past three Spring bloom seasons I would intend to go do that, but something else always
seemed to draw my attention away.   Kenny had a month long work engagement in North 
Georgia that had us staying in the area.  One of the nearby hiking locations was that particular trail.  It was 37 miles west of us.   I figured I could manage to get over there for the bloom season 
seeing as how it was less than an hour away.   

       The trail is named for Zell Miller's wife Shirley.   He was the governor and  lieutenant governor of Georgia.  He served as U.S. Senator from Georgia for five years.    I think I read somewhere that she was a wildflower enthusiast.   The trail is on Crockford-Pigeon Mountain west of LaFayette.  It is Walker County, Georgia.   Before you go see the tips below. 
  •   Georgia sells a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass you can buy in person at game check stations, state parks, or online.     They have a variety of plans to pick from to suit your budget and your needs.   You can get an individual three day pass for $3.50.  I purchased an individual year long pass for $20.    Alan Cressler informed me to be sure to get this because failure to get one could lead to a fine which would be far more costly.   Thanks Alan for that and all your great advice.  They cover ALL hiking, and outdoor areas including wildlife
  • management areas.

Before you buy these gazetteers.... I have used both and have both.
You don't need BOTH.   They are about even far as use.
The DeLorme Gazetteer is easier to use for me because I am familiar
with them. 
The recreation guide has a little more detail and the boundaries of various
WMAs and natural areas are more defined.  

  • An online map of the area exists here: LINK  which you could print for yourself

  • Several good hiking guides exist for the area including these


Bridge at the start of the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail.

         Georgia and Tennessee have a boatload of areas they like to call "The Pocket".
Let's address the confusion in North Georgia.   The Pocket... a camping area and former CCC camp is down the road near Rome, Georgia.  It is NOT the same place.   Your Tomtom navigation device or cell phone may not realize what you are trying to do and differentiate so be careful.

The Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA is large and has many entrances.  You want the one at the end of Pocket Road outside Lafayette, Georgia.   It is the furthest one to the west.   At the end of Pocket Road it dead ends in a parking area.   The bridged trail at the start is the correct one for the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail.. an 800 foot long boardwalk. At the end of that boardwalk is the 0.1 mile long foot trail to Pocket Falls.    The signs say to stay on the board walk.  I did not 
care for that aspect of it, but I understand it was done to prevent the wildflowers and plants from being trampled.  

Also at this parking area to the far left... trail head to Estelle Mine Trail.  
In the middle .. near the Shirley Miller Wildflower trailhead is a kiosk and beyond that
is the South Pocket Trail which leads to High Point and goes ABOVE the Pocket Falls. 

    Some of the wildflowers that are prevalent at this trail that are considered rare in Georgia
along with the trees and plants are not necessarily rare in Tennessee.  Wood poppy, bluebells, 
buckeye, for example are common elsewhere.  Blue ash, bent trillium and trailing trillium are rare
and are found there.  Things were just starting to bloom.  

Top -Cluster of bloodroot.
Bottom: beautiful blue Hepatica .. I checked out the leaves and found it to be Hepatica acutiloba

     I hiked the boardwalk. I met only five other people today on this trail. A family group of four.
Another lone female hiker.   All very nice people whom I greeted. I gave a short, impromptu wildflower walk
for the family group at their request.   I then doubled back and hiked the start of the South Pocket Loop.
I saw more hepatica blooming along the rocky bluffs.  I realized my mistake in that I was above the falls. I had mainly wanted to see Pocket Falls. I doubled back and greeted the family group again.  I laughed at my
mistake in picking the wrong trail to the falls. I was glad to talk to them because they helped me clear up how to reach the falls, that I could go BEHIND the falls into a little grotto, and they told me how to get to Ellison's Blue Hole.  I had been down Blue Hole Rd on the way in a half hearted attempt to find it, but I went the
wrong way and ended up at the dead end gated portion of the road.  

   I went on up to visit Pocket Falls.  It is a foot trail at the end of the boardwalk.  It is a very short walk up to the base of the falls.   They are quite pretty. I did go behind them into the little cavern.   Very cool!
They had plenty of water on them to make them pretty, but the longer into the year generally the less water
coming over them. I could tell right off the stone around the falls was created by minerals leaching out of the water.  I did some reading later and I think what I have been calling travertine is actually called tufa.
It is softer and more porous than travertine.  It has a very distinctive look that to me is easy to recognize
compared to the stone around regular waterfalls.  It was an easy hike. I touched upon two other trails.  The South Pocket Loop Trail just a tiny bit and a little of the Estelle Mine Trail.  I would like to return here again.

Pocket Falls

Below is a video that shows the falls and the area behind them better.

       The day had been overcast and it began to drizzle rain.  I wrapped things up and headed back
toward Lafayette.  I wanted to do a little something else to finish out my day.

Ellison's Blue Hole

    I visited Ellison's Blue Hole on the way back to town.  Blue Hole Road is only a few miles outside the Lafayette city limits.  The road you want is not the dead end gated road to the old rock quarry.  Follow the road bearing left past an info kiosk. It is a gravel road.  It dead ends at The Blue Hole.  
Ellison's Blue Hole turned out to be a pretty spot and a good stop.  It was worth it, but there is no hike 
to it. You just get out of your vehicle and stroll over to it.  A pretty stream flowed out of it with a bridge to cross it.  A few wildflowers bloomed on the banks. Mainly toothwort and hepatica.   I hiked the trail past it
and somewhere back there is supposed to be a place called Cornfield Sink.  I did find a depression that may have been it.   If that was it... it is not impressive.   The trail continues up the mountain and I think that may be part of the trail to the cave, but I am not sure.

Ellison's Blue Hole is a pretty spot. It is the underwater entrance to a cave system.

      It was 3:30 pm and I was wrung out.  I hadn't hiked much, but I was weary still.
Navigating in a place that was 100% unknown to me had been a strain on my nerves.   I was tired. I was lonely.  I wanted to go home.  I eased back toward the camper. I got cleaned up.  I rested. I cooked dinner.
It was good to be here with Kenny and I was glad when he got home from work.   Sometimes this solo act
of mine seems to take a lot out of me.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

White County Tennessee Sink Holes and Waterfalls

Sink Hole Pond in White County, TN 

White County Tennessee Sink Holes and Waterfalls

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Thursday March 12, 2015

Pictures are here: 

Videos are here: 

I will add more video links as I get the videos

    Kenny was fixing to leave on Friday to start a shut down job in Georgia that would have him
staying there for about six weeks.   I had been planning on going down with him, but I needed to 
get back to Virginia to see family there. I was grief stricken over the loss of Teresa Lindsey, Michael's other grandmother.  Losing T-ma was a hard blow to our family.   I needed to get back and see my own
mother. I needed my parents.  I decided to go to Virginia this weekend instead.  Kenny and I spent a fun
day together Thursday. I knew that day together would have to hold me over until I could get down to 
Georgia the next weekend.   

      We both love exploring.  We love seeing the stuff that is off the beaten track.  I have
been intrigued by the Tennessee land forms database of sink holes.  I have been studying them on google maps.   I noticed a pattern and wondered if there was a way for me to predict which of them had interesting
water features inside? We've been going and checking them out to see if I was right. It has been great fun.
So far the theory remains unproven. We'll need to go check more to find out, but it has certainly been 
a worthwhile adventure.   Sink Holes are interesting geological features and are good places to look for
waterfalls, ponds, caves, and wildflowers.

      I had my eye on one particular sink hole that showed a blue dot in it on the map.
I had read on the history of White County, Tennessee that it was legendary in its size, mystery and beauty.
I wanted to see it and I didn't care if that was the only thing I got to do that day.  Kenny was equally intrigued so we went to find it.   We had the way points and that helped a lot.

         We were excited to find that Dry Creek had water on it for the first time ever for us!

We were also excited to find that a ledge we'd known COULD be a waterfall during wet weather finally WAS a waterfall. Chuck Sutherland says the name of it is Your Falls named for a cave above it.  It was very neat.

Pictured above: Bottom and Top portions of Your Falls 

   Once we had taken time to visit the first waterfall which was not in a sink hole but too good to pass up, we continued on our search for Hell Hole.  We tried the first trail which turned out not to go to it.
It went instead to the source of Lost Creek Falls.  It was worth seeing today. Lost Creek Falls was raging, but not so badly that it was red clay mud colored.  Merry Branch Falls next to it was also looking good.

Lost Creek between its source and where it goes over the falls
Three of the six source holes forming Lost Creek Falls 

 Sixty foot high Lost Creek Falls at  extremely high flow. 
The entire volume of this water goes underground here.  Merry Branch forms the stream that actually enters the mouth of Dodson Cave, but none of this water goes in the mouth of the cave.  Instead this water can be seen again inside the cave as another pair of sixty foot high waterfalls.  

Merry Branch Falls is another pretty waterfall right next to Lost Creek Falls. 

  We were fortunate that the next trail we tried lead to Hell Hole.
It is supposed to be one hundred twenty three feet deep. It is a bigger sink hole than some of the others we've entered. It is not as quite as deep, but its floor area is much larger.  It contains two sink hole ponds.
Both blue and pretty. One tiny and the other massive.  It has a cave. It also has a forty foot high waterfall dropping into the larger of the two sink hole ponds.   Trees grow in the larger pond.   It was worth the 
effort to reach.  It was very satisfying to find that one of the sink holes.. the first one I've checked which had a blue dot on the map actually had several interesting water features in it!  

Hell Hole Pond and Falls 

Close up of Hell Hole Falls

 We loaded up and went elsewhere to try to find some more sink holes with water features. We had no idea what was in store for us. We were searching for Big Sink. There are two. It is the one which I think technically lies in Van Buren County.  We did not ever find it today. I had researched it and had the way point.  The reason we did not enter it today was a miscommunication between Kenny and I.   He kept indicating it was "RIGHT OVER THERE!"  which was true.  I could not get him to understand that it was going to be impossible to enter it that way. The drop from there was five hundred feet from the rim of the plateau to the bottom of the sink.   It drops one hundred feet per one tenth of a mile. 500 ft/0.5 miles.
Steep drop off. Ain't going to be able to get down there from here.  If you're going to enter a sink hole...generally speaking.. you need to find the low end of it if there is one.   We needed to go round to the end that was nearer the Caney Fork to enter.   He finally understood it much later after we were home.

  Above is a pretty surprise.. a small sink hole pond with another mossy green waterfall by it.
It is NOT entering the pond.  The water actually goes into the ground first!  The pond does have an outflow though that goes down the bluff.

Closeup of waterfall at Sink Hole #2 today.

  Next in our futile search for Big Sink... we passed another sink hole.  It does not show a water feature or blue dot on the map.  Yet it has a waterfall in it sometimes. It sure did today!

Lynnie Gal falls flowing great today. It was forming a stream and a small pond and going underground again.
There is another section to the falls not pictured here. It is about a 20 ft upper falls.

   We were still hunting for Big Sink, but not getting there.  We had to pass right by another big sink hole on the way out where we'd seen a waterfall before.  We knew it would be flowing heartier than last time so while we were there recently we could not resist. Glad we went to have a look!

Trip #1 View of both falls.  

Trip #2 View of Both Falls. 

Wow!  What a difference!

   We continued on our way. We found lots of downed trees, but fortunately someone had cut them out.   We did not find the way into Big Sink today, but we had fun and saw loads of good waterfalls and sink holes.   We know more now and have a better idea how to get into Big Sink.

      Here is the tally so far. Out of the sink holes I've visited... 
One had a blue dot in it.  it had interesting water features.   
Three sink holes did NOT have a blue dot in them, but did have water features.
Of those.. one had NO water feature during lesser volumes of rain fall, snow melt, yet upon returning after the snow melted was a raging waterfall and very impressive!  

Big Sink has a stream shown in it so I expect it to have water, but I don't know anything beyond that.    I have another sink hole not too far away I want to check out which shows a blue dot and I'm hoping a waterfall in there?!!  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fern Camp and Exploring and Trail Maintenance

Down in the Fern Camp Gorge

Fern Camp Gorge Exploring and a Day of Trail Maintenance

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Saturday Feb. 28, 2015

   We'd been trying to get back over to Jamestown to do some exploring areas we wanted to visit.
The weather finally broke and we got a weekend to get away.   We planned to do some hiking
and riding.  We were going to stay at the Jordan Motel or the Overton Motel and spend a single night.
We'd enjoy Saturday and Sunday doing what we like.  The ice storm had knocked out power to
a great number of residents of Cumberland County and some of Fentress.   The Jordan initially had no vacancy thanks to the electric linemen in the area staying there.  They put us on the list to get a room if
anything opened up.

     We started out the interstate toward Jamestown Saturday morning and the traffic advisory warning was
flashing.  The radio station advised all lanes of traffic going west bound on the interstate were blocked from
exit 329 on.  That was Crab Orchard so we got off the highway in Rockwood and took the backroads
which ended up being ten miles closer, but took a little longer. At least we were still moving and not stuck
sitting on the interstate waiting for them to clear a wreck.

   Our scenic detour didn't throw us off.  We got to Jamestown and went and parked the rig to hike
down into the gorge arm of Buffalo Cove that is Fern Camp.  We had visited Fern Camp Falls from the rim of the gulf last Spring.   It was worth the hike, but I knew there were caves and more waterfalls down in the gorge at the bottom.   I had a photo of a waterfall I wanted to see, but not an exact way point for it.
I only had a guess where it was. Kenny is a good sport so we decided to satisfy our curiosity about this
area and check it out.  We hiked back there without a trail. The woods were open and pretty. The day was cold, but clear. I had the GPS set to the waypoint for the waterfall up top as I guessed the waterfall I was seeking was either on that drainage or the one next to it. On the plateau level the tributary of Fern Camp
Creek has a couple scenic cascades we'd visited also.   The falls surely was on one or the other.

        The rock formations down in the gorge were interesting and beautiful. The forest is open.
We didn't have any trouble with downed trees in here.  It looked like this area was spared the damage of the ice storm.  Boulders were everywhere. They are huge and ancient.  The sky was blue and the sun was filtering down into the bottom of the gorge lighting it up so pretty.  We did not have to hike long until we finally came to the spot in the creek bed where there is water at last.  What is funny is that hiking up Fern Camp Creek the first place you see water ... it disappears in a flash!  There is a large swallet cave there that drinks in the flow of the stream about as soon as you glimpse it.

First set of waterfalls on Fern Camp Creek.  Two pretty cascades.
The stream disappears to a swallet in the bottom left corner area of this photo.

Below is a video of this waterfall pair.

     We stopped along the way to enjoy the pretty cascades and tranquil spots along the stream.
The lay of the land down in the gorge turned out to be just as we had anticipated.  The going was actually
not that bad except that the ground was covered in snow.  It was easier on the way in when the snow was fully packed and frozen.  We were in there long enough for the sun to begin to melt it and make it slushy and slick!  The trip back out was not bad, but it was slippery in some spots because of ice and melting snow.

     We did not find the falls I was seeking or the cave.  We got within 0.16 miles of the top falls.
We narrowed down the location and we gained a ton of info for another attempt.   It is either up the main drainage near the base of the top falls. We will have to approach from the right side heading up stream as the terrain on the left from 0.16 miles on is impassable.  The rock forms and cliff line roll in toward the creek leaving no place to walk on that side.  The right side is a boulder field, but appears to be tough, but doable.
The only other place it could be is up the Fern Camp Cascades drainage which we will have to check also.
Kenny walked up over a berm and said that what he could see of that drainage is shows it to be even harsher than the main one.   The climb from 0.16 miles up to the gorge rim is 350 feet.  The falls and/or cave
is about 100 feet down from there I am guessing.  So 250 feet of climb in .16 miles.   We've done worse.

        We made our way back down the gorge slipping and sliding all the while.

         A few photos from the day in Fern Camp.
Top: some large boulders in the drainage.
Middle : a pretty cascade a little higher up.
Bottom: The slopes to the west of the gorge.

Short video of the next waterfall/cascade up on Fern Camp. Set to Twin Peaks music. I'm a David Lynch fan and today turned out to be a David Lynch type, weird day!

     Once we were done in Fern Camp we headed out to check what the situation was in Woo Hoo Holler.
Our friend Sharon's place in West Fentress.   We pulled in there and took a look around and thankfully
it was spared the damage of the ice storm. Not a thing was out of place. All was well.  Once that was taken care of we headed down to the river to see what the water level was like.  It was up as expected and unfordable, but not as bad as it has been.   The stream is always so pretty.

Two different glimpses of the same river.  Rocky shoals and rapids on the bottom view. Top is a deep aquamarine pool .

       We decided to ride up Bill's Creek which was our shortest route to set a way point on an arch we'd found previously.    We were heading to Mason Road to check out the Cravenstown Arch near Tay's store.
We also wanted to find an access point for Big Piney.   We were pleasantly surprised that Bill's Creek didn't have a lot of trees down on the first part. We had to stop and cut trees only twice and roll logs out of the way.  The real bad rutted area was another matter. Kenny handled it like a boss, but he said right then and there he was NOT coming back down it.    Further up Bill's Creek we had to cut more trees out of the way and moved a lot of downed limbs.   Once we got to Manson Road we stopped to eat lunch.  We met
Jim and Tammi, some local folks who were also clearing the road and we made two new friends who ride!
We really hit it off with them and I look forward to getting to know them better.  Very nice folks and so interesting!   They saved us the time it took to ride out to the one arch to mark it.  They are friends with the fellow who built his residence under the arch. It was NOT a play place for teenagers or children. He built a bonafide residence under there.  I am not in agreement with that, but we live in America and he can do that. Life is different for different people. I surely was not going to mark his home with a way point and put it
on Tennessee land forms and send visitors to it!  I respect my fellow human more than that.

       We moved on to other things.   We found the Cravenstown Arch.  I will stop and photograph it sometime just for the humor value of it.   It is only a few inches high as viewed from the road. We had driven past it numerous times.   Someone has built a hog pen or some sort of shack on top of it toward one end.
According to Tom the Hanging Limb arch doesn't have any structures on it or under it, but it is not "visually significant.".   Glad we didn't waste time on that one.

       We went on to try to access the portion of Mason Road that goes down toward Big Piney Creek.
There are only a couple access points where you can actually get into the gorge and reach creek level.  Manson Road, Savage Boles Road, and from the East Fork River itself.  Big Piney Creek is dry part of the year and most times you see dry, rocky gulch down in the area where it meets the East Fork River.
We found Manson Road open and ungated thanks to someone who must have begged to differ that it was ever gated at all.  The gate lay smashed on the ground with just the dogs still in the posts.

     We proceeded down the road and found it to be an excellent trail with the road bed in good condition.
The problem was simply all the downed trees.  We were mighty lumber jacks for several hours.
I was getting tired and thinking about the time getting away from us.   Thinking about trying to go back down Bill's Creek and knowing that we would almost certainly have to cut a lot of trees on that upper trail in order to avoid going back down the dirt gully. Kenny was worried we'd turn over in the ditch.   The alpen glow of the evening sun crept into the gorge where we kept clearning "just one more tree".   We stopped and checked our progress and realized we were half done. We were losing the light so we knew we had to quit.
I looked down in the gully below us where a stream flowed.  I saw a tv sitting in the stream with the scream shot completely out. I thought of Elvis Presley shooting the TV over seeing Robert Goulet on it.

      The only thing we saw down on Big Piney gulch that far that is worth mentioning is a massive rock sheler which looks like during times of heavy rain might be a waterfall.

Ice cave/Rock house on Big Piney.

Peeping out of the bars of the ice jail. I am under the rock shelter on its upper levels.

 We made it back round to Bills Creek and took the upper trail.  It was the second turn to the left.  The lumberjacking picked up almost at once.  We cleared trees and cleared trees. Kenny had some serious anxiety about it. He was worrying about whether we'd find the right turn we needed to get down off this trail. He was worried about it getting dark on us in the woods.   I shared some of his concerns, but one thing I find I have gotten better about is gaging time and distance in situations like this and reading the lay of the land.
I knew he was thinking we'd gone farther than we had. I just kept calm and positive and kept reassuring we'll spot it when we see it.  We'll make it. We're a good team. We really are too.  We compensate for one another's short comings.     It did grow dark on us in the woods and we ended up coming out in the pitch black dark, but we made it. Finding the turn to the right was made harder by an odd phenomena.
We saw several places where great big swathes of leaves washed down off the top bank creating the appearance of a trail to the right heading into the woods, but then it played out.   The actual trail looked a lot
like that!  Not as easy as you'd think,but it was flagged with survey tape.   I pointed it out to him and he got out and checked it and was relieved we had found it!    We finally began to lose elevation and come back down to the main trail.  We hit it just right and came out below the dirt ditch.   We hauled ass to the truck and  were mighty glad to get there and load up.  I helped him load everything and secure it.

     Once back in the truck he realized going down the road he had left the back up lights on. 
He got out to check them and turn them off.  I sat there waiting on him.  I lifted my eyes and saw a boulder across the road at an intersection. Someone had graffiti tagged it with the simple word FUCK. 
It was ugly, but so help me I told him about it when we got to the restaurant later and we sat in the truck laughing our heads off. It was not very nice, but it perfectly described our sentiments about the kind of day we'd had.   The timing was right on.  

 We were exhausted.  He wanted to go home to our own comfortable bed instead of paying to sleep 
in a motel on a lumpy mattress.  We grabbed some dinner and did just that.  When I arrived home..
and removed my clothes... the carpet had to be vacuumed behind me.  Sticks, leaves, pine sap, rocks,.....
I sat in Arby's wearing that mess.  :-)  Hell yeah!