Thursday, March 24, 2016

Galivanting Around Starr Mountain

Peach blossom on an ancient tree on Starr Mountain

Galivanting Around Starr Mountain

Dana Koogler 

Thursday March 24, 2016

Pictures are here starting with frame 134:

   Today's forecast called for a high chance of rain.  I got on Weather Underground and checked the 
forecast for an assortment of different areas. I wanted to see which direction gave me the best chance of having a good day to hike and explore before the rain hit.    It was supposed to be mainly in the afternoon in the Etowah area so I went that way.  One of the vehicle access points to the top of Starr Mountain was closed very recently.  It was the shortest way and the best road.  I thought I remembered how to get up there via the other road, but I wanted to be sure. I decided today would be a good day to make certain.   I headed down the road toward Reliance and braced myself for a long drive on a curvy road.

             I stopped for a restroom break at Quinn Springs.   I began checking all along the road
and the various picnic pull offs for Spring wildflowers. I didn't find any to speak of.  I saw  a couple along the road real high up where there was no way to get a good look at them. Also no place to pull over.   I continued on toward Bullett Creek. On my way I did see a great big cluster of bloodroot
growing on a bank. The shoulder of the road was wide so I pulled over for that.
 I like it when I am driving and I know when I want to pull over and don't have to tell Kenny or worry about who might not like it. The slope was covered in bloodroot! Worth a stop.
 Above and below: Bloodroot blooms

          Note to self..... go back and get pictures of the old church I passed. I had never paid it any mind before.   It was near these flowers along the Tellico Reliance Rd. It was just before them.

    I continued toward Starr Mountain and I flagged down an old timer in a pickup truck. He was very hard of hearing, but I finally got it across to him that I wanted to know for sure if the road was open all the way to the top?  They had been doing controlled burns and I didn't know if they closed the road for that.  He assured me it was open and I thanked him and continued.   The road going up to the mountain top is narrow in places with no guardrail and a sheer drop off. It is one of those roads where you would not want to meet anyone coming the other way.   I didn't have any trouble though. I only saw one other vehicle all day in the area.   I saw no other hikers.
I went up to the mountain top and checked out some of my favorite wildflower areas.  The controlled burns had the mountain looking frazzled, but the flowers did not mind. They were coming up right through the ashes.

 Peach blossoms from an ancient tree. We had a couple peach trees in our yard as a kid.  They were volunteer clingstone peaches.  The trees looked just like this one. Very very old.  We canned peaches every Summer from them. Sticky work for sure!

 A pretty day so far on Starr Mountain. You can see the burned over areas above and below.
Controlled burns help maintain ecosystems and animal habitats. They reduce the fuel load by burning it off a little at a time. If this is not done a forest fire can easily get so hot it kills all life on the mountain including the microbes in the soil. It sterilizes the area once it gets so hot.  It takes a long time for  the land to recover from a fire that hot. The land recovers rapidly from a controlled burn.   Some types of pine trees need fire for their cones to open and for the seeds contained in them to germinate.  Woodpeckers depend upon tall pine trees for nest building.  I could smell the pine smoke from here all the way at my house several counties away and see the haze yesterday.  Today it is all gone.

 Redbuds were in bloom. Dogwood trees, Sarvis berry trees, and the hercules Club tree had lime green tennis ball looking leaf  buds!
 Green tennis balls on these attractive shrubs. 

The creek is sandy and clear today.  Easy to cross here.

These gorgeous trout lilies were carpeting the area around the creek. They were growing the BEST in the burned over areas!  These are Erythronium umblicatum.  The other sort.. Erythronium americanum were also here.  These I liked best though.

I went all over the mountain top looking for flowers.  I had a good time. I found everything I hoped for.  I was also pleased at finding the road open and no beer hounds up there with me today.  

Closeup of an Oconee Bell.  I found these today, but they were fading very fast.  Only a few left blooming and most of them had shed their bloom.

      I found me a spot to sit in the sun and eat lunch. It was 12:45 and I was ready to eat.
I had me a peanutbutter and nanner sammige with homemade strawberry jam. It was delish!
I had some energy now so I was ready to get down off this mountain and continue hiking at the foot of it.   I wanted to check out some of the falls while they should have plenty of water on them.     I  leisurely drove back down taking care on the narrow parts of the road.  I turned on the iPod and sang along as much as I wanted to.  

    I passed the only two persons I saw on the mountain today.  Two Spring break fellows who had taken their dogs out for a walk.   They waved at me and I kept going.   I passed Upper Yellow Creek Falls on the way.  I am going to climb down sometime and get a better image of it.  It would be worth it during good water flow.  

Upper Yellow Creek Falls is a short distance down from the road intersection and camp site.

  I pulled over where I knew Kamama Falls was supposed to be. I could see it down there in the distance. I had rope with me, but I thought better of it. I could not tell how the approach would be. I did not think it wise to do it solo.  It is steep terrain and lots of rhodo. It has been photographed from the base by all of ONE person.  I will hope to get to the base of it sometime, but it was not going to be today.  

        I pulled over at the widest parking area near the manway for the falls. I grabbed my gear and began the gradual downward descent to the stream. 
 This is a massive rock formation that is like a wall you have to go along on the way down. It is once you get closer to the creek.  

Got a good photo of Yellow Creek's main falls today. Overcast and plenty of water makes for good photos. 

     I went down further until I clambered to Bullett Creek Falls.  I could hear it roaring long before I ever got near it.  
 It was looking great today!  Not much hot rock in the shot and great volume. 
While I was at Bullett Creek Falls the wind got up and the skies turned dark and threatening. I mosied on over to the lower Yellow Creek Falls. I call it Deer Horn Falls. The rope swing used to have a deer antler on there as a handle. 

Lower Yellow Creek Falls and its beautiful blue swimming hole. 

    I passed through Camp Crud on the way to the lower falls.  It is not quite as bad as it was the first time I went there. It did not have drugs or drug paraphernalia today, but the gear stash, graffitti, garbage and the excavation under the bluff was horrible.  Two legged pigs as Rich calls them. The kind of people our world can do without.  They can't go anywhere without destroying it.  

The images below are only a few vignettes of Camp Crud. Behold it in all its terribleness! 

This photo and the upper one both show the excavation under the bluff. WTH?  

   I never thought I'd have the nerve to come down here alone and see these falls because of this place here.  I did it though. Thankfully whomever is doing all this yuck-a-muck camping was not there.  This is private property and there is NOTHING the forestry service can do to put a stop to it. Alerting the landowners would be shooting myself in the foot too.  It would probably result in access to the area being lost.    This part is a depressing situation, but the property line is just below the lower falls of Yellow Creek. Everything from there down is private land and they can do what they want. I doubt the land owners are responsible.  I'd guess more of the type of lowlife that trashed and does drug deals on top the mountain.  I found  spent shotgun shells scattered round and wadding from them too.  Lots of beer cans.  A good combo, eh? Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers with shotguns.

   When I left I made that steep climb back up the mountain and out of that hole. The weather was windy and rain was coming soon.  The skies were dark still.  By the time I got to Tellico Plains it was raining.  I was pleased that I accomplished pretty much all I set out to do today. 
I love it when a plan comes together!  For once I gauged the weather right and had fun and managed to get going before the bad stuff hit.  We need the rain so it was good to get that too.

Below is a short video of the three falls I saw today at the foot of Starr Mountain.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rush Branch for an Evening Stroll

Sweet White Trillium 

Rush Branch for an Evening Stroll 

Dana Koogler

1/2 mile RT

Pictures are here starting with frame 611

    I decided after Michael left to go to the Easter Egg Hunt at Bethel Baptist that I wanted to get out of the house. It had been such a pretty day , and I spent most of it indoors cleaning and 
doing boring stuff.   It was warm out and a nice evening.  A smokey haze hung over everything. I could smell pine wood burning.   I decided despite the smoke I'd go over to the park and get in a short hike.  I had a feeling I could see a few early Spring wildflowers up Rush Branch.  

          I parked and grabbed my pack and up the manway I went.   We need rain so I was not sure what shape I would find the falls in.  The woods looked pretty bleak near the road so I was also not sure if I'd see any wildflowers either.  I figured the exercise would be good regardless. Short a hike as it is I also figured it wouldn't be too terrible if I didn't see anything.  

           I was not disappointed. I started seeing a few pretty Spring wildflowers on back the holler.   I saw bloodroot, hepatica, wind flower, sweet white violet, dogwood, long spurred violets, and sweet white trilliums.     

  Hiking back Rush Branch there is no trail, but it gets used enough that it is far easier than
back when I first began hiking back there.    It is still cool so the vegetation is not as bad.
The lower water levels made creek crossings very easy.  

 Looking up Rush Branch near the start of the hike.

 Sweet White Violet 

 Wind Flower 
 Long Spurred Violets 
Trillium simile --Sweet White trillium is abundant up this manway. 

 Standing in front of Rush Branch Falls aka Believer Falls

Close up and from the other side of the stream.. Rush Branch Falls.
Bill Stowell named this Believer Falls after me! 

Below is a short video of the waterfall set to music for Easter.

Tamela Mann-- Speak Lord! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Porters Creek Trail and Fern Branch Falls

Long spurred violet in the evening sun

Porters Creek Trail and Fern Branch Falls 

Dana Koogler 

Monday March 21, 2016

    I had driven home from a family visit to Virginia with Kenny.  We split the six hour drive up
because he was working in Bristol .  On the way back down the road we stopped after 4 hours and hit the rack at the hotel where Kenny and his co workers are staying.  It was nice to crawl in bed and not have to make the entire drive in one day.    I got up this morning and ate breakfast with Kenny and Tommy.  I took me a cup of coffee to go and down the road I went. Only two hours later I was home. I got everything unpacked and my laundry done. About noon I had all my chores caught up so I rewarded myself with an afternoon hike.

      I had wanted to hike up Porters Creek trail to see the wildflowers and to get some photos of Fern Branch Falls. It had been a good while since I hiked it in Spring.   I always like that trail.
Spring break traffic was pretty heavy in Gatlinburg, but at last I pulled into the parking area for the trailhead.    It was seeing a lot of use too, but it always does.  

       Today was on the cool side, but it had warmed to 45 degrees and was sunny. The air was fresh and the skies blue.   I had on a warm jacket so I was comfortable.   The trail is an easy one.  I have hiked it enough that I know it very well.   I stopped and took photos of the funky bridge that crossed Porters Creek.   
 The leaning and bent bridge over Porters Creek

Here is a last look back at Porters Creek in the evening light. 

Beautiful forsythia along the trail. This was planted by someone who lived in the area that became the park. I love this shrub when it grows wild and rank. 

I always like these stone walls and steps from former structures that remain along the trail.

A glimpse from the trail of the blue blue mountains in the distance. This is looking toward the A.T.

     I walked along part of the trail that looks at the northeastern flank of Greenbrier Pinnacle.
I could see parts of the Cat Stairs and places I knew we had climbed before.  It seemed impossible now from down here that we ever did it.  It is a rugged looking mountain and full of crags.   Porters Creek races by at the foot of the mountain. 

Rapids and rills of Porters Creek.  The water was lower than I have seen it in Spring.

 A pretty vista of the mountains in the distance along the trail.
 Blue skies and sunshine!
A close up view of the lime green and rust brown hues of haircap moss on a log by the trail.

 Fringed phacelia carpets this forest in Spring.  Here is a glimpse of the blooms up close
 Dutchman's Breeches closeup. Saw lots of this today.
 The trail winding through the forest with phacelia starting. It looks like snow in Spring.
 Closeup of Dwarf ginseng
 Trout lilies just starting to open today.  It is early yet.
Trillium grandiflora actually bloomed out!  I saw quite a few of these today! First ones of the season. 

   I visited with a couple ladies who were hiking and checking out wildflowers.  
I was cordial to everyone today, but I was not too social. I just wanted to hike and see flowers and the waterfall and enjoy the forest.  I didn't really want to talk a lot today.
One good thing was that my late start had my contrary to most and I had the woods and the trail to myself most of the time.  I climbed the slopes around the falls and checked out lots of wildflowers. I experimented with different views of the falls.

 Here are my two favorite photos of the fals from this batch.  They looked so pretty today with the moss glowing green!
Fern Branch Falls slides down the mountain gracefully.

Below is a short video of this pretty waterfall.  

Alarka Headwaters-- Trying to Wrap Things Up.......And Failing

Alarka Headwaters--Trying to Wrap Things Up Unsuccessfully

Dana Koogler 

Saturday March 12, 2016

   I had decided to turn off social media for awhile.  I wanted to clear my head of wrong notions.
I wanted to clear my desk of unfinished projects.   One of the things I needed to do was get back over to Alarka Laurel before the weather got too warm.  I wanted to bushwhack into the headwaters to check for any additional cascades that might be there. I wanted to get video footage of whatever I found regardless. I was going to put the finishing touches on a movie
of the stream from the headwaters to the base of the falls.  I was going to put the finishing touches on a guidebook I had written about the area.   I wanted to go before it got too hot and snakey and while the stream volumes were high.

           I planned to go do that and I got all prepared to check out four locations in the headwaters.   I would do that.  I would swing round to the area near the base of the falls.
There is supposed to be a nice waterfall on a nearby stream. I had worn out going to Alarka Falls, but I figured I'd reward myself by hunting up something different. I did find photos of the falls and proved to myself that it does exist and it is a significant sized falls and very pretty.
Plan A--Headwaters  Plan B--un-visited waterfall Plan C-- Wrights Creek Falls 

       I went up to the top first to get the headwaters thing over with first.  At least that is what I tried to do.  I got a nasty suprise in finding the road gated off about a mile from Wesser Gap.
I considered just pulling over and hiking from where I was. I then realized that while the first things I needed to do were near Wesser gap..... the rest was NOT. It was totally impractical.
The sign on the gate said the road would reopen after March  15th.  They were trying to minimize cold weather damage to the road by closing it.  It seems like it is working because I found it in better condition than usual for the time of year.  

         I went back down the road and pulled over and got some photos and video footage of an 
interesting cascade on Conleys Creek.   I had seen it before, but never with this much water!

A few different vantage points of the cascade on Conley's Creek. It shoots under an interesting and very large rock!  

Below is a video clip of it.  

           I left the area once was done with photos. I headed back to US 74 expressway and went
round to Alarka and the base.  I figured I'd have no problem locating the houses where I planned to ask permission to walk back to find the waterfall.   It appeared to be right beside a house.
I thought I'd park at the road and hike along the stream so I'd be at the base of the falls and get some good photos. I lifted an address for the house.  I plugged it into my Tomtom.
It tried to tell me to turn onto an old logging road that is gated off very near the parking area for Alarka Falls!  I knew that wasn't right. I figured I would be able to locate the lane based upon its position relative to another named road.   I tried that and came up empty.  For some reason traffic was unusually heavy on this back road today!?   I decided to just try it again the day I return to do the headwaters.  I went back down the road and pulled over to photograph another roadside attraction. Alarka Creek has a pretty cascade down from the falls.   I had never stopped to take a good look at it or get photos of it before.

 Alarka Cascade
 The high bluffs above the cascade keep it in the gloom.
 The cascade from the top of it.

Here is a short video of Alarka Cascade

          I was hungry and did not want what I had brought with me.  I went back toward Bryson City and stopped to get something hot for lunch. I realized on the way to eat that I had a headache starting.
I figured I'd eat lunch and that would take care of it.  It didn't seem to help so I took some advil.
I gave that time and it didn't relieve my discomfort.  It was such a pretty day. I figured I should do something, but I felt discouraged and rotten.  One of those snake bit times in life when nothing is going right.  I tried to get myself interested in stopping to hike at Smokemont and an assortment of places on the way home.  I had driven a long way to have my plans messed up.

            I went home and rested and had a hot cup of coffee and some tylenol and a warm compress on my head and neck.  I began to feel better.  I would just have to accept that my day bombed out.   I looked at the website for the Nantahala National Forest and found their phone number.
I would check by calling before any future trips.  Too far a drive to be fouled up by a gated road!

             I did find an additional waterfall in the area so when I go back maybe I can check that one out too!