Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cemetery Loop Pisgah National Forest 5/21/2011

 To get to the trail head we continued past  the fish hatchery on Forest Service Road 475.  The road is paved for a few miles then becomes gravel and gains elevation.  There is parking for a couple of cars on the left about four miles after the pavement ends.  The Cemetery trail enters the woods at a gate and the Long  Branch trail which we returned on exits the woods a few hundred feet further up with another space for parking.

This is a two mile loop with the cemetery at almost exactly the halfway point.  The first half is on the Cemetery trail and is an old logging road.  This trail does not see a lot of traffic and has a lot of growth in the road bed so that only a single track trail is clear in areas.  We were bothered by some flying insects but not as bad as we would be on the Long Branch trail.

 A short distance into the hike the road forks.  The loop continues straight while the left fork leads to an impressive view.  This side out and back walk adds about .6 miles to the hike but is worth the effort.  We did not do much exploring once we reached the viewpoint since the trail abruptly ends and a wrong step could lead to a nasty tumble downhill.

Back on the main trail I noticed that the Mountain Laurel wasn't in full bloom yet.  The buds were a darker color then the blooms and had a neat star like shape.  There was a second place where another old road forked off to the left but we stayed to the right.   This trail is dry with no water crossing or mud until after the cemetery.  We had been walking along the top of the hill.

Just before reaching the cemetery the trail bears right and goes slightly downhill.  There is a sign for the cemetery and a very short side trail on the left.  You can see where someone has made an effort to preserve this cemetery.  There was a path through it with sticks marking the edges of the path.  Only a few of the stones are readable.  There are many more stones that are really worn down.

A short distance after the cemetery we turned right at the intersection with the Long Branch trail.  This trail is not an old road .  We were now at the bottom of the hill and made a small water crossing with no bridge.  We kept our feet dry by using the small logs that someone had placed across the water although they weren't very stable.

This area was damp and the bugs came out in full force.  We were only thinking how much we wanted to see the van at the end of the trail when we spotted a pink lady slipper.  We ended up seeing maybe ten of them but you could tell that there were many more a couple of weeks ago.  I would like to hike this trail again earlier in the Spring when there are more lady slippers and less bugs.

We have seen these spots on leaves several times this Spring.
 Does anyone know what they are?

Daniel Ridge Waterfall 5/21/2011

We did the walk to this waterfall between two longer hikes on this beautiful spring day.  The parking is at the trail head for the Daniel Ridge Loop trail up the road from the fish hatchery in Pisgah National Forest.  We need to hike this loop one day but for now we just walked to the waterfall.  The trail head parking was quite full but most of the vehicles seemed to be people camping near the river crossing or playing in the water there.  
We passed through the gate and followed the gravel road a short distance to a nice bridge.  This is not an official camping area but there were a half dozen groups camping in the first quarter mile of so.  The walk to the falls was no more then a half mile.  The first part was on a gravel road that would still be very drivable if the gate were open.  Further up the road was eroded.

Once we got away from the river we left the crowd behind and had a quiet walk.  There were lots of wild flowers and we saw the first wild strawberries of the season.  They weren't quite ripe enough to pick yet but it won't be long.  The poison ivy and oak on both sides of the trail appeared to be on steroids but the trail is wide enough to avoid touching it.  We found two geocaches on this short walk..

Once at the falls there are two ways to view them.   Before the falls there is a short side trail that leads up above the main trail to the edge of the falls.  The picture above was taken from this spot.  The side trail is a bit of a scramble and was muddy in one spot but gave a nice open view of the falls.  You can also view the falls from the main trail.  It is a little further away from the main drop but you can view the whole falls including the cascades at the bottom.   The view is somewhat obscured by vegetation.  This is an easy falls for most anyone to reach since it is a short and mostly level hike.  The river to play in near the beginning  makes this a great walk for children.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cove Creek and Caney Bottom Loop Hike 5/21/2011

The parking for this hike is across from the gated gravel road for the Cove Creek group camping area in the Pisgah National Forest.  Before beginning the loop we took the short little trail on the left side of the parking a couple hundred feet to a small waterfall and swimming hole.  Returning to the parking we crossed the road and walked up the campground access road.

The gravel road makes two low water crossings but there are short side trails with foot bridges at each.  Almost immediately we began seeing wildflowers including pink lady slippers.  The road climbed a hill  beside a waterfall that could be scrambled down to.  We passed a trail head just before reaching the first clearing for campsites but did not take the trail here.

The road passes a cleared area, goes through a small wooded area, then through a second clearing.  Between the two clearing is a waterfall that makes a good sliding rock with a pool at the bottom.  As we were ending our hike later in the day we could hear a group of young campers enjoying the water.  At the end of the second clearing we took the trail with a sign saying to Caney Bottom.

This section is through fairly thick woods with few flowers blooming.  There are flat sections with small stream crossings on log bridges, some muddy spots, and some elevation gains.  The trail isn't really steep or strenuous.  One of the bridges had some rotten logs but  two of the logs were still solid.  The trail passes by the top of a pretty falls that I wasn't able to get a good picture of.

After the falls there was a short rough section then the trail passed through a flat area that was more open.  We followed this trail to the signed intersection with the Cove Creek trail.  We turned left on the Cove Creek trail which passes through a more open area.  There was a grassy meadow on the right and a lot more flowers along the trail. 

At the next intersection we turned left and made a couple more water crossing.  There were a couple of trees down across the trail but mostly this was a very clean and well maintained trail.  We had not been hiking near the creek but could hear it down below at times.  The trail came closer to the creek and there was a side trail with a sign for Cove Creek Falls.

This side trail was the most difficult part of the hike but also the most rewarding.  It leads down to the creek at the top of the falls.  We went straight ahead to view the creek at the top of the fall and then backtracked about fifty feet and took the trail to the base of the falls.  Although the trail is steep it is not dangerous and would be suitable for children with supervision.  We found a geocache in a small rock cave near the bottom and had a picnic lunch at the base of the falls.  We had seen two people leaving the falls as we were going down but didn't see anyone while we had lunch.  We only saw one other person on the trails although there were many people in the camping area and on the access road.

I spotted a number of interesting mushrooms in the woods on this hike.  After passing the falls we began to see my favorite flowers, the lady slippers again.  The loop hike ends at the first trail head that we passed just before the campsite clearing.  This four mile hike has no mountain top views but it is a very nice woods walk with a lot of variety for the amount of effort.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rough Fork Trail Cataloochee Valley 5/14/2011

The Rough Fork trail head is at the end of the Cataloochee Valley Road.  The trail is a continuation of the road which is gated at this point.  The trail follows Rough Fork creek for the first mile and a half crossing it several times.  The creek is not right next to the trail but there are numerous short trails leading to it.  The trail is mostly level for the first mile to the Woody house.

The first creek crossing occurs at about a half mile from the trail head at a single log bridge.  At the second bridge a short distance later we saw about a three foot snake in the water.  On the way back we saw a larger snake stretched out on a branch on the other side of the bridge.  I was glad that we were on a bridge and not in the water.

As we exited the second bridge the trail was wet for about 200 feet.  A small run coming in on the right had turned the trail into a creek but it was only an inch or two deep and there were plenty of rocks to step on.  Just around the corner we crossed a third bridge and began to see the Woody house ahead.  There was a group of butterflies in the trail by the house.

The Woody house is set back from the trail and the front yard and nearest fields have been kept open.  To the right of the house is a springhouse where the water from a small run kept the food stored there cool.  This house started as a cabin and had several frame additions added over the years.  You can enter the house and walk through all of the rooms including upstairs.

Beyond the house the trail begins to climb although still not steeply.  There were lots of berry bushes near the house.   There were a number of varieties of flowers including trillium along the next half mile.  This section of the trail ends with a final creek crossing with no bridge.  The water is not deep and there are rocks to hop.  Campsite 40 is just off the trail at this point.

From here the trail becomes steep and climbs constantly for the next mile and a half to the intersection with the Caldwell Fork trail.  You can see where the old road once continued here but it is now single track in areas due to erosion and forest growth.  There were varieties of flowers that we hadn't seen at the lower elevations and some really big Poplar trees further up. 

We saw a lot of elk prints in the muddy areas including places where the elk appeared to have slid in the mud.  We saw chipmunks and heard wild turkeys but didn't spot the elk.  There were some views higher up of the ridges across the valley but no wide open vistas.  We turned around at the Caldwell Fork intersection for a round trip hike of six miles. 

Pretty Hollow Gap Trail Cataloochee Valley May 13,2011

We were looking for an easy afternoon hike after setting up at the camping area so we decided to take this trail along side Palmer Creek.  The trail head is between Palmer Chapel and the Beech Grove school.  The gate was open but not knowing when it would be closed we parked at the trail head.  The first .2 mile to the horse camping area are on a well graded road.

The creek remains right beside the trail and is full of small cascades.  The trail seems to be level but it must be slightly uphill for the creek to be running.  After the horse camp the trail becomes more trail like but is still obviously an old road.  Flowers and berry bushes grow along the sides.  At one point the trail climbs about fifty feet above the creek.

There were frequent short  trails to the creek edge.  At every point there was something to see whether it was bluets growing at the waters edge, mossy rocks, or cascades.  At one point a tree had fallen at the water level creating a natural dam.  As we were leaving this spot a mother and two children arrived to fish in the hole above the tree.  Beyond this point we didn't pass any other hikers.

At .8 miles the Little Cataloochee trail exits on the right.  We chose to continue along the creek and went straight ahead.  At one point it looked like we were leaving the main creek and following a smaller run but we soon discovered that the creek had split and come back together forming a sort of island.  We began to hear thunder in the distance.

At 1.6 miles we came to the intersection of the Palmer Creek trail.  We crossed the single log bridge at the beginning of this trail but did not venture further as the thunder was continuing to threaten   There are many of these bridges in the valley area.  The logs are solid but some of the handrails are in need of repair.  This looked like a really pretty trail but will have to wait for another trip.

The trail system in this area is well signed and easy to follow.  They are also really clean with no litter although the horses from the nearby camp have left some evidence of their presence.  There were no obstacles such as fallen trees or large rocks and there is no need to get wet feet.  The rain started when we were nearing the van and we got a little wet but the hike was worth it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mtns. May 2011

We spent a weekend camping in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This blog entry is about the area that can be visited without a long walk.  The next two entries will be for the longer trails that we hiked on.  This valley was home to about 1200 people before it became a national park.  Only a few of the building remain and most of the roads are now hiking trails.

We entered the valley by exiting Interstate 40 at exit 20 in North Carolina.  From here it is eight miles into the valley.  After stopping to find a geocache at the exit and another at a one lane bridge on a side road a short distance from the highway we continued up Cove Creek Rd.  This winding mountain road starts out paved then becomes gravel. 

There were a number of chipmunks playing in this area.  We stopped to find another geocache and spotted many varieties of flowes including these bright red fire-pinks growing beside the road.   The road is narrow in spots but well graded.  We had to back off a curve to allow a park vehicle towing a piece of heavy equipment to pass.

At the ridge there is room for several vehicles to park.  The Cataloochee Divide Trail crosses the road at this point and can be hiked in either direction.  A short walk on this single track trail revealed several varieties of flowers that like the higher elevations.  Back in the van we were now headed downhill and soon the road was paved once more. 

Just before entering the main valley area there is an overlook.  For the best views we parked and walked up the short hill.  In the distance is Mt. Sterling.  The sign made note of the fact that most of the valley that was once farmland and orchards had been taken back over by the forest.  We saw the first of many wild turkeys sitting on a fence not far from here.

We stayed in the primitive campground for the weekend.  It is considered primitive because there are no showers or electric hookups.  The area is very clean and well maintained.  The toilets flush,  there are lights in the restrooms, and every site has its own bear proof garbage can.  We could hear the creek running behind our tent lulling us to sleep.

The big attraction in the valley are the elk.  They were reintroduced to the Smokies at this site in 2001 and the herd is slowly growing.  They are beginning to visit other parts of the park but return to this valley.  They can be seen in  the fields most evenings for an hour or two before dark.   Every time we drove by the fields we saw wild turkeys.  Only once did we see a deer.

We visited Palmer Chapel which is a Methodist Church beside one of the mountain creeks that flows through the valley.  Like all the buildings we visited the doors were open and we were welcome to look around inside.  The pews are in place as well as the pulpit with an open Bible.  The horse trail passes beside it allowing easy access to spots along the creek.

Across the road is a short but steep trail climbing the hill to the Palmer Chapel cemetery.  Have you noticed that most old cemeteries are at the top of steep hills?  After looking around the cemetery we started slowly down the hill looking for the lady slippers that we had heard grew on this hill.  We found them hiding near the trail.  One in particular was hiding behind a tree or maybe it had put itself in time out.

Another stop along the road is the Beech Grove school.  It is the only one of the three schools in this area still standing.  It is not a one room schoolhouse - it is a two room schoolhouse.  It was built in 1901 to replace an older log building.  One of the rooms still contains the old desks.  Like most of the buildings in the valley it is beside a creek.

Continuing down the road the Caldwell house is on the left and a barn is on the right.  You can walk through the house upstairs and down but it is not furnished.  The house was completed in 1906 and is a modern frame structure.  The barn is open and we walked up to the loft above the main floor.  There were holes in the floor but the remaining boards were solid.

The Caldwell family cemetery is just down the road.  To reach it we crossed the field at a mowed area.  There was a line of bushes at the edge of the field followed immediately by a steep climb in the woods.  We were about twenty feet into the woods when a turkey suddenly took off from the bushes.  I am not sure who was more startled, the turkey or us.

Further back near where we entered the valley a turn at the intersection leads to another house and a small museum.  There are many hiking trails starting in the valley that can be walked a short distance or for miles.  There are lots of single log bridges over the creeks.  The next two blog entries will talk about the hikes we took this trip.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Laughing Falls Stroll 5/7/2011

We finished our planned hike for the day early so armed with some information off the Internet and coordinates for a geocache we went in search of Laughing Falls.  This falls is reached by traveling .7 miles north of the intersection of highways 276, 64, and 280 then .1 miles on OLD NC 280, then .7 miles on SR1361.  We did a little guessing since there was no sign for SR1361 and parked near the closed gate.

We saw two things at once.  There were a group of five or six butterflies just beyond the gate for the driveway we would follow.  The second was that we would have to walk across a low water bridge.  basically that means that the creek flows right across the road but is shallow enough for a car to drive through it.  Mitch was able to cross on rocks at the side but I walked across and got my feet wet.

There is no real trail to this falls but it is only about a quarter mile walk.  We continued a couple hundred feet down the driveway and found an easy way to the creek edge.  There was what appeared to be an old overground trail along the side leading to an old broken bridge.  We decided not to try the bridge and continued up the side that we were on.

The trail ended at a set of three cascades on the creek.  The creek is really overgrown so it was hard to get a view of  the whole cascades at once but I believe we found the right spot.   We tried a few different spots to get pictures.  The best probably would have been from the middle of the creek but it is still early in the season for us to get that wet.

Returning back to where we parked we decided to walk up the gated portion of 1361 a little ways.  There were berry bushes in bloom so there will be either blackberries or raspberries along here later in the summer.  We also found a few trillium and other flowers blooming beside the road.  After searching unsuccessfully for a geocache we headed back to the van.