Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hanging Rock Recreation Area is located at the base of High Knob near Dungannon, Va. It's a wonderful area with picnic shelters, public restrooms, and plenty of picnic tables to enjoy the outdoors along beautiful Stoney Creek. The main attraction however is the falls of Little Stoney. From the recreation area a trail leaves following the creek up the 2.6m trail to the falls. Technically, there are only two waterfalls on Stoney Creek, however I found that there are some beautiful cascades all along the creek and two definite waterfalls off the beaten path.

Yesterday's hike began by traveling across High Knob through the Osborne's Ridge section and into what most people consider the "back way" to the falls. This way is much easier because the walk to the falls is only .15 miles! Unfortunately at the turn to the falls, Dad and I were greeted with a gated forest road! I had even called the forest service and was told it was open, I was aggravated to say the least, but I didn't give up. I told dad we could go to Hanging Rock entrance but the falls were further up the trail. He was a good sport and agreed to go and said he would hike as far as he was comfortable with. I had only been to Hanging Rock once and it was by accident and at night. I was highly impressed with the huge rock formations and the nice cascades running through the canyon there. The picnic area was gated off so we had to walk up to the trail head just past the picnic area.

Almost immediately the trail comes to a maze of boulders as big as small houses, Dad really liked this area and played around the large rocks like he was a kid again, here's a few shots of Hanging Rock early on in the hike.
one of the many cliffs along the trail
large rapids coming down Stoney Creek
Dad heading up the trail, me behind one of the huge boulders
pure sandstone boulders
Southwest Virginia gold, aka Coal
Dad really hoping there isn't a freak earthquake on Stoney Creek

The trail leaves the boulder area and stays with the creek, a short time later you arrive at the first of four bridges suspended high over the creek. The trail narrows and each side of the canyon is shaded by high bluffs. Cascades abound and between them the water is plenty deep enough for a summer swim. As beautiful as this area is, budget cuts have it scheduled for closing! I have started contacting some people and plan to start a petition to save Hanging Rock. Speaking of Hanging Rock it's name sake lies about two miles up the trail towering over the canyon. The growth of trees have the view obstructed but on a future hike I will climb to the summit and sit on the rock, that indeed hangs out over the heavens. Just below the goat path that leads up to the rock is a long wooden bridge across a wide gorge, this is one of my favorite places on the entire trail. In the distance you can hear the faint familiar sound of water crashing over a cliffs edge and soon you can start seeing the middle stoney falls appearing in the distance. Here's some more photo's of this area.
photo taken from one of the bridges
dual cascades taken from a large bolder in the creek
small falls the trail crosses directly in front of
large rock formation along the rock staircase
another large cascade with deep pool below
one of the many beautiful cascades
long bridge over the gorge
The falls are underrated perhaps because I've been to them so many times. However on this day they were as good as any I have visited. Time didn't allow me to go to Upper Stoney Falls but I was satisfied with all the sights I had took in along the way As I was leaving I could hear what I thought was a waterfall off a small side stream and after some crawling and wading, the canyon opened up revealing a beautiful 30ft falls. I was proud of myself because I had yet to find anyone with a photo of these online. I turned my ankle getting out and the pain was settling in as I still had two miles to go but I continued on. As the truck came into view I fully expected to see dad sleeping with the seat laid back, I approached the window and no dad! A bit of mild panic set in before I spotted him down a steep bank along the creek resting peacefully on a large bolder. It was the best sight of the day for me, it's nice to see him starting to love these hikes as much as I do, until next time...happy trails!
Middle Stoney Falls
Middle Stoney Falls
Horton Falls..yeah I named them!
Dad found a good spot to wait for me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A meeting in Abingdon yesterday was a perfect excuse to take a hike up to Virginia's highest peak, Mt. Rogers. My friend Misty and I left the meeting and headed toward Damascus, from there the road enters the national forest and the road is extremely curvy. I generally never get car sick but I was almost miserable winding back and forth on the curvy road. Another problem we found was there wasn't a whole lot of signs so we went on instinct. I just looked for the highest mountain and we followed the road that went in that direction. Eventually we started seeing signs for Whitetop Mountain but no mention of Mt Rogers. Finally we spotted a fire department along the road known as Mt Rogers rescue so we knew we were getting close. A road turned left up the backside of the massive mountain and wound through some beautiful Christmas tree farms. As we approached the top a parking lot adjacent to a large meadow had an information board in it. According to the board we were a four mile hike from the summit of Mt. Rogers, and I knew that we didn't have that kind of daylight to play with.

Besides being the highest peak in Virginia, Mt Rogers is also known for it's wild ponies that roam the grassy highlands. Misty was determined to find her a pony on our hike. I found plenty of pony poo but the ponies were nowhere to be found. The meadow is large and with your naked eye you can barely see from one end to the other. We followed the AT across the meadow before it wound into the woods and followed a ridgeline just off the left side of the crest. With no views in sight due to the trees, we decided it was best to turn and get back to our car and try the sister mountain to Mt Rogers, Whitetop Mountain. Here is a few shots from the pony fields and AT.
Whitetop Mountain is side by side with Mt Rogers and is slightly lower in elevation. However, it still ranks as the second highest peak in Virginia. Whitetop has a major advantage over Mt Rogers in that the summit is clear and views can go for miles. The summit of Mt Rogers is tree covered ruining any photo ops there.

We drove back to the top of the mountain and took a dirt road that appeared to wind up Whitetop Mountain. The road was well maintained and wide enough not to make me nervous, even with Misty's driving. The views were spectacular as we wound up the mountain to the top where there was a large parking lot. As Misty was parking I had one foot out the door to try to get the perfect photo as the sun was quickly descending behind the mountains. I've always heard a picture is worth a thousand words so enjoy these photos from Whitetop Mountain, they're some of my favorite to date.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Red Fork Falls is one of the more impressive waterfalls in our area, unfortunately it's also one of the most deadly. The remote waterfall is located on the scary narrow Unaka Mountain Road in the Erwin community of Tennessee. Although the road is paved, there are no guardrails and nowhere to pass as the road steeply switches back and forth up Unaka Mountain. The parking area for Red Fork is a small pull off with a tree with a spray painted dot on it. The trail descends from there arriving at a creek crossing. The crossing in normal flow allows you to rock hop but if it has rained prepare to get wet. After the first crossing, the trail bears right and crosses another creek, again you will get wet in high flow conditions. These two creeks converge and head downstream. The trail then follows the creek on the left side a short distance before arriving at the top of the falls. It's an 80 foot drop straight down and to get to the base you have to climb around a slick and sloped cliff against the falls. The trail then goes through a series of vertical drops of 10 feet or more and the mud and rock make it slick and any slip up and you will fall into the falls which would result in severe injury or death.

During periods after heavy rain, such as yesterday, this falls really churns some water through the gorge. Of course it also makes conditions difficult at best for both hiking and photography. After Steve, Amber, and I arrived at the bottom, the mist off the falls was so intense I had to stand back as far as I could to try to photograph this beauty.
Red Fork Falls
From the main falls, the trail continues to wind down the gorge steeply, at the bottom there are several small falls coming from three feeder streams! I really love Red Fork Falls, it's a challenging yet rewarding hike. The danger is real and the remains of a forest sign remind you that people have lost their lives here. I wouldn't recommend children or hiking alone here, there are too many ways to hurt yourself. Even with the difficulty climbing around the falls, the beauty makes the workout fully worth it. I have been to this falls in all seasons now and it is beautiful every time. The next time your in the Erwin area, it's definitely worth checking out. Stay safe and happy trails.
Red Fork Falls and the cascade below the drain pool
close up second cascade
fourth cascade and the fog settling in
fifth cascade. possibly more further down.
Hidden took some work to get this picture
beautiful small falls just above Red Fork Falls

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I had promised my niece recently that when the weather was nice enough, me and her would go on a hike together. Anytime your dealing with a child, a six year old to be exact, your hike has to be one that you feel that they would be able to do without getting hurt or being miserable getting there.

Sill Branch Falls is a short half mile hike to a beautiful 80ft falls. The trail is wide and gains very little elevation, this was perfect for Abby and I's first hike of her life! So yesterday, Abby, dad, and our dog, Cash loaded up and headed to Sill Branch which is located just off Clark's Creek Road on highway 107 near Erwin and Jonesborough. The parking area is small and with the weather being slightly overcast, I didn't expect to see three cars at the parking area. I could barely get my camera and gear out of the car before Abby was unbuckled and heading up the trail!
Abby, Cash, and me, heading up Sill Branch Trail
 Abby brought a breath of fresh air to my hiking, her youth and excitement was a welcome change from the sometimes hassle of trying to find someone willing to go with me. I was taken aback at how much she noticed, my dad noted you view the world different through innocent eyes. As we walked up the trail she pointed out different types of flowers and counted no less than six different types of butterflies. Dad trailed behind us most of the trip and Abby would stop occasionally and encourage 'papaw' to hurry up! I take long strides and hike quite often, yet Abby matched me step for step and held my hand the entire way. She said it's a shame some people hike just to do it, that there is beauty everywhere you look.
Dad and Abby resting trail side. please note Abby's wolf head hiking stick!

Abby was really excited when we arrived at the creek crossing, she loves the water, a trait I would like to think she inherited from me. She said that when it got warmer we would come back to swim but I could be a lookout for snakes. After the creek crossing, the trail has it's only real elevation gain up a steep bank, however Abby made it with ease. The trail levels high above the creek at this point and to the left side you can see several 10ft or higher cascades. Abby was impressed with these and asked "are these the falls?" I told her wait until she seen the falls we were going to that they were higher than my house! As the trail winds around a slight corner, Sill Branch becomes visible, the moment Abby could see the falls she picked her pace significantly. As we made our way to the base of the falls, there were several people there but they kindly moved out of the way so that we could take some photos.
Dad and Abby at Sill Branch Falls
This hike quickly jumped into one of my favorite's of all time. Abby is so smart and just getting to spend some time with her was a real blessing. She asked me questions about other hikes I've been on and decided that she will join me on more hikes. As we hiked out, Abby found an orange salamander that I hadn't even seen, I was able to get a good picture and she said "ok, now let's head to McDonald's!" So until next time, happy trails...
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new growth ferns
Sill Branch Falls through the trees as we were leaving.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Roan Mountain offers a variety of trails and views for the casual hiker to the elite. The parking lot at Carver's Gap is an ideal starting point and in either direction the views are worth a little sweat and heavy breathing. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road at Carver's Gap and travels south toward the botanical gardens and the Roan High Bluffs or you can cross the road and head north on the AT across the balds towards the towering Hump Mountain in the distance. The balds are a beautiful spot to take unobstructed 360 degree photos of mountain ranges from Mt. Mitchell to Holston Mountain. The trail winds casually up Round Bald rising in elevation and thru small patches of old growth pine trees, before clearing with some of the best views on the AT.

The weather recently has been mid-summer quality and it was in the low 80's as Jeff and I left to hike on Roan. I wore a sleeveless shirt and shorts and he had a t-shirt and shorts on. Once we parked at Carver's Gap and opened the door, it became obvious we would need more clothing. The wind on Roan Mountain must never stop! Each time I've visited the wind has gusted throughout my hikes, and today was no different. The temperature had to be hovering in the low 60's if that. Luckily I had a couple of extra sweatshirts and we proceeded on up Round Bald. I had brought along my brand new high tech DSLR camera and was stoked when I arrived at a rock outcrop for some perfect photo ops. I unpacked and steadied my camera, I pushed the button and a message on screen said "no memory card" In my excitement to get going, I had forgotten to put the card back in from loading photos the night before! I now was carrying a thousand dollar paperweight. Once again luck was on my side however, Jeff has a quality camera and all the pics from today's post are courtesy of Jeff's camera! 
from Round Bald looking into North Carolina
From Round Bald the trail descends slightly and then rises up the higher Jane Bald. The trail once again descends off Jane Bald and as we hiked along I was surprised to find a mailbox along the trail with "goat info" on it. During the summer, Friends of Roan sponsors a program that keeps goats on the balds to graze and maintain these fragile ecosystems. The brochures in the mailbox allow you the chance to Adopt-a-Goat for the summer which gives you the right to name one! I immediately decided this was a worthy cause and named my future goat, Nibber! Here's me with the mailbox.
I can't wait to meet Nibber!
The next part of the trail rises steeply and ruggedly  to the intersection of the Grassy Ridge Trail. Jeff and I were feeling the up and down climbing in our legs and arrived at a nice set of boulders and decided to go no further, the sun was getting low in the sky and a hike out at night would most certainly get cold in a hurry. The cloud cover as the sun set allowed for some spectacular photos and no two looked the same. As we made our way back towards Carvers Gap the sun was disappearing in the distance along the ridge line, I hiked further ahead of Jeff and was lost in thought, sometimes I believe I could hike for miles in silence. By the time we arrived at the truck it was dark, we headed off the mountain and recanted the days hike to kill the time on the hour drive home. I was sad that my new camera would have to wait another day to capture Roan in all it's glory but it provided me with a good excuse to be back soon. Who knows, I may even make the 16.6 mile RT hike from Carver's Gap to Hump Mountain. Until next time, happy trails...
Hump Mountain (bald mountain top)

always looking for the next good photo, guess I should have looked left.
storm clouds blowing across the balds
good ol rocky top--Jane Bald
breaking along the AT
dusk on the AT, descending Round Bald

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just off I-26 near the Temple Hill and Flag Pond communities lies a hidden treasure if your a waterfall lover. Lower Higgins creek road turns off the old Asheville highway and up the mountain, it eventually turns to gravel and dead ends along the creek at a wide spot in the road. From the parking area, the trail is to the left across an old bridge and begins a fairly steep climb up the mountain following the creek.

The trail stays with the creek the entire time and the small cascades and rock formations along the way keep you entertained before you arrive at the 100ft Lower Higgins falls. The problem you encounter at the falls is that there isn't really a trail to it, it's a steep scramble down to get to the base, but definitely worth it. Here's the main attraction.
Lower Higgins Falls
another view of Lower Higgins, 100ft high
From the first falls the trail continues on, still rising in elevation. The trail will force you to cross the creek, there isn't a place here that you won't get your feet wet while crossing. The trail continues a short distance on the right side of the creek before you will cross again and a short distance later arrive at the nice 40ft middle falls.
middle falls
different camera setting, same falls

There are several 20 ft falls between the middle falls and Upper Higgins Falls but the heat and the steep climbs down the bank made me trudge on past. The upper falls is completely hidden by brush and boulders and the trail is straight down. I debated on whether to try it down since I was alone, but the roar of the water was more than my curiosity could stand. The area along either side of the creek is so dense with brush the only way I could take photos was ankle deep in the creek.
Upper Higgins Falls, what a beauty! 70ft high.
another view of Upper Higgins.
In a short three miles round trip, I had seen several beautiful falls. I had worked up a good sweat and was ready to go enjoy the NCAA tournament, basketball is my second love to my hiking. Until next time, happy trails.
resting, creek side.