Friday, May 29, 2015

Daniel Boone National Forest: Yahoo Arch and Markers Arch (Blog Hike #517)

Trails: Yahoo Arch and Markers Arch Trails (FS# 602 and 603)
Hike Location: Daniel Boone National Forest
Geographic Location: west of Whitley City, KY
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2015
Overview: A pair of out-and-backs to two arches.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at an unsigned trailhead on the right side of SR 700 3.3 miles west of its intersection with US 27 in Whitley City.  Only a carsonite post bearing the number 602 and a wooden trail mileage sign mark this trailhead.  There is room for 1 or 2 cars to park beside the road here, but a couple of more cars could park at gravel FR 6002 200 feet further ahead on the left.  In either case, take care not to block the road.

The hike: Daniel Boone National Forest and adjacent Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area contain one of the highest concentrations of stone arches in the eastern United States.  The southern part of the region features Natural Arch in southern Kentucky and Twin Arches in northern Tennessee.  The northern part of the forest features Grays Arch and Sky Bridge in the Red River Gorge area.  The famous Natural Bridge of Kentucky is part of the same area, but it lies outside of the national forest.
            The national forest contains over 100 smaller arches, and this hike takes you to two of them.  Yahoo Arch is somewhat well-known because it lies less than 1 mile from similarly named Yahoo Falls, the highest waterfall in Kentucky.  The name of both the falls and the arch is probably a corruption of the Muscogee/Creek Indian word yahola for speaker/orator.  While you can reach Yahoo Arch by hiking up from Yahoo Falls, this hike gets to Yahoo Arch by coming down from SR 700.  By taking this approach, you can double your arch count for the day with minimal additional effort by also visiting Markers Arch, which lies close to the SR 700 trailhead.
Trailhead at SR 700
            From the roadside parking area, the Yahoo Arch Trail (Daniel Boone National Forest trail #602) immediately enters the woods at a carsonite post and trail mileage sign.  After only a couple hundred feet, the trail forks.  The Yahoo Arch Trail continues forward to its arch, while the Markers Arch Trail exits right toward its arch, so you have to decide which arch you wish to visit first.  I chose to continue straight and visit Yahoo Arch first.
            For the next 0.5 miles the Yahoo Arch Trail follows an old logging road as it heads out a narrow finger ridge.  The trail is marked with large plastic white diamonds, but the path is wide and easy to follow.  During the leafless months some partially obstructed views open up in either direction.  On my mid-May hike, large clusters of mountain laurel were in full bloom.
Hiking the ridgetop trail
            At 0.5 miles, the trail descends steeply but only for a short time as you roll off the end of the finger ridge.  The ridgetop terrain you have traversed thus far does not seem the least bit like arch country, but at 0.8 miles you descend some rock steps cut from a sandstone cliff.  You can look up and down this cliff for your destination, but your search will end arch-less.
            After descending a switchback, you arrive at the top of Yahoo Arch, although it is hard to see the arch from this angle.  Descending one more switchback brings you to the north base of Yahoo Arch.  At 17 feet high and 70 feet wide, Yahoo Arch is smaller than the most famous arches in this area but larger than many others.  The arch probably formed when the rear of a rock shelter collapsed, thus leaving only the rock shelter’s front.  The arch’s smoothly curved lintel gives it a graceful appearance, and the surrounding cliffline creates a moist, rocky environment.  If you sit on one of the rocks at Yahoo Arch’s north base and sing your favorite song facing the other base, you will discover that the arch has some nice acoustic properties as well.
Yahoo Arch, viewed from the north

Yahoo Arch viewed from the south
            The Yahoo Arch Trail continues another 0.9 miles to Yahoo Falls, but there are easier ways to see Yahoo Falls than to hike there from here.  Thus, this trail description turns around at Yahoo Arch and retraces its steps to the Markers Arch Trail.  Coming from this direction, you need to turn left to begin the Markers Arch Trail.
            The Markers Arch Trail (Daniel Boone National Forest trail #603) is almost a mini version of the Yahoo Arch Trail.  For its first 0.3 miles the trail follows an old logging road along the ridgetop, then it descends steeply off the end of the ridge.  In another 0.1 miles you reach Markers Arch.  This arch is about half the size of Yahoo Arch, but the angle at the end of the trail gives a perfect view down through the arch.  Markers Arch is set in a grove of hemlock trees, creating a shady and serene setting.
Markers Arch
            The Markers Arch Trail ends at its namesake landform, so the only option is to retrace your steps back to the Yahoo Arch Trail.  A left turn and short walk will return you to SR 700 and complete the hike.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Big South Fork NRRA: Angel Falls Rapid Trail (Blog Hike #516)

Trail: Angel Falls Rapid Trail
Hike Location: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Geographic Location: west of Oneida, TN
Length: 4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2015
Overview: A riverside out-and-back to noisy Angel Falls Rapid.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at the park’s Leatherwood Ford Trailhead; follow the driving directions for the Leatherwood Loop hike.

The hike: For my general comments on the hiking options at Leatherwood Ford, see the Leatherwood Loop hike.  The Angel Falls Rapid Trail described here leads 2 miles one-way downstream to its namesake water feature, a powerful and dangerous rapid in the Big South Fork River.  Despite the length, the wide trail across relatively flat terrain makes this hike easier than most hikes in this area.
Big South Fork River
            While the Leatherwood Loop Trail departs from the south end of the parking area near the restroom building, the Angel Falls Rapid Trail starts at the north end of the parking area.  To get there, you could park at the north end or walk through the parking area, but a boardwalk trail along the river provides a more scenic option.  The boardwalk is called the Riverwalk, and it offers some of your best views of the river, which was wide and muddy on my mid-May visit the day after a thunderstorm.
Trailhead at north end of parking area
            However you get to the north end of the parking area, a carsonite post, a sign, and an information board identify the trailhead.  The trail is marked with green fiberglass rectangles, but you will also see some faint red arrowhead paint blazes, the park’s old method for marking hiking trails.  Some numbered posts indicate the existence of an interpretive guide, but none were available at the trailhead.
The wide gravel and dirt trail heads north with the river on your left and the gorge wall rising to your right.  The forest along the river consists of maple, beech, and tulip poplar, but there are also some large hemlock trees down here.  Rhododendron, mountain laurel, ferns, paw paw, and sassafras live in the understory.  The white flowers of the mountain laurel were in full bloom on my visit.
            700 feet from the trailhead, you pass a small cave in the hillside to the right.  Just past 0.2 miles, you cross a small unnamed stream on a nice wooden footbridge.  In the moist environment along the river, my feet stepped over numerous black and yellow flat millipedes.
Flat millipede
            At 0.8 miles, you cross a large stream called Anderson Branch on another nice wooden footbridge.  Some car-sized boulders appear between the trail and the river, as do several attractive established campsites.  Piles of rock representing slag from old coal mines remind you of this area’s mining history.  At 1.9 miles, you pass an exposed coal seam in the cliff to your right that provides another reminder of what lies underneath this land.  If you rub the black coal with your hands, you will learn why coal has such a dirty reputation.
Coal seam in cliff
            Just past the coal seam, you reach the signed spur trail for Angel Falls.  Angle left and walk a few more feet to reach the wooden observation platform.  Angel Falls Rapid was created in 1954 by an attempt to dynamite a 6-foot river cataract in order to make the river navigable for barges.  This platform gives the side view of the dangerous rapid the ill-fated effort created.  The cliffs on the other side underlie Angel Falls Overlook, which sits over 600 feet above you and can be reached by another trail that starts at Leatherwood Ford.  A canoe portage trail leads to the north (downstream) side of the rapid.  Some rocks beg you to sit and enjoy the sound of rushing water.
Angel Falls Rapid

Cliffs overlooking Angel Falls
            The trail continues north from the rapid.  The next point of interest is the John Smith Place, which is an old homesite and mine reached after another 1.3 miles.  Next comes Station Camp Ford, an equestrian trailhead and campground that features Chimney Rocks, some unusual spire-type rock formations.  Station Camp Ford is more than 6 miles away, and no nice loops can be formed.  Thus, I chose to turn around at Angel Falls and retrace my steps to Leatherwood Ford to complete a 4-mile hike.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Sumter National Forest: Parson's Mountain Recreation Area (Blog Hike #515)

Trails: Parson’s Mountain Lake and Parson’s Mountain Tower Trails
Hike Location: Sumter National Forest: Parson’s Mountain Recreation Area
Geographic Location: south of Abbeville, SC
Length: 4.3 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2015
Overview: A semi-loop featuring abandoned gold mines and an abandoned fire tower.

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 28 and SR 72 on the west side of Abbeville, drive SR 28 south 2.1 miles to Parson’s Mountain Road.  Turn left on paved Parson’s Mountain Rd.  Drive Parson’s Mountain Rd. 1.5 miles to the signed recreation area entrance on the right.  Turn right on the entrance road, pay the small entrance fee, and park in the cul de sac parking lot for the swimming area.  There are restrooms, picnic tables, and a swimming beach at the trailhead.  Note that the recreation area is only open May through mid-November, so you will have to park outside the area’s entrance and walk to the swimming area if you come here in the winter.

The hike: Have you ever heard of the South Carolina gold rush?  It was no California, but in the mid 1800’s Parson’s Mountain and west-central South Carolina became a regional hotspot for prospectors seeking to strike it rich.  The area’s most successful mine was the Dorn Gold Mine, which was located in what would become the town of McCormick.  Opened in 1852, nearly 1 million dollars of gold was unearthed before the mine was closed in the late 1850’s.  The Dorn Gold Mine is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
            The mines on Parson’s Mountain were not as successful as the Dorn Gold Mine, but you can still see the abandoned shafts at Sumter National Forest’s Parson’s Mountain Recreation Area.  The area and mountain are named after James Parsons, a pioneer who was granted this land by King George III of England in 1772.  The recreation area features a 28 acre man-made lake, a swimming area, a 23 site campground, and numerous picnic areas.
            Parson’s Mountain Recreation Area also serves as a trailhead for the Long Cane Trail, a 23 mile route that is popular with backpackers.  Dayhikers have two trails to choose from.  The 2.5 mile Parson’s Mountain Lake Trail circles the lake, while the 0.9 mile one-way Parson’s Mountain Tower Trail forms an out-and-back to the mountain’s summit.  Because the Tower Trail is only accessible from the Lake Trail, it makes sense to combine the two trails to form the 4.3 mile hike described here.
Trailhead and Point E
            To find the trailhead, walk downhill toward the beach and turn right at the restroom building.  Five posts labeled A through E mark major points in Parson’s Mountain’s trail system.  This trailhead is point E, and starting here will provide a counterclockwise journey around Parson’s Mountain Lake.
            The trail heads into the mixed broadleaf forest with the lake to the left.  I noticed several turtles on logs as I hiked around the lake.  Common trees include maple, beech, tulip poplar, and hickory with some tall, old pine trees thrown in.  At 0.2 miles, the trail seems to fork with the sunny left option heading toward a wooden bridge and the shady right option heading into the woods.  The left option quickly ends at a lake overlook, so after a possible brief detour you will need to choose the right option to continue the loop.  Watch for poison ivy near the edge of the forest.
Parson's Mountain Lake
            Almost immediately after re-entering the forest, you reach a bench and point D, where the trail curves sharply left.  The narrow dirt trail, which is marked with white paint blazes, undulates gently to arrive at Mountain Creek, the main tributary for Parson’s Mountain Lake.  There used to be a bridge across Mountain Creek, but it had collapsed prior to my arrival, forcing me to wade the several inch deep water.  More generally, when I hiked here in early May, I encountered numerous downed trees, and it seemed the trail had not been cleared or otherwise maintained for quite some time.
Hiking Parson's Mountain Lake Trail
            After crossing Mountain Creek, the trail climbs moderately to reach a bench that offers a partially obstructed view of the lake.  Now heading south, you dip to cross a couple of smaller tributaries on shaky wooden bridges.  At 1.3 miles, you reach the junction with the Parson’s Mountain Tower Trail; this junction is marked as point B.  We will eventually turn left to continue the loop around the lake, but for now turn right to head for the mountain’s summit.
            The trail climbs at a gradual to moderate rate first along and then away from a small creek.  The forest here is considerably younger than the forest near the lake.  1.8 miles into the hike, you cross gravel Tower Road, where you need to angle right to find the trail on the other side.  Two trails appear to leave the road’s shoulder at this point.  The path on the right that goes directly up the hillside is the old route, while the new official route is the narrower one on the left.
            After ascending a single broad switchback, you reach the abandoned gold mine.  Several shafts extend vertically into the ground, and wire fences keep people and things from falling in.  Old mine shafts are notoriously unstable, so you should respect the fences and keep out of the mine.
Abandoned gold mine
            The grade intensifies after passing the mines as the trail continues uphill.  2.2 miles into the hike, you come out at the fire tower clearing on the summit of Parson’s Mountain.  At 832 feet, Parson’s Mountain stands several hundred feet above the flat surrounding Piedmont.  An official U.S. Coast and Geodesic Survey marker sits on the summit, as does a 1930’s-era fire tower.  The tower used to be open for climbing, but its state of disrepair recently became sufficient to force it closed.  Trees around the summit prohibit views, but two picnic tables make nice places to sit and enjoy a snack on the breezy mountain summit.
USGS summit marker

Parson's Mountain fire tower
            The Parson’s Mountain Tower Trail ends at the old fire tower, so your only option is to retrace your steps downhill to point B.  Continue straight at point B to continue the loop around the lake.  The trail climbs slightly to intersect an old road right beside a small pond.  This pond is formed by an earthen dam that maps call the Four H Club Dam.  My approach scared several frogs into the pond’s murky water.
Four H Club Dam
            Stay with the white blazes as the trail crosses the old road and curves left.  You are now heading east with more down than up as the lake again comes into view through the trees to the left.  At 3.7 miles, a final moderate descent deposits you at the paved boat ramp parking area, which marks an alternate starting point for this hike.  This trailhead is marked as point A.
            To get back to your trailhead and point E, angle left and pick up the paved boat ramp access road as it crosses the dam that forms Parson’s Mountain Lake.  Stay on the road as the Long Cane Trail exits right and some campsites and picnic tables appear on the left.  After curving left to cross a final tributary of Parson’s Mountain Lake, look left for a wooden sign that says “trail” and bears the universal hiking symbol.  This trail is the final segment of the loop around the lake, and it would be almost impossible to find without the sign.  If the trail looks too rough, just stay with the road.  The faint trail climbs slightly and curves right to arrive back at the swimming area, thus completing the hike.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stone Mountain State Park: Stone Mountain Loop and Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail (Blog Hike #514)

Trails: Stone Mountain Loop and Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail
Hike Location: Stone Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: northwest of Elkin, NC
Length: 6.3 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: April 2015
Overview: A fantastic semi-loop featuring views from Stone Mountain, 3 waterfalls, and a restored homestead.

Directions to the trailhead: 23 miles south of the Virginia state line, take I-77 to US 21 (exit 83).  Exit and enter north on US 21.  Drive US 21 10.7 miles to Traphill Road; there is a brown state park sign at this intersection.  Turn left on Traphill Rd.  Drive Traphill Rd. 4.4 miles to John P. Frank Parkway and turn right on John P. Frank Parkway, which leads into the park.  Park in the signed Lower Trailhead Parking Area, which is located on the left 5.3 miles after turning onto John P. Frank Parkway.

The hike: Far more natural and serene than its more famous touristy cousin in Georgia, North Carolina’s Stone Mountain State Park protects 14,200 acres on and around its namesake mountain.  The park’s centerpiece is its large granite dome that rises 600 feet above the surrounding land.  Geologists call this landform a pluton, or a block of igneous rock that hardened underground and then rose to the surface due to erosion of the surrounding dirt and rock.  Truth be told, there are many plutons on the eastern slopes of the Appalachians, but Stone Mountain is larger than most.  Looking Glass Rock 150 miles southwest of here is another famous pluton.
            Since its establishment in 1969, Stone Mountain State Park has become a major destination in North Carolina’s state park system.  The park boasts a 90-site campground, a 75-site picnic area, 3 picnic shelters, and more than 20 miles of designated trout streams.  Rock climbing and rappelling are also allowed at various points on the mountain.
            With over 18 miles of trails, hikers have plenty of options to choose from at Stone Mountain State Park.  Most experts believe the park’s best trail to be the 4.5 mile Stone Mountain Loop, a difficult loop that leads up and across the park’s famous granite dome, down beside 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls, and then past the restored Hutchinson Homestead.  Two other waterfalls are accessed via the 0.9-mile one way Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail, an out-and-back that can only be accessed from the Stone Mountain Loop.  Thus, this route combines the Stone Mountain Loop with the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail to form a fantastic 3-waterfall 6.3 mile hike.
Trailhead at Lower Parking Area
            Two parking areas serve the Stone Mountain Loop: the Lower Parking Area on the west side of the mountain and the Upper Parking Area on the east side.  To get the big climb over with first, this hike starts at the Lower Parking Area and hikes the loop clockwise.  Begin at the signed trailhead located to the right of the restroom building.  The gravel Stone Mountain Loop climbs gradually with a small cascading stream to the right.
            Less than 500 feet from the trailhead, the trail splits to form its loop.  To hike the loop clockwise, angle left and use the trail going right as the return route.  After rising over a few steps and switchbacking left, the trail crosses the gravel road that provides vehicle access to Hutchinson Homestead.  Look across the road for the orange plastic circles that mark the trail on the other side.
            The trail continues climbing via switchbacks and occasional sets of wooden steps.  White pines and maples are the most common trees in the mountainside forest.  At 0.6 miles, the trail briefly exits the forest and enters the bare granite rock.  Thick wire cables have been installed to provide a handhold on the steep slope.  Some partially obstructed views can be had to the right and left across the rock.
Climbing along wire cables
            At 0.7 miles, you top the last wooden staircase and the last wire-cabled section of bare rock to reach the first truly spectacular view on this hike.  Located at the top of the bare granite, this area gives a 180-degree view to the west, so the foothills leading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway are in full view.  Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock, two other worthy destinations in Stone Mountain State Park, can be seen below you to the south.
View west from Stone Mountain
            Past the first viewpoint, the trail continues climbing but at a more gradual rate.  Orange dots painted on the granite mark the way.  0.9 miles into the hike, you reach the signed summit of Stone Mountain.  The main overlook here points south, so Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock take center stage.  Take care if you decide to explore off trail up here: the slope gets progressively steeper as you go further from the summit, and it is possible to get stranded at a point on the cliffs from which you can go neither down nor up.
View south from summit
            Continue east across the summit area through more white pine and maple forest.  The flatness of the summit is amazing compared to the steep areas that surround it.  The wide two-track dirt/gravel trail soon begins descending the east side of Stone Mountain via a set of switchbacks.  This trail features excellent construction including some recently installed wooden waterbars and some rock cribbing that undergirds the switchbacks.
            As you continue descending, a few more areas of bare rock are crossed.  The views south from these areas would seem fantastic were it not for the ones you got at the summit.  More easy downhill cruising brings you to the signed spur trail for the Upper Parking Area, which exits left 2 miles into the hike.  Continue straight to remain on the Stone Mountain Loop, but look left to notice the stone chimney, which appears to predate the park.
Stone chimney
            At 2.3 miles, you reach Big Sandy Creek and the top of Stone Mountain Falls.  But for the rolling hills in the background, water would appear to flow off the edge of the earth.  A long set of wooden steps takes you down the west side of the waterfall to two more viewing platforms, a middle view and a base view.  Though nearly 200 feet tall, Stone Mountain Falls is more of a waterslide, as water flows down the bare granite for most of its height.
Stone Mountain Falls, base view
            Past the base of the falls, the trail descends a few more wooden steps to continue heading downstream along cascading Big Sandy Creek.  The hike now takes on a creekside feel with a dense understory of mountain laurel and only minor undulations.  Soon Big Sandy Creek makes a sharp left turn, but the trail continues west to begin heading upstream beside a smaller unnamed tributary.
Creekside hiking
            2.8 miles into the hike, you reach the signed Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail, which exits sharply to the left.  The Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail is an out-and-back, so you have to decide whether you want to add it or not.  If you are getting tired or sunset is approaching, then you can reduce the total mileage of this hike to 4.5 miles by continuing straight and skipping the other two waterfalls.  This description turns left to visit Middle Falls and Lower Falls.
            The Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail is far more rustic than the well-trodden and well-engineered Stone Mountain Loop.  Three unbridged creek crossings must be negotiated to reach Lower Falls, and at least one of them will require either a difficult rock hop or a wade.  Stated another way, if there is not enough water to require wading, then there will not be enough water to make the waterfalls worth viewing either.
            You encounter the first creek crossing almost immediately, but this one is the easiest of the three because it crosses the small unnamed tributary rather than the main creek.  The wide two-track dirt trail descends on a gradual to moderate grade as Big Sandy Creek again comes into view on the left.  At 3.1 miles, the signed spur trail to Middle Falls exits right.  Turn right to hike the narrow spur trail, which arrives at the top of Middle Falls 700 feet later.  Middle Falls looks similar to Stone Mountain Falls, but it has less height and a larger plunge pool.  Unfortunately, there is no easy access to the base of Middle Falls.
Top-down view of Middle Falls
            Retrace your steps back to the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail and turn right to head for Lower Falls.  The second creek crossing, this one across the much larger Big Sandy Creek, is quickly reached.  I chose to wade through the 5-inch deep water, but a more nimble person might be able to cross just downstream via a difficult rock-hop.
            The trail climbs briefly then descends on a moderate to slightly steep grade to reach the creek again, this time below Middle Falls.  Cross the creek a third time.  There are some small rocks in the creek here, but they do not go all the way across.  After a brief level section, you reach a sign that abruptly says “Falls Trail Ends” just before the trail heads onto private land.  Lower Falls sits in the creek to the left at this point.  Lower Falls is another waterslide-type waterfall, and there is no easy access to the base of this one either.
Upper part of Lower Falls
            Because the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail ends at Lower Falls, your only option is to retrace your steps back to the Stone Mountain Loop at 4.6 miles.  Turn left to continue the Stone Mountain Loop.  Some large patches of crested dwarf iris were in bloom on the afternoon of my visit.
            The gravel and dirt trail passes back and forth across the creek using nice wooden bridges as it climbs gradually.  At 5.3 miles, ignore an unmarked trail that exits right and provides rock climbers access to the base of Stone Mountain.  500 feet later, the signed trail to Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock exits at a sharp angle left.  Stay right to remain on the Stone Mountain Loop.
South face of Stone Mountain
            A little more gradual climbing brings you to a grassy clearing that provides a fantastic view of Stone Mountain’s south face.  Several benches allow you to savor the view.  The trail heads slightly downhill and reenters the woods before reaching the spur trail to Hutchinson Homestead, which exits right.  This short spur trail provides your only chance to see the homestead on this hike, so turn right to cross a wooden bridge and enter the restored homestead.
Hutchinson Homestead consists of several log buildings including a log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, corncrib, and meat house.  The buildings date to the mid 1800’s, but the restoration happened in 1998.  Stone Mountain, which looms large in the background, makes a dramatic setting for this restored homestead.
Hutchinson Homestead
Back on the main trail, embark on a moderate downhill cruise that crosses and re-crosses a small creek numerous times, all on wooden bridges.  At 6.1 miles, the other end of the Wolf Rock Trail enters from the left.  After dipping to cross the creek one final time, a short climb brings you to the close of the Stone Mountain Loop.  Continue straight another 500 feet to return to the parking lot and complete the hike.