Monday, April 11, 2016
The Final Hike
I don't mind sharing thousands of acres of pristine hiking with a few people but because it was spring break there was literally hordes of people everywhere. That meant that there would most likely be people at all our favorite resting points which typically are at scenic locations. We contemplated hiking a few of the lesser known trails but in the end, opted to do a bushwack hike where there were no trails, or at least established trails. I had done this hike decades ago but hadn't returned in the time since. We discovered it by looking at a map and seeing a particular 100 feet long stretch of a road on the way to a popular trailhead where the park boundaries came right up to the road instead of having private property in the middle. There happened to be a church around the corner where we can park our vehicle without suspicion and then sneak down the road and drop into a hollow which I won't name on this blog.
Although there is a faint trail in places especially where geography dictates the path, it doesn't get a lot of traffic. I suspect most of the traffic is from locals or neighboring landowners and that is sparse at best. The hollow falls down to where it eventually intersects with the Buffalo river and if full of waterfalls. The one feature that we really love is that it is one of the rare places that still has virgin native timber of massive scale in the lower parts where the timber cutters couldn't get too. Due to our late start, we didn't get that far down the hollow to see them but we did see the waterfalls and discovered a cave that we hadn't seen before. The picture above is where we took a snack break and is on the lip of a 30 feet waterfall. In the heavily trafficed part of the park, the moss would have been all scraped off by lots of foot traffic but here it was a nice lush carpet.
We were admiring a large tree behind me in this picture frame when someone looked up and noticed the cave up in the nearby bluff. After about ten minutes of searching, we were able to find a way up onto the bench leading into the cave.
As you can tell by the rock table and chairs, we weren't the first people to notice and explore the cave which only went about 40 feet back into the bluff. Although it isn't noticeable in this picture, the cave was centered on a large fault line in the rock and the rock that formed the roof and floor are a different material than the chunky block like rock that formed the walls. I'm guessing the rock on the walls was what was in the middle but was softer or dissolved more readily in water and thus the cave was formed. In the back, water fell quite readily through the cracks so it was still in the process of making itself even deeper.
This is the base of the 30 feet waterfall I was referring to up above where we had a snack break. The previous night we had a pretty good thunderstorm move through the area so all the springs and runoff areas had water in them. Much of the time I have spent hiking here, I visit these sites when rain hasn't fallen in a week or two and they are dry. It was nice to see them wet for a change.
I think this was an accidental shot from my phone camera. My father and daughter had been playing chicken to see who would walk through the waterfall and I had been taking pictures of them when I must have taken this one. However, I thought it was neat and displayed the impressive shutter speeds these phone cameras can have. Because of their quality, it has totally changed the way I view and think about photography on my hikes.
Unfortunately between the waterfall and the backside of the overhang, there was of course a fire ring with human debris left for all to see. Such a drag for those to follow who have to witness such things. We of course picked up all the foil and debris, scattered the charred rocks and kicked the charcoal remains into the water to be dispersed. When we were done, all that remained was the rock art seen above. That however doesn't bother me and I actually enjoyed seeing so we left them behind for future hikers to this region.
When we finished up our hike down and then back up this (unnamed by me) hollow, we drove back towards home but stopped at a little pullout along the road to visit an old cave. Back several decades ago, all the caves in these mountains were open to the public to visit. However with more people comes more problems and the natives of these caves, bats, started suffering as a result. White Nose disease has wiped out almost 80% of the bat species out east and we don't want that to happen here in the Midwest and so necessary precautions have been taken, namely all caves are now closed to humans. The picture above is a hammermill used by the Confederate army during the Civil War to break up large chunks of earth and bat guano into smaller particles to be further processed into saltpeter and then gunpowder. The North found out about it and stormed the cave, freeing the slave labor and scattering the components used in the process. This hammermill was quite a ways down the mountain from the cave.
This is the cave itself where the bat guano mining occurred. My photo is deceiving because I took it by sticking my phone camera through the iron fence that now surround it along with a couple of security camera. Post civil war, the cave had parts large enough that the locals used to hold community dances and such inside. Although I have been in many of the area caves before they were closed down, sadly I never got to go inside this one. Now, I only get to imagine what it looks like inside.