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.


sage said...

Interesting history. The hardwoods look so stark without leaves.

Ed said...

Sage - They do but it also makes it part of the reason this is my favorite time of the year to hike in these mountains. I've hiked in the summer and they are full of ticks and you are lucky to see 20 feet in front of you. Now, I can see a hundred yards or better depending on how thick the trees are in front of me.

Kelly said...

What a interesting post and with so many great photos! It's a beautiful area and you've captured it well with your phone camera.

I realize you were hiking in a group, but do you even worry going off the beaten path, so to speak, with no one knowing where you're headed?

Ed said...

Kelly - In this case, no. We were headed down a drainage that ended at the Buffalo River at the bottom and started at a road at the top. On either side we would be going up steep hills so there really wasn't a place to get lost. If I'm ever in a situation where I could get lost, I take a map and a compass and am skilled at reading and using both items to figure out where I am.

Saying all this, I have come to realize that all people are different in this area. I apparently have great spacial reasoning skills. I can construct maps of the area in my head quite effectively which helps me interpret what I'm seeing around me and translate that into a position. For example, I can take off across country driving on roads I've never driven but as long as in my mind, I know my boundaries which could be other roads, rivers and such that border this unknown area, and I won't be lost. I may not know exactly where I am at any given point but I know as soon as I run into one of my boundaries, I will know where I am at that point.

I never really thought about this until I married my wife who apparently lacks spacial reasoning skills. Her mind doesn't work like mine does and she would be lost if trying to do this hike on her own. She can't drive on unknown roads and be confident that she will get where she wants to go. It translates into other simpler things as well. I can look at a pan of leftovers and pick the correctly sized storage container that will hold all of the food most efficiently without overfilling. My wife can't.

I've often wondered if this is a nature or nurture thing. As a kid, my father drilled me on how to read maps and use a compass to figure out where I am based on landmarks. We also did many a hike or drive through unknown territories as kids without knowing exactly where we were all the time. Did this give me my spacial reasoning ability or was I born that way and this only strengthened it. I suspect had I been born centuries ago, I might have been a great explorer sailing off into the unknown.

Vince said...

Lovely spot entirely. But I expect for all the space, a living out of it would be very thin indeed.

Kelly said...

I guess I was thinking more along the lines of injury rather than getting lost, so that's why being in a larger group (as in more than one!) would matter in a case like this. (though perhaps from what you said group you were with might not find their way for help!)

But as for that spatial reasoning... I believe nurture might hone it, but I think in general it's something you're born with. My husband is excellent in that way and I have a fairly good sense of direction, too. However, all three of our kids are lacking in it. I also think there are varying degrees to the "spatial" business. While my husband is much better in the "find your way" aspect of that reasoning, I'm the one that can take a floor plan and easily picture the building in its 3D form. That worked well for me in design school - not that I use any of those skills anymore.

While you were off exploring new worlds, I would have been sitting in a scriptorium documenting your travels.

Ed said...

Vince - And the living is still thin to this day judging from those along the roads I'm driving.

Kelly - I have mostly hiked with at least one other person in case one of us were to get injured so hopefully the other can make it out successfully for help. In the rare cases where I go alone, I always let others know where I'm going and when I'm going to be back. When I'm solo, I also try to eliminate risk as much as possible. For example, we had to search around to find a place where we could climb up the bluff to poke around the cave. I probably wouldn't have done that alone just in case I had slipped and fell off the bluff in the process.