Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Indian "Bird Man Tree" Carving and Suprise Waterfall in Bankhead National Forest

When my friend Thomas suggested we take a day hike to the "Bird Man Tree", I really had no ideal what he was talking about. I was certainly ready to go anywhere in Bankhead National Forest so I told him sure, let's go! As is always the case with Bankhead NF, it is full of surprises.
We left Wren and set out for Leola Road (Lawrence County Road 90) off of Highway 33. We proceeded down Lawrence county road 90 (or also called Forest Service Road 249). We then turned onto county road 89 or also a continuation of U. S. Forest Service road 249. We pulled into the first turn off after getting onto 89. Leaving the truck, we proceeded down the old U.S. Forest Service road 249A. It has been closed to traffic for about 10-15 years. The "blow down" as we often call it or fallen trees was terrible after about 1/2 of mile in. Pretty soon, we came to a very thick grove of pine trees planted by the Forest Service. It was so thick, you could not walk or penetrate the pines, so we went off to the left of the road into a canyon. As we proceeded down about 1/8 of a mile, Thomas grinned when he discovered some writings on a tree. Thomas checks all the Birch trees he can get to. As stated in some previous blogs, Birch trees can hold carvings for several hundred years if carved deeply into them. The carving Thomas found on the tree got both of us excited! It had 1927 carved into the tree as well as 1938. The tree was beside what looked to be an old road that went nearby the tree. That explained the carvings. I am sure that tree could really tell some stories if it could talk. The old road bed looked like it had been used heavily at one time.

After leaving the 1927/1938 tree, we noticed that hemlocks were growing more and more populated as you looked down the canyon. We both knew we were on to something. Neither he or I had been to this part of the canyon before, and from the looks of the growing number of hemlocks, the scenery was going to do nothing but get better. Anytime you see hemlocks or often called "evergreens" by some, it tells you that the canyon has plenty of water flowing, and that the evergreens of moss, hemlocks, ferns and other plants are "dead ahead". The canyons in the Bankhead are so unique and beautiful compared to anywhere else in the country. The normal forest in December is pretty brown, dull, and boring in scenery. The canyons have all the green plants sheltered in them and offer almost a completely different climate. The temperature is cooler, everything is green and appears like it would in summertime. As we proceeded on down the canyon, we noticed it getting deeper and deeper. Soon we found where two streams fed into each other and formed a larger branch. Some 150 feet ahead, a massive 70 foot waterfall spewed the contents of those streams on down deeper into a deep canyon. We had hit a gold mine! A massive waterfall we knew absolutely nothing about! There is no name on the map for this priceless view, so since we were headed to the Bird Man Tree on down the canyon, we simply named it "Bird Man Falls".

The canyon was so deep that we discovered that we could not get down into it without walking an additional 1/2 mile up above through some very, very thick foliage! The terrain was exceptionally rough and to our right up us moving down the canyon was a massive pine thicket that there was no way to penetrate, so we had a very narrow passage of thick foliage to get through on top of the canyon. Upon arriving down into the bottom of the canyon, we headed back towards the waterfall. Along the way were two very different surprises! First, a possible Indian Marker Tree and a "half moon" carved into a tree up near a bluff. There is a special meaning to that half moon you will find out later on as you read. The canyon was FULL of massive Poplar trees in large sizes. I could not believe how large they were. I snapped several pictures of them and collected a few "waypoints" on my GPS unit. A couple of "odd" facts on the possible Indian Marker Tree and the half moon carved on the tree. First, the possible marker tree was pointing almost due south. It also lined up with the carving of the half moon on a tree some 75 yards in a straight line. Way to "chance" for me. I feel like it was some kind of Indian sign or markers pointing to something.

After taking pictures of the trees, we proceeded on up to the waterfall we came upon earlier but could not get access to. BOY was it worth it! The waterfall dropped some 70 feet into a beautiful pool of water below it. It then roared on down the canyon at a pretty fast pace. Thomas and I took our time here, to absorb all the scenery, shoot pictures, and record "waypoints" on our GPS units. This stream eventually empties into Brushy Creek, just downstream from the famous Indain Bird Tree carving. We spent a good 30-45 minutes in the canyon admiring the waterfall. Thomas said he knew nothing of it and that probably very few people knew of as well. We saw really no indication anyone had been here in a long time. It is so remote and such rugged country, I doubt that it has been visited in a while.
After about another 30-45 minutes walking downstream from the falls, we finally discovered our "jackpot". There, down by Brushy Creek as Thomas remembered was still the famous "Indian Bird Man" tree. This carving is very odd. It is like nothing I have ever seen before. It kind of looks like a stick man with a hat and a bird figure face. Thomas Graham, one of my hiking buddies with me on this trip, says the carving was reported by his mother some 10-15 years ago. After further investigation by some experts, it was found that this carving has been found in different parts of the south. It has been carved into rocks and seen with other Indian markings in other states. According to Thomas, nobody seems to have any ideal as to what it means. The moon figure we found up the canyon was the same shape as the one included on the Bird Man figure carved in the tree. Very interesting! As far as we know, nobody knows about the half moon carving we found on the tree back up in the canyon above. The possible Indian Marker Tree and the half moon were marked with our GPS units and we documented them with video and pictures. You must remember that the Indians had no "language or alphabet for many, many years. They went by signs and symbols. An IMAX film crew out of Atlanta walked in about a year ago and filmed this tree. The are compiling a documentary on Indian carvings across the United States and spent some time in Bankhead National Forest filming Indian carvings and markings. Nobody seems to know when the documentary will be released.
After taking all the pictures and video we could take of the tree, we ate lunch at the tree, and then headed on back home. It turned out to be a full day's work to get to this tree, but WELL worth it considering the waterfall that surprised us. I encourage anyone who is in the area to try and see some kind of Indian carvings in the forest. They are very special and really put a perspective on truly how rich in history an area really is. By the way, Thomas took a yellow colored piece of chaulk in with us and outlined the carving in the tree to see it better. After the first rain, the carving will return to it's normal state and not be so pronounced.

A VERY exciting day and a lot of knowledge gained. Another day to be thankful for the great outdoors and the adventures it brings.

UPDATE 11-18-2011: Not very long after this article was written, a storm came through the area and a tree fell on the famous Bird Man Tree. It would take paragraphs to explain what all transpired, but basically through the efforts of volunteers, the National Forest Service allowed the tree to be cut down and preserved in a museum. It is now in Lawrence County at the Indian Oakville Mound Museum. A process of trying to preserve it went underway and I understand it is now in safe keeping for everyone to view now. Attached above are some pictures of the tree that fell on it and prompted it being cut down, as well as early photos when McKinney Graham first discovered the tree and showed it to locals in 1992.