Monday, August 6, 2012

Canoeing/Kayaking Bear Creek in Alabama






Want some fun in the summertime? Like to canoe or kayak? Do you enjoy days with friends and family outdoors? Look no further than this small "spot on the map" that thousands enjoy every single summer in the south. It is about the ONLY place (during the hot summer months) within 80 miles of it where you can find a controlled and predictable water level every single weekend to float down a creek and have a blast!
I have known about this place for years, and so have locals. Over the past few years, it has exploded in popularity enough to where a commercial outfitter operates on this creek now. Where am I talking about? It's called the Bear Creek Canoe Run in Marion County, Alabama. It is just a few miles out from the small town of Bear Creek.

The Bear Creek Canoe Run or "Upper Bear Creek Run"is a stretch of water that has become famous over the years among those that love small boat sports.  

As described by TVA on their website:
"Upper Bear Creek Reservoir is one of four dams that provide flood damage reduction, recreation, and water supply in northwest Alabama. The others are Bear Creek, Little Bear Creek, and Cedar Creek. The Bear Creek area is popular with all types of boaters, including canoeists and kayakers. The Bear Creek Floatway, which flows from Upper Bear Creek Dam into Bear Creek Reservoir, is a popular spot for teaching first-timers to negotiate rapids and work with the current.
Below Bear Creek Dam, the Lower Bear Creek Canoe Trail provides a more leisurely float, running a total of 34 miles down the creek and all the way to Pickwick Landing Dam on the Tennessee River."

Some more facts on this place as stated on their website:
Upper Bear Creek Dam was completed in 1978.      
The dam is 85 feet high and 1,515 feet long.      
Upper Bear Creek Dam is not a hydroelectric facility. It has no power generators and produces no electricity.
Upper Bear Creek Reservoir extends 14 miles upstream from the dam.

GETTING THERE
Now that you know the background behind this place, lets talk about the canoe and kayak run. This blog is predominately written for first timers interested in going down this run.  The trip is perfect for whitewater kayaks, canoes of all sizes, and most all kayaks. It is a bit small for a 17 foot kayak but anything below that will work. It is perfect for the popular 9 foot kayaks that are selling everywhere. My wife, being tongue twisted with words talking to my daughter and I about us going out in our canoe and kayaks one weekend, used the term "Cohniacking". We belly laughed at her and the term has stuck in our family. It is the perfect trip for canoes and kayaks or Cohniacking". The trip I have been on many times is stated on the Alabama Whitewater Page as being 7 miles. My GPS twice has shown this to be a 8.86 mile run. Regardless, it is a day of fun you will talk about for a long time! I see many first time whitewater kayakers going down this stretch. It is perfect for anyone that wants to experience moving water for the first time. For the advanced folks in larger kayaks and canoes, I call it "The Chill Trip". A chance to chill out and relax and a chance to chill from the miserable heat of the summer months with this cool dam fed water. The water pours out of the bottom of the dam, so it feels ice cold.

The first thing to do is get there of course. The Bear Creek put in is located on Highway 241 just inside Marion County. For you GPS folks, the put in is N 34 degrees, 16 minutes, 41.21 seconds by W087 degrees, 43 minutes, 08 seconds (WGS84). For you non GPS folks, the put in is just south of the Highway 172 and 241 intersections in Marion County, Alabama (NW Alabama). It is a very small area beside the bridge crossing Bear Creek.  There are NO restroom facilities here so plan accordingly! Ladies take special notice of this! TVA runs the constant flow rate guaranteed of 220 CFS during the summer months only, but this makes it a magnet for boaters since most other creeks are dry this time of year. They only run this guaranteed minimum rate during weekends of the summer months and it ends on Labor Day weekend. You can poke around on the internet and find the TVA site for more information. Just enter "TVA Bear Creek" on a search engine and it will come up.  While we are this subject, another good source to read about this run is AlabamaWhitewater.com.  During the summer months, I suggest getting there early, say 8 a.m. till 9:30 a.m. to unload your boats. Past 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays, traffic gets heavy and clogs the parking lot and will sometimes run out into the highway. I have had to unload my boat at times parked out by the highway. That is very dangerous and a pain to carry a boat so far. What really hoses the traffic, is when the one and only outfitter arrives with a van and a trailer full of boats. He or she expects to deliver their boats close to the put in location (understandably so) and this can really clog the  small parking lot. Once you unload your boats, naturally you will want to take a second vehicle to the take out and drop it off. The take out is located on the right side of Highway 172. To get to the take out from the put in, come out of the parking lot, turn left, cross back over the bridge and proceed north on 172. You will wind around up a hill and around a large curve and you will want to stay on Highway 172 proceeding north. You will pass the Highway 241 intersection on your right. Stay on Highway 172 until it dead ends into Highway 237. This is several miles so don't panic about missing a turn. There is a church at this intersection where 172 "T''s into 241, so it is a good "bench mark" for marking your turn coming back from the take out point. When you arrive to 237 at that church, turn left, or Southwest on what continues as Highway 172. At this church intersection that you are at, if you turn to the right, it is Highway 237 to Phil Campbell. Left it becomes 172 to Hackleburg. After you turn left on Highway 172, proceed on down a few miles and start watching for large TVA power lines crossing the road. Down past that a mile or so you will start going down into a canyon area. Look for Yellow posts on the right hand side of the road JUST before the Bear Creek bridge. This is the TVA take out point. Pull in here and I suggest parking up close to the road rather than pulling down as close as you can to the take out point. The reason is, it can get very crowded and if you park there close to the loading area, you might be there a while waiting on traffic such as the commercial outfitter rolling in with his trailer ready to pick up folks and blocking you in.  To my knowledge, there has been little problems of break ins in this area, so don't worry too much about the safety of your vehicle. There is a constant flow of people in and out of this area all day. Same is true at the put in. Once again here, there are NO restroom are changing of clothes type facilities. Guys will sometimes go off in the bushes and change into dry clothes here. The ladies seem to be out of luck.

THE TRIP
 The run is actually one of the best runs in Alabama in my opinion for introducing people to running water. It is only a Class II at the most for every run except Factory Falls or maybe a class III just at the base of the falls. It is a mandatory portage because area and it is death warmed over if you decide to go off it. Signs warn you but many people can't or don't want to read them. The overall trip will start off with fast moving water and will go into some quiet areas, then pick back up. It goes back and forth like this until towards the end, where there is a small stretch where you have to paddle some, even with the current flowing. There are a couple of highlights of the trip to take in. Not to far down the stream from your launch is the famous "Rope Swing". You see it pictured on this blog. This is where "men become boys", and there is lots of fun here. Be careful because the bank and rocks are very slippery. I know a friend who lost a nice pair of prescription glasses here when his canoe flipped while getting out. If I told you of every rapid coming up, it would spoil the trip, so I will leave that for you to experience. It is spots like this that make it an ideal family trip.

"THE ROCK"-LUNCH STOP
About halfway on the trip, you will approach the strongest rapid on the trip, next to the one below Factory Falls. It is called "The Rock", and is THE place to take a lunch break. Everyone congregates on this rock to eat lunch, hit the bushes for natures facilities, and to relax and watch people go through this rapid which is right beside the large rock. The best thing to do is park your boat BEFORE the rapid. Haul your lunch over to the rock and watch people go down it. You will soon see the best way to go down it. After you eat your lunch, then go down the large rapids. From the rock, you watch people from all classes of society, all walks of life, and all skill levels come through this rapid. Some ace right through it while others turn over and articles in the boat go everywhere. It is great entertainment while you eat your lunch. When the water is low enough, people put on their life jackets and slide down the slippery slope that feeds into the rapids and go through it without being in a boat. I even watched a 5 year old go down it this way, several times! Most women could not stand to watch this and I agreed. The parents seemed so clueless of the dangers in this. If you go down this without a life jacket, I say "stupid is as stupid does". You are leaving no room for any error if you do this. THE ENTIRE area around this rock that has any water on it, is dangerous slick. If you are not careful, it will slam you to the ground like a 350 pound Sumo wrestler. Many like to creep across the stream before the rapids walking and go over to the other side where a natural water slide with an added rope by man is waiting you. You can slide down the rocks at incredible speeds. It is a great place to have a ball and to possibly break a leg if you are not careful. Most of the injuries in Bear Creek happen in this entire rest stop area, so be careful. You can also jump from the large rock off into the water. You can wade your way slowly out to the deep waters below the rapids to cool off. With the water being fed from the base of the dam, this is the most welcome water you could ever ask for in the middle of the summertime. The entire trip, the water is so cool, your body begs to take a dip. It is the perfect middle of the summer fun. I have been down this stretch in January, and you have to really watch water levels then, because it is not controlled. It is at natures mercy. It can be a fun float trip, or a raging dangerous place to be. If you search the YouTube channel, you will find bold kayakers going down Bear Creek when it is roaring, even down Factory Falls. Factory Falls with this high water level can be done fairly easy by experienced kayakers, but during the summer months, it would be a death trap to try it. You would plummet straight down into a large bolder.

FACTORY FALLS-MANDATORY PORTAGE


Just a couple of hundred yards past the rock, you come to the mandatory portage of your boat on the trip-Factory Falls. Stay to the right side as you approach this area and pull your boat up onto the rocks. Use this moment to walk to the left over and look down at Factory Falls. It is a great time also to look over and see where you will be putting your boats back in after the portage. Some bold people put them back in on a class III rapid just below the falls. Unless you are somewhat experienced, I would not recommend that. You should put your boat in just about 20 feet past that last rapids. Here the water is calmer and you can put your boat up in a calm area  (eddy) while waiting on your party to get all the boats in the water with you. The picture above shows the put in point just below the rough water. Other boats are waiting on this boat just to the left out of the field of view. Take your time portaging your boats down to the put in point below the falls. It is all rock and a great place to slip and fall.


THE LAST STRETCH  
 At the time of this writing (August-2012), Strong storms a couple of months before dropped trees left and right along this last stretch. It is so bad that there are about 4 trees you will have to navigate through because they have fell into the water. It is not a major deal, but if you are not careful, a great place to try and do the limbo, and the creek will win! Take your time on this last half. You are finished with all the fast moving water that will make beginners nervous. Enjoy the trip, and if it is hot enough, it would be a great time to pause for one more swim. A cue that you are getting close to the take out point is power lines crossing the creek. Not to much further down you will see the bridge or Highway 172. Go under the bridge, shoot through some small moving water and on the right up ahead is some concrete steps. MAKE sure everyone in your party is aware of the take out point. Miss this and you will go for several miles before the next place to take out is. Worst case you would come out by the Bear Creek Outfitter by another highway, but you will be doing a lot of paddling because the water goes down to little flow rate by that point. Most trips I have taken show a put in around 9:30 a.m. and a take out from 3:30-5:00 p.m., depending on how long you stay at the rope swing, the rock or elsewhere. Have fun, be safe, and be sure and relax on this trip. Regardless if you are a veteran whitewater kayaker, or a first time canoe or long boat kayak paddler, this trip has something for everyone and almost any small boat. Don't have a boat and want to go on this trip with friends or a group? Check out the one and only outfitter at Bear Creek Canoe Rentals out of Hackleburg, Alabama. Their address and phone number are located on the web. Last question many might ask is, "Can I camp overnight along this route?". The answer is definitely NO! It is ALL private property along the way. TVA has campgrounds around Bear Creek Reservoir. You can find out more by poking around on the internet. One of these days property owners are going to stop the casual use of their property if the trash gets out of hand. I dread that day if it comes. Also, the water level at dark is returned to normal which is little more than a wimpy creek with little to no water flowing. At sunrise Sunday morning, they crank it back up. Remember, the water flow only runs like this during the weekends and only during the summer months! See you outside for another trip again down the road!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Burgess Falls-Tennessee's BEST Kept Secret!

America has so much to offer in terms of beauty and history.  Much of what it has to offer is hidden "under the radar screen" for people to easily find and explore. Such is the case with a discovery a good friend of mine made in July of 2012 in the southern part of the United States. He shared the discovery with me and oh am I glad he did!

Background

I was traveling north one Friday morning with my wife and daughter up the great state of Tennessee to a place called Sparta for a weekend wedding. I had been asked to run audio at a small church for a friend of mines son's wedding. We were staying in the city of Cookeville, Tennessee Friday night with the wedding on Saturday. My good friend David, along with others from my local church were driving up that way as well. On Friday of the drive up, I opted to travel the back roads and end up in Cookville rather than take the usual GPS routing on interstates. David, with his family, decided to do the same thing as well. The mistake I made was selecting to go to a store in Cookeville and shop upon arriving. David was looking for a place of nature to take his family, so he was looking for signs pointing him in the direction of nature and trails. David chose to follow the signs of a little known State Park to go see. I am glad he did!

Friday afternoon, when we met up at the hotel we were staying at, I asked him, well, did you find anything? With a look of anxiousness, he replied, "oh yeah, I got to show you a place that we found!" In a conversation later on after we got moved in to the hotel room, we decided to head out early Saturday morning about 6 a.m. and check it out. The wedding was not until 2 p.m. so we decided we had time to check it out and get back in time. I was up for adventure and exploring, but had no ideal what lay ahead and how it would change my outlook on what I have seen in the south so far.

The Exploration Begins

Saturday morning, David and I head out with him as the driver. We head south out of Cookeville, Tennessee. As  we get off the beaten path onto some roads, it is clear we are headed into the middle of no where. Very few signs dot the landscape as you drive along. Only an occasional 3x3 brown sign with white letters that says Burgess Falls State Park with an arrow. As we pull in, I am somewhat disappointed. A very small mini-park is all I see with a small building for the headquarters, playgrounds, picnic tables, and a restroom. The sign says park closes 30 minutes before sunset, opens at 8 a.m. No one in the park after dark. This is not even a campground, it is just a day use picnic area I thought. That is about it. As we exit out of the van, David says "wait to you see this." I am thinking to myself, from what I have seen so far, it doesn't even come up to the expectation of a "State Park".  As we start out walking down a fairly large trail beside the creek (Falling Creek it is called), I see what I would call a fast moving river instead of a creek. There is a sign that says "100 foot waterfall" on the first sight beside the trail. The usual water flowing sounds abound! The scene is pretty and well worth the time to stop, take pictures, and admire. As you move on down the trail, you come upon what appears to be an old bridge with the cables still in tact that supports beams that go across the creek. This shows that some kind of bridge from long ago that extended across the creek. It looks very old, so I stop to take pictures of it. As we move down the trail, we notice lots of tributary streams that normally empty into this creek and flow under the trail/bridges along the way, but with the drought going on lately (July of 2012), nothing excess is flowing into the stream. It is all dry, however, the main river or creek rages with water flowing and the noise is intense. As we move on down, we come upon a sign and we can hear the noise of another waterfall. A sign says "Middle Falls". We soon see a beautiful waterfall that has a sharp slope on it. Water is raging down this slope and the waterfall is wide and beautiful. I snap some pictures and shoot some movies of it. You have a great vantage point to take pictures of the entire falls. David says "and now for the grand waterfall, lets go". We move on down the trail and come upon a site I have never witnessed while living or traveling throughout the southern United States. It was this massive, monstrous, shaking the ground with thunder loud, waterfall! An observation deck allows you to move up to a point and get a view that is soothing to the soul. It is a massive canyon that opens up with this massive waterfall spilling into it. It is like a scene taken from South America, on a much smaller scale. I am beside myself with words, so I just start snapping pictures and taking video left and right. David had brought his family up to this point the day before and had to turn around and head back. It is a 3/4 mile trail to this point and easy walking, they were just out of time. After I bathe in this beauty from the observation point, David smiles and points to a sign and says "are we up for the challenge?". The sign says "To the base of the waterfall-Difficult Hike" or something similar to this. We both say, hey, we got to do this! We head down the trail and wind around getting closer to the top edge of the falls. The noise is intense. As we get right beside the top base of the falls, we see some elaborate metal steps going done to the base of the falls. A long descent in 2 or 3 sections. We head down. As we get to a level spot, we see we are about half way down in the height of the falls. I pause to shoot some video and snap some more pictures. We continue on and realize at this point, we are going to have to climb down rocks to descend to the bottom of the falls. We finally arrive at the bottom and he and I are really taken back. You don't know what to say. This massive and tall wall of water is tremendous in terms of size, noise, and beauty. There are what is called "Katabatic Winds" that cause a tremendous and continuous 20-30 mph winds that race outward from the base of the falls. It has a jet mist spray and the foliage is roaring back and forth from the outflow winds of this waterfall. There is a vat of 2-3 feet of dirty foam that is in on one side of the waterfall that "jiggles" every now and then from the strong outflow winds. Occasionally, you see a chunk of foam blow off from this and sail off into the wind. David and I are beside ourselves. We are on an emotional high. I have traveled all over Alaska and I have seen waterfalls there, as well as in Washington State, Oregon, California, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and other states. THIS waterfall is THE most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen in the Southern United States. Little known, little talked about, off the beaten path, hidden from the majority of the public, and absolutely one of Tennessee's BEST kept secrets in my book!




Rich in History


This area is teaming and rich in this countries history. The land on which this very small 150 acre park rests dates back to 1793. Thomas Burgess, was paid his final veterans compensation for service in the Revolutionary War with a land grant from the newly formed United States Government.  The Falling Water River played a central role in the nearby logging and farming community in later years. The river once powered a grist mill and a sawmill. The City of Cookeville recognized the power production potential of the river in the early 1920's, long before the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA was formed. An elaborate gravity-fed piping system channeled water from a concrete dam (still there) down flumes and across the creek with an elaborate bridge of cables and supports (still standing to see) and weaved it's way down to a pump house (foundations still there) near the base of the falls. During it's path, it even when through a tunnel in the mountain (now closed off to the public). The power plant where this ended provided power for the area and for Cookville. In later years when TVA was formed in the south, they rendered the the system obsolete and it was all shut down. The remnants of this site remind us of the resourcefulness and engineering skills of the people in this area and from this time period.

"MUST SEE" LIST

Regardless of where you are reading this blog from, put this area on your "must see" list. It will only take you a half a day or a full day to explore, but you will never regret it. I plan to spend many more trips up here to explore this absolutely beautiful and historical place in America at a tiny footprint in the road called Burgess State Park.  





Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Discovering Forgotten History in the Backcountry of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Few times in ones life do you have the opportunity to go to a remote place and find history all around you in living color. For some people, they pursue it for a living, such as a treasure finder looking for a sunken ship out in the Gulf of Mexico. For historians, they read the history and then go seek the facts on location. For adventurers, they stumble into something of historical value and realize it later! That was exactly what happened to us. On this yearly trip going to a familiar place in the Smokies, we discovered secrets that had been around us for years hidden in the woods and we simply had no clue.

One of my favorite views every time we kayak into the GSMNP from Fontana Marina.
The location I am talking about is in the backcountry woods of the Eagle Creek area in North Carolina. I was introduced to this beautiful area by my friend Charlie in 2002, and have not stopped coming here every year. Little known to many, the southern side of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park yields nothing but pure beauty without all of the commercialization. It has been this way for years, partly because you are in a U.S Forest Service area and a U.S. National Park area all together in one spot, thus, little to no commercialization is in place. The area I am talking about is Fontana Lake. Fontana Lake has what many come here for, and that is nothing but beauty. They come to see the mountains in it's natural form. Fontana Resort, formed after the area was a large community to support the construction of the dam during WWII, took on the tourist role when the dam was completed. Fontana Dam by the way, is the tallest dam on the east coast and well worth seeing, at over 480 feet high. On the southern side of Fontana Lake, it is ran by the U.S. Forest Service with it's Cable Cove Campground right beside the lake. On the northern end of the lake, it is all National Park Service territory. It can be the quietest vacation trip you have ever taken if you want it to be. The closest town away is Robbinsville or Bryson City.

With all of those facts in hand, lets head out on our trip! We are heading out on a 3 day trip into the back country woods of the Smokies. As I have stated on blogs here before, we just basically head out across the lake over to one of about 3 remote back country campsites. You are totally on your own. There is no cell phone, very little radio contact, and nothing but wilderness. A permit is required to do this, so with the necessary paperwork complete, we all start our journey. You had better have your stuff together in this place. Help is NOT that fast and easy.


Boats parked at Eagle Creek Campground or Campsite #90
We depart the Fontana Marina with 4 kayaks loaded with camping gear and two canoes with more camping gear. One person for each boat. We paddle Friday morning out across the lake to an area called Eagle Creek camping area, back country campsite #90.  I have been doing this again and again since 2002. We either camp at Proctor or Eagle Creek. I have always known that Eagle Creek has a rich history with the timber industry BEFORE the construction of the Fontana dam from 1942-1945. It basically flooded the area and washed away an area deep in history. What I just did not realize was how important the area was and truly how much of a central "beehive" of progress and activity the area had from 1920-1938. The Great Smokey Mountain National Park or GSMNP for short, was started in 1938. When the Park Service took over, they basically cleared everyone  out! The area was basically "frozen" in time if the lake did not consume it.






Further research on the internet reveals S. Flory Mfg. made lots of steam engines.


An old boiler is left to tell the stories of history here.


 In 2010, my good friends Steve and Thomas, along with myself, began an extensive search for a mine operation near the mouth of Eagle Creek. My handheld GPS several years ago was showing  a mining symbol less than 1 mile from where we camp, so the 3 of us looked and looked for it with no luck. We decided the mine did no exist or the way point on the map of it was incorrect in it's location. This year, all 6 of us agreed to help look for it again on this trip. After setting camp up on Friday, we set out in our boats. Paddling along the shore looks like "looking for a needle in a haystack" as the old southern saying goes. After all, it all looks like woods! My camping buddy and close friend Thomas had a great ideal. Paddle along the shore and we might find some kind of trail possibly where others have been to the mine site. Using the symbols on the GPS, studying the maps on the GPS, and looking at a paper map I had of the area, we slowly move along the banks. After about 30 minutes of searching, finally, we found a trail! All of us park our boats and start slowly looking for snakes as we inch up the small trail. May of 2012 seemed to be the year of the snakes, because after parking to set up camp just a few hours earlier, there were water snakes everywhere! One of our guys while at camp went over in the weeds to relieve himself and almost stepped on a baby rattlesnake! The weather was absolutely perfect with crystal clear blue skies. That may well be why all the snakes were out, the warmth of the sun.

As we make our way up the trail slowly, John points out hey!, railroad tracks! Bingo! We are hot on to something. The railroad metal is gone, but the ties are still down with a small stream bed running over the top of the tracks. We ease on up the slew/hollow and look and see a massive what we later determined was a steam boiler, seen here on the blog pictures. About 300 feet up, we hit the jackpot! 3 mine shafts with fencing around them! The park service has some fairly new fences up and some pretty stout warning signs about NO entrance is allowed due to the declining bat population. So we stand in amazement  wondering about the mines and what is down in them. We can only speculate since the fines far exceed the amount of money I can afford to pay, not to mention jail time. John, Sam, Thomas, and Justin ease on up to explore all three mines while Eric, my nephew, stays with me snapping pictures and shooting video left and right. After about 10 minutes, someone yells out "awesome!". Eric and I look up and see this massive roughly 15 foot wide by 12 foot high cable assembly right straight across from the main mine or largest opening. It has massive 2 1/2 inch wide cable on the spool. Further inspection of it (see picture) seems to point that it was steam powered instead of motor powered. Words on this page cannot describe the feeling of seeing something that very people have seen and seeing items literally out of the 1920's to 1940's era left just as they were used. It is a moving experience for me, and a trivial event for some. My mind starts to wonder 10 thousand things about this place. We ease on down from the spool and head over to the boiler we saw when first coming up. There are numerous concrete pillows and foundations as part of the copper mining operation. If this blog fascinates you like it did my friends and me experiencing it, I invite you to click on the links at the bottom of this page and read further. You will quickly see that much of the history of this site is hidden in the water of Fontana Lake! When they dammed up the area, it killed out a lot of history. Be sure and check out the old pictures of the site. You can see that the lake engulfed much of it on it's creation. It must be pointed out that this area was already a massive timber operation, so life in those times and living in this would be a mixed blessing/curse. I am sure it provided hundreds of jobs and a good living, but pictures and history have told that this area was absolutely raped of timber and minerals. The industrial revolution had put everything as "free for grabs" back during these times, and management and proper stewardship of the land were about as Greek as the word "iPod" would be used back during that time. Upon reading further history of this mine AFTER I got back, at least one person died at the mines, and many were injured. 4 miles of narrow guage track and two locomotives, along with 10 ore cars were used. The "cable" assembly we found out lowered men and ore carts 2000 feet at a 45 degree angle into the main mine. There were also different levels and shafts of the mine. The research I read told of a boiler house and a shower room just down from the mine. I think that is what we may have found with the thick steel boiler drum out (see picture). Further reading yields a school, a doctors office, and homes all around the area. Some of this is buried in the lake and some of the foundations still exist on the other side of the hollow from the mine up in the woods. Thomas and Steve, my camping friends did find that 2 years ago, but we had no ideal what was hidden in the woods on the other side of the water!

The next day, my nephew Eric and I hiked up to Shuckstack abandoned fire tower and took pictures. I wrote about this trip a year ago here on this blog, so I will not bore you with that. I will share a picture of a mother bear and her cub that we shot pictures of just 50 feet down from the base of the forest tower. They were not the least bit afraid of Eric and I as we snapped pictures on our descent down. It just topped off a second amazing day at this beautiful place that God made and man visits. John and Sam, two of my other friends kayaked over to Proctor, another remote back country area rich in history. It was once the largest town in the Smokies. It was a massive lumber mill and town. We will save that writing for another trip. I have visited this place many times before I started my blog, so I hope to cover that area down the road in a future blog. It has a cemetery that tells the story of this place, of short life spans of families, and all the trials of hard times back then.

Bears in trees about 100 feet below the base of the forest tower. Not a care in the world towards us as we snap this picture.
Our third day, we woke up to rain, rain, rain, and more rain. We broke down our hammocks and tents down in the rain, we paddled in the rain back to the marina, we loaded boats in the rain, and drove over 5 hours in the rain. It was all good though and very much worth it. I would do it all again in a New York second. One of the many things I learned from this trip is this: Sometimes you just look and see a mountain with trees, and that is all you think of. What you don't realize is what wildlife, and more importantly for this article what treasures of the past it hides.

As we wind up this trip, I thought I would leave you with a video clip taken from the over 4,000 foot high at Shuckstack tower overlooking Fontana Lake, Fontana Dam, and the Smokies. It was taken with my head band HD camera or "nerd cam" as I call it. I hope you enjoy the view as we did.

video
Until another day of adventures, we go back to the grind of work and the routines of life. See you on the next trip! Below are some resources and history of the Eagle Creek Mine if you are interested in reading more.

http://www.northshoreheritagememories.com/eaglecreek.html

http://www.ecjones.org/scenery/_Great_Smoky_Mtns_NP/_Eagle_Creek/Fontana_Mine/Fontana_Copper_Mine.pdf

FOOTNOTE for history buffs: 
It was pointed out to me that one of the pictures that shows the cable spool manufacturer- "S. Flory Manufacturing"  on the side of it, is a very old company that produced steam locomotive engines for trains and other steam powered industrial equipment for years. This verifies that indeed, the mill equipment was ran by steam powered equipment rather than gas engines. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Canoeing Sipsey River in the Bankhead National Forest-Alabama

Writing about an area you live 30 minutes from can be somewhat boring for some places, but living this close, to this kind of beauty, well hey, I am more than happy to tell you about it! We are talking about the Sipsey River canoe and kayak "standard run". This standard run that the locals call, is about a 9 mile stretch from the Sipsey River Recreation Area on County Road 60 (also called Cranal Road) to the  takeout that is underneath a large bridge on Alabama Highway 33 going to Double Springs. This is a half day to full day, to even an overnight trip if you want. The main thing to remember is timing it right for the water levels. We will discuss that later on.

Planning


If you want to plan to do this trip then you will need to have two vehicles of course to start with, and you will need to watch water levels and the weather closely. This run is very popular almost all times of the year except the dead of summer when it is very dry. The best times are January-May, with February and March being about the peek times because of rainfall. Sipsey is not regulated by man and is regulated by God and the weather, so prior planning is important to ensure a fun trip. Poor planning will result in dragging your canoe or kayak down the river with a rope rather than riding in it. A great place to start watching the water levels and learn more about this river is to go to Alabamawhitewater.com. If you explore this site, you will see a whole page devoted to tips and water levels to watch for. Remember too, that canoeists over the years have always referred to the "level" or "gauge" being the gauge on the side of the concrete bridge for years. More recently, the U.S. Governments gauge that can be viewed on the internet is viewed as "cubic feet per second".  Most people just have problems using that as the gauge, so they always go back and refer to the old fashioned system of the "gauge on the side of the bridge". It is measured in feet. From my experience, if you want an easy float trip with little challenges, look for a 1-1.5 foot guage. The website I spoke of above will help you in converting the "wooden gauge" or "gauge at the bridge" to cubic feet per second. Sipsey can offer anything you want just about, from a Class IV to a Class I. In other words, never take Sipsey lightly as being easy. It all depends on mother nature. I have a friend who has canoed and camped Sipsey for some 13 years. He almost died by drowning on the Sipsey and will tell you in hair tingling details of being trapped under his canoe in ragging water about on his last breath, so he has great respect for this river. As with any trip, expect to be turned over and pack accordingly by securing everything in your canoe or kayak. Throw everything in the canoe not tied down at certain times of the year will guarantee free "gifts" to those on the river at some point in time. I remember like yesterday, floating down Sipsey and finding a dazed and confused guy standing in about 3 feet of water holding his kayak, soaked to the bone. He simply said "If you see a Magellan Meridian GPS floating down the creek, it's mine".  I thought, that's about a $400 item. I guess he will tie the next new GPS he buys down, because that one is gone!

Be prepared for stunning scenery, as this is a National Forest and there is nothing but God made materials all around. Park one vehicle at the take out on Highway 33 going to Double Springs. The takeout is easy to find because it is the ONLY large bridge span you will encounter on your way traveling through the forest going on Alabama Highway 33 to Double Springs. Bear in mind, that you are parking your vehicle on private property and not on forest property. It is done all the time, and the people that own the property allow this knowing hundreds of people want to paddle Sipsey, and this is the only place to really park your vehicle and use this place as a takeout. I have recently been disturbed at the number of garbage that is piling up around that area. I realize at some point, the people who own this will get tired of this and say, no more! At that point it will become about impossible to practically take this trip with no really good takeout point. On the put in side, park your second car or truck at Sipsey Recreation Area on County Road 60 or Cranal Road as it is called by locals. Be prepared to pay the U.S. Forest Service $3.00 for the privilege of parking on property you help pay for. It is good for one day. If staying overnight, then add another $3.00. You will fill out a form and hang it on your windshield or put on your dash. Everyone that comes from out of town always asks "is my vehicle safe here?". I have parked at the recreation area many times over many years, and only once in about 10 years did I  hear of a short rash of cars being hit at those two places. Most of the time you are safe to leave it there. Keeping important items out of site is important as it would be anywhere you park and leave your car. They have an upper parking lot where I recommend parking and a lower parking lot where you will cross a very old (I remember playing on it in Boy Scouts in the 1970's) wooden bridge. Take this route to park and put your canoe in the water, then park it up on the upper parking lot. Security wise it is safer and theft wise it is a better more open place to park. Also, bear in mind there is absolutely NO cell phone coverage in the forest except in some high places or on the southern end of the forest, so tell your loved ones where you going because there is no calling for easy help.

The Trip


If the water levels are right, you can shoot down and finish this trip in about 3 hours, but I highly recommend you plan a full day, or even an overnight. The majority of folks take the one day trip. There are many hidden waterfalls along the way and breathtaking bluffs that are hidden back in the trees, but you must stop at least at one place, Hurricane Creek Falls. It is located on the left just past the 100 yard dash. The 100 yard dash as it is called, is a long stretch of class II  water that you shoot down as the river gets narrow. A lot of people camp here overnight and watch people come down this stretch for entertainment. For many amateurs, if they are going to get dumped out then this is the place. If you do camp here and want to be a good samaritan, then take an extra garbage bag with you to help haul out trash that "low life folks" left behind at the popular camping spot. There is nothing more sicking than sitting around the camp fire with 22 empty beer bottles and cans surrounding you. This last time we camped there, mice would come out at night while we were around the campfire. A sign that too much garbage is being left behind this at this place! When you are on the trip, take your time when floating down the river, listen to nature, and try and absorb the spectacular scenery. I have been all over the United States and all over Alaska, and still to this day, Bankhead offers scenery that cannot be found in other places.

Hurricane Creek Falls





As I mentioned earlier, just down from the 100 yard dash, start looking for the first creek or inlet on the left. This is the area you will want to pull in and park your boat. Walk about a quarter of a mile up the creek and canyon to see the stunning Hurricane Creek Falls. Take the time and sit down to watch, listen and absorb the beauty of this waterfall and the canyon it spills in to. You will not regret it. There are several other falls along the way to see, depending on the water level, the time of the year, and the amount of time you have to see them. Hurricane Creek Falls is "a must see" in my book.

Many of the locals in North Alabama and Eastern Mississippi have this trip slotted just about every year, and its popularity is growing. The run and water itself is really nothing spectacular, but the color of the water, the beautiful bluffs, foliage, moss, and scenery around you cannot be described nor seen in almost any other place. Remember that monitoring the water level is important or else you will have hiked dragging your boat down Sipsey, or missed the narrows of death from the ragging current. Sipsey can toss both of those at you without prior planning. Have fun!