Saturday, January 20, 2018

Jones Creek

That's right, Jones Creek proper this time. There are probably a dozen Jones Creeks in North Georgia. This is the one that runs generally south around the general Bull Mountain area. The one way back up FS877.

I'd been up that way 10+ years ago, but I hadn't been as thorough as I tend to be these days, and last weekend I figured it was time for another round.

I parked just past the campsite at the end of the road, right before the last concrete ford, just this side of the gate. It was a chilly morning and there was a whole patch of frost flowers on the little climb up to the food plot.

Frost Flowers

I ended up going up and down that little hill a couple of times though. Twice I forgot something in the car. First I think it was my GPS, then my jacket. Woohoo, preparation!

Past the food plot, to the left, it looks like FS877 used to just keep on going. At the bottom end there, the woods was wide open. From the old road, you could see a long way, and the creek was bright and noisy.

Open Woods Around Jones Creek

There was a bit of deadfall though, and I had to manage a couple of pretty good tangles.

A ways up I noticed a small falls that I didn't remember from the last time.

Lower Jones Creek Falls from the Trail

It was a bit of an effort to get down to it though. There was a bit of a slip layer on the backslope and it was rockier than it looked at first.

Lower Jones Creek Falls

Just up from the falls there was a little spot where runoff from the backslope had eaten a chunk out of the old roadbed, and this old board was lying right in the middle of it.

Old Board on Old FS877

Definitely a board.

Stuff like that always makes me wonder. Where did it come from, and how did it end up where I found it. It could be the remains of a cabin, fence, or some other old structure. It might have fallen off of the truck that was hauling it out as junk. Or, conversely, it might just as well have been hauled in as junk and dumped. Each seems equally likely, but the disparity in significance between the two always makes me laugh. To myself, at least.

It was cold enough to make the ground crunchy, and cold enough for the trickling drips to freeze.

Icicles

I ran into those pretty consistently, all day.

I also ran into these:

Cable 1 Cable 2 Cable 3

Cables everywhere.

Cables usually mean logging, so I expected to see more evidence of that further up.

I ran into those near a spot that had clearly been leveled artificially. There was a bit of trash in the vicinity too.

Old Cans Old RC Cola Can

This old tire was barely sticking out of the ground.

Buried Old Tire

I just happened to see it by luck. It was buried in runoff and covered in woody growth. I imagine it'll be completely obscured soon enough.

Yes, that particular spot seemed like it had been popular for something. Maybe just for dumping trash though.

Uphill it looked really weird though. There were several deep cuts into the backslope.

Hydraulic Mining, Maybe

If those are old roadbeds, worn below grade, they're the deepest I've ever seen. They certainly didn't look natural. The ridge behind them didn't strike me as tall enough to produce that kind of runoff. They struck me as hydraulic mine cuts. I've never run into anything alleging such activity in the area, but I guess I've never looked for anything either. Jones Creek would certainly supply plenty of water. Hmm...

I made my way further up the old road...

Old FS877

It seemed like somewhere up there I had to hang a left...

I was thinking that just as I noticed this old road sign nailed up high to my right.

Little Road

Ha!

I love the consistency. There are road signs nailed up on several of the trails in the general Jones Creek watershed. I've run into Silver Dollar, Farm Road, and now Little Road. Morgan Dairy is alleged to adorn the ridge running down from Ball Mountain. I wonder if there are more that I haven't found yet. I wonder if there are any on the Bull Mountain system that I've just missed over the years.

I like how the tree is eating the sign, and how it's managed to push it's bark between the metal and the paint. The same think is happening on the Farm Road sign.

I wonder if I'll ever find out who put these up, or why.

Just past the sign, I found the left that I was supposed to hang. You've got to cross a little feeder creek, and the tree trunks in the creek look like they might have been a bridge at one point. Maybe. Another old board lying in the creek, just upstream, lent some creedence.

Old Board in the Creek

Just across the creek there was this old bent up barrel.

Old Barrel

And whatever the heck this is.

Weird Metal Part

What the heck is that? It struck me as maybe a sleeve that fits a tool onto a take-off shaft, with bits of the broken tool still attached. Like, part of an old broken brush hog, or something. I don't know. Somebody tell me.

The barrel had some holes in it, but it didn't look axed. It struck me as related to logging rather than moonshining, but again, who knows?.

As the road draws to an end, it follows the creek more closely. Near the very end, it becomes pretty overgrown and a spur hangs a hard right up a feeder creek, and it looks kind-of like that's the right way to go. But, I knew from having been there before, that the trail to the right is a spur, and the old road actually keeps going through the overgrowth, right to the foot of a waterfall. Standing there at the time though, I couldn't hear the falls, there was no easily discernible continuation of the road, and there was no clear trail through the brush. If I didn't know that the road kept going, I might have thought that it stopped right there, and if it had been my first time up there, I might never have seen the falls. I'm not sure what made me keep going the first time. I know it had been summer. Maybe there was a more distinct trail through the brush.

At any rate, I kept going and found the falls, right where I remember it being.

What I didn't remember is that there are really upper and lower cascades.

Lower cascade:

Jones Creek Falls Lower Cascade

Upper cascade:

Jones Creek Falls Upper Cascade

And nice flow too. Though it had kept me off my bike, the recent rain was good for something!

Between the cascades, the cold and the spray had made a chandelier out of an overhanging branch.

Chandelier Ice

I explored that spur that I mentioned earlier and found a confusing set of disconnected trails uphill from it. There were several, distinct old roads, none of which actually connected with each other. They came close, but they didn't actually connect. There were 50+ feet of just woods between each of them. Between that and the abundance of stumps, it struck me as a modernish logging operation. The hillside would have been clear-cut and logging machines would have just driven up the draws and all over the backslope. The roads would have been notched in to make the timber easier to collect and haul out. I've seen similar operations recently at Pinelog and even locally where they're clearing for neighborhoods. That was my best guess, at least.

On the way back down I found a side loop with a really long cable running down the length of it.

Cable 4 Cable 5

It was tangled into coils here and there, and covered up in places, but I followed it for a long way, eventually coming to the frayed end of it.

Back at the Little Road sign, I checked out the other branch of the road, which showed a lot of the same signs.

Stump

It had clearly been logged, but the woods wasn't all dirty and choked. Instead, it was grassy and open everywhere.

Grassy and Open Woods

It wasn't what I expected to see. I'm not sure what they did differently, or what was different about the terrain that made it turn out like this. Whatever it was, I was thankful.

When the trails petered out, I headed back. I thought I saw a few more bench-looking cuts across the creek, but I didn't have time to check them out. Maybe next time.

I don't remember exactly why I needed to get home. I think it was to catch New Orleans get knocked out of the playoffs at the last second by Minnesota.

Yeah, that sounds right.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Blankets Creek, Rope Mill, and Cochran Mill

Since Christmas, I've been on the bike as much as possible, mainly at Blankets Creek, Rope Mill, and Cochran Mill. It's been a lot of fun, and I got in a lot of good miles, but what is there to say about those trails that I haven't already?

I guess a few things...

SORBA Woodstock has been rerouting the Dwelling Loop a bit lately. There are now a couple of easier and more-difficult lines you can take. In either case, the new lines avoid some poorly placed older trail, which has been filled with debris and is already difficult to discern unless you just know it's there.

I also noticed this benchmark on the South Loop.

Benchmark on South Loop

Never noticed it before. It's right next to a tricky rock-drop, so I guess I was always paying attention to dropping off of, or getting up over that, and didn't have time to look around. Not sure how I noticed it this time, really.

Quell Holler has been majorly reworked recently too, and there's a new jump line in the woods nearby. Not that I have the necessary skills for any of that. They did add a new South Loop Connector though, which looks unfinished, and I saw a mini-excavator near the peak of the hill that Dwelling encircles, busy doing something last time I was out there. So, Blankets is getting some attention. Maybe it was feeling a little outshined by Rope Mill.

East Jones Creek (Again, Again)

On Christmas morning we were all up early, tearing open presents and experiencing general holiday cheer. Then slightly later in the day the rest of the family was busy experiencing the nap that generally follows. I took the opportunity to do some more exploring of East Jones Creek.

I parked where I usually do, at the foot of the most modern roadbed that leads up along the creek. I say "most modern". It's clearly the most recently build old roadbed, but it's still pretty old, and closed with Kelly Humps. Somehow, this time, I noticed the remains of the old pipe gate, chucked off to the side.

Old FS Gate Post

Ha! I'd parked there twice before though, and somehow managed to miss it.

Last time, I discovered a really old road running along the creek itself, that looked like it teed in from the food plot to the west, so this time I followed 877 through the last campsite, across the paved ford.

Third Ford

The third paved ford on that road, actually.

Upstream, it looked like Trout Unlimited had been there.

East Jones Creek

In the food plot there were shooting clays scattered everywhere. Someone had been up there practicing recently. It took some looking, but I found the old road and followed it to the creek.

There had been a bridge across it at some point. The wooden abutment was still visible on the far side.

Old Bridge Abutment over East Jones Creek

It was substantially colder that day than it had been on previous days. Low 20's. I was wearing fleece and a jacket, so my body was fine, but my feet were going to get wet, and I couldn't remember if I'd ever tried the barefoot shoes when it was that cold.

Whether I had or not, it turned out fine. The water was cold, but the shoes drained well and my feet warmed right back up. This was the case, all day, repeatedly.

Amazing. Another unintuitive characteristic of those shoes.

I checked out various side trails that I hadn't had time for the last time.

I also got a much better photo of the second cascade.

East Jones Creek Falls - Second Cascade

And, I got to climb all over and around it.

It looks like it used to fall over and through these rocks, way, way back, but eventually changed course around them.

East Jones Creek Falls Former Route

I wish I had something for scale. Those rocks are huge.

I also got a close up look at the top of the first cascade.

East Jones Creek Falls - First Cascade Detail

Beneath the first cascade, I found this old board too.

Old Board

With a nail still in it.

Old Board Detail

It was really starting to seem like someone had a farm up there, way back, near where the modern road first crosses the creek. My old maps don't show anything, but I'm really suspicious.

There are lot of flat and level spots above the falls. The network of old roads appears to have been meant to provide access to them. On my first trip, I found what might have been the ruins of a double-chimney. There was that weird piece of wood with all the holes in it, this board with the nail in it, the refrigerator, and those organized rocks last time.

Of course, I could be imagining things. The rocks could be nothing. The roads could be for logging, and the rest could all just be junk that people dumped over the years.

Who knows?

I thoroughly explored the trails that my old map alleged to form a P-shape, near where the road crosses the creek. I can imagine one combination of them that might once have kind-of been P-shaped, but the primary set of old roads formed a very different pattern.

I am suspicious that some rocks I found (the organized rocks in the previous post) were the remains of an old moonshine furnace. They were right along a creek, in a level spot that was difficult to get to, and that would have been obscured during the summer, but with an old, overgrown road cut right to it.

Again though, who knows? The more I learn about what people used to do in the woods, the more I think I recognize stuff. But, I have no good way to verify a lot of it, so there's no telling if I'm right or just seeing things.

It doesn't sound like I did very much, but it was a fairly long day. I'd gotten out there early though, so I'd gotten home early too. Being Christmas, we watched Elf, but somehow Kathryn got the idea to watch The Beastmaster, so we ended up watching that afterwards.

Merry Christmas!

East Jones Creek (Again)

Goodness. I forgot entirely about this one...

On December 18th, I did some initial exploration of East Jones Creek. On the 23rd and 25th, I went back and basically checked out everything that I didn't get to see the first time.

Tons of fun!

East Jones Creek

I mean, look at that. Gorgeous!

I had a bit of a mission though. I'd had to cut the last excursion short to make it back in time for Star Wars, and had, as a result, failed to explore the furthest reaches of the little system. So, it was high on my list to get all the way back up in there and see how far it went. I had also heard what must have been a waterfall last time, and looking at the map, thought I saw what looked like a good spot for one. So I wanted to check that out too.

I started out following a bit of a trail out of the circle at the end of FS877, along the creek itself. 10+ years ago I'd tried to follow the same trail and decided that it ended quickly. But it had been summertime, and my obscure-trail-recognition skills weren't as well developed as they are these days. The trail went and went, joined an old road from across the creek to the west, broke into various side spurs, etc.

I had a good time exploring it.

Someone else had too, it seemed.

Old Shelter on East Jones Creek

Maybe the same guy that had built all those elaborate camp sites in Pine Log, or in the Upper Chattahoochee.

The creek itself was beautiful too. Lots of little jumbly shoals.

Jumbly Shoal on East Jones Creek

I had to cross it a couple of times, but barefoot shoes are plenty warm, even in subfreezing temperatures. Crazy how that works.

I did find the falls.

This is the lower cascade.

East Jones Creek Falls - Lower Cascade

Or, arguably lower two cascades. There's a bit of an upper cascade above the lower part of this one.

The falls really had to compete for my attention though. Off to the right there was this massive overhanging rock.

Large Rock with Overhang on East Jones Creek Beneath the Overhang

A lot of times you'll see where someone camped and built a fire under an overhang like that, but there wasn't anything under this one. Maybe it didn't hang over quite enough.

The upper cascade was just downhill from the rock. Maybe a little bit downstream of it too.

East Jones Creek Falls - Upper Cascade

That photo is terrible though.

My kingdom for a phone camera that focuses correctly.

Above the falls, the forest is really wide open.

Open Forest Around East Jones Creek

You can see a long way, and it looks like it's been a very long time since any of it was cut.

I didn't have time to dally about gawking at the woods though. It was getting late already, I had a long way to go, and it was all uphill.

Unfortunately it was pretty anticlimactic. I found the trail I'd had to abandon the last time, and it only went a few hundred yards further, before terminating anonymously.

The other little spurs did the same thing. No turnpike, no new discovery. Just a dead end.

That's how it goes though, most of the time.

On the way back, I gave "the P" a really quick check and found an old refrigerator uphill from the old campsite.

Refrigerator Refrigerator Door

There were some "organized rocks' nearby too.

Organized Rocks

But the most interesting discovery was this strange old wooden thing.

Strange Wood Thing Strange Wood Thing Detail

It had holes drilled down the length of it, a bolt screwed in loosely, and some bent-up piece of steel dangling off of the bolt.

It clearly served some very specific purpose, but I'll be damned if I can discern it. I'm sure someone recognizes what this was. Tell me, I'm dying to know.

It was getting dark when I took that last photo, and it was officially dark, with stars and everything by the time I got back to the truck.

Lots of little discoveries, but as usual, the excursion generated a few more questions than it answered, so I was determined to get back as soon as I could.

Monday, December 18, 2017

East Jones Creek

Lately, I've been motivated to finally explore some super, super old dotted lines on my map, dating back 10 years or more. When I first got serious about exploring the Cherokee National Forest, I started with the Blue Ridge WMA. You might think I'd have wrung it out before moving on to the rest of the forest, but no, it still holds some secrets. At least to me.

This past Saturday, I headed up East Jones Creek. I have no idea what the true name of the creek is, but if you follow Jones creek upstream from the general Bull Mountain area, right before it starts to climb uphill in earnest, it's the last fork that splits off to the north, and there's an old road that follows it. It's the next road up 877, past Silver Dollar, if that means anything, to anybody.

I'd been up that road before, but always hung a right toward Silver Dollar. There's a fork to the left too. It's a fork less traveled, and a very old hunting map alleges that it runs way up along the creek. My experience with trails from that map has been that they tend to exist, and tend to continue beyond the limit shown on the map. Saturday I found out.

On the way up I stopped at a gas station in Tate, grabbed some Gatorade and snacks, and began paying for them. While waiting for my card to process, I noticed the lady behind the counter stare down into some snack bag and mutter: "Damn you, Shannon." As her eyes rolled up to meet mine, the look on her face seemed to ask whether or not she'd said that out loud. I was intrigued, to say the least. "Yeah?" She smiled and aimed the bag in my direction. "These don't look like they'd be good, do they?" I wasn't sure. The marketing on the package indicated that it contained popcorn, covered in some sugary coating intended to simulate the flavor of birthday cake. It didn't immediately strike me as good. Caramel, yes. Salt, yes. Birthday cake? Who would even think of that? Too foreign. "Not really. Are they?" She didn't answer directly. Instead, she just handed me one. Man, it was good. Way better than I expected. That was my response to her. Something like that. I now understood. Someone named Shannon had introduced her to these candies, she had gotten to like them, and though she might know that they aren't good for her, she was definitely going to consume the entire bag. I had finished my transaction during the exchange, but had I not already paid, I'd have purchased a bag for myself. Give them a try, if you get a chance. They are way, way better than you'd think they'd be. That is, of course, if you can afford to eat them. She must have felt that she couldn't. Man, I've been there, especially around the holidays. So, to offer support, I repeated her words as I left the store: "Damn you, Shannon!"

I thought about the snack several times later that day, and seriously considered stopping on the way home to get some.

But, back to the Adventure...

I parked on FS877 and headed up the old road, which was generally clear. It had been decommissioned with some marginally effective Kelly Humps sometime very recently. There was a bit of light deadfall here and there, but aside from that I could have easily driven it.

FS877 Food Plot Road

A ways up, I suddenly realized my map was no longer in my hand.

Dangit! That's becoming a regular occurrence!

This time, I went back for it, and found it lying in the dead middle of the road, only a hundred yards back or so.

Dropped My Map

The heck? How do I keep doing this?

I found the turnoff that I usually took, way back, and stayed left this time.

That fork got decidedly less traffic, but it was still pretty wide open. No real overgrowth, just a bit more deadfall.

Off to my left, I could hear some serious rushing. At the time I wasn't sure if it was just the wind through the trees, or water. It was quite breezy, but a quick look at the map made me think waterfall. The geography is just right for a pretty good falls on West Jones proper. I never got close enough to see it though, so I'll have to make another trip out there for that specific purpose.

I did cross the creek itself though.

East Jones Creek

That's quite a current. A falls downstream of that could be pretty impressive.

Just uphill from the crossing, the map shows a weird little P-shaped side trail off to the left of the main trail. There was an old campsite there, but it looked like it had last been used a very long time ago.

It had been popular though, as evidenced by the trash that remained.

Old Campsite Trash More Old Campsite Trash

They'd made some good progress, but I wondered how long it would be before those old grills rusted into absolutely nothing at all.

The P-shaped side trail looked really overgrown, so I didn't give it much of a chance, but resolved to save it for another trip too.

A bit further up I found a much cleaner side road that ran straight down to the creek and looked like it might have once forded it. There was no discernible evidence of anything continuing on the other side though. There was a large, level area over there, but no road, no trail, no nothing.

Back toward the main road, I noticed two piles of organized rocks.

Organized Rocks Near East Jones Creek More Organized Rocks Near East Jones Creek

The rock looked like it might have come from the creek.

Two collapsed chimneys came to mind. It would have been a good place for a house. Hard to say though. I may have been letting my imagination get away from me.

Further up I found this cinder block in another small clearing.

Cinder Block Near East Jones Creek

Could it have been the location of another structure? It would have been a decent place for one.

Maybe.

Or maybe someone just dumped it up there with some other trash.

Further up, the trail got a little more overgrown, and a little less distinct, but it was still pretty easy to follow.

Old East Jones Creek Road

As it ascended Ball Mountain, there were numerous spurs leading up the various spines and draws. Some of them rejoined the main road, and I wondered if they may have been former routes rather than just spurs.

It's pretty rocky up there, and the crisscrossing hills are quite striking this time of year.

Rocks In Upper East Jones Creek Cove

Sadly, these photos don't really do it justice.

At a point, I reached a juncture that was terribly overgrown with briars, and couldn't discern the trail ahead through them. It turned out later, that was the end-point prescribed on the old map, but the trail did lead on, it was just very difficult to see.

I only discovered this later, after following some side trails and eventually circling back around.

One such trail led to the base of a tall, but shallow sliding falls on East Jones Creek proper.

East Jones Creek Sliding Falls

Again, the photo doesn't do it justice. It's like 5 or 6 times as tall as it looks here.

On the other hand, calling it a "falls" might be giving it a bit more credit than it's due. Sure, water flows down it, but I'll bet it doesn't flow down it year round. We just had a significant snow melt, and though the surface was evenly wet, there wasn't much discernible movement. I'm not sure what to call such a thing though, so until a term is invented, I'll call it a shallow sliding falls.

This big rock nearby marked the end of the old road.

Big Rock East Jones Creek Sliding Falls

The road led directly to it and stopped right there.

No further.

I pushed on though, off trail, in a big circle until I picked up another branch of the road, and followed it until it teed into the creek and ended as well.

I imagined that the road might once have crossed the creek, and headed straight up the fall line on the other side. It wasn't shallow, but it wasn't materially steeper than the road itself. There was no obvious evidence of that though. No obvious break in the canopy. No dent in the ground. For as far up the mountain as the road had pushed, I had begun to expect it would eventually push over the shoulder. If it did somewhere though, it didn't there.

Thinking maybe I just couldn't discern the true route, I walked in a big circle, looking for clues. I didn't find anything, but from that vantage, I did enjoy the snow-covered face of the next draw over.

Snowy Hillside

I could also see Little Sal Ridge to the east.

Little Sal Mountain Ridge

I suppose the knob on the left is the one that towers over Winding Stair Gap. The one with the food plot on top. At the base of the knob on the right is P.R. Gap, where Silver Dollar descends to the west and Gold Coin ascends to the east. I imagine that Little Sal Mountain is out-of-frame to the right. I didn't pull out the compass to be sure though, so I could be wrong.

I probably stood there 5 or 10 minutes just taking it in. Sometime during that, some movement above me to the west caught my eye. I saw some four-legged animal trotting downhill, in the snow, toward the creek. Abruptly, it turned right about 150 degrees and bounded away as fast as it had come. I had at first thought coyote, but when it turned, it looked much more distinctly like a bobcat. Feline features, and no visible tail, in particular.

My brother had seen one, once, while riding Bull Mountain proper. I'd seen them in the zoo, at the Aware Animal Sanctuary, and dead on the highway, but I'd never seen one alive in the wild.

Yeah!

It didn't occur to me until a bit later that it might have seen me as well. I was black from head to toe, except for my orange vest. Sources generally say that most animals can't distinguish blaze orange the way we can, but the rest of my outfit may well have stood out against the otherwise brown background. Hunters wear camo, and not black, for a reason.

On the way back down, I discovered another well-traveled spur leading up from the briar patch along another spine, but just didn't have the time to investigate. It too, would have to wait. As it was, I ended up back at the truck well after dark and had to move with a purpose to get home in time.

In time for what?

Star Wars!

It was opening weekend for The Last Jedi and I managed to get home in time to take Kathryn and Iz to the 8:30 showing.

What a day! Two Adventures. One real-world and one cinematic.