Friday, August 14, 2009

Dawson Forest

show on map

This past Sunday I got lucky. My dad had planned on leaving town already, but events conspired to keep him hanging around. We were both a little burned out on the in-town trails, but he didn't want to do 10 miles of climbing either. I thought of Jake Mountain first, but then it came to me... Dawson Forest. I'd never been there. All I knew about it was that it's "alright", gets a lot of horse traffic and that you can't ride bikes or horses on the gravel roads, except where they are marked, which is odd if you're used to riding in the national forest.

Ehh, whatever, let's go.

Met the Padre at Atlanta Bread at 8:30 and we were there by 9. The whole area used to belong to the Air Force. The trailhead parking lot is a set of old foundation slabs. There are a couple of loading-docks-to-nowhere. I should have taken more photos. All I got was the kiosk.


Lots of horse traffic is right. There were 20 rigs there with room for at least that many more. I ride a lot of multi-use trails, but usually the bikes outnumber the horses. Not the case at Dawson Forest. Would we be dismounting every 5 minutes? Hmmm....

We chatted with a friendly equestrian about the route. Is there a loop most folks do? No, it's "utter chaos", as she described it :) She described a counter-clockwise route with really tough climbing, but not knowing the area, I didn't follow her. We ended up doing the Blue Trail clockwise.

Little bit of gravel road.

 Shoal Creek Road 1

Little bit of single track.

 Red Trail

An old still? Hard to tell. Something.


More gravel road. The climbing on the trail had been ok. The climbing on the road was a good bit steeper.

 Shoal Creek Road 2

Eventually we had to ford Shoal Creek.

 Shoal Creek Ford

I should have gotten a pic of my dad crossing it. It was about mid-shin deep. So much for dry feet.


 Shoal Creek Road 3

Eventually we got back on singletrack. It passed a nice little bend in the river...

 Bend In Shoal Creek

...and then we got into some good climbing.

 Padre Climbing on Blue Trail

The following descent must have been what the lady had been talking about earlier as being a difficult climb. I don't want to climb it. Good we went clockwise. It would have been an awesome downhill if we'd had a longer line of sight. As it was, we couldn't really let it go.

The map appeared to show the blue trail crossing the river on the road. But the bridge has been out of service for a while.

 Old Bridge

We went back and crossed the river on foot, bikes on our shoulders.

 Etowah Ford

More blue trail.

 Blue Trail 2

Even more blue trail.

 Blue Trail 3

We had not seen a single horse all day. We passed one hiker, but no horses.

Finally, within half a mile of the parking lot, we came up on 3 riders descending at a trot. We were so close to the end and they were moving so fast, we didn't bother passing them. As we crossed the dam, we met 3 more riders coming toward us and stopped for them. They were cool. One of the horses wasn't too sure at first, but he figured us out and then he was cool too.

Trails that get a lot of horse traffic have characteristic wear. Where the soil is soft it gets hoof prints and it takes more energy to push through. If it gets beyond a certain steepness (depending on the type of soil), then the top half inch or so stays disturbed, and apparently horses prefer to walk through the disturbed soil than to either side. Light rain firms it back up. Heavy rain washes it downhill. In an extreme case, it can get trenched out pretty good. Some of the Jake Mountain trails have/had this problem. At Dawson Forest, I saw surprisingly little trenching. Given how much traffic it gets, it was in really good shape. On most of the climbs, there were even hard-packed routes to the left and right of the loose center route.

Good enough for me. I'll be back.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report. I went out there in January and did the Orange loop. Not very good. Only remember a little decent single track. Haven't done the Blue loop this year but remember it having a lot more to offer.