Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bear Den Creek

There might be a "real" Bear Den Creek in the Chattahoochee NF. The name seems familiar, at least. Maybe I'm thinking Bearden Creek, without the space. At any rate, neither of those are the one I'm talking about here. Today I paid a visit to the obscure Bear Den Creek across the highway from the Raven Cliffs Trail. The USGS maps show trails in the area. The lidar data looked interestng too, now that I kind-of know what I'm looking at.

Seemed like a good place to go.

I parked at the Raven Cliffs Lot and actually started off on the Raven Cliffs Trail.

Raven Cliffs Trail

But I only took it as far as the northern edge of the first set of campsites. It's there that the trail tees into the old Byrd-Matthews railbed, hangs a left, and runs all the way up along Dodd Creek. I didn't do that though. I hung a right and followed the railbed in that direction.

It looked like that might have actually been the "correct" way to go at some point. It led right to the highway, and the kick up to the road was even paved. I guess, way, way back, people parked along the road and got on the trail there. There were what appeared to be old campsites over there too. There are no-parking signs at the road now though, and it looks like nobody's camped there in quite a while.

Across the Highway, a dirt road led east along Bear Den Creek. That's where I really wanted to go, but I figured the Old Raven Cliffs Trail might get me there, and fortunately it did.

There was a guy parked there, setting up camp below the road. His dog looked at me suspiciously and was like: "Yeah, stay up there buddy." Upon seeing me, the guy ran over and grabbed the dog. It seemed that he'd forgotten whether he'd tied it up or not. He had though, so no problem there. We ended up just exchanging waves and greetings and I kept moving.

I figured the road would be old and abandoned, but it was far from it.

Bear Den Creek Food Plot Road

I soon discovered why. A cute little meadow lay at the northern end, still maintained by the Forest Service as a food plot, and the road provided access to it.

At the far end of the field a trail continued up along Bear Den Creek. The map made it look like Little Low Gap creek teed in somewhere around there too, and showed a trail leading up along it as well, but I didn't see it anywhere, and this trail looked really inviting.

Bear Den Creek Trail

I figured I'd see where it went and double back for Little Low Gap later.

The trail was fairly well traveled, and it had the same general feel to it as Raven Cliffs. Judging by it's location, width, consistent grade, it seemed to be an old railbed, and by the looks of it, one that had never been converted into a road. It took a while though, before I found any definitive evidence.

The few feeder creeks were small and they all just ran directly across the trail. If there'd ever been any drainage structures in place, they've long since been filled in or washed out. I did eventually find one significant feeder, with a vacuous gap that must have been spanned by a trestle at one point.

Both sides were fortified with stacked stone too.

Old Rail Fortification

Pretty good evidence there.

There were several small falls on the creek too, but none of them were particularly easy to see or get good photos of.

This was the best I could do at the first one.

Bear Den Creek Falls

None of them had much in the way of pools either. It was clear why Raven Cliffs got to be the more popular trail.

I kept pushing north, and as generally seems to happen these days, I eventually got into rhododendron hell.

It was a good one too. The vegetation choked the creek and extended as far as I could see up both hillsides. There was just no way out of it except straight ahead, or straight back the other way.

I actually thought hard about whether to turn back, but eventually decided to keep going because the trail was a good ways up off of the creek, and despite being densely overgrown, was relatively easy to follow.

That too changed after a while though. I reached a bit of a flats and struggled to discern the trail from natural features. It seemed like they'd actually built up the railbed about a foot off of the surrounding ground. I'd never seen that before though. Way more often it's sunk down into it. I wasn't sure, gave up, and marked the trail as "indistinct" in my GPS.

Right then though, literally that second, directly in my line of sight as I moved my GPS out of it, lay this spike:


Given the sheer number of miles of old rail that I've explored, I've found surprisingly few artifacts. I always feel lucky when I do, but what are the odds I'd look directly at one at the exact moment that I questioned whether I was even in a suitable location to find it?

What are the odds?!

Rhododendron hell eventually gave way to rhododendron heck and I made much better progress until I hit the definitive end of the line.

If the old rail kept going, it did so via switchbacks that weren't cut into the ground.

The creek there was pretty crazy too, it kind-of looked like a box. Solid rock on all three sides for a few hundred feet or so.

And there was a balloon, of course.

Mylar Balloon

Goes without saying.

I found what looked like an old skid a bit uphill from there, but it didn't appear to join the rail directly. It was a little confusing, actually. I'm still not sure what to make of it.

When the creek became a trickle, I gave up following it and just headed west until I hit the highway.

Hogpen Gap Road

Directly across from where I hit it, there was a muffler in a tree.

Muffler in a Tree

It glinted a bit, and caught my eye.

Wonder what the story is there.

There were several turn-outs along the road, and I checked out a few of them. In one, a tree was eating its Wilderness sign.

Tree Eating the Wilderness Sign

Another, I recognized. It had a big shade tree in the middle and Jonhhy, Norma and I'd stopped there for a half hour or so during our TNGA ride, way back.

Oh, glorious tree!

Shade Tree

I was hungry, so I stopped and had a little picnic under the same tree. Lots of memories there. Lots and lots.

When I got back to Bear Den Creek, I headed back up to the meadow and looked hard for Little Low Gap Creek and the trail that was alleged to exist in its vicinity.

I found the creek, and the old road/rail that led up along it, and the modern trail that parallels that. But there wasn't much back there. The old road/rail was overgrown. There were a few old-looking campsites too but the trail petered out just past the last one.

One interesting thing though... Somebody had hauled their entire patio set back there at some point.

Patio Set

Nature seems to have had its way with it in the intervening years, but it must have been a pretty good site while it lasted.

That was about it. The light was fading and I'd had enough fun for one day.

On the way out, I passed back by the camp sites at the beginning of the Raven Cliffs Trail again. Some guy and some woman were having a great time joking and carrying on, but they were just getting way, way too carried away. She was screaming. I mean, literally screaming, as loud as she could, over and over, and getting hoarse from it. I could still hear her at the parking lot, which is like 100 yards away, with forest in between and rushing water to my left. The guy was super loud too, but his voice didn't carry that far. They were really just having fun, but if I'd been a police officer patrolling the lot, and I heard that, I'd have been really suspicious that they weren't. And, of course, that doesn't even take into consideration how annoying it must have been to the other campers. Fortunately there weren't too many of them, but still...

People are crazy. They do crazy things.

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