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.


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.


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.

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