There's a stretch of property along White's Creek, which separates Rhea and Roane Counties in East Tennessee, that is site to some of the most beautiful scenery in Tennessee. That's saying a lot since a large portion of the Great Smoky Mountains is in Tennessee. However, I was privileged to be invited to walk a very small portion of a 200+ acre tract of land long the Caribbean blue waters of White's Creek. The scenery there blew me away!
I became acquainted with Steve (I won't embarrass this modest man by identifying him), the blessed man who owns this piece of heaven, through exchanges on RoaneViews, a local blog site for local news and opinion. We are, at times, at opposite ends of the political spectrum, by we have so much more in common - things like hiking, wildflowers, and a good cold brew!
I arrived at Steve's, having never been there before and following his written directions, and was a little leery about turning off onto a little gravel road and climbing part of Walden's Ridge, almost straight up, to his beautiful blue stained three-level home in paradise. However, I was soon greeted with a welcoming handshake through my open passenger side window. Following his every move, and later our every move, was Casper - the friendly dog!
Many canoes and kayaks were stacked neatly along the lower part of the drive, which told me more about this new potential friend. He later told me that he started Dagger Kayaks, which he later sold, but still occasionally consults on boat designs. For the most part, he is living the good life working when he wants, and his wife works, which leaves him loads of time to spend in his very own "wilderness pocket"!
Steve can talk on and on about many subjects, and it's easy to tell he's spend many hours hiking, camping, boating, and researching this favorite outdoor subjects.
There are many trails leading off, up and down, from the house, but, to give me the flavor of the area, he chose one that lead down to the raging waters of White's Creek, which had only recently receded back into it's normal channel after two heavy pre-spring rains. Some ten feet up in the trees above our heads we could see "flood trash" hanging, so just a few days earlier and this trail would have been impossible to see, let alone travel.
The way down sometimes is over creek rock, making you have to test almost every step you take. Having become "accident prone" over the last few years, this made my progress slower than Steve's, but he fully understood my recent health issues, and the fact that I haven't done three miles in as many years. He was very patient with me, but was somewhat amazed at my general stamina.
Once down on the flood plain the going is much easier, and often very sandy. I was able to keep stride with my guide and yet have time to stop and look at things closer. Steve's eyes are sharp and pointed out turkey, coyote, hog, and deer tracks. He was even first in spotting some salamander eggs in a roadbed water hole. One clump looked like it could hatch out at any time. Go to my Flickr page to see more photos, and especially the egg clumps!
Out to the water's edge, where we later took a break, is also strewn with head size conglomerate and sandstone rocks - creek rock. Dead leaves, trees, and branches are stuck in random patterns in the bushes along the creek, with some pieces of wood magically left perfectly balanced on rocks and stumps.
Along the way, we travel partially on what is shown on a map as the "Old Stage Road", which turns into the "Old Gordon Road" on the far side of White's Creek, in Cumberland County. Steve said that back in the 1800s these roads were toll roads, but newer and smoother surfaced non-toll roads soon put them out of business. These roads branched off the old Trans-Appalachian Roads and Trails, namely the "Old Nashville", "Emery", and "Avery Trace" roads.
The roads were used locally to haul logs and iron ore, and probably "moonshine", out of the Walden's Ridge area. There are still remnants of old mill sloughs that parallel the old road, and some old rusty narrow-gauge rail still protrudes from the bank on both sides of the creek. There are recognizable flat areas along this route that could only have been pioneer homes, and there are some almost hidden rock piles that were either from fields being cleared, or from the building of the mills.
One gorgeous outcrop, Steve refers to as "The Grotto", hangs stubbornly on a ridge to the east of the trail. There are many overhangs that need exploring, and someone needs to solved the mystery of the perfectly square holes cut into the outcrop's face. There seems to be four of five of them. Were these made by local Indians, farmers, or by the iron ore miners from long ago? We may never know.
In a couple of weeks, this area will be coming to life with abundant spring wildflowers and budding trees. The maples are already dropping their red tassels along the trail, and new green growth can be seen among the brown leaves. I'll have to get back there real soon and break the ol' Nikon in on more wildflower shots!
The trails are steep in places, strewn with rocks in some places, and cluttered with heavy rain debris in other spots, but, if I can do it, you could do it. However, you may want to second guess yourself after looking at the photo Steve took of me after the hike. This old man was spent - hip joints screaming, but my wind was good and I recovered quickly!
I wasn't going to tell this, but some 50 yards from the house, and some 100 feet higher up, Steve went and got his Polaris four-wheeler. To save me face, he said he wanted to ride me along a couple of other trails for a short piece, just to give me some ideas of how little we had covered in our three mile hike down to creek level and back. It was obvious we had only scratched the surface of what there is to explore!
This trail is open to the public, but it's really by invitation only. Steve has wildlife and scientific experts, and Scout troops on the trail frequently and he prefers they have it to themselves, so don't go looking for it on your own.
Maybe, like me, you will get lucky and meet this gentle and gracious man having a cup of coffee in Junior's Restaurant, in Rockwood! Or, you could just frequent his blog, WhitesCreek Journal, and leave nice comments!