Located near Old Fort, North Carolina, only 26 miles east of Asheville, the 100-foot tall Catawba Falls highlights the scenic beauty of the Pisgah National Forest. Following a well maintained trail along a mossy riverbed on the Catawba River, the sounds of rushing water over many small cascades accompany visitors on this slightly uphill, family-friendly 2.5 mile out and back hike.
This is a popular tourist destination with a large parking lot, restrooms and an informational placard at the trailhead. Accordingly, visitors should plan upon an early arrival if wishing to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, absent crowds – mine was the second car parked onsite, though an estimated 80 vehicles were observed at the time of my departure.
Under a shaded forest canopy, hikers will cross the river on two footbridges and encounter remnants of an early 1900’s hydroelectric dam…
There are also several interesting side trails leading to picturesque spots aside Catawba River…
If you enjoy the great outdoors – especially waterfalls – then I’m certain that you’d be pleased with a purchase of any of the many print types available in my gallery at Fine Art America.
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Lower Catawba Falls
If you’d like to extend your hiking adventure by undertaking a strenuous and difficult climb, another 1/2 mile trek leads to the beautiful Upper Catawba Falls. Warning: this is potentially a dangerous area if you’re not skilled at climbing rocks and steep mountainsides, and hikers must ascend a 25-foot rock face using a secured rope for assistance. Here are a few photographs along the trail…
Upper Catawba Falls
The sound of falling water continued to intensify, until, finally, I could see Upper Catawba Falls through the trees! Standing approx. 60-feet tall, this isolated, picturesque waterfall features a broad plunge pool with large rocks scattered to the side, useful as seating. With a snack and water, I enjoyed the sights & sounds of this setting, uninterrupted over the course of my 45-minute stay.
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Taken from a satellite in space orbiting planet Earth, this black and white image highlights terrain located in the western hemisphere. Oh, wait…haha. This black and white photograph was actually taken while hiking at Black Mountain, on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, and features evidence of erosion from water along a rock surface of the mountain. You’ll discover prints available in my gallery – suitable for any environment. So, check it out…
Originally, my intention was to comb the rock bed along Richland Creek. Given low seasonal water levels across the Cumberland Plateau, I hoped to observe interesting underlying geological formations. However, things changed when I arrived.
You’ve probably never heard of Paine Creek. It’s a rather obscure creek streaming down a mountain side along the Laurel-Snow Trail, in Dayton, Tennessee. I’ve visited this park before, and traversed the rocky field of boulders along Paine Creek, though always wondered what was beyond the last waterfall.
Early into the hike, I approached a small wooden bridge over Paine Creek. Built upon stone columns erected in the early 1900’s by the Dayton Coal & Iron Company, the area has many remnants from that era, including old mine entrances into the mountain – one of which is situated directly under a waterfall. Once again, I opted to follow a trail spur uphill along the creek, beginning what would on this occasion become a 7-hour journey.
There are several small waterfalls upstream, each of which becomes increasingly difficult to access. Boulders ranging in sizes over 20-feet pepper the landscape, requiring hikers to go around, climb over, or, in some cases, traverse narrow passageways. It would be necessary at times to backtrack, as ones line of sight forward is often imperfect, routes of which subsequently proved impassable.
In addition to sufficient footwear, physical conditioning, food and water, I would suggest that perhaps the most important element for a hiker in such circumstances is discretion – knowing when to say no, so as to more closely examine secondary options. The cost of bad judgement can be high, and slippery moss-covered rocks were a dangerous and constant concern.
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Here are a few photographs of small waterfalls along Paine Creek –
Waterfall & Mine
The following photographs feature the furthest waterfall which I’d previously visited, until this hike. In this area, high walls of the gorge envelope the falls on both sides, while the ledge above the falls is beyond reach. A particularly interesting aspect to these falls is that, with the exception of high water levels, the flow of water originates solely from the interior of an old mine entrance. As I would later learn, water from the creek above seeps through an underground passage into this mine. Having a look inside, I could see the front edge of a pool of water, and the footprints of a small animal. Fortunately, no bears!
After enjoying this setting for a spell, it was time to move on – what was above this waterfall? As noted, I wasn’t able to climb the front of the falls, and, the gorge walls stood approx. 50-feet tall. So, I backtracked a short distance to the trail and continued uphill.
After a period of time, and with temperatures approaching 90-degrees, I began to wonder how much further I’d need to travel along this trail before reaching the top. It seemed as if I must have already ascended an estimated 300-feet in elevation, far more than I’d earlier assumed would be necessary.
Onward and upward, I continued my trek and would soon encounter a 30-foot climbing rope secured to a tree on the cap-rock above. After evaluating the scenario – assessing surface conditions as being slippery for footholds, as well as my tripod continually catching the underside of protruding rocks – I opted to remain on the trail, shortly thereafter finding a better way to the top.
Top of The Mountain
Finally on top of the mountain, the trail continued beyond where the climbing rope was affixed, to a ledge with an expansive, scenic view across the valley.
The view was great, although, however faintly, I could hear the sound of water in the distance – downhill, beyond the forest. This was my goal, and so I soon continued along the edge of the mountain as far as I could. At a point, though, massive cliffs forced me into the forest without any path to follow, moving cautiously through the trees, vines, and – oh, joy – a seemingly endless quantity of sharp-thorn bushes.
I was constantly having to untangle myself from the plants and trees, often needing to remove my backpack – again, my tripod was an issue – and, at times, both climb over & crawl under downed trees.
Patience. In such situations, it’s easy to become frustrated. However, rather than plowing through dense foliage to save time, it’s important to remain patient, particularly in an unfamiliar environment. Case in point – on two occasions, reminding myself to slow down allowed for an opportunity to observe rock ledges hidden behind bushes…so, heads up!
Albeit gradual, the sound of running water began to intensify as I continued downhill, until, finally, I could see the creek through the trees below! There was, though, one last obstacle – an 8-foot high ledge with no obvious safe path of descent.
At 56 years old, weighing 235 lbs., and with bad knees – as well as experiencing fatigue from the hike – a drop from that height would be ill-advised, potentially injurious.
Hence, I began searching back and forth along the edge of the ledge to assess my options. Of course, this entailed dealing with more difficult foliage during the process, but I soon found what I considered to be a safe means of descent. I determined that if I sat down on an appreciably steep area of the hillside – covered with a thick, relatively dry moss and dirt – that I could control my speed by inching forward to contact a closely situated tree using my feet. Thereafter, grasping the branchless trunk to climb down.
As anticipated, I moved slowly and the process unfolded without a hitch. It wasn’t until I set foot on the floor of the gorge, however, that the thought crossed my mind –
I really hope there’s an easier way to leave when it’s time to go.
Beyond The Last Waterfall
Yes – I’d finally arrived and there was in fact another beautiful waterfall tucked away in this isolated, pristine gorge! My first order of business, however, was to locate a hand-towel from my backpack, wet it in the creek, and wash away the sweat, debris, bugs, and – caused by the thorns – blood on my legs.
Soon thereafter, following a careful walk-around to survey the area, I heard a rumble of thunder. A light rain followed, lasting for nearly one-half of an hour, and so I took refuge under a tree and rested while enjoying a snack I’d brought along. I didn’t mind the rain, but realized that all rock surfaces would now be extremely slippery and that any steps in the gorge must be undertaken with heightened deliberation.
This video begins by overlooking what would be the spillway above the top edge of the lower waterfall, were a high-volume of water present. Next, a view of the upper waterfall is shown. Last, it finishes where the creek vanishes under a rock wall and into the mine below.
As it turned out, there was a 20-foot uphill scramble across the creek to the left of where this video concludes. Fortunately, the water was low – otherwise, access to this return route would not have been possible. I hiked into the forest, and, eventually, down hill and back to the Laurel-Snow Trail along Richland Creek.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this recount of my recent Adventure At Paine Creek. Thanks for visiting & enjoy the great outdoors!
After a short hike, I arrived at the scenic Jack Rock Falls. Standing 25-feet tall, I’d seen this waterfall on two previous occasions, each of which during relatively drier times. Following recent rains, it seemed that a return visit would be appropriate.
After taking photographs and enjoying this peaceful setting for a spell, I wondered…
…this waterfall is at a much higher elevation than Clear Creek, below. Might there be additional points of interest downstream worthy of exploration?
It seemed like a good bet, and so it began. I traversed along a steep hillside, weaved in and around trees and plants, and, when possible, climbed atop boulders hoping to glance what lay ahead. I could see some indication of an area where the rocks ended – a drop – but wouldn’t know with certainty until I arrived.
Moving downhill and around a cluster of moss covered rocks, I would soon see that which I’d hoped to find – another waterfall. Awesome! While I’m sure that others have enjoyed this spot, it was challenging to access without a trail, and I was grateful to have found such a beautiful place to enjoy.
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Following a stop at Piney Falls – more on that in a subsequent post – I drove for a second time to visit the Lost Creek State Natural Area. This time, though seasonal foliage was absent, the volume of water flowing was bolstered by recent rainfall and provided wonderful scenery.
Though a recent Year In Review entry highlighted Cummins Falls as my favorite waterfall, Lost Creek Falls – when taken in totality – certainly ranks as a contender for such accolades. While the magnitude of beauty is less, there’s simply more to enjoy!
Notes of Interest
Water in the plunge pool at the base of the 50′ Lost Creek Falls disappears completely underground by draining into a “sink” (or bowl), though a small surface stream remains visible during very wet conditions. The water ends up inside nearby Lost Creek Cave, one of Tennessee’s largest caves, with five separate entrances and seven miles of mapped passages. It’s pitch black inside, requiring headlamps and secondary light systems for safety, and is closed during winter months for purposes of bat hibernation. Also, rumor has it that somewhere deep within the cave, there is another similarly-sized waterfall!
If you enjoy the peace and quiet of nature in a remote location, this area fits the bill. During my first and second visits, I encountered one individual, and then a couple, respectively, while hiking. GPS coordinates of the parking area are N35 50.442, W85 21.660. No restrooms, no gift shop.
There are several areas worthy of exploring, each of which will be detailed to some extent, as follows. Stairs are provided leading visitors from the parking area to the falls and cave, though other trails are more rocky. Also, rocks around the water are covered with moss and can be very slippery, so proper footwear is important – exercise discretion.
Ice can pose a hazard for visitors during winter months. Case in point, clusters of huge icicles were positioned on cliff walls to the sides of Lost Creek Falls, as well as above the 30-foot opening to Lost Creek Cave. While I was there, I saw and heard several come crashing down as temperatures warmed a bit. Heads up! Also, many rocks near the waterfalls become coated with thin ice from mist in the air, and can be very slippery!
Photographs & descriptions of each area in chronological order:
Lost Creek Falls
The main attraction, Lost Creek Falls can be heard as soon as you step out of your car. As is common with many waterfalls found on the Cumberland Plateau, rocks have been eroded in a horseshoe shape with recessed areas underneath ledges. This particular topography also includes a few small caves. Also, the plunge pool is quite shallow – great for kids and/or dogs.
Located slightly uphill along a short trail to the right of Lost Creek Falls is a smaller waterfall – actually, a set of two. It’s also easy to cross the stream from left to right, which allows hikers access to the top of the falls. However, if conditions are dry so too is this stream.
Lost Creek Cave
This giant cave is located only 300 feet from, and in clear sight of, Lost Creek Falls. Glancing inside, it doesn’t take much distance for light to diminish into darkness. It’s closed for the winter, and spelunkers are required to register for a permit.
Upper Lost Creek Falls
A short trail from the parking area to the top of Lost Creek Falls provides hikers with an opportunity for more interesting views. You’ll see the leading edge of the falls, a stream above which flows as a series of small cascades over rock ledges, and a small cave – largely obscured by boulders – at the top, wherein a honeycomb of eroded rock channels spring fed water from the hillside. Unlike my prior visit, an increased flow of water prevented me from crossing the stream, though I was able – moving deliberatively with extreme caution – to scale icy surfaces in reaching the cave opening.
Another area to enjoy is Rylander Cascades, a short 1/2 mile hike from Lost Creek Falls along a rocky trail. During my visit in late-August, this area was completely dry. So, plan on visiting sometime following rain. If you’re feeling ambitious, this trail also leads 4.5 miles to Virgin Falls – a strenuous hike.
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Driving along route US-441 S from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, there are several parking areas which provide scenic views of the pinnacles.
One such location has an information-placard posted, which reads:
The Cherokees called the mountain Duniskwalguni, meaning ‘forked antlers’.
The half-billion-year-old Chimney Tops, made of slates, schists, and phyllites, sit atop even older rock – Thunderhead sandstone, a tough, erosion resistant rock. The chimney rock (Anakeesta Formation) is softer than the sandstone, allowing rain, hail, and ice – over hundreds of millions of years – to fashion its chimney-shaped likeness.
The rugged Chimney Tops pierce the forest that cloaks most of the Great Smoky Mountain ridges. The bare rock offers scant soil for plants. Only shallow-rooted shrubs and trees like rhododendron, mountain laurel, red spruce, and eastern hemlock thrive here.
One of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Chimney Tops trail gains 1400 feet over 2 miles – a steep climb! So, wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water.
With only one seating area along the trail, I would recommend that hikers carry a walking-stick or trekking-poles, either of which makes resting easier by supporting ones’ weight, when necessary.
The trail crosses rushing streams on three occasions, prior to ascending the side of the mountain. Though principally hard-packed dirt with light gravel, both stone & wooden steps located periodically along the trail serve to facilitate an easier hiking-experience.
On my visit, I arrived early and was the third car parked and the second hiker to reach the top. Pictured below is a wood & dirt structure where visitors may rest and enjoy a wonderful view of the Smokies.
The best place to see the Chimney Tops, however, is located to the left, another 50 feet along the trail. Here, looking towards the northwest, the bright morning sun highlighted the front-face of the pinnacles for stunning views! For hikers continuing beyond this point, be careful – a narrow trail, fallen trees, slippery rocks and substantial height along this steep mountain entails cautious deliberation.
At 18-seconds, you’ll see a circular gap within the trees along the ridge (right side); this is the observation area – see black and white photograph, above.
Several of these photographs are available in my galleries at Pixels and/or Fine Art America, and more will be added in the days ahead – so, stop by for a visit! Enjoy selecting your choice of framed, canvas, art, metal, acrylic and/or wood prints. Tapestries & other items, too.
For a better sense of height from the pinnacles, here are two photographs highlighting the scenic view parking areas (see photograph at beginning), the later with zoom magnification:
With many sights to see, I decided to hike the Twin Arches, described as “the most impressive rock arches in the eastern United States”. The North Arch has a clearance of 51 feet, a span of 93 feet and its top deck is 62 feet high, while the South Arch has a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its top deck is 103 feet high.
Here’s a video taken at the South Arch…
A sign at the park provided this description as to how these arches were formed:
Weaker layers of sandstone form the base of the nearly vertical walls of this narrow ridge. The weathering of these erosion-susceptible layers caused sections of the wall to fall away, forming shallow rock shelters on both sides of the ridge.
The collapse and shelter enlarging process continued until two “windows” in the narrow ridge were formed. This opening enlarged until it reached the stronger and more erosion-resistant sandstone layer of rim rock that caps the Twin Arches.
A cave was situated under one end of the South Arch, so I entered to discover that there was an exit at the back, albeit a narrow passage at approx. 18″ wide. Footprint-impressions in the sand from hikers provided some assurance that the cave was empty – no bats or bears. But, watch your step & don’t bump your head!
Here’s a short video as I entered the cave…
The top of the arches are one contiguous surface area, accessible by stairs, though the South Arch has additional areas visitors may ascend so as to attain the best view:
At the pinnacle, scenic views were truly spectacular on this fine day – unique walls of eroded sandstone, mountains and valleys lined with trees, and an interesting cap-rock area to walkabout. Here are a few examples:
Here’s a video of the surrounding environment –
The only complaint I had while visiting the Twin Arches is Divide Road. As soon as you leave TN-154, you can expect to travel for nearly 5 miles along a gravel road which is narrow with frequent & deep potholes, many hidden by shadows from trees lining the road. So, to be safe, I drove this stretch at less than 10 m.p.h..
Keep in mind, however, that the most impressive sights to see at the Twin Arches are at ground level. So, stay tuned for Part Two…
This photograph features the sandstone caprock at Chimney Top Mountain, located at Frozen Head State Park in the Cumberland Mountains of Eastern Tennessee. If you’d be interested in a print for your home or workplace, then stop by my gallery at Pixels to review framed, canvas, art, metal, acrylic and wood print types.
I recently visited Mead’s Quarry Lake, part of the Ijams Nature Center, a 315-acre park along the Tennessee River in Knoxville, where I hiked various trails for a few hours. One of my favorites was the Ross Marble Quarry Loop, which included the Keyhole. A sign along the trail read:
If you take the time to look around, you will find large blocks of limestone strewn about this abandoned quarry pit and the wall that surrounds the Keyhole. Operations began in the early 1900s on the property originally known as the John M. Ross Quarry. The quarrying involved removing overburden, drilling the marble to form large blocks, prying the blocks from the rock face, lifting them using derricks and cables and transporting them out for cutting and polishing elsewhere.
Additional information included the following:
Mead’s Quarry Rail Line. FYI Railcars moved the large marble blocks to the nearby Tennessee River along rail spurs via adjacent Mead’s Quarry. During the 1920s, operations shifted to the Williams Lime Manufacturing Company, which is an indication that the large-scale marble extraction had tapered off.
When I came across the area called the Keyhole, I looked down to see a pathway leading to two sets of stairs. Recent rains had left the ground damp and the clay-mud dangerously slick. And, with moss growing everywhere, I decided to proceed with caution.
Winding my way across ledges, over rocks and around puddles, I could finally see the Keyhole at the base of a 40′ wall of stacked rocks. It was an impressive sight to be sure, no small undertaking.
Standing at the entrance, I felt small among the many massive boulders. The passageway itself was probably 7′ from floor to ceiling, a scale not apparent in these pictures.
On the other side, I encountered Sasquatch! Just kidding, but there were surprises around every corner. I was greeted by the sun brightening the surrounding landscape, and I descended a series of steps toward the bottom of the quarry.
Standing in the middle of the forest while surrounded by walls made of large blocks of limestone was certainly an unusual and interesting way to spend the afternoon. And I wasn’t alone, either, meeting several people who were also visiting the area for their first time. Which brings me to my advice – if you have time, the weather is decent and you’re in the area, I suspect you’ll enjoy hiking this quarry!
I’d also recommend hiking the Haworth Hollow trail – more on that another time…
This black and white photograph was taken in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the stairwell of a local parking structure. I’ve formatted the print with framing in a style reminiscent of the famous photographer, Ansel Adams. A wide variety of prints are available in my gallery at Fine Art America – including framed, canvas, art, metal, wood and acrylic. Customize the print to make it your own!
This black and white scene features a photograph of an old, industrial ladder leading up to a set of railroad tracks on a trestle, and is collaged with a second picture of clouds in the sky. If you’re interested in adding a print to a wall in your home or at work, then stop by for a visit to my galleries at Fine Art America and/or Redbubble. Other items available, also.