Having spent the night at Charit Creek Lodge and mostly recovered from the food-coma induced by Gregg’s delicious breakfast, Chet and I set out to explore a couple of trails in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. First stop though was the lodge kitchen where we picked up a lunch for the trail and got a good tip from Gregg about which direction we should go on the loop trail we’d plotted out. For those of you who read my last blog entry, you might not be surprised to hear that his suggestion was to go the opposite way from what we had planned. Go figure. Armed with good advice, plenty of water, and a yummy lunch we set off on a hike that would take us past Jake’s Place and out to Slave Falls, and then back to complete the loop up to the Twin Arches and back down to the lodge.
The first part of the hike was back along the gravel road we had walked in on the afternoon before to the suspension bridge that crossed Station Camp Creek, then on about a tenth of a mile to the Tackett Homesite. During the Civil War, the area around Charit Creek was strongly unionist and often harassed by rogue bands of rebels looking for young men to fill the ranks of their army. At the Tackett place there were two young teenaged boys living with an older female relative. One day, the woman saw Confederate sympathizers approaching and needed to hide the boys so they wouldn’t be forced into the army. She had them hide under a feather bed while she laid on top of it pretending to be sick. This ruse worked as far as hiding the boys from the Confederates, but when they had gone on their way and the woman lifted the feather bed to release the boys she discovered that they had smothered to death. Their graves are just across the gravel road and up the hill a bit from the remains of the cabin.
Down the road just a bit further, the trail splits off from the gravel road towards Jake’s Place. We hadn’t gone far at all before we came upon a deer on the trail. We’ve come across deer before while hiking, but generally they are gone in a flash and about all we can get a picture of is their white backsides bounding away from us. Deer booty as we call it. This one must have been very used to humans because she stood right next to the trail chomping on leaves and looking at us for several minutes. I still didn’t get a good picture, but Chet got a decent one.
The trail rises gently through the woods and along pretty Middle Creek for about 1.2 miles until you get to a trail intersection near the confluence of Mill Creek, Middle Creek, and Andy Creek. It is here that Jake Blevins and his son Elijah “Booger” Blevins had cabins in the early 1800s. The cabins are no longer here but the area still looks like it had once been cleared and there is a nice fire ring off to the side of the trail. Logs from these two cabins are at Charit Creek in the two field cabins. Chet and I stayed in the field cabin made from Jake’s Place logs. We waved “hello and thank you” to Jake, then turned left and took the trail to Slave Falls.
The trail to Slave Falls follows along Mill Creek for a ways before turning and winding up the hillside away from the creek. When we were there, there were several places where trees had come down across the trail requiring climbing over or ducking under big logs, but nothing that was too difficult to get by. We did meet a group of about 20 very nice mountain bikers on the trail; I’m sure they had lots of fun getting over those spots! They seemed pretty cheerful about it though. One spot on the trail had a pretty good drop off to one side – though really there was plenty of room and hardly any danger of slipping off the edge. Right about 1.5 miles from Jake’s Place, there is a spur trail off to right that takes you to Slave Falls.
According to local oral history, Slave Falls was named because the farmers in the region helped hide runaway slaves in the rock shelter behind the waterfall. It is a beautiful and peaceful spot and we spent a long time here taking pictures, soaking up sun, and eating our packed lunch.
After lunch, we retraced our steps as far as Jake’s Place then headed up the 2 miles to the Twin Arches. According to our GPS we’d hiked about 6 miles by this point, and the trail up to Twin Arches was pretty much just uphill for at least a mile. It wasn’t steep, but it was unrelenting.
We did see some fantastic sights along the way, though. After about 3/4 of a mile, the trail turned sharply right at a rock house or rock overhang. I almost walked right past it, but luckily Chet spotted this chimney feature up through the overhang and I got this lovely picture.
This part of the trail takes you past towering sandstone cliffs sculpted by erosion and weathering.
As impressive as these cliffs are, the real highlight is the Twin Arches. By some accounts these natural bridges are the largest in the eastern United States.
After taking in the North Arch, we continued on the trail to a set of steps. These lead steeply up to the top of the arches. You can walk around up there, but honestly the view is more impressive from below. We dutifully climbed the stairs and looked around up top anyway though.
The South Arch is even more impressive, with a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its deck is 103 feet high.
South Arch also has a fat man’s squeeze, which of course we had to explore.
From the Twin Arches, the trail back to the lodge is an easy 1.1 miles downhill, following Charit Creek itself back to the lodge.
When our girls were young and we’d take them hiking with us the deal was if we could identify 10 wildflowers we’d stop for ice cream on the way home. This worked wonders when hiking with sometimes grouchy kids in the heat of an Alabama summer. Now when it’s just the two of us hiking, we still challenge ourselves to identify as many plants as we can. We only sometimes stop for ice cream on the way home. I discovered on the next part of this trip that if we identify enough things, ice cream turns into pie and there’s a whole hierarchy of pies I had had no clue about! But that’s a story for another day. While June isn’t really the height of wildflower season, we did find quite a few things in bloom along the trail, including Two Flowered Cynthia, Large Houstonia, Black Snakeroot, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, Blue Eyed Grass, Spotted Wintergreen, Squaw Root, Rattlesnake Plantain, and Solomons Seal.
Finally, I tried something new to share with you folks. When we hike we’ve long been in the habit of clipping a GPS to the backpack and turning on the tracking feature. Then when we get home, we can download the track to the computer and using Garmin software lay it over terrain maps and really see where we were. Up until now these tracks have just sat on my computer, but I decided to try something new this time and publish my “Adventure” to the web. It’s my first published one, and I know I can do so much more with it, but if you want to see the GPS trail for this hike, check out this link.