The trip south along US 27 from Kentucky to Tennessee was very scenic with all the fall colors in the Boone National Forest. While the road did twist and turn through the hills of the Cumberland Plateau, it was no real challenge for the truck pulling our RV which took only about 1.5 hours. However, we were in for a big surprise as we approached the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area where we would be staying for the next week in the Bandy Creek Campground. US 27 goes right through Oneida, Tennessee where my Uncle Jerry lived for many years, at which point we turned onto TN 297. There were signs along the road for trucks to use a low gear as we approached the river, but we were not too concerned as at this point we were less than 5 miles from the campground. All of a sudden the highway began the descent into the gorge created by the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Not only was the descent very steep, but the two hair-pin turns took us by surprise. With a 35 foot RV behind us, we took up the entire road!! Thankfully, there was no one going the other way and we could take it slow and easy. I was hoping that the campground would be at the bottom of the gorge and was not looking forward to having to pull the RV back up. However, I did not need to worry about this, since it was still a mile to the campground once we crossed the river and began the long climb back out of the gorge. Once again it was a very steep road with the only real difference being there were 3 hairpin turns. Thankfully, we did not meet anyone coming down the other way, so we took up the entire road to make the turns and slowly climb our way back out. The truck did not seem to have any issue pulling the RV up the slope and it was more our own trepidation and inexperience. The entrance to the Bandy Creek Campground was right at the top of the bluff and we pulled into it in good shape, thank goodness. Our first order of business was to use their dump station, as we were not able to access the dump station at Fishing Creek campground. We found our reserved site with no problem and backed in the RV in one try. This is another Federal Campground, this time in a National Park, that I would highly recommend. All of the sites are very large, with nice asphalt pad and a gravel porch with picnic table and fire ring. Even the bathrooms were impressive, since they were fairly new, clean, and solar powered. I don’t know if the solar panels did more than heat the water for the showers, but the bathrooms were heated which was great since we had freezing temperatures over night during the later part of the week. After getting set up, we headed for a grocery store. Rather than going back to Oneida, we decided to check out the other direction to Jamestown, Tennessee (near the home town of Sergeant York) as a possible alternative than going back through the gorge when we left. While it would add an hour to our trip to go this way, we both decided it was worth the extra time!!
On Tuesday we were excited to check out what the National Park had to offer and since the Visitor Center was just across the road from the campground it was very convenient. We spent some time with park ranger learning about the many hiking trails in the area, as well as, a day long train excursion in the part of the park north in Kentucky. Suffice it to say this park is 125,000 acres extending from southeastern Kentucky to northeastern Tennessee with the primary purpose to preserve the natural ecosystem of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. After our experience the day before, I was surprised there were a number of easy hikes in the 2-4 mile range. We certainly had more than we would have time for while we were here. Due to the recent rains the park ranger recommended we explore Slave Falls, which was a 1.5 mile hiking trail that was supposed to be easy. It turned this was correct for this most part. We did have to wait about a half hour for a rain storm to pass over and hoped we would not get wet on the trail. The most difficult part was the spur that descended down off the bluff to get to the falls. Once dropping off the bluff the trail goes right along the rock overhang to the falls which plummet right over the bluff to drop about 30 feet. Even with the recent rains, there was not a lot of water going over the falls, but it was still a nice view and the trail was very scenic with the fall colors. After climbing back out to the main trail, I decided to continue another quarter mile to the Needle Arch while Kal took a break. I did not realize until later that this area has the highest concentration of natural bridges in the US. While Needle Arch is not supposed to be the most spectacular, it was still a good span of rock arching over the ground and it was neat being allowed to stand directly underneath the arch.
The weather was still nice on Wednesday, so we decided to explore a 3.7 mile hike that was just down the road a bit from the Visitor Center. The Oscar Blevins Loop Trail was another easy trail that meandered through the hardwood forests and old fields that sustained the Blevins family doing subsistence farming until they sold their property to the NPS in 1980. With the return of the forest, there are few signs that much of the area was farmed since the mid 1800s. This is an interpretive trail with numbered sign posts that correspond to a brochure that we got at the Visitor Center. While this added to the enjoyment of the hike, they really need to update their brochure. I suspect the brochure dates from the 1960s when the land was recovering from agriculture since the conditions have certainly changed. The “Pine Thicket” is no longer a white pine thicket since the trees are now 50+ years old with hemlocks growing underneath them. The “Old Growth Pine Forest” is now all oaks and hemlocks with scattered dead pine trees. Finally, the “Den Tree” along the trail has been dead and gone for years. The highlights of the trail are the Muleshoe Rock Shelter and the Oscar Blevins homestead. The Muleshoe Rock Shelter is an excellent example of the natural shelters created by the rocky overhangs and used by early settlers to corral their livestock. The homestead is still being used by the NPS for horses and contains the original 1800s cabin, as well as, the 1950s era home lived in by the Blevins until they sold the property. They only caution I would give is to be careful of the crossing mountain bike and horse trails. We made the mistake of turning onto the bike trail and after walking uphill for more than a quarter mile, realized we must have made a mistake. Without adding this half mile side-trip that was uphill one direction, this was a nice easy walk through the woods.
After the last two days hiking in the woods, we decided on Thursday to take a day off and relax in the campgrounds. I did get some work done on this blog, but accomplished very little else.
Friday was going to be our last good day as it was supposed to rain on Saturday and turn very cold. So we headed back through the gorge towards Oneida to the Angle Falls trails along the Big South Fork River. Since this 2 mile (one-way) trail followed the river, it was an easy trail. It is a popular trail, so it is wide and level with nice bridges over the tributary streams. Along this stretch the river is fairly calm with just a few Class II rapids and there are a lot of great views of the river and fall colors of the trees along the bluffs across the river. We were both surprised when we came to the falls, as it did not seem we had hiked two miles yet. Although they are named Angle Falls, they are really just a major Class IV rapid on the river. There is a nice overlook at the most impressive feature where you can watch the river shoot through the constricting rocks on both sides. The walk back was just as easy and we had plenty of time to head on into Oneida for lunch. On the way back we visited the overlook at the top of a bluff overlooking the river below. Unfortunately, the sun was in the wrong place to really appreciate the fall colors, but it was still a nice spot to appreciate the beauty of nature.
As expected it rained a good bit on Saturday and turned cold overnight. The temperatures dropped to below freezing so I had to unhook the water hose for the first time since last spring. Sunday stayed in the 30s and very low 40s with constant overcast. It even flurried a couple of times during the day, but it was so light you really had to look to see the tiny flakes. I suspect it was more sleet than snow, but it still excited Kal who loves to watch it snow. I love to watch it too, but not when I am living in an RV. I really do not want to deal with snow on the ground when we are traveling. If it wants to snow this winter while we are at Foley, Alabama for two months, then I would welcome it as well.