Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Brush Creek Falls, WV

 There seems to be a few ways to get to Brush Creek Falls but the waterfall is located just off I-77 on Brush Creek Falls Rd in Princeton.  We were headed north on I-77 and took exit 14 to Spanishburg-Athens Rd.  Made a right and then the first left onto Eads Mills Rd.  In 3.4 miles you will turn right on Brush Creek Falls Rd.  Then it is about 2.2 miles to the parking area.  From there it is just a short walk to the nearly 30 foot high falls.

It seems every time I go to West Virginia somehow, someway I end up lost on a mountain.  Driving down a single dirt lane road with no signs of life or hope.  Where even the GPS voice just gives up and tells me, "you are lost, we have no idea where you are" and of course my phone has no signal either.  Then whenever I do pass a house, they always own a pack of mountain dogs.  Dogs that patiently wait in the yard just for that moment when I drive by.  And before you can even blink, like being shot out of a cannon, they charge.  Chasing and harassing my car just to get their kicks.  And on the slight chance I would see any human life, they just stare at me with big eyes and hanging jaws like I'm the first sign of life they've seen in years.

Well, not this time. This time was much different.  This time we stuck to the interstates and highways and civilization. And this time, for the first time, I wouldn't get lost at all.  This time we would be living it up at a resort just off the main road.

A resort so fancy it even had a phone hanging beside the toilet.  You know you are living the life when you have a toilet phone; you know you've arrived.  In fact, it now baffles me that anyone could live without one.  And after living as one of the elite, although briefly, I'm not sure how I can be expected to return to my life of mere peasantry. Though by the end of the week, as wonderful as it was, I would loathe that phone.  Every single time the kids used the toilet they had to mess with that damn phone.  Banging it, dropping it, pressing buttons, and probably calling God only knows who.  As much as I fussed or yelled about it, I couldn’t blame them though.  It was right there, begging them to mess with, calling to their idle hands.

This time the trip would be mostly laid back and as much I hated doing it, I let my kids do the stuff they wanted to do.  I really didn't plan out anything, which came as a shock to my wife.  So with the kids leading the way it was lots of pool time and playgrounds and then more pool time.  But we did get in one hike to Brush Creek Falls which was pretty close by.  Then on our last day we drove over to Lost World Caverns since the kids had never been to any caverns.

Brush Creek Falls is a quick 1/4 mile hike down an old road.  The trail begins just to the right of the shelter and picnic tables.  The trail takes you right up to the edge at the top of the falls and then continues a short distance further to the base.

The creek is nice and wide at the base and I liked how open the area was.  The creek is littered with rocks near the base of the falls, which the kids enjoyed hopping around on.  You can make your way right up to the falls if you choose or even carefully walk around the ledge up top.  I did see some videos online of people jumping off the top, but that idea always scares me.

While not very high, Brush Creek Falls is pretty wide.  It is also a very scenic waterfall which unfortunately is kind of hard to tell looking at my pictures.  I had a brutal time battling the sun and spray.  I knew my pictures would be bad, and they were bad; every single one I took.  Still, a very beautiful waterfall with a trail so short the kids didn't even have time to complain.





Big Walker Lookout 



On the drive up to West Virginia I began searching google for any interesting stops along our route.  I quickly came across one in Wytheville, Va.  Big Walker Lookout, a 100 foot climbable tower that showcases views of the mountains in all directions. Plus there is a large country store, ice cream, and some sitting areas.  It sounded interesting enough so we pulled in, paid the not too much but still not worth the price of admission fee and began our climb to the top.

The looks from the top of the tower were nice and beautiful.  The hike up was windy and scary.  And although the views were definitely worth the hike up, I would never do it again.  The tower looked old and broken.  It really felt like it could tumble over at any minute.  Plus the increasing wind and swaying of the tower as you headed to the top only added to my uneasiness.  In fact, by the time my kids made it to the top they were so frightened they immediately headed down.

Luckily we had our own guide dog leading us up the tower and assuring us it was all fine.  He led us almost the entire way to the top.  But, unfortunately he wasn't as helpful on the climb down. On the way down he began nipping at my 4 year old’s ankles.  Doing this with every step she took and she was freaked out.  Hearing this take place, as I was still taking pictures at the top, I raced down to meet them.  I called the dog to follow me as I climbed down the stairs ahead of everyone.  And lucky me, every step I took, that dog bit my calves.  Even knowing this was the dog's play bite, it still stung so I could see why my kid was so upset.  Plus it was annoying as hell.  In fact, the entire time on the property it seemed like this dog was always in our way.  I love dogs, I have a dog, but I wouldn't come back with that dog around.  Well, honestly I wouldn't come back anyways.


My archenemy for the day (well, a couple hours).

Heading up the tower:








View from the top:






We managed to stop at the nearby Grandview National Park in Beaver, WV.  Here are a couple pics from the main overlook:



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Little Bradley Falls, NC

Parking is near 5436 Holbert Cove Rd., Saluda, NC 28773.  It is just by the bridge that crosses Cove Creek.  The big parking area is for the Bradley Falls trails and the smaller parking area just across the street is the Little Bradley trail. The trail is around 2 miles round trip to the almost 50 foot tall falls.

Starting out on the hike you immediately come to the first fork.  Take the left trail away from the creek and in about 3 minutes you will come to the second and last fork.  This time take the trail heading down to the right.  The trees were marked with red blazes and simple to follow.

The hike was very easy but on a not so well maintained trail.  I do remember scrambling over some rocks in a few spots and some nice scenery on Bradley Creek but overall the trail seemed mostly uneventful.  However, it is quick and leads to a beautiful (and very popular) waterfall.

Now getting to the picture above.  The first thing you probably noticed in the picture is the wonderful rope dangling beside the falls.  I can usually find something to complain about in anything I do, and this rope soon became my main frustration of the day.

Racing thru the woods I was determined to get to the falls before the sun.  As soon the sun would be high above in the cloudless sky, beaming down on to the waterfall below, ruining my mood and my pictures.  So I quickly made my way to the base of the falls and to my relief the sun was still tucked behind the trees high above.  Plus as a bonus we were the only ones around.

I quickly set up my camera and tripod.  Messed with the settings.  Went to snap the first pick and that is when it happened.  A rope flung down from high above, hanging there front and center, taunting my every move and every picture.  Next the climbing expedition began.  One after another people kept coming and coming as they rappelled down the rope.

First came one of the instructors  flipping, turning, sliding and posing his way down the rope like an exotic dancer working the pole.  It kind of felt like he was showing off, either way it was a enough for me to decide I hated the guy. Next came the girls, One by one they laughed and screamed as they awkwardly slid down the rope.  I figured it would end soon, but the women just kept coming and coming down the rope.  One after another they kept magically appearing from the trees above as they made there way down to the rope  Finally it did end as the other instructor made his way down for the grand finale.  Unfortunately, by now the very sun I had quickly raced to the falls, beamed down all over the falls casting shadows everywhere.  Then to top it off many more people had arrived and begun to climb up, over, and all around the falls.

As I waited a woman approached.  "That's my husband," she proclaimed as she pointed to the man frolicking in the falls.  I glanced at him and half nodded.  "Did you get any good pictures of him?" she asked.  Ah, good pictures of him, I thought.  Good pictures of him, the man I have been yelling at and cursing at in my head for thirty minutes. Pleading and begging him to move out of my way, asking him to leave, yelling at him to go away.  Asking him for one picture without his large, wearing a way too small water-shirt, belly splashing around in the background. Negotiating with him in my head.  Just move for 2 minutes.  No, 1 minute.  No, just one picture.  Just give me one measly picture. That's all I am asking.   Move, please just move.  Move!  That guy?  "Maybe," I said.  "He's so silly," she remarked as she turned and headed away.

At this point it was pretty much a wrap anyways.  The sun was too much of a battle and the place was packed with people now.  So when I did start taking pictures they were pretty bad.  Which is why, unfortunately, I have a picture at the top of the page with a rope hanging down the middle of it.

After we got back to the car, we decided to hike to the Bradley Falls overlook and then call it a day. The last time I was here I hiked to the bottom of Bradley Falls with my brothers but didn't have time to do Little Bradley. So I was happy to get back and see Little Bradley Falls.  Pictures aside, it did not disappoint.  The trail was short and easy but enjoyable (minus the people).  The three tiered waterfall waiting at the end was beautiful and well worth the trip. Plus the fact that another great waterfall trail is just across the street makes it even better.


Spider on the trail

Visiting Asheville for a few days and not wanting to spend a lot of time driving around is why I settled on Little Bradley Falls.  It was about 40 minutes from our hotel, and despite a few of my frustrations brought on by others it was a great choice.  During our remaining time in Asheville, searching for another close hike to squeeze in, I came across Lookout Mountain in Montreat, NC.  So the next morning we had breakfast then headed over to Montreat.


Lookout Mountain:




















The climb up felt long and treacherous.  It was a little over a half mile to the top with a very significant incline that wore me out. I kept telling myself I was just tired from hiking 6 hours yesterday and swimming that night. Finally, after huffing and puffing my way up and up I could see the top. The next thing I could see was a 3 year old running around and laughing followed by a pregnant woman strolling down the mountain.  My excuses were now no longer reassuring. That was the worst sight to see as I leaned over, struggling to catch my breath, hoping not to keel over. Now it was officially confirmed, I was out of shape.

The views from the top were pretty good.  Any view from the top of a mountain will be wonderful but I cant remember anything special or memorable.  All I can really remember is just how exhausted I was.  But in shape or not I don't think I would hike this trail again.

Lastly, while in Asheville we had time to stop by and check out Sierra Nevada.  I hadn't been back since it opened so I was excited to see it.  We did the tour, walked around a little after, then sat outside and sipped on a Barrel-Aged Bigfoot. A really big and neat place and as always a fun trip to Asheville.




Thursday, March 26, 2015

Blackwater Falls State Park, WV

Blackwater Falls State Park is located in the northeaster part of the state near Davis, WV.  The address is 1584 Blackwater Lodge Rd, Davis, WV 26260.  A short hike takes you down near the base.  The falls is around 60 feet tall.

Blackwater Falls State Park is the home of West Virginia's most famous waterfall, which is of course Blackwater Falls.  Growing up in North Carolina while having lots of family in Ohio, I took many rides through West Virginia. This waterfall has always been etched in my mind.  I still remember all the Blackwater Falls postcards and pictures in the little gift shop areas at every rest stop.  So after many years of bathroom breaks these pictures had built up a wonderful image my head.  I was beyond excited to finally see it in person.

First off the drive there took forever.  We went through dirt roads and gravel roads and up and down mountains. Came to dead ends and roads that somehow didn't even exist.  It shouldn't have been this difficult as I was following my parents.  But for some reason every time my GPS said go right, they went left. Whenever it said turn left, they went right.  It became comical as they were also following their own GPS.  Eventually though it did lead us to the park, just much later and darker than expected.  While Blackwater Falls would have to wait till tomorrow at this point I was just happy to finally be there.

The next day we drove over to the falls and parked at the west side trail next to the trading post.  There is also another trail, The Gentle Trail, that comes in from the east side..  The western side is the way to go, as a fairly short trail and some steps take you down to the two viewing platforms close the falls. The Gentle Trail offers a view high above that was less impressive and probably could be skipped.  That day I couldn't actually get as close as intended since the lowest viewing platform was closed due to ice. Nevertheless, I still had the great view in the picture above.





Later that day we took the kids on a short hike to Lindy Point.  It was just under a mile round trip and pretty level, so I figured the kids wouldn't whine too much.  The trail was easy but very muddy from recent snow that had melted. Once reaching the end of the trail we arrived at a viewing platform that offered a spectacular look into Blackwater Canyon.  A spectacular and very windy view.  It was crazy how windy it was.  It felt like it was going to knock you over.  So while the kids were still too young to appreciate the great view, they did love the wind.  I hated the wind, but the loved the gorgeous view.


Lindy Point




Elakala Falls:



Early the next morning my parents agreed to watch the kids so my wife and I could try to do a quick hike to Elakala Falls.  Elakala Falls is the first of a series of four waterfalls on Shays Run that empties into the Blackwater River. The trail is just to the left of the lodge and takes you to a small footbridge over the first waterfall. After that the trail winds away from the creek with no official way down to the next three falls.  It is pretty much a very steep bushwack downstream with each section of falls around 0.1 miles from the previous.

Well my hike already began on a bad note.  After a quick drive to the lodge and a nice stroll to the first waterfall, I set up my tripod and waited for the clouds to cover the sun that was staring me in the face.  Then as soon as I went to snap my first pic up popped a message on the camera: no memory.  I foolishly had taken out the memory card last night and left it in my laptop.  I had already started the hike much later than I had planned and now I had to go back to the cabin.  So I packed up, drove back to the cabin, grabbed the memory card and headed back to the trail.  

After a quick walk to the first falls again and a few photos that turned out very badly , I began the climb down to the second falls.  Each section got harder and steeper.  The biggest problem was finding a way down.  Everywhere I looked there was a fallen tree, and if there wasn't a tree there was a sheet of ice.  The entire hike was spent climbing through trees and carefully shuffling over icy, slick rocks. Everything I read had warned me that this hike was difficult as you bushwhacked down the steep creek.  But I think without the ice it would have been pretty manageable.

Arriving at the second falls it was the least impressive of the four.  It was impossible to find a good and safe angle to shoot from so I took a few pictures and began trying to plan a path down to the third falls.  At this point the hike was becoming much steeper and more difficult to find a way down.  You pretty much had to pick any spot you saw without ice and try to head that way.

When I reached the third waterfall I was right on top of it.  Way too close to get any kind of decent pictures and with the fallen trees and ice everywhere, very limited on my options.  I snapped a few pictures and continued my climb down.  Hopefully, I would have better luck with the fourth falls. It looked to be the most impressive and the one I was most excited to see.

So I climbed and scrambled my way down the least covered path I could see.  Looking for any available ground, maneuvering through the trees and over the ice.  As I approached an edge, I peered over.  There it was.  The jump. The jump that would change my entire life.  The jump that would change the world.  The jump that never was. Actually it was probably just a three foot jump that you wouldn't even think twice about making.  But today you would.  The small area of rock was completely covered in ice and surrounded by ledges on three sides.  A steep ledge that dropped down very far and a fall certainly meant death.

Jumping down to that rock any other day, no problem.  It looked liked such an easy and quick jump down.  But, I just wasn't sure what would happen when I landed on that ice.  However, I did know what would happen if I landed and slid over the edge.  So I debated it, and tried to convince myself because I really wanted to see that last waterfall. Maybe if I was alone, but my wife wasn't going to let me try it anyways.

At that point I knew today was a bust.  I really could not find any other way down.  I tried to swing out in all directions and make my way down.  I tried to find any other way but it was a brutal bushwhack and just kept leading nowhere. Reluctantly,  I accepted my fate and turned around and headed back.

Back at the car and now lunch time, today had not started off very well.  I was really looking forward to this hike but it felt very unsuccessful and unsatisfying. And from a picture stand point, the same.  I couldn't get one shot I actually liked at the first falls and on the second and third I had trouble getting any good angles.  Plus all the ice had knocked down so many trees that they littered the bases of the falls. After seeing so many beautiful pictures of Elakala Falls, it was disappointing thinking of what would become of mine.  The whole morning sucked; forgetting my memory card, ice and fallen trees everywhere, bad pictures, and not even making it to the last waterfall.  Another day it may have been an awesome time and great experience.  If I ever get back I will have to try again.

Third Falls on Shays Run


Some pics to show just how enjoyable the hike down really was:


 











Although Elakala Falls didn't turn out as I hoped or expected, I had a great first visit to Blackwater Falls State Park. Two days of 60 degree weather (though it was snowing the morning we left) spent venturing around this beautiful, uncrowded park.  See the 54 room lodge and restaurant were closed for renovations leaving only the cabins and campgrounds open.  The place was a ghost town and it was great.  We even had the indoor pool to ourselves every night.  This all made me feel very lucky because you could tell this place can and will be jammed packed with people very soon as they seemed to offer countless outdoor activities.

Our visit was unfortunately brief, but very beautiful.  Lindy Point offered an amazing view of the canyon and Blackwater Falls was magnificent and powerful.  It even lived up to all the hype the many beautiful photos helped create in my mind.  I have really enjoyed the state parks and beautiful scenery all around West Virginia.  In fact, on the drive home we passed a really neat looking place I hope to one day visit called Seneca Rocks.

 


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cucumber Falls, PA

Ohiopyle State Park is about an hour and a half southeast of Pittsburgh.  Head south on PA-381 as it runs through the park and becomes Main St.  Turn right on Ohiopyle Rd. and the parking area is just ahead on the right.  There were plenty of signs up and maps are available at the visitor center. Cucumber falls is around 30 feet tall. 

The great thing about Cucumber Falls is the perfect photogenic plunge.  Water perfectly falling straight down as is rushes off the cliff's edge.  Plus you can walk behind it, which is what excited my kids.  They wouldn't shut up about it for the entire car ride.  They could hardly control themselves as they were overtaken by anticipation and joy.  A joy that upon arriving quickly turned to disappointment and heartbreak.  Their dreams yet again crushed by my lies, as there was too much ice and slippery rocks near the falls to safely walk behind it.  Actually they didn't really care and within a few seconds had moved on to throwing rocks in the water.  I was a little disappointed though, but the beautiful view more than made up for it.

Cucumber Falls is located in Ohiopyle State Park in Ohiopyle, PA.  The falls can be viewed with a short walk from the parking area and a short trail takes you down to the base.  Riding around  I could tell that the park was huge, it's around 19,000 acres, and very nice looking from what I briefly saw. We only had time to see Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle Falls and some of the Youghiogheny River as this was just a quick detour on the way to Blackwater Falls State Park.  Ohiopyle Falls, while not high at all, was very wide and powerful.  It is a nice sight on a beautiful river but not worth going out of your way to see.

It does seem that the park has some other really neat things to see and do.   Near Cucumber falls I noticed a sign for natural water slides which peaked my interest.  Checking out the pics and videos online, it looks awesome and very fun.  Then there is Fallingwater.  A house built on top of a waterfall, open for tours everyday except Wednesday. Of course I could do neither as the water is still too cold in March and yes, today just happened to be Wednesday. Also you will find many trails here along with a few more waterfalls and the park is suppose to be a big spot for whitewater rafting.

It would have been nice to have a little more time here to explore a few more trails and waterfalls. And I cant tell you enough how much fun the water slides look.  I would love to take my kids on them when they are a little older, but it's hard to imagine if or when I will ever be back in the area.  The park was worth the quick stop just to check out Cucumber Falls and have a fast, late lunch by the river.  Then it was back on the road as we headed to our cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.





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Ohiopyle Falls






Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cathedral Falls, WV

Cathedral Falls is located around three miles southeast of the town Gauley Bridge and 15 miles northwest of Fayetteville, alongside US Rt 60/Hwy 16.  The falls is around 60 feet tall and visible roadside.

Cathedral Falls flows down a series of ledges dropping 60 ft into a small natural amphitheater.  Considered by many as West Virginia's most scenic waterfall it's also one of the most accessible as it sits alongside the winding US 60. For a good view of the falls you need only slow down as you drive by.  Or like many people I saw, just pull in the small parking lot, have a quick look through the windshield, then drive away.  But for the best view just cross the small footbridge over the creek and take the very short path up to the base.   

Just by searching through Google images of Cathedral Falls you will see many of those perfect waterfall shots everyone tries to create.  Cathedral Falls has that great shape and series of drops along with a nice flow that makes it very ideal for pictures.  Seeing so many beautiful photos, had left me really wanting to visit the falls one day; hoping for a chance to make my own great shot.  So after we decided to finally make it back up to Ohio to see family, swinging by Cathedral Falls immediately crossed my mind.

On our way to Ohio we had decided to stop and spend the night, breaking the 9 hour drive in half.  Well, suppose to be 9 hours.  Our kids have a wonderful way of turning any drive into something much longer and annoying.  Luckily, halfway to Ohio happened to be pretty close to Cathedral Falls and we spent the night in the nearby town of Fayetteville, WV.

Visiting Fayetteville turned out to be a good time but way too short.  After all,  it's the coolest small town.  At least that is what their road sign told me.  We were able to squeeze in a trip to Canyon Rim Visitor Center to see the New River Gorge Bridge, Cathedral Falls, and a short stop at Hawk's Nest State Park all in one afternoon.  Lastly, we stopped at Pies and Pints for dinner.  The pizza was very good and their kid's menu ham sandwich was the most amazing kid's sandwich I had ever seen.  Great bread, real ham, and a beautiful presentation.  Jokes aside it was too fancy for my kids and when they brought it out I knew I would be eating it because my kids mostly want to eat crap (not literally).  After dinner and a beer it was off to the motel and on to Ohio in the morning.  There were a few things nearby I would have really liked to do with more time and no kids.  The Endless Wall trail looked very interesting as you get to climb ladders down through caves and hiking through the gorge and some of the old mining towns would have been fun.

But back to my photo.  Well, I tried to get a great shot.  However, being the genius that I am, I left the quick release plate for my tripod at the motel.  Not being able to attach my camera and tripod,  I tried my best to steady the camera. Unfortunately most of my pics came out blurry.  A few came out okay but I didn't really get that great shot I was hoping for.  Either way it was still a great day, minus the car rides, and Cathedral Falls was a beautiful sight.






New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge

View from Hawk's Nest State Park





Sunday, January 18, 2015

Laurel Falls, TN (Hampton)

Heading from Boone take Hwy 321 N all the way to the trailhead.  Parking and the sign for the falls will be next to the highway on the left just before you get into the town of Hampton.  The hike is around 5 miles round trip.  Laurel Falls is around 40-50 feet tall.

When hiking Laurel Falls their are two trail options to choose from.  The Dennis Cove Rd. trailhead, which starts above the falls and is much shorter or the trailhead just off of Hwy 321 below the falls. While longer, this second option is less steep and a much easier drive.  Coming from Boone the second option was the easy choice as Hwy 321 is basically a straight shot from Boone to Hampton. Plus, having driven on many rough, unpaved, and sometimes scary back roads on my quests for waterfalls, I will happily take a nice paved highway the entire way.

Once parked the blue blazed trail begins along the Laurel Fork Creek as you make your way upstream. Small cascades and large rocks line the creek, creating a very scenic and pleasant hike. Bridges constructed at each creek crossing only added to this pleasantness, as last year this time I was trekking barefoot through another icy creek.  I shiver now just thinking about that day, so these bridges were a welcomed sight.  Continuing around the creek the trail remains pretty easy and level eventually merging together with the Appalachian Trail at the bottom of the ridge.  

Now hiking on the Appalachian Trail we began heading up the ridge.  The trail becomes very narrow and rocky as you climb higher.  Staring straight ahead you see the beautiful mountain covered horizon along with the rushing creek winding through the gorge below.  You know, it's one of those nature's beauty or it doesn't get any better than this views.  But seriously, it is a pretty nice picture. Just make sure you watch where you are walking, as a fall from here would be very bad news.  This is definitely my favorite part of the hike, beautiful views and I guess that thrill of knowing one wrong step could plummet me to my death.  Here is a few shots of the trail up on the ridge:



 




Continuing up the ridge a little ways will bring you to the fork.  Straight ahead the trail continues on to Dennis Cove Rd. and to the right is the trail to the falls (with a sign and arrow).  Heading off to the right the trail steepens as it begins its descent into the gorge.  Just before reaching the water the trail turns completely to rocks as you climb your way down to the creek. At the creek is a very nice and large rock wall that you have to make your way around. Up the trail a little further you begin to hear the roar of Laurel Creek Falls and then spot the powerful falling water through the trees.




Anytime you can walk along a rushing and cascading lively creek followed by hiking a ridge high above a vast scenic gorge, I believe it's a good day.  That's what makes this hike so enjoyable. Two and a half miles of great scenery and of course the large beautiful waterfall rewarding your efforts at the end.








Pics from the trail: