Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Trips Don't Get Much Better

Snow Falls, Laurel Snow Pocket, Dayton, TN

We started our day on time, leaving the house at 8 a.m.  I had told my dog, LeiLui, for two days that she was grounded and not going.  As we were walking out the door, she gave me a pitiful look and I patted her head gently and explained that this was a longer hike and she wasn't fit enough to handle it.  I closed the door, walked to the car, and backed out of the driveway.  As I passed the front of my house, there Lui was; framed in the door with the most deseperate 'don't leave me!' look on her face.  I turned around in the next driveway and explained to Jess that I was taking Lui, even if it meant carrying her again.  Lui was so spastic when I came to the door (she knew she had won!) and she bolted to the car.  THEN, again, we were off.

Let me tell you a smidgen of history about where we went today.  When you pull into the trailhead at Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness, you are immediately immersed in history.  When you park the car, a quick scan around the parking lot and you'll notice the chunks of coal and pig iron.  Along the first mile of the trail you'll pass one of the abandoned coal mine shafts, dinky lines (smaller rail lines that hauled the coal carts), the old water main that ran from the Old Dayton Reservoir to downtown Dayton, and of course tons and tons of crafted rock with a lot of it still standing.  I've always said, one day I intend to just explore these areas and... if I'm feeling especially stupid, maybe take a look in that mine shaft.  (Author's note: only stupidity would pressure me into the mine shaft... it's no secret that old mines are notorious for cave-ins and toxic [not to mention, explosive!] methane gases).

So, where was I?  Oh yes, HIKING.  Shortly after passing the mine (and, as there was only 2 other cars at the trailhead, unleashing Lui), I saw a person in the distance.  As she turned, I saw a green patch on the arm of her earth-toned shirt.  It was a forest ranger and here I was, breaking the rules, by not having my Lui on a leash (I know, I'm a rebel).  I quickly leashed Lui and then we made our way to where the ranger was standing.  We had a brief discussion where she complimented Lui's looks and discussed our hike for the day.  Then, again, we were off.  (Yes, I waited till we were off the beaten path before un-tethering Lui).

After the trail splits (right for Laurel, left for Snow), we found that we had to cross the Richland Creek on three 50-foot long metal bridges that were anchored into massive boulders.   I can only imagine how hard those bridges were to get on location and then anchored in place!  Lui, who normally shy's away from these see-through bridges, trekked right on across like it was normal.  From there we followed the creek-line back awhile before an ascent up the mountain.  Nearing the apex of our climb, we passed huge rocks that had fallen as well as the amazing 'shelves' left behind.  Seeing the sheer rock faces that were left and the size of the rocks that had broken off, I couldn't help but marvel at how magnificent this mountain chain (all of the eastern mountain chains, really) must have been in eons past.  Maybe that's one of my draws to this region? For anyone who isn't versed in the geological history of this region (TN/KY/VA) of our continent, it's a very interesting tale full of turbulent destruction, impacts from outer space, and upheaval of young rocks.  I've heard it said that the Appalachian Mountains were once rivals to the Himalayas! That's like 30,000 feet high  -  but 300 million years knocked FOUR MILES off the top of the mountains.  (Author's note: you realize if these estimations are correct that Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is the tallest mountain it the HISTORY OF THE EARTH??)  I'm digressing again, aren't I?  Sorry.  HIKING:

As we reached the summit and traveled along it for awhile, I noticed a rock outcropping that afforded a great view of the adjacent mountain as well as a glimpse of the Tennessee River.  I had asked Jess to keep Lui on the trail while I ventured over in an effort to get a photo with the little "junky" camera we bought for hiking.  Of note, that camera hates me so no pictures that *I* took will be posted from it (my phone's are fine).  After attempting to get a photo of the view, my attention was drawn to the ground to my left where a relatively fresh snake skin (from a relatively large snake) was laying.  I hollered at Jess that I would bring it over and was certain it was a timber rattlesnake's skin.  We "ooh ahh'd" at the skin and then I placed it back on the ground (Leave No Trace!) and we ventured on.

LeiLui enjoying a rest overlooking
Snow Falls on Morgan's Creek.
Around 2 miles later we reached Morgan's Creek and Snow Falls.  The view of Snow Falls, while it can be seen during the hike it, is most easily enjoyed after crossing Morgan's creek and sitting atop the falls.  If the rainfall hasn't been too tough the creek crossing sounds harder than it is.  The outcrop is very rocky but the far side of the creek offers a view of the top of the falls as well as shade and very comfortable seating - hard to find in the wild!  Jess, Lui, and I sat here for a good 45 minutes and enjoyed a delicious lunch while contemplating where we would pitch our tents when we came back for an overnighter.  After our leisurely lunch, we packed up everything and were back on the trail headed home.

On the way back, I started thinking...

"What is the daily range of a timber rattlesnake?"

"It was overcast on the trip up, but now it's sunny... and that bluff sure did provide a good basking spot... something she'd like if she was pregnant."

"How old was that skin?  It was damp (coulda been rain?), pliant and still had great color... I'd bet it wasn't more than a few hours old at most unless it was damp from rain."


So, I kept my eyes peeled for the shed skin during our trek out.  We came upon it and I ran my above questions by Jess.  She said she didn't know about the daily range and that we should read up on it.  I asked her to get my camera and keep my dog on the trail while I 'took a quick look'.

I walked through the forest to the bluff.

I stepped up onto the outcropping and walked to the edge.

I looked in the sun-riddled spots... no snake.

I was just about to give up and turn around when I had a thought that I'd look where the skin had been shed.


There she was!  

Timber Rattlesnake photo'd by Nicotye
A gorgeous, fresh-scaled, 3-foot long and THICK timber rattlesnake coiled up and resting not 6 inches from where I had reached to grab an end of her skin.  Realizing that I was only about 12 inches above and behind her (and more than 2-3 hours from being off the trail and near medical facilities), I slowly stretched out my arm (after yelling a few cuss words in my excitement at finding her) and snapped a photo.  Finding the gorgeous timber rattler was enough to keep Jess and I engaged in excited babble almost the entire trip back (admittedly, we picked on Lui that bigfoot offspring [i.e. littlefeets] had a taste for canine and she needed to keep up).

Of note, we also saw a long, slender black rat snake basking in the sun about 3 miles later.

When we got back to the trailhead, the ranger we had encountered (Diane) on our trip in was still there.  We spoke to her about a spade-toed toad that she had to show us as well as a HUGE orange moth that was laying eggs in a jar she had for display.  Somehow her career was brought up and she told me she was a herpatologist by education and I went into my tale of the rattlesnake.  She commended me on leaving the shed skin behind,  complimented my phone's photo, and asked me if I was a biologist. I wish!  We spoke about a few other things and I really, REALLY enjoyed talking to her.  We said our goodbyes after I nabbed her email address (promising the photo of the timber rattler) then Jess and I had to hit the road.

After coming home, I admit, I told Funkdubie that I was leaving him for Diane the Forest Ranger.  (hahaha)

Wildlife seen: Timber rattlesnake, black rat snake, corn snake, a few dozen young frogs/toads.

Trail length: 10.36 miles round trip

Trail difficulty: 7.5 of 10

Great hike - now go outside and enjoy some nature!

Vertical profile shows the elevation gain at 1,284 feet.
At 4.7 miles, you have made it to Morgan's Creek.
At 5.18 miles, you have made it around the trail and over the creek
to Snow Falls.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome photos! Sounds like a great hike through beautiful country. Glad Lui was well enough to go. I want to go some time!