Monday, February 22, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mingus Creek, Deeplow Gap, Thomas Divide Loop with a side trip down Cooper Creek

My time for hiking in the Smokies is running out. Back in January I accepted a job at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. Noelle, Sierra and I are very excited to be headed back to the Northland. However, I will definitely miss tromping around in my beloved Smokies. I do have a goal of hiking 500 miles before we leave and I am very close to meeting that goal. It does mean that I will have to head back to the national park at least 2 more times before we leave in early April.

Today's hike started at Mingus Mill
Mingus Mill
on the Mingus Creek Trail. Noelle, Sierra and I had visited the mill back in the end of January. At that time the path that led to the mill was snowy and icy. Today it was simply wet. We've gotten a lot of rain in East Tennessee the past few days! After checking out the mill and millrace,
millrace
I headed back to the parking lot where I found a faint path that led to an old slave cemetery.
slave cemetery
No fancy headstones here, just simple field stones mark the final resting places of several enslaved people.

After visiting the slave cemetery I set out on the Mingus Creek Trail. The trail began as a wide, gravel road that is still used by National Park Service personnel for administrative purposes.
trailhead
It very closely parallels Mingus Creek
creek
and leads to the gun range that is used by NPS law enforcement rangers.
gun range
Soon after passing the gun range, the trail splits. To the left is the official Mingus Creek Trail, while the trail to the right leads to an old cemetery.
cemetery sign
It was an .8 mile walk to the large cemetery. Like the nearby slave cemetery, many of the graves in this one are marked with simple field stones. One headstone has writing carved into it; the headstone of Polly Mathis.
Polly Mathis grave

From the cemetery I retraced my steps to the Mingus Creek Trail and continued on my way. I found an interesting piece of metal along the side of the trail, but I'm not sure what it was.
metal piece
Perhaps part of some type of machinery? When I reached the Deeplow Gap Trail,
1st junction
I opted to follow Deeplow Gap to complete the loop portion of my hike. Deeplow Gap Trail began with a descent, following Cooper Creek.
creek 2
The trail crossed the creek several times, sometimes on sketchy, old bridges.
sketchy bridge
While this time of the year does not offer a whole lot to look at when it comes to vegetation, there was some interesting fungi
fungi
and club moss to observe.
club moss
Eventually Deeplow Gap Trail turned into an old road and soon enough signs of former home sites sprang up, most evident in the form of crumbling chimneys.
1 chimney
2 chimneys

Soon after passing the chimneys I came to a junction with the Cooper Creek Trail.
back at Deeplow
The Cooper Creek Trail is only .5 mile long, and so I took a quick side trip. There are a few bridges on the trail, but in some places the trail is more like a creek.
trail
The other side of the creek is private property and a dilapidated log cabin is visible from the trail.
cabin outside park
I reached the park boundary
Cooper Creek trailhead
and then turned around and headed back to the Deeplow Gap Trail. I started an ascent on the Deeplow Gap Trail and soon found myself at the Little Creek Falls.
Little Creek Falls
With all the rain we've had recently, the falls were flowing pretty good. I admired the falls and then continued my ascent to the Thomas Divide Trail.
Thomas Divide junction

At Thomas Divide I turned right and continued to ascend. Earlier in the hike I had noticed how green many of the trees looked. Certainly it is too early for leaves to be budding out, so I was a bit perplexed. There must have been some high winds recently and the wind blew down some trees, branches and lots of old man's beard lichen.
old mans beard
The lichen looks really green right now, perhaps due to all the rain and warm temperatures we've recently had. It gave me the idea that perhaps the green on the trees is due to an abundance of lichens. I continued up to the ridge of Thomas Divide,
ridge top trail
passing a few trees marked with numbered, metal tags.
tree tag

Soon, I turned onto the Newton Bald Trail and followed it for a short.7 mile. Then I turned onto Mingus Creek Trail
Mingus Creek junction
to begin the return back to my car.
hiker Eric
I passed over a section of ground that was littered with chestnut hulls.
chestnut hull
It's unusual to find these in the United States as most of the chestnut trees have succumbed to blight. Slowly I switchbacked down, occasionally through rhododendron tunnels,
hiking in rhodo tunnel
back to the mill and my car.    

1 comment:

luksky said...

Congratulations on your new employment. I look forward to following your adventures in Minnesota.