A hike to the source of Smith Creek - Tuesday, May 5
Unicoi State Park has a nice lake, created by damming Smith Creek. The dam is a high one and the spillway to the creek bed below the dam is a steep drop. We started our day by taking a walk out to the lake, a half mile hike from our campsite. The day was sunny and the cumulous clouds were snow white against the blue of the sky. More rain is predicted, but this morning the weather was perfect.
It’s late for azaleas, but the ones that are still blooming provide a vivid splash of color against the green of the woods. We saw ravens and squirrels enough to keep us busy with the camera, and a ‘lure eating bush’ provided the comic relief. There were no less than five fishing lures tangled in it’s branches. In the water around it we saw big trout, and we could imagine them laughing their fins off at the consternation of the fishermen.
Our next adventure was taking a hike up to see Anna Ruby Falls which is the source of Smith Creek. It’s a double falls, one for each of two creeks that come together here and form Smith Creek below the falls. The falls is not within the Unicoi Park boundaries, but is on Federal land above the park and higher on the mountain. It has it’s own entry gate, day fee and Visitor Center. We got in free with our Golden Age Geezer Pass.
The parking area below the Visitor Center is as close as you can drive to the falls, and from there it’s a half mile hike up to the falls. The trail wasn’t crowded, but there were a significant number of other people doing what we were doing. The trail up follows the creek so the hiker is treated to the sights and sounds of rushing white water all the way. A mountain stream flowing over rocks is one of the most compelling sounds in nature. Smith Creek is sometimes so loud it drowns out every other sound and hikers have to shout if they want to talk to each other.
Along the way the woods provided a lot of interest too. We saw a number of flowers we hadn’t seen before, and the trees growing out of the rocks are a never ending source of amazement. We finally reached the point where we could see the falls through the trees. It is an awe inspiring sight to be sure. The higher of the two falls on the left has a 153 foot drop and it is quite wide. It drops in two cascades before it meets the water from the lower falls on the right. That too is wide, and while it doesn’t have the volume of water of the larger falls there is a more delicate movement to it’s water.
The park service has built a nice new deck from which to view the falls, and the trail up and back is a good one. For the safety of the hiker and for the protection of the environment, signs ask the visitor to stay on the trail. As an added incentive for staying on the trail they warn of copperheads and rattlesnakes in the woods. Nevertheless there is always one dummy who has to ignore the signs. Unfortunately the copperheads and rattlers were all sleeping so he got away with it.
Below the Visitor Center there is also a short trail created especially for the blind. It has a cable they can follow, and signs in Braille to interpret the trees and features along the way.
We ended the day by spending a few hours at the Unicoi Park Lodge. It is an interesting three story building built so artistically into the terrain that you can enter any floor from the ground level. There is a dining room where they serve a buffet each evening. There is also a WiFi hot spot where we could update yesterdays journal adventure. The buffet featured mountain trout, and everything from the soup to the dessert was excellent. The price was excellent too - less than $25 for two people to enjoy all we could eat of some very good food.
We ended the evening watching American Idol on their big screen TV and then we drove back to our campsite and called it a night. A very nice day indeed.
Note: Anna Ruby sounds like the name of a Cabbage Patch doll, but the falls was named after the only daughter of a Confederate Officer who lived in the area. He and his daughter supposedly found the falls while out riding horses one day. We couldn’t imagine riding a horse in this terrain, but that is the story. It wouldn’t surprise us if several generations of Cabbage Patch dolls may have been named after Anna Ruby however.