Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cosby Stills, Mash and Rum...Camping In Cosby, Tennessee

Our Memorial Day Weekend camping trip to Cosby, TN is in the books and I have to give it a 4 out of 5 star rating. Cosby is the self-proclaimed "Moonshine Capital of the World" and tales of Deliverance-style encounters with local moonshiners float about the area. Perhaps this is why on the busiest early Summer weekend in the busiest Natonal Park, one can still get a choice campsite at the Cosby park entrance for $14.00 a day. The road in is 2 miles long and is a gorgeous feast of tall, overhanging trees and fast creeks and streams.

Roadside Stream

I did not want to take any chances, so I drove up on Thursday afternoon to secure a site for our trip, meeting up with my wife on Saturday. She would drive the four hours from Nashville, stay at her Mom's and find me in the park on Saturday morning.


I had no problems finding the place, just take TN 32 off I-40 and keep going until you reach the Park entrance. I drove past the self-registering hut, as per directions, and found the secluded, yet accessible site A-18. It seemed to be ideal, though I was a bit skeptical about the apparent ability of run-off water from the higher sites to find A-18 as the perfect conduit to the valley floor. I decided it was too gorgeous of a view to pass up, so I pitched the tent and lit a fire.

Camp Site A-18

Sure looks nice in photos, doesn't it? Well, it got darker and darker and I got sleepy, so I hit the sleeping bag at about 10:00p.m. I listened to the rush of the nearby stream, the wind in the treetops, the soft murmur of the neighboring campers...and at 2:30 a.m. the roar and crack of the first of a thousand thunderstorms that splashed on by. Now, I like to read books on a variety of subjects, especially those subjects I need to take a crash course in, in order to not look like an idiot. There are several backpacking and hiking books on my shelves, and I'm pretty sure all of them warn you to "seal your seams". One in particular says to "seal your seams...then seal them again". I did not seal my seams.

The Sealing of the Seams is a ritual performed by those who do not want the rain fly of their tent to become so saturated with endless buckets of raindrops that the seams begin to drip onto their actual tent, which - being a good tent - is designed to "breathe" and allow the moisture of the humans inside to permeate the fabric, sending the humidity to the outside. Unfortunately, if you do not seal your seams, and you - being a good human - are also designed to breathe, you will find it difficult to do so while soaking wet.

After 3 hours of rain, it let up at 5:30 a.m. I poked my head out and saw that by the grace of Euell Gibbons, I had pitched the tent on the only dry spot in the site. I was surrounded by pooled water and dripping trees. I left the sponge tent and fumed in the car. After an hour of intermittent fuming and napping, I grabbed the tent by the top and moved it across the road to the fabulous Camp Site A-19 (..that's 'Retha Franklin...).

Camp Site A-19

I took the soggy bottom tent apart and hung it out to dry on an improvised clothesline that all the books said I should bring. At least I remembered that much. While I was doing this, two wild turkeys came by the old site, (obviously hearing through the grapevine that a large human was impersonating them) and these two were no doubt the poultry union advance team for identifying possible illegal mimicry. After determining that the Turkey in the Squall was a one-night only performance, they went back to being the National Bird That Lost Out to The Bald Eagle, the target of eponymous "shoots" and the main ingredient in a nice club sandwich. See ya.

Wild Turkeys

It then occured to me that if all you have is a high-tech pup tent, and there are two of you, and you are planning to spend several days at the campsite, you'll probably need a place to hang out in, preferably out of the elements and flight paths of bugs. The nearby Wal-Mart in Newport (15 miles) had the Made in China answer, a nice, easy to erect screen house for $35.00. (Of course in China, this would be a "summer home", I suppose).

Home Base

I followed the directions (hooray, a book!), casting my pride aside, and had the thing up in about ten minutes. I used it to enclose the permanent picnic table on the camp site, and I had my living room/kitchen to add to the the small, drier-outer bedroom.

Dry Land

Since this is Bear Habitat, your car is your pantry. Anything that smells - food, deodorant, toothpaste, old socks - all must be locked in your car lest it tempt Yogi to take a bite. No big deal, the perishable consumables were all in the New Cooler, the Dry Goods were in the Every Damn Thing Bin (#1), and the Utensils and Ammenities were in the Every Other Damn Thing Bin (#2).

Food For Thought

I slept soundly that night and was excited to see my wife in the morning so we could begin spending some time together, which was the whole reason for this trip. She showed up at 11:30 the next morning, which meant that I was drinking coffee from a Coleman blue enamel percolator and keeping a welcoming campfire going for about - oh, five hours or so. I guess we go our signals crossed on what time we were planning for her arrival. Minor tensions arose and were talked about and handled.

In keeping with her interpretation of the "getting away from it all" theme, she had agreed to go out to dinner that evening at a nearby restaurant with her Mom, Aunt and Uncle. That left little time to do any hiking, so we decided to have it be another "rest" day. Dinner was excellent and affordable. Carver's Apple House Restaurant is worth the trip if you are ever in the area. More food than you can eat, and more food derived from apples than you can imagine.

That night after dinner, the kinfolk visited us at the camp site and we sat around and talked and toasted/burnt marshmellows for desert. The weather was perfect, and no bugs were around, though it was pointed out to me that a substantial Poison Oak patch was located behind our fire pit.

We went to bed at around 10:00. The tent, which seemed so small with just me in it during the flood seemed even smaller with both of us in it. To be fair, it is designed for backpacking, which means comfort was displaced in favor of lightweight, durability and a high retail price. Apparently I was able to nod off long enough to snore, which made it impossible for Donna to sleep. To paraphrase my late Grandfather Glen "Red" Spaulding: "Many campsites overlooked the beautiful landscape. Mine overlooked a comfortable bed".

At around midnight, she gave up on trying to drown out my nocturnal noises and got up to sleep in her car, which woke me up out of a sound snore. Momentarily disoriented, I grasped that she was leaving when I saw her duck out of the tent, and soon after I heard a loud, snuffling, snarling, slurping sound coming from the camp site behind us, about twenty five yards a way. It sounded exactly like what I expected bears to sound like when they are methodically hitting campsite after campsite in search of delectables.

I kept peering out of the tent window to see if the hapless campers inside the next tent could hear the bears trashing their food stash and grabbed my flashlight and Case knife, at the ready to join the ad hoc anti-bear milita I was sure was about to form - although I was not overly excited about being the Paul Revere of the movement.

Eventually, the snuffle/snarl/slurp became clearer to me. Very rhythmic and devoid of the sound of ripping nylon, clattering aluminum and cracking wood one would expect from a bear assault. Yes, it sounded more and more human and less animalistic. Good God, that was somebody snoring. Loudly. Very loudly.

Still not entirely convinced a bear was not in camp and that a human could make those noises and not end up in divorce court... or in Ripley's, I headed out to the Explorer to sleep. So, the second night of our back to nature trip together was spent in our autos - her in the backseat of a Toyota, me in the passenger seat of a Ford.

Daylight brought it all back to focus. Yes, someone with superhyper apnea had been making those noises. We decided not to stay another night, and made our final day count by going on the hike we intended.

The Hen Wallow Falls Trail begins right up the hill from our camp site. As soon as you step onto it, you are in the middle of a beautiful forest of newer timber and old-growth trees.


There are several stream crossings, most with bridges like this one:

Moss Covered Bridge

The streams are all similar to this one, near the trail head:

Mossy Creek

The trail goes uphill most of the way to the Falls, and is typically through brush and trees, with little rock formations to be seen.

On The Trail

We saw some wildlife on the way. We missed seeing a bear cub (and no doubt it's mother) by about an hour. We did see this fine specimen, however:

Black Snake

The trail is full of snake holes. We saw a lot of them as we were walking up, and on the way back, there was a black snake entering it's hole with about half of it's body still on the trail.

Closer to the falls, the trail hugs the mountain a little closer and the terrain changes to more of this:


The Falls are 60 feet high and were in full force after the rain that I had experienced on Thursday.

Hen Wallow Falls

A Short Video of Hen Wallow Falls


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