Wild Women of Deep Creek – 6/3/12 – Noland Creek Trail Out-And-Back– 8.2 Miles
After another elaborate breakfast attempting to eat up all the remaining food (impossible), the Wild Women broke camp and headed out for a little hiking before returning back to normal lives. Looking for some new miles for Carol, she and I chose the portion of Noland Creek Trail going up to Springhouse Branch Trail at Campsite64, about 8 miles round trip.
From the parking area on Lakeview Drive (the Road to Nowhere) Noland Creek Trail goes underneath the road, a little hard to figure out at first, and my memory was blank on how I did this last time. We looked for a side trail, found one, but obviously not the right one – oh, well, a shortcut. On the way back we figured out the proper route.
Like most trails that originate from pavement, this one starts off as a wide gently climbing road bed, extending 10+ miles to the Noland Divide Trail. The Noland family and others lived in this valley, leaving behind non-native plants such as daylilies, daffodils and Spanish bayonet. We saw some shrub roses blooming beside the trail. At about two miles on the right is the old Decker homestead, easy to spot with its boxwood-lined walkway leading to a set of steps and a partial foundation.
This lower portion of Noland Creek Trail crosses Noland Creek several times on wide sturdy bridges, a clue that there is a cemetery somewhere that the Park service maintains access to. Yes, immediately after the third bridge on the left we saw a small rutted road and a “no horses” sign. Something to investigate on the return hike.
Beautiful Noland Creek
We passed a couple of male backpackers today, but more interestingly, we passed two groups of female backpackers, something I have not seen much of in my admittedly few years of hiking. Go ladies!
A nifty little book called “History Hikes of the Smokies” describes this hike in great detail: “…the land between bridges three and four is Solola Valley proper and was heavily settled,” including farms and a post office. Past the fourth bridge, Mill Creek spills into Noland Creek and we could see the remains of a power plant, a water wheel, a concrete base and a tall stone support. The book relates that this generated power for the 600-acre sheep pasture of an affluent property owner named Phillip Rust, who electrified a big fence to keep his sheep in and the bears out. Of course, few people in the valley had electricity at all.
Between the fourth and fifth bridges once stood the Mill school, “…also called the Rust school because most of the pupils were children of people who worked for Rust, so Rust paid for the teacher.” Also on the fifth bridge was a happy snake taking a sun bath.
Past the fifth bridge, Springhouse Branch Trail intersects with Noland Creek Trail at Campsite 64. The campsite is quite large, with stone picnic tables and hitching posts for horses and several separate campsites. Carol and I took our lunch break listening to the sound of rushing water.
So far we’d had a pleasant Sunday afternoon walk in the woods. On the return hike we turned to explore the track at the “no horses” sign. The tire tracks lasted nearly a quarter mile, then a faint footpath extended beyond, up and up and up…and steeply up another quarter mile to a very narrow finger ridge. As we slowly climbed I kept looking up to where the cemetery might be, guessing that it must be on the other side of the ridge in some flat spot. Well, it was at a flat spot – a very skinny flat spot on the very top of the ridge. We found a dozen graves, some very small, lined up side by side in a single line extending out on the narrow, sharp ridge, no markers other than rough stones. The “History Hikes” book tells that a descendant of the valley “…said the ridge was so narrow that they had to be careful while burying people so their feet did not stick out over the side of the hill.”
Every time I visit a cemetery in the Smokies I can’t help but pause to imagine what life was like there and how it must have felt to carry the remains of a loved one up that steep path to be laid to rest.
We backtracked down the faint, steep path to the beginning of the wider track and saw another faint path to the right leading to an impressive fieldstone chimney.
Scattered around the foundation ruins of the house were rusted metal bed frames, an old sink and metal scraps. “History Hikes” claims that the house here was used by patrolling park rangers until it mysteriously burned down in 1979.
Carol and I finished our hike and headed for the flatlands of Charlotte. I learned later that the other four Wild Women had done a loop hike beginning at the Tunnel, now one of their favorite places. Brave!
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir