Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Virgin Falls hike

After a very stormy Friday and a cool, drizzly Saturday, Kenny and I were ready to do some hiking. I'd been wanting to go to Virgin Falls State Natural Area (80 miles west of here in White County) for a long time, it had been 8-1/2 years since we last hiked there. Even that much time could not erase the memories of how difficult the trail was, but due to the recent rains, I knew the falls would be very nice. It took it nearly 2 hours to drive down there, so we got on the trail at 11:00 a.m. I was glad I had printed directions to the trailhead from the state website because it was a bit tricky to find. This trail is an 8-mile loop that starts high and ends down in the bottom of the gorge next to the Caney Fork River. This is opposite of most of the trails in the Smokies, you start low and end up high (meaning you get to go back down when you are tired and your feet are beginning to hurt); at Virgin Falls you have to hike up steep, often muddy trails at the end of the trip.

The amazing thing about the 3 major waterfalls along that trail is that they all drop into a cave and disappear! Virgin Falls (above) comes out of Virgin Falls Cave (right) in the middle of a cliff and plunges 110 feet into another cave below to finally emerge into the nearby Caney Fork River. The light contrast made the shot of the water emerging from the cave very tricky.

The other two waterfalls are Big Laurel Falls (left) and Sheep Falls (right) that are seen from the trail on the way to Virgin Falls. It is possible to walk behind Big Laurel Falls due to the large cave it flows into. Sheep Falls can be seen from a distance as it tumbles from a cave in the cliffside and down into another cave below.

The beginning of the trail was devoid of wildflowers, I was starting to think it was going to be pretty dull. But as we descended into the gulf (as the "gorges" around here are called) we began to see a wonderful variety, including: many of the flowers I saw at Frozen Head on Sat., Fire Pink, Golden Round-leaf Ragwort, Dwarf Crested Iris, Bishop's Cap and even some Green Violets (in bud).

Fire Pink (left)
Bishop's Cap (right)

I will be adding a Virgin Falls gallery to my website soon, so check it for more photos!

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