Saturday, November 26, 2011

Natural Bridge At Sewanee

Yesterday was Black Friday. 
Yesterday my Mountain Boy had a doctor's appointment in McMinnville that promised to take up a good part of the afternoon.
Yesterday was a very warm and sunny day, and a day with an outrageously blue sky.
Rain, possible snow flurries and cold were in the forecast beginning Sunday..............

Having no desire to stand in long and angry lines fighting for cheap waffle irons and towels on Black Friday, I woke up yesterday morning, went to the REI store online and reluctantly began my Christmas shopping.
LC had to head to McMinnville for routine physicals.  
I looked at him after closing the lid to my laptop and decided that staying away from stores and towns and general civilization on what promised to be an extraordinarily lovely day was the way to go.
I was headed up on the mountain.
The University of the South was up there.
So were multiple trails.  Some streams.  Beautiful small communities that would soon (if they had not already) be decorating for the holiday season.
I was not really certain exactly where I was headed when I grabbed my keys and walked out the door to my truck but told LC that I would call him when I got there.
In truth I have seen very little of the beautiful area that makes up the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
In the past I have walked and ridden on a few trails.  Visited the university campus.  Shopped at the outdoor store and eaten in a couple of restaurants.
Ridden up the back side of the mountain and then through the campus during annual century bike rides (with a long downhill as reward for the tough climb as we headed down towards Cowan and beyond).
Had my bike repaired.  Been to the flea market. 
I even took a training session up there to learn how to ascend and remember that it was close to the campus but would have to search out the specific area now.
But those occasions have taken place with many months in between each visit, and I know from reading and from talking with others that there is so much more up on the mountain that I have not seen.
The two constants - regardless of the reason for my past visits and regardless of the time of year, are that the area is always outstandingly beautiful and always feels like a completely different world.
As I left Tullahoma and passed through Estill Springs, then Decherd, then Winchester, then Cowan I was happy to be outside.
Happy to be moving away from civilization.
Happy to be alone and alone on a supremely beautiful day.
Winchester is now beautifully decorated for the holidays and Cowan has a wonderful small railroad-related museum as well as lovely buildings and displays next to the railway line that travels directly through the center of town.
Reasons to stop and visit these places soon.
As I began the climb up the mountain and up the winding highway away from traffic and frantic shoppers the terrain became steeper, more filled with woods, more isolated, more untamed.
I still had no idea where I was headed and as I crested the top of the climb made the instant decision to head for the Natural Bridge first and then go from there.
I turned right onto Hwy 56 pleased about finally having made a decision and drove only a couple of miles before seeing the sign for the Natural Bridge.
A link with a brief description of the area:
I had only been to the bridge once before, had stayed for only a very short while and remembered very little about the visit.
In the mood to walk I was hoping that there was a trail to follow.  In the mood to take pictures I was hoping that there would be opportunities beyond the one focal point of the bridge.
The road leading to the parking area and the bridge..............
This natural bridge and area is very small.
At only three acres (which I did not know until I looked it up online after returning home) the area includes a wooden set of stairs leading to a series of wood and gravel walkways, that leads you quickly down to the bridge.
Beyond the bridge is a short trail that parallels a hugely interesting series of rock faces on one side and a steep and tree filled drop off on the other.
I eagerly wandered down the steps, pleased to be up on the mountain and pleased with my decision to stop here.
Good choice Karin..............
The top of the bridge - a long and fairly narrow walkway.............
Still standing on the bridge looking back the way I had come...........
I stood on the bridge for a few minutes taking in everything around me.
One of the things I kept replaying in my mind while still in Wyoming and after LC and I had made the decision to move back to Tennessee, was how much I loved having only 500,000 people in Wyoming and how much I hated the thought of coming back to a small state of almost 6 million.
My heart sinks even thinking about it, in truth even now.
But there are places in Tennessee - sanctuaries - where it is easier to reconcile that ridiculously large number of humans with the space and quiet I crave so much.
The base is one of those places.
This is also one of those places.
Standing on the bridge there was only complete silence.
No wind.  Vehicles in the parking lot but I had already run into people who were heading back to those vehicles.
Just silence.
I looked out over a million trees and through the trees a million hills.
And then I looked down into the small gorge below me to my left and began to study the rock formations and small caves.
Incredibly interesting.  Subtly beautiful.  Millions of years to build and formed through wind and rain and pressure.  In multiple shades of faded green and brown and grey...........
Stepping off the bridge I cautiously climbed down into the gorge using the various sizes of rocks as stepping stones.............
One of my favorite pictures from yesterday.............
And there it stood in all of its ancient glory.
The bridge I had just crossed over and then climbed down from.
It is beautiful in a way that man will never be able copy no matter how accomplished we become..........
Standing in the gorge in the shade of a huge rock wall, looking up towards the sun...........
After marvelling at the bridge and the deep blue sky I turned my attention to the rock face behind me..........
So beautiful...........
To the right of the bridge was more rock.
I snapped a picture of hole that had been eaten completely through the rock and then snapped a picture of just the hole............
A closer look at the underside of the bridge..........
As I passed underneath the bridge I first noticed that there was indeed a trail that I could follow.
And then unexpectedly this guy popped out from behind the rocks.
We both stopped moving for a moment and regarded each other.
Both initially surprised at each others presence.
Within just a brief moment I realized that this beautiful brown dog was friendly.
I smiled and knew it was OK as he easily wandered towards me............
I was hoping that he would come up to me so that I could really say hello and pet on him, but he did not.
A few moments after he walked by me he quickly ran back to his original position looking for his humans.
Soon they appeared and after friendly and quick hellos I was again happily alone with this place............
The view in one direction.........
And the view in the opposite direction.
I can hardly wait to see this place again during the Summer when everything will be green.
I was really loving my time here..........
Continuing to follow the trail..........
As I continued slowly wandering along the trail I noticed occasional evidence of water seeping through the rocks and falling from the rocks in regular drips.
It is difficult to see in this picture but it is of regular drops of water falling from the top of the rock and hitting just inside the tree trunk............
Growing in the nooks and crevices where rock has fallen away over the years.............
And that is when I heard it.
That familiar chirping sound my camera makes when........
Damn it!
I looked at the camera screen and in little white letters on the black screen it told me what I already knew.
My camera battery was low.
I continue to really need to get my act together because that is the second time in the past few weeks that that has happened.
The last time was while LC and I were on the boat out at Woods Reservoir.
I had not yet begun to photograph and here I was already with a dead battery.
So in actuality I was done photographing.
I took these last few photographs one at a time while giving my camera a chance to "rest" in between.
One of a handful of rock faces I came across yesterday with inscribed names and dates...........
Ticked off at my lack of forethought and camera-battery-preparation before setting out yesterday morning I kept walking, now curious where the trail eventually led.
It ended at this place.
The picture below shows only one small part of it but the area included a huge overhang, deep hidden and dark places inside the overhang, and obvious signs of the hand of man..............
A  quote from another source about the area:

The Natural Bridge is a three- acre natural area located in Franklin County. Natural Bridge is a 25 feet high natural sandstone arch with a span of 50 feet that provides a scenic overlook of Lost Cove. There is a wet weather spring associated with a rock house located behind the natural bridge. The spring probably contributed to the formation of the arch. Lost Cove is a large karst formation on the dissected section of the Cumberland Plateau. It is essentially a giant sinkhole. Lost Creek flows into the valley and disappears into Lost Cove Cave at the Big Sinks and re-emerges as Crow Creek from Buggytop Cave within Mr. & Mrs. Harry Lee Carter State Natural Area. The site also has been referred to as Sewanee Natural Bridge since the University of the South in Sewanee once owned it. The natural area is a part of the South Cumberland Recreation Area.

I tried a few times to take pictures of the remnants of other man-made touches that were only partially in place and mostly covered with leaves and moss, but you could have stuck a fork in my camera.
It was a done deal and more pictures would have to wait for another day.
I regretfully gave up, stashed my camera irrevocably into the side pouch of my pack and headed slowly but surely back to my truck.
A wonderful, exciting, sweet, beautiful place to visit............
As I headed back to my truck and not yet ready to head for the house I again internally debated what to do next. 
As I reached Hwy 56 again I on the spur-of-the-moment turned left instead of right intending to drive only a few miles to see what was further down the road.
After a few miles I started looking for a place to turn around but then almost immediately hit long and winding downhill.
Realizing that I was coming off the mountain I figured I would keep going - surely there would be a turn-off soon that would lead me to either access I-24 or a road that would take me back towards Cowan or Winchester.
And I would see some all-new-territory.
I had no idea where I was but once I got off the mountain I realized that I was in beautiful farm country.
I drove for another 20 minutes.
Beautiful hills and mountains and green pastures and cows and horses and a couple of hugely interesting structures.
It was a beautiful drive and I deeply regretted my comatose camera.
But no turnoff that would take me to the interstate and no turnoff that would take me either to Cowan or Winchester.
Or anywhere else for that matter.
There were no turnoffs at all. 
Lots of homes seen on a regular basis.
A school.
A highway that was paralleling the rail tracks.
But no towns or side roads.
Where the heck WAS I?
And where the heck did this road go?
Eventually I finally passed a sign that meant something to me.
The sign happily informed me that I had crossed over into Alabama.
Another mile of more of the same and I finally decided that the road had beaten me.
And that I would gracefully accept defeat.
Reluctantly turning the truck around I headed back up to Sewanee so that I could find my way home, and on the way back called LC to tell him of my adventures at the bridge and my unexpected trip across the state line.
Today LC and I came back up to the mountain and we found some more wonderful things..............

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