March 25, 2018

Doe River Gorge

  • 7.58 miles
  • 4:30 duration
  • 388 ft elevation gain
  • 3 geocaches found

Recently, some of the members of New Cache Order visited Doe River Gorge on a quest to save an archived geocache just beyond the property line. After several attempts they completed that mission, and then hid some new caches there with permission of the camp. LakeBum (Rob) and I have talked several times since then about doing this hike, and today the stars aligned so that we could.

We originally planned the hike for Saturday, but when we saw the weekend weather forecast decided to wait until Sunday. It is good that we did, since it rained almost all day Saturday, while Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day. Of course, Signal the Frog® came along for the ride, and I carried my trusty cedar hiking stick.

We got an early start, leaving my house at 8:30 and arriving at the property around 9:15. As required, we signed in at the office, and then headed toward the trail head. From parking, our route took us around a man-made lake that has been drained for the winter. We also passed several rail cars that have been re-purposed for use as a snack bar and restrooms. We also had the chance to examine an old steam locomotive used by the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC). It appears to be undergoing renovation.

We then followed the ET&WNC narrow gauge tracks through a tunnel and into the gorge. This “trail” follows the tracks for approximately 2.5 miles through the gorge, ending at an impassable trestle. The ET&WNC or “Tweetsie” Railroad was built in the 1870’s to connect Johnson City, TN and Cranberry, NC.

There was beauty at every turn, and “Wow” was the most common word we uttered. The Doe River was raging due to the recent rains and snowfall. Several times along the way we saw waterfalls winding down the hillsides toward the river. At other times, wet weather falls poured over rock faces, with the water collecting between the tracks. I can only imagine how beautiful this hike will be as the trees begin to green, and again as they turn in the fall. I regretted not bringing my Nikon camera with me to capture all of the beauty.

We also passed through a second tunnel along the way, and enjoyed the other historic structures such as retaining walls holding the fill that the tracks were built upon, and protecting the railway from the river. It is always amazing to me the engineering that goes into building something like this, especially considering the limited equipment they would have had available at the time.

We went off-trail a few times to get a closer look at waterfalls, and once to get a clearer view of one of the retaining walls. From our perch on the rocks we had a stunning view of the gorge, the river, the railroad, and the towering cliffs above. I could see a geological fold in the rock face that inspired me to research more about this phenomena, and perhaps try to create an Earth Cache here.

Further up the tracks, Rob climbed atop a small mound to get a clearer view of a waterfall. He noticed that there was a trail leading down toward the river, so we followed it down. The power of the river was even more evident here, but so was the amount of trash that has washed downstream and collected at this point. It is disheartening to see the total disregard for our earth that some people have. However, I enjoyed the carpet of green moss along the river bank, and seeing the rushing water. This would be a fun place to kayak with the right boat and skill level, but we both agreed it was above our pay grade.

Just before noon we reached the trestle and found our first cache of the day. Rob then shed his backpack and went down to explore the trestle from below. He spotted a cable that someone had rigged up, apparently as something to hold as they crossed on one of the lower beams of the trestle. But don’t worry; we didn’t try it out.

When he had climbed back up to where I was waiting, we ate some lunch, and then started hiking back toward the trail head. We stopped twice for additional geocaches. At the site of one, I found a freshly discarded drink bottle and was disappointed to think that it was left by a fellow geocacher. When I looked at logs later, I realized that only a few days prior to our visit, some very new cachers had found that cache. I hope that as they learn more about the game, they will embrace the theology of Cache in Trash Out (CITO).

After walking back through one of the tunnels, we decided to follow a road that lead down toward the river. Here we found zip lines, one of which begins up at the tunnel and ends by the river. There was also a beach which I believe may be the launch point for tubing down the river. I imagine the summer campers enjoy these activities.

Four and a half hours after beginning our trek, we arrived back at the parking area. This was an amazing hike, and we agreed that we would return to visit this beautiful place again.


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