jump to navigation

The old dug road in Cataloochee April 10, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, history, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , , , , ,

We arrived at the dug road after a slight misstep at the start

This outing was organized by Mike Knies as part of his ambitious, far-reaching program for hiking with friends this spring. Do I really mean both ambitious and far-reaching? Isn’t that redundant—in fact, isn’t that an example of just plain lazy writing? But I guess I do mean both of them. Mike’s program is ambitious in the sense that it includes a lot of unmaintained trails and it is far-reaching in the sense that its geographic scope goes from Elkmont to Greenbrier to Cataloochee to the Hyatt Ridge area. Just to put the icing on the cake, he then does a writeup on each hike that nearly always includes a witty title, and more often than not, he throws in some sort of obscure literary parody as a bonus.

In the face of this overwhelming mastery of planning, hiking, and literary sport, I think I am going to avoid reinventing the wheel on this one and refer you to his writeup on the GoSmokies forum. You will find a detailed account of the outing and an excellent map. What I offer here is mainly photos.

The old dug road connects Big Cataloochee with Little Cataloochee by way of Bald Gap (between Bald Top and Noland Mountain). You find its start at a turnoff next to Palmer Cemetery and its end at the apple house across from the Cook Cabin on what is now the Little Cataloochee trail. It was dug out below the grade so that a draft animal could pull goods on a sled along it.

Hattie Caldwell Davis, in her book Reflections on Cataloochee Valley, has a nice photo of a horse pulling a sled (see p. 48). She wrote, “Wagons were common, but sleds were more common. They were easy to build with two bent sourwood runners. There seemed to be one for every purpose: tobacco, hay, logging, and general hauling. Sleds were cheap and went where wagons couldn’t go.”* The road was dug 48” wide in 1854 by the first two couples to live on the “back side” of Noland Mountain, doing the hard work with mattocks, pick, and shovel.

Our group consisted of Mike, myself, Barbara Morgan, and Cindy McJunkin. Mike and Barbara had followed the dug road before, but it had been a long time, and it turned out we made a mistake at the very beginning and found ourselves on the west side of Jesse Ridge instead of the east. Around the time we realized we were on the wrong track, we spotted some elk in the woods.

Not a prizewinning wildlife photo, but look closely and you will see elk

We bushwhacked east over the top of the ridge and eventually reached the dug road. It was easy and pleasant to follow.

Barbara strolls along dug road

At 3500′ we started running into remains of old homesites and continued to find old walls, foundations, and various relics nearly up to the gap.

Old wall

Yellow violets spangled the ground.

Yellow violets

We rambled upward to a very nice foundation.

Mike explores the foundation

We found an old metal container.

I don't know what this would have been used for. Tell me if you know.

And a large ceramic jug.

Jug, simple and beautiful in design

There was a lovely chimney in good condition.

Double chimney

And part of a stove.

Stove part, complete with flourishes of ornament

From the gap, the plan was to bushwhack over to hit a contour northwest of Noland Gap, intersecting the road further along instead of following it down immediately from the gap. The reason was that Barbara had tried unsuccessfully twice before to stay on the road and we felt we’d have a better chance of hitting it closer to its end. We did some steep sidehilling and arrived near Noland Gap. I would have just bushwhacked down to the Little C trail, but Mike hunted around and found the road.

A bit shaded over with laurel, but not hard to follow

We came out right opposite the Cook cabin and sat on the porch for lunch.

Cook cabin

On the return, it was not hard to follow the road past where we’d hit it, up over Noland Gap, and down the other side. Our goal was to use the old path along the branch east of the gap and eventually arrive at the Cataloochee group camp, where we had a shuttled car waiting.

Mike near Noland Gap

We did come to a “Zone of Uncertainty” where the path runs very close to Hall Branch (formerly Nelson Branch). But eventually, by continuing downward and aiming toward flat areas likely to have old pathways, we picked up the track again. We found more homesites at around 3000′, with lots of old walls and piles of stones.

A mossy heap of stones

We stopped for a rest break at a pretty place on the stream, not quite realizing yet that we were actually only five minutes away from our destination.

The moss here seemed especially lush

Just above the campground, we passed a spring house made of cobblestones.

Spring house

We spied an owl in a tree near Cataloochee Creek as we drove back to our starting point, but my camera didn’t do justice to the subject, so I will not include the photos here. Apparently this is good owl territory, as several people have mentioned seeing owls haunting this section of the creek.

Mike provided us with a sampling of cold sodas when we got back to his van. He has been trying to convert me to a beverage I hadn’t even heard of before I moved to Asheville, Sun Drop and Diet Sun Drop. As it turned out, he had another chance to win me over. I absentmindedly left my boots in his van, and when he returned them to me a few days later, I found that he had tucked a Sun Drop into the left boot and a Diet Sun Drop into the right. You know, Mike, you’re right—it is a superior beverage to Mountain Dew or other caffeinated lemon-lime flavored sodas.

* Hattie Caldwell Davis, Reflections of Cataloochee Valley and its Vanished People in the Great Smoky Mountains. 1999. Available from Ms. Davis at P.O. Box 274, Maggie Valley NC 28751.


1. Don Casada - April 10, 2011

Great stuff, Jenny and Mike. I’ve got to try this myself sometime. I’m no expert on old metal containers, but if the walls were thin, could it have been used for a laundry basket? I’ve no clue.

The old crockware is neat, but to be honest, I find the stump – or log section (looks like hickory, but can’t tell for sure) really surprising. I take it that this was pretty well up toward the gap on an unmaintained trail. If so, what is a that cut section, which has to have been cut in the last 20 years, doing there?

The pretty yellow violet is one that is strongly associated with woodlands, a halbert-leafed violet. While lots of violets thrive in open spaces (think yards – and people actually pay good cash money to get rid of those beautiful creations), the halbert-leafed violet seems to really prefer the company of forests.

That chimney is a testimony to some fine workmanship, especially if it is – as it appears to be – up near the gap where its exposure to weather would be pretty severe.

The stone springhouse is in amazing condition. Is there actually a spring running through it, though?

By the way, although you didn’t show a photo of the Cook apple house, you mentioned it. In the new visitor’s center up at Ravensford, there is a photo of the intact apple house.

2. Jenny - April 10, 2011

That is a very good question about the stump as well as the neatly cut timbers we saw nearby. Someone has been up to something in that area—not terribly recently, but maybe within a few decades. Could the Park Service have selected certain trees in that area for timber to do restoration work on cabins in Big C or Little C? As far as the springhouse is concerned, there was indeed water running through it that appeared to come from the hillside—otherwise the structure wouldn’t really make sense. It appears to have been built or rebuilt in days since the park creation. I’ll have to go look at the new visitor’s center.

3. Ben Bacot - April 10, 2011

Looks like yall had a great time. If I’m right by reading Mike’s blog, then you guys did this hike the day after the Bunion Hike? If so, WOW! Also congratulations on exploring the great taste of SunDrop!

Jenny - April 10, 2011

Naw, actually, two days after. I still felt a little burned out!

4. Seth - April 10, 2011

SunDrop is alright, but you haven’t lived till you have had a Squirt! hope it went well. I had abit of a tiresome weekend with a group of 16 count ’em 16 on a 3 day Bartram trail backpack for school. How miserably slow the days are when there are that many people involved

Jenny - April 11, 2011

That does sound like an awful lot of people to take on a backpack!

5. Elizabeth - April 12, 2011

I haven’t commented in over a year but I still love your blog! I’ve really been enjoying the historic hike posts. I always marvel at how people could live way up on the mountain like that. Do you happen to know of any books on these people? I would love to know more!

Jenny - April 12, 2011

Elizabeth, it’s great to hear from you! Hattie Caldwell Davis is the author of two books about Cataloochee, one of them the edition mentioned in the blog and another focusing on the Civil War history of the area, which is really interesting—though kind of brutal. If you do a search on Amazon by her name, you will find those two books. If you are looking for a good overview of the whole history of the Smokies, I recommend “The Great Smokies: From Natural Habitat to National Park” by Daniel S. Pierce, published by Univ. of Tenn. Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s