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The Lady of Shop Creek is ailing February 25, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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The Lady of Shop Creek and Ronnie McGaha. Photo by Clyde Austin.

The Lady of Shop Creek and Ronnie McGaha. Photo by Clyde Austin.

The photo above was taken about eight years ago. You can see why many people over the years have made the pilgrimage to admire the Lady of Shop Creek. There she is, not ashamed a bit about being naked, hands on her hips, looking a tad disdainful. I think she’s waiting for someone to offer her a martini. Surely she smokes a cigarette in a long cigarette holder.

Sadly, the Lady, also known as X-Ray Betty, is ailing. In recent years, the beech tree she’s carved on has filled out. Her face is virtually invisible. Here’s what she looked like on a trip our group took on the 22nd.

She has lost face, so to speak.

She has lost face, so to speak.

You can still make out her arms and hips. You can still see how the unknown artist started out with the, let us say, crotch of the tree and turned it into another kind of crotch. But after all these years—no one seems to know just how long she’s been around—she is fading fast.

Photo by Terri Cox---slightly different angle.

Photo by Terri Cox—slightly different angle.

Still, we had an enjoyable outing on a beautiful warm sunny day. Shop Creek is in the southwest corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It flows under US 129 into Chilhowee Lake. For me, coming from North Carolina, it means driving through the Dragon—and that comes after a very twisty section of NC 28. But it’s worth it.

Clyde Austin organized this trip. He’s seen the Lady several times over the years. Our group consisted of Clyde, Ronnie McGaha, Terri Cox, Steve Hixson, Charlie Seehorn, George Grooms, and myself.

We parked at a pullout along 129 and climbed up and over a small ridge to avoid awkward going at the very lowest part of the stream. We forded the stream many times, following an old unmaintained manway.

One of the many fords of the stream.

One of the many fords of the stream.

Shop Creek.

Shop Creek.

Morning light.

Morning light.

Cascades.

Cascades.

Clyde and Terri on the old grade.

Clyde and Terri on the old grade.

We ran into a patch of blowdown in a place where the valley narrowed down, so we had to just push our way through it. It seems likely the tornado and high wind event of April 27, 2011, brought down some trees here. We also saw a couple of pieces of siding that must have been dropped down by the storm.

Terri climbs through blowdown.

Terri climbs through blowdown.

Clyde wrestles his way through.

Clyde wrestles his way through.

We were looking for the Lady about a mile and a half up, in a flat area on the left side of the stream, on a big beech tree. We knew she faced away from us as we went upstream. Well, we went right by her without seeing her. Soon we realized we’d probably missed her. We decided to keep going. The stream dwindled down to almost nothing. Steve volunteered to run up to Shop Gap just to make sure she wasn’t up ahead—and she wasn’t. After having lunch, we decided to go back and try again to find her instead of staying with our original plan of looping around to Blacksmith Branch.

Finally, someone called out: “Found her!” I’d walked past a second time without seeing her.

A great day with good hiking companions, but we were sorry to see the Lady not doing so well.

"X-Ray Betty"---now it looks more like "Ray and Betty."

“X-Ray Betty”—now it looks more like “Ray and Betty.”