After my week long ordeal by Spunkalogical Society convention in Cookeville was finally over, my old friend Buford and I headed to Yellow bluff, a remote campsite overlooking the Caney fork, Scotts gulf, and the Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial wilderness, my favorite part of Tennessee! Our intention was to explore some of the little known sandstone caves just under the rim of the plateau.
Our first foray was to the base of Yellow bluff. It was a bit rough, but we had no problems.
There were numerous shelter caves along the base of the bluff, some of which had apparently been used for arcane rituals. Is that a hint of sulfur I smell? Did Beelzebub pass this way?
We were entertained to discover the utterly crushed remnants of a car that had been pushed off the cliff, presumably because it was stolen. Nothing unusual there, but where were the engine, drive train, and wheels?
Yellow bluff is very far back in the woods, so I must presume that the car had wheels and other such parts when it arrived at the top of the cliff. Unless the thieves rolled it sideways it needed wheels just to be pushed over the brink. We found tools and evidence that the morons in question dismantled the car after it landed at the bottom, then had no choice but to carry the heavy parts back up the cliff. Now that’s what I call dumb!
I was pleased to see a healthy population of Diana fritillary butterflies flitting around our camp. These rare and beautiful butterflies are exceptionally large, sexually dimorphic with the males purple and the females orange, and the larvae eat only violets, truly wondrous creatures!
Butterflies and their host plants are in decline everywhere. Along the area roadsides we saw lots of Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. There were a few Swallowtails and Spangled fritillaries, but where were the Monarchs that are dependent upon the poisonous sap to deter predators?
The following day we hoped to visit a recently discovered sandstone cave with an enormous room. Cavers don’t divulge secret locations, so I won’t even tell you the correct name, so let’s just call it Beelzelbub’s bodacious bunghole, or better still, Ghost Pig cave (more on that in a moment). It was located only 2.5 miles from camp as the crow flies, but was on the other side of the gorge, so getting there required at least a fifty mile drive.
We drove around lost until we found the legendary Clifty bridge, a hillbilly playground where the Caney fork flows across an enormous flat rock before beginning its descent into the gorge.
I was astounded to discover that the place was clean and families had brought their children to play. Previously, it had been a dangerous dump full of broken glass and drunken hillbillies on meth. Can you hear the banjos? But vigilantes and raids by State police put an end to all that. They cracked heads until the crackheads got it through their heads to treat the place with respect!
Clifty bridge is truly in the middle of nowhere, so I was surprised to see a sign saying, ‘Cold beer and great food at the top of the hill!” There I found a country store with a white bearded hillbilly sitting in a rocking chair out front. It was owned by a beautiful intelligent young woman who had traveled the nation as a nurse, then came home to raise her daughter and live the good life.
A friendly fellow in bib overalls sat next to me nursing a beer. He had been born there and was curious how outsiders had found the Clifty bridge?
When we told him about our plan to visit Beelzebub’s bodacious bunghole he looked at us in amazement and said, “You cain’t git there from here, and besides, it’s a mighty rough place, part of that there wilderness area. Ain’t you boys a bit old for that kind of work?” When he saw that we were determined to go he continued, “I was born on that mountain. Me and my daddy used to run hogs with dogs. One day we was chasing them when the whole herd fell into the same hole you’re talking about. There was no way to get them out so we threw in corn for the next two weeks but it was too much work getting there to feed ’em. That’s rough country! For all I know them pigs are still in there!”
As we soon learned, he was right about it being rough country! After getting directions we parked at the end of a long dirt road, then headed in on foot across an old strip mine. Noting is worse than an abandoned strip mine overgrown with blackberries!
We entered the wilderness area, then headed down into the gorge. At first it was steep but easy, then we entered a laurel hell, and below that cliffs prevented us from crossing the creek. We retreated to try another route.
We entered another laurel hell and that is where the Weazel went down for the count. I slipped and fell for no good reason. There were no rocks, and no reason for me to get hurt; nevertheless, it felt like I had been hit in the middle of my back with a sledgehammer.
I lay there for a while, unable even to talk, but eventually I wiggled my toes, stood up, and walked away. According to the GPS we were only 500 feet from the cave when we turned back. I knew I was injured, but it didn’t hurt all that badly, so I shrugged it off. I had no idea that I had broken my back.
Buford headed home, but I stayed at Yellow bluff for another five days. During that time I walked many miles up and down mountains, mostly in shorts and sandals, but was careful not to re-injure myself. As the days wore on my back and shoulders worsened. It was clear that I had a problem.
A more sensible person would have headed home, but I was dead set on one more adventure, so I headed to Big lost creek camp in the Cherokee National Forest in extreme southeastern Tennessee. Don’t get confused, Big lost creek camp is nowhere near the previously mentioned Lost creek waterfall and cave in central Tennessee. It is located in hard rock country far from any limestone.
In this narrative I have often mentioned wild hillbillies and wild places in Tennessee, but Big lost creek is wild in a different sense, it is culturally wild. The people of the Cumberland plateau in places like Clifty may live far from any city, but they are just normal Americans who talk funny. The people indigenous to southeastern Tennessee are a different species altogether, much more like the Hollywood version of a hillbilly who plucks banjos while plucking pigs.
The last time I visited Big lost creek camp it was full of feral hillbillies who cooked meth and engaged in gunfights on a regular basis. There was even one old man who had been homeless since the Korean war, had no tent, and walked twenty miles a day on a broken foot to search for road kill.
I arrived to discover that nothing had changed. As soon as I took my favorite camping spot by Big lost creek (the one normally reserved for cooking meth) a ragged man came rushing up in a threatening manner, but as soon as he could see me clearly he said, “Naw, it ain’t you. You ain’t that feller whose been burning them stolen cars!” To our mutual amazement we recognized each other. He was the same fine gentleman who had first told me the site was reserved for meth cooking several years ago.
So it was home sweet home, but I was dismayed that the previous car burning inhabitant had piled all of his trash in the fire ring despite bear proof trash cans a short distance away. That was bad enough, but when I woke up the next morning I smelled shit and looked over to see a dead dung beetle and a large human turd that I had tracked in during the night. Apparently the toilets were too far away for the car burner’s convenience.
While having breakfast an extremely scary looking couple arrived to ask how soon I would be gone, because it was “their” site. If you have ever seen the movie “Natural Born Killers” you can perfectly picture the couple. The fellow was about 6′ 3″ with long greasy blond hair, had few teeth, and was covered with tattoos. He could barely speak, and mostly just grunted in the local dialect. Ugh and Huh were his two main words. His girlfriend was a terror, a tiny bright eyed maniac who was the brains behind the operation.
I am rarely really scared of the people I meet, but I was convinced they were going to eat me until the young lady and I bonded over the subject of mudpuppies (I’m not making this up!) so we were soon fast friends. I leaned that they had lived there for years, even spending the winters and bathing in the creek while robbing local homesteads.
While we were talking three carloads of cops came roaring into camp, so my new friends fled into the woods. They parked right in front of my camp but paid no attention to me, so I walked up to inquire.
Once again I heard, “Naw, you ain’t that fellow what has been burning them cars.” Then the top cop asked, “You seen a rough looking fellow with tattoos and a scrawny girlfriend?” I was busy saying yes when hillbilly #1 rushed back up to say, “Naw, I seen ’em good. Them peoples what run off is different”. The cop turned to me, sighed, and said, “They all look alike around here. Fellows like him don’t know no place else, so he is sure to come back”.
I was stiff from my injuries, so I spent the day enjoying the beautiful Hiwassee river.
That evening while gathering water I was pleased to find a copperhead swimming down the creek. I sent him on his way with an admonition to avoid rednecks with sticks.
The only other non indigenous camper was an 80 year old Danish hippie named Arrow, so we soon became friends.
The following morning Arrow joined me on a trip to Turtletown falls. The creek was beautiful, cold, full of trout, and surrounded by Rhododendrons. Unfortunately, as elsewhere, the hemlocks were all dying.
Arrow took a wrong turn somewhere so I continued down to the lower falls without him.
On the way back I heard a snuffling and peered into the bushes. There, a short distance away, was a bear! It wasn’t aware of my presence so I just kept on walking, then turned back to say, “Hello Mr. Bear!” The poor bear looked positively chagrined that it hadn’t noticed me.
The following day was my last in the woods, so I decided to take a special trip, one enhanced by Psilocybin! I boiled up a bit of tea, then started walking down Big lost creek on an old rail grade. It was a beautiful day, but my attitude was spoiled when I encountered a redneck dad teaching his boy how to kill a harmless watersnake. Thereafter, I grumbled to myself rather than enjoy my beautiful surroundings.
But a cure for my mental dyspepsia was close at hand, all I had to do to refresh my spirits was to wallow in the creek and commune with the trout! Shortly thereafter I ran into another bear and bade my fellow bather well!
All this time, despite my injuries, I climbed mountains, carried heavy objects, and generally misbehaved. When I got home I took an epic several hour swim. Everything I did made me stiff and sore, especially my shoulders, but my back didn’t really hurt. It was only when the X-ray results were returned that I learned that I really did have a broken back due to Osteoporosis.
Learning that I was seriously injured was a poison pill, now I have no excuse but to slow down and act old. My shoulders are killing me, and if I further injure my back I might wind up in a wheelchair or worse! That is why I am so damned grumpy! Nevertheless, I am now headed up to WestbyGawdVirginia for more fun before having my right shoulder operated on in early fall. That means the Weazel will be out of action until the turn of the year.
So ends the tale of Brokeback mountain, during which many adventures and injuries were had, but at least I survived with my hetero-normativity intact!