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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Natchez Trace Red Leaves Trail



Trail................................Miles......Rating.................Outcasts Total Miles:323
Red Leaves North Spur.....17.2.......Easy
Red Leaves South Loop......25.35.....Moderate
Total................................42.5

Troy and I are going to break a couple of records for him. One, we are going over 32 miles and two we are hiking over three days which is also a first. We picked the Natchez Trace State Park Red Leaves Overnight trail North and South end. The North spur is 17.2 miles. The South loop is 25.35 miles. The goal is to break 40 miles. The weather was suppose to be clear with frost the first two mornings.

We do the regular running all night at the fire hall and then head out in the morning. We made good time and got on the trail by 10 am. We had decided to do the North spur first. This left us the option to go straight to camp at 6.9 miles or do the loop first and make camp at 10.3 miles. With the early start we picked to do the loop.

One of the first things that we learned on the trail is that horse riders cannot read signs. All of the hiking trails are clearly marked with a visual sign with a picture of hikers on the top. Below this picture is a picture of a four wheeler, a picture of a bike, and a picture of horse all with a circle with a diagonal line across it over the pictures. That would be an international sign for NO! I guess that the riders leave it up to the horses, which don’t really care either. Seriously these are beautiful trails that are all churned up with horse hooves. A horse will make a mud pit. The next horse doesn’t want to walk through the mud pit so it goes around. The mud pit gets larger and larger to where the hiker has to climb through the woods to get around it.

The flowers were abundant and beautiful. You could smell them all down the trail. We got pictures of these to share with everyone.

The first mark on the trail we looked forward to was the third largest pecan tree in North America. Legend has it that the tree grew from a pecan presented to a settler by one of Andrew Jackson’s men as they returned from the Battle of New Orleans. As Troy put it “I was expecting a lot of things about this tree, and this was none of them.” The tree is rotten and has had concrete and bolts holding it together from the inside. The tree was fenced off with a sign stating this was a hazard area where the tree may fall at any time. Oh well, we got to see the legend. From here we hiked to Maple Creek Lake.

Maple Creek Lake is a beautiful small lake. As I was taking pictures of the lake, Troy was saying that it was starting to rain. It never rained hard so we never had to put on ponchos. It kept this light rain going while we hiked into camp, which was up on a hill. Right between the campfire ring and where you set up tents was a big horse pile. Troy put some branches over it to help us keep from stepping into it. It rained while we set up camp, collected firewood, and ate dinner. After that it quit and that was the last of the rain for the rest of our trip. There was a water pump at camp. Troy pumped and gave up. I pumped and got reddish brown water. Troy pumped and I pumped trying to get some clear water. I went to the lake and got water for us. We sat around the campfire and told lies until 10pm and called it a day. That night we had a proud owl that had to brag two different times. We also had a pack of coyotes doing a little celebrating.

There was no frost when we got up the next morning. We got on the trail at 8:50am and hiked back toward the parking lot. On the way up the trail the day before we came to an intersection with a cross trail with the same white marks that the Red Leaves trail was marked with. We knew by the map that we had to head east so we did. On the way back we followed the white marks in the opposite direction. The trail met up with the other trail that we were on and was marked by a small red flag hidden in the grass off the left side of the trail. I guess that we were suppose to see and understand what this flag meant so that we could stay on the right trail. We found later that this is common in this park.

We got back to the car at 1:14 took us a small break and then headed out on the South loop. The South loop has the same horse problem to work around. There was a lot of standing water on the trail. We hiked to Cub Creek Lake, which is another beautiful lake. They have a campsite here, which we had originally planed to stay at. It was still early so we continued on.

After we left Cub Creek Lake the trail ran through a swampy area all the way down to Sulphur fork of Cub Creek. This area was surely the mosquito haven for all of West Tennessee during mosquito season. As we sloshed through the muddy trail skipping between logs and grass clumps, we had to worry about ticks, chiggers, poison ivy, poison oak, anaconda, alligators, and such. On top of not being able to find the white markers as the trail crossed other trails and or disappeared all together. At one point while trying to find a marker I headed up hill out of the swamp. Troy stayed at the last marker. At the top of the hill was a two-rut road, which I followed back down the hill. I found the trail again and followed it around to Troy. On the way back I told him that we were finally getting out of the swamp. Soon the trial turned back to swamp and I didn’t recognize it as the same trail. We stopped and hiked back and found where the trail I came down met with this one. Once again you had two trails marked the same way. Well by now it was getting dark and we were trying to decide where this Sulphur fork of Cub Creek was on the map. Finally the trail came out on a gravel road and there was the bridge over Cub Creek. Next to it was the trail from the swamp that we were following earlier. We hiked back up this trail to a pine thicket and set up camp. The creek made a wonderful bath and clear water source. We scrubbed like mad and hoped we weren’t broke out by morning.

We figured that we made 13.5 miles today. The campfire didn’t last as long tonight and we got in a good nights sleep.

I woke to the sound of a woodpecker wearing out a pine tree. We missed the frost again this morning. Got up made breakfast and hit the trail by 9:40. We are back up on dry land. It got pretty warm hiking and there was one time that the buzzards were circling overhead. Not sure what that meant, but we figured it wasn’t good. It was another day of searching for the trail numerous times. We did sneak up on a wild turkey.

We made Pin Oak Lake by 1:35 and ten minutes later was at the Pin Oak Lake campsite. This is a very beautiful campsite on the lake. Pin Oak Lake is a very large lake and a good swimming location. We stayed here about an hour and then headed for Browns Creek Lake that was our planned campsite. On this side of the park they used arrows on the trees to help locate the trail. This came in very handy with navigating.

When we signed in at the Park office the man there told us that they had done some maintenance on the trails and built some new bridges. By now we understood the government contract: They were allotted so much money. The engineer designed a bridge made of ten foot two by sixes and deck planks. They only had enough to make an allotted number of these bridges and they had to use these bridges only to replace broken bridges if they fit or not. They were not allowed to use any of these bridges to go in places that required a bridge where there was not already a bridge. Yea, that is how it went.

We made it to Browns Creek Lake, which was 10.5 miles for today. Troy took a nap and I went down to the lake to catch the sunset and chase water snakes. We made our campfire and called it an early night. Troy wanted to get an early start in the morning.

We got up at 5:30 and were on the trail by 6.30. Only 8.25 Miles to go today. We had quite a few stream crossings and some of the larger hills to navigate. Once again the weather was wonderful and we had a good hike back to the cars. We got off the trail at 2:30 and headed home.

As you can tell, I got a new camera and the dates on the pictures are wrong.


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