Monday, November 6, 2017

The Trails of Bell-Smith Springs

Good morning everybody! Did you sleep well? I did.

I don’t know what y’all are up to today but I’m going hiking.

There’s several trails wandering around here. A mix of ridge side and creek-bottom hiking.

The trail system starts just a short walk down from the campground and across the first parking loop,

but after a little scouting around yesterday evening, I've decided to move The Van down to the seond parking loop where it can pick up some decent solar once the sun gets up over the trees.

The parking isn’t very level but my compressor-fridge doesn’t care about that, I just have to watch that the sliding side-door doesn’t get away and take an arm off!!

There’s supposed to be a scenic overlook a short way down-hill from the trailhead and there is a fenced off ‘platform’ down there, but the scenic part is mostly wishful thinking.

The view wasn’t much more than branches and treetops with just an occasional glint of something brighter down  below – which was the creek shooting intermittent rays back up from the concealed depths.

Just a couple dozen steps west of the non-scenic overlook is a set of steps flowing down through a narrow crack in the limestone bluff.

At the base of the bluff the steps take a sharp right turn and tuck in under an overhang.

Don’t forget to duck until you're below that first step!

I wasn’t the only one out for a hike this morning, but I was the only one wearing boots!

Down at the bottom there are a couple trails to choose from. Initially I stuck with the Natural Bridge Trail which tracks alongside Boy Creek for a bit then crosses over to the other side.

You’d think that there would be a sign pointing out the feature the trail is named for, but you’d be wrong.

Arches can be sneaky things, not revealing themselves until the viewing angle, and light, is just right, and this arch, or natural bridge, was no exception. As I was hiking along I just happened to spot a part of the bluff that was inexplicably lit differently than the rest, (Right in the center of the photo above.)

and when I left the trail to investigate this is what I found.

The arch is actually pretty decent in size.  I took this photo while standing under one end of the arch which, at its center, was a good 20-25 feet over my head.

After surviving the underside of the arch without getting conked on the head by falling bits I re-crossed the creek and picked up the blue, or Sentry Bluff Trail, which meanders up one side of Boy Creek then back down the other, eventually reconnecting with the Natural Bridge Trail

Sentry Bluff Trail is a combination of bluff-top and creek-side hiking that arches around a large S curve in the creek before tip-toeing across to the other side and coming back down towards the arch.

The cross-over is not long after passing Chute Gap.

OK, there’s no signs for features marked on the trail map, but there are signs for features not marked on the trail map?

From what I could deduce (fancy word for reckon) from observations on the ground and my topo, this is where a short little feeder creek comes down into Boy Creek - well, maybe a creek when it's raining hard - but I have no idea why it gets a sign all its own when other, more prominent points go un-signaged..

After crossing to the other side of Boy Creek at the far end of Sentry Bluff trail there’s a bit of a scramble up the rocks out of the frame to the left, and, in the absence of any sign to confirm it, I am guessing that this is Sentry Bluff with  views both up and down the creek.

On this side of the creek the trail sticks to the hills, forgoing the waterside in favor of sticking close to the bluffs.

I found a couple formations like this one along here. (OK, optical illusion time here. That bright band of rock in the lower third of the photo is only about two arm-lengths from the lens and is maybe a foot thick.)

Forming the roof of the overhang is a light colored ‘plate’ of hard, fine-grained rock laid down horizontally, and capping that is another layer of coarse, softer rock that has eroded into small horizontal plates that sweep upwards into reddish vertical fins.

It’s pretty cool, and frankly a little eerie. (This time the band of rock at the bottom is closer to two feet thick and the overhang in the top-left corner is a good 15 feet over my head.)

In other spots it was clear that mud was laid down, compressed and hardened into sandstone, eventually tilted and sheared off by erosion, only to have additional layers of mud laid down and ‘sandstoned’ over top of it.

I hiked Sentry Bluff Trail clockwise in order to have a dramatic finish.

After about 4 miles the blue Sentry Bluff Trail dead-ended into a corner of the yellow Natural Bridge Trail. By staying to the right, or high side of the Natural Bridge Trail I soon came to the top of the arch or natural bridge.

Here I’m standing on the north end of the arch with the creek to the right and the gap between arch and bluff just barely discernable to the left.

I didn’t expect the ‘bridge’ to be so flat and wide. It’s easy to imagine people coming out from town with the family on a Saturday to bounce across here in their Model A’s before the Forest Service got involved and put a halt to that sort of thing.

In no danger of getting run over these days, I plopped my butt down, not too near either edge though,  and enjoyed the place and a snack.

I wasn’t in any rush to leave because it's quiet, people-less, and from here it’s an uphill slog back to where I left The Van soaking in the sun.

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