Thursday, November 16, 2017

Kaolin Pond; Stumping the Ranger

Kaolin is a soft, white clay-like mineral used in pottery, medicines, cosmetics, soaps, toothpastes, paper – well, it’s used in all sorts of things we, the unsuspecting consumer don't - well - suspect.

I couldn’t find any info on when the mining started, probably before Europeans turned up, but up until the 1950’s raw kaolin was dug out of a pit here, much of it trucked off to Kirkpatrick Pottery. In the ‘90’s the mining rights expired and the Forest Service took over the spot. In the 40 years between the pit filled with water and the forest reclaimed the surrounding land.

During my research of Shawnee NF I ran across a short blurb about Kaolin Pond being a fishing and camping spot.

I even located Kaolin Pond on the Shawnee NF map showing fishing and tent-camping, although Google Maps and my Delorme Topo showed nothing there other than a Kaolin Pit Ln.  To make things more confusing, the National Forest web site turned up only two references to the place, both noting that it is a protected heritage resource, but nothing about actual use.

So I stopped in at headquarters to ask: a) Can I get The Van in to Kaolin Pond and b) is overnighting allowed.

The rangers, both of whom looked to be experienced and knowledgeable, looked at me with blank stares.

Now to be fair, Kaolin Pond is actually in the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District and I was asking about it at the Hidden Springs Ranger District but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get over to Jonesboro, home of the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District, before they closed at 1630, so I was asking here.

The Hidden Springs rangers tried to find something about Kaolin Pond on their own but were unsuccessful, so they called over to Mississippi Bluffs and after a couple tries, found someone that knew Kaolin Pond.

Part of the issue is that it is no longer listed as Kaolin Pond but as Kaolin/Iron Mountain Trail, although that doesn’t show up on the official web site either.

Apparently there is a new-ish trail that heads west from the pond to the ridge of Iron Mountain then splits north and south to follow along the ridge both ways. (By the way, based on the few feet I wandered down it looked like this trail is not used much!)

Anyway, she, the ranger from the Mississippi Bluffs District, had just been out there during the eclipse rush and said getting The Van in there was no problem, nor was over-nighting, so off I went with a plan in hand.
OK, just because I had a plan didn’t make getting there easy. First, the right turn off of SR-127 onto the single-lane Mountain Glen Road is easy to miss, (4.3 miles north of where SR-127 and SR-146 split a little ways west of Jonesboro) then the right turn onto Kaolin Rd., (About a half mile later) which is a two-track squeezed between the woods and a corn-field, is tricky because the sign is very difficult to see and by this time everything looks more like tractor-trails than roads. But even once you get that far the tricky part isn't over yet!

The right turn onto Kaolin Pit Lane, ¾ of a mile later, is even easier to miss since it’s a small opening diving into the woods and you will probably be distracted by all the NO-TRESSPASSING and KEEP OUT signs on the left side of the road right there.

But wait! You’re not there yet!

For the next tenth of a mile this graveled track curves around a bit, crosses a creek, passes a field on the left, then comes to a Y.

The left leg of the Y is only slightly bent and it’s tempting to think that’s Pit Lane because again, the signs are difficult to read, but it’s actually more of a driveway that deadends just over the hill ahead.

Pit Lane, photographed here from the point of the Y, is the sharply bent right leg of the Y

that winds off into the woods,

and climbes a small ridge,

before deadending in a parking lot good for no more than a half-dozen vehicles as long as none of them are dragging trailers.

Beyond the rocks that guard the end of the parking lot is a small grassy area with a single picnic table and one bench strategically placed for a view across the pond.

It didn’t take me long to drag my folding chair and a magazine over here next to the bench (Benches are a lot harder on the ass than my chair!) where I killed off most of the rest of the daylight.

Although the view out the side door of The Van wasn’t half bad either, and I spent the last of the light watching the leaves floating on the nearly still water get blown into complex swirls by faint eddies of air dropping silently off the surrounding ridge.

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