Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trail of Tears, Mantle Rock, Livingston Co., Ky

Trail Marker at Mantle Rock
   After several failed hiking attempts at Reelfoot Lake we were ready to seriously hit the trail and finally had the time. We racked our brains and decided to return to Mantle Rock Nature Preserve near Smithland, Kentucky in Livingston County. Years had passed since either of us had been, my husband, Donald, more recently than I and even then I had only been once. In recent year The Nature Conservancy had decided to make changes to the area, redoing and marking the hiking trail. They had also added informative exhibits about the Trail of Tears, what had occurred there and the conditions endured.
Early on a Sunday morning we piled into my car and once again I navigated toward adventure. The drive only took an hour, the site only one county over from our residence. I took a different route this time, following River Rd along the Cumberland River and found it to be a wonderful scenic drive, abutting right up to the river at times and we spied several deer along the way.
No sooner than we had pulled into the gravel circular parking area my husband spotted several does standing in a tree line between two fields. I quickly hitched my Osprey Daylite pack onto my back, adjusted my new Kelty Range 1.0 hiking staff, set my GPS tracker and was ready for the trail. 

Trail Register
      We headed down a gravel path stopping to read the information posted along the way and to sign in at the trail head. The gravel gave way to dirt at the tree line which was actually an old tree lined road bed. We followed it back between fields of tall grass and wildflowers before encountering a fork in the trail. Signs informed us to the left was the Natural Arch and to the right the Original Route of The Trail of Tears. We turned left down into the forest and within a short distance came to a red gate across yet another old dirt road. Skirting around the gate and past another information exhibit we headed back into the forest. Kennedy was sniffing frantically, smelling the fresh scent of some animal. In just a few minutes a Doe appeared 40 yards or so off to our right before bounding off into the bordering field.
    Hiking a short distance through the forest and down a small incline we found the largest Natural Arch East of the Mississippi River, 188 feet long and 33 feet wide peering at me through the last luster of Summer greenery.
  After exploring the area under the arch a bit we headed down the trail that skirted the limestone bluff and a creek on the opposite side. The trail became quite narrow in a spot along this section but nothing unmanageable. Continuing along the trail there are several overhangs to explore and places where waterfalls flowed during rain but not today. This day was warming up to be a hot one and if it's hot in Kentucky there's plenty of humidity to go with it. 
    We made our way around the bluff, stopping to explore here and there along the way. The mostly dry creek bed off to our left several yards through the woods, at times visible, and other times hidden behind thick brush. The trail turned sharply to the right, the creek closing in on one side and the bluff the other. It funneled the trail into a a bit of a steep pass between to large moss covered boulders. I let Donald and Kennedy move ahead and clear the path before I charged up myself, using my hiking staff to ensure my balance. 

   The trail continued to skirt around the bluff but become more rugged at in spots with large rocks in the path, forcing you  to step over and around them. Another creek followed this section of the trail, once again opposite of the bluff with the trail in between. Yet another large overhang appeared, except this one had cairns stacked beneath it. There were at least four by my count and stacked in no obvious way as to mark the trail. 

  Moving on we passed a cave in the bluff now set back up off the trail 15 yards or so and the area was marked, Fragile Habitat, Area Closed. We heeded the sign and trekked past soon coming to a large deep pool in the creek with a beautiful opening on level ground that let you walk right up to the waters edge. Just off trail in the rear of this little spot was a crude Cedar bench made of fallen logs and it proved to be quite a comfortable little spot for a rest. 
  Once rested and re-hydrated we progressed further on the trail, coming yet again across another Fragile Habitat area. This one had no cave or large opening and we decided it best not to go looking for one. The trail continued to be rugged, large rocks jutting out this way and that. I managed to kick a few but the toe guard on my Keen's held true, not a twinge of pain. 
  The day was heating up and we were sweating buckets. Our shirts and clothes were soaked as if we had jumped in the creek. There was absolutely no breeze moving and if there was it was blocked by the bluff itself. Eager to be finished we hiked on until we came to the end of the tree line at a field. The trail was now gravel, situated between a tall meadow of grasses and wildflowers and the tree line. Oh, did I mention it was also in the full Sun! There was a bit of the breeze but with the Sun bearing down on us we took no time to enjoy it, waiting until the trail once again ducked into the trees to take a moment to cool off.  Donald informed me when getting into my Osprey Daylite Pack that the zipper pull was breaking, at that point I could give a hoot less but made a mental note to check it once we were home.
  A sign informed us we were now on the original route of the Trail of Tears which followed an old grown up, treed lined, road bed. The ground had become flatter once leaving the forest which I was thankful for as my the arch support in my new Keen's were starting to freak my flat feet out. Everyone was ready, even Kennedy, for the trail to be over but it continued past more information exhibits.
  The trail turned slightly to the left, still following the old road bed, nestled between two meadows now. Suddenly the trail was littered with broken glass of all kinds of variety. Amber beer bottles and clear glass condiment jars jutted out of the Earth along the trail. I worried about Kennedy's paws getting cut but we cleared the old dump site without any issues. 
  Finally we stopped again, Kennedy was definitely reaching his limits and we need to hydrate again. This time while breaking we heard the highway off in the distance and knew we had to be getting close. We finished up quickly and began plodding along again when finally Donald caught a glimpse of our car in the parking area.  
  By the time I arrived back into the parking lot my new LuLaRoe Leggings were dirty and my Keen's were killing my arches so much so I took of my right shoe and drove home with a socked foot. Got to break them in somehow, right?
  I contacted Osprey about my zipper pull and after providing all the information required for parts, I waited to hear from them. Just two days later I received and email informing me my parts would arrive in one to two weeks. Easy fix but I'm really unsure how it happened to begin with. I'm going to chalk it up as a fluke as the rest of the pack is holding up very well so far, is quite comfortable, and roomy.
   Overall it was an amazing hike and I was very please with the work of the Nature Conservancy but do wish they had been able to obtain the hunting rights with the land. I don't recommend hiking in the area during prime archery or gun season.
   There was contradictory information in regards to trail length. I used Under Armors Map My Hike Application for Android Devices and it showed the trail to be 2.5 miles long. Actually 2.57 miles but we explored around a little so that would account for some of the distance. The trail may have been 1 mile long previously as reported by some but I believe when the Nature Conservancy made changes in 2010 the trail was extended. 
  I would definitely recommend hiking at Mantle Rock, but I seriously doubt I'll hike the entire trail again, then again I just might. 

Adventure Awaits!!

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