Wanda and Pete's Letterbox Clues - Southeast

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Wanda's Wanda-rings: Southeastern Loop A big Southern Appalachian driving loop to briefly revisit sites of a few of my long backpacking adventures from ages ago…

1. AT #1 ( Suches, GA) (stamp carved by Mama Wolf of NC)
2. Benton MacKaye Trail (Margret, GA) (stamp carved by spitfire of GA)
3, AT #2 (Fontana Dam, NC)) (stamp carved by electric medic of SC)
4. AT #3 (Hartford, TN) (stamp carved by mstrwndl of TN)
5. Art Loeb Trail (Brevard, NC) (stamp carved by Mama Fox of NC)
6. Foothills Trail (Rocky Bottom, SC) (stamp carved by electric medic of SC)
7. Chattooga River/Bartram Trail (Mountain Rest, SC) (stamp carved by figureeight of SC)

Well, a few more of the "Wanda's Wanda-rings" boxes that have been languishing on trails in RI for the past few years are finally getting out as promised to be planted on the trails for which they were originally meant, trails which I backpacked in the 80's and 90's. These represent just a very small sampling of the many trails that I backpacked back then after recovering from a fractured spine from a near-fatal car crash, so I have always been extremely grateful that I was able to have these long-distance backpacking opportunities. (For more info, please read the whole story listed under Wanda's Wanda-rings.) Of course, I could have planted some of my Appalachian Trail boxes anywhere along the 2100+ mile route of the AT, since each one represents an entire "thru-hike" between Georgia and Maine, but I chose to plant the first three of them down south to be as close as possible to the people who carved these particular stamps for me, as well as to make it feasible to do this whole group of rather quick box finds as part of one big southern mountain driving loop, for those who are more into long scenic drives than long walks in the woods!

1.) At any rate, feel free to start your drive anywhere along the loop and do these boxes in any order you wish. I, however, will be starting with where it all began for me, and with one of my all-time favorite stamps, carved by Mama Wolf of NC to represent my very first AT back in 1983. So, after putting in my first "baby steps" of backpacking on some of the short trails in CT and MA (this, of course, after thousands of miles of just plain day hiking to build up my legs before taking on any extra weight on my back for extended overnights after that very serious injury of mine), I finally decided to head on down to Georgia in mid April of 1983 to start the AT. I really had no idea how I'd do on such a long trip, and, in fact, almost got struck by lightning on the approach trail to Springer Mountain before even getting onto the AT itself, but everything turned out just fine, and I finished my hike on Mount Katahdin in Maine by mid August. So, this stamp depicts how a journey of thousands of miles can begin with a single step - and then you just try to keep floating along like "The Breeze" (my trail name back then) carrying along pods of light fluffy dandelion seeds!

Anyway, to find this first AT box of mine, I won't make you hike that approach trail to Springer Mt. like I did, or even drive the bumpy backcountry Georgia roads to the nearest dirt road crossing just north of the mountain, and then backtrack a bit, as so many folks do. No, all you have it do for this box is make your way to the first paved road crossing of the AT on Georgia route 60 at Woody Gap, then continue west towards Suches a couple more miles to a sharp left turn onto Cooper Gap Road, which you follow on pavement for another couple of miles plus a scant quarter mile on dirt to a small parking lot on the left at Gooch Gap. From here at the east side of the parking lot you can start counting your steps (not miles!) to 1000, as the old Lao Tzu saying goes. The first 100 steps should bring you to a row of five rocks going in a line up the middle of the trail. Around 200 steps there should be tree crowding the right side of the trail and sticking out its roots into the trail. Around 300 there is a low flat sitting rock on the immediate left of the trail. At 400 look for a low jagged rock about a foot or two off trail left. At 500 you should find yourself just past a pair of sentinels on either side of the trail, at 600 just past a large dead tree on the right. At 700 you should be getting into a spot with mountain laurel on both sides, and by 800 you may see a rotten stump under a mountain laurel off trail left. By 900, you should see a large tall knobby tree about three feet off trail left, and by 1000, there is another part-dead large knobby tree off trail left where a stone water bar crosses the trail. Your "one step" has now turned into a "journey of 1000", so head back down the trail about 65 steps to a rock group now on your right, then look (about 5 steps west off trail) under the far end of the pointy rock that has a tree growing into it for my AT #1 box. Now, as you make your way back down this very gentle quarter mile section of the AT back to your car, picture every single step you take as covering a hundred miles or so of actual trail tread to imagine how this first backpacking journey of mine along the AT from Georgia to Maine would eventually lead to my backpacking over 30,000 miles! (not counting, of course, all those many, many more thousands of just plain day-hiking miles that I've done over the years!)

2.) The next box represents the Benton MacKaye Trail, which I didn't actually hike until after my second AT "thru-hike" southbound in 1985, but it's so relatively close down the road from my AT #1 box that you might as well get it now. Just continue west on route 60 about 13 winding mountain miles from Suches, or east about 15 miles from Morganton, to find the marked crossing for the Benton MacKaye Trail near Forest Road 816 on the south side of the highway. Now, you could just hike right through on the trail from here, as I did in my old backpacking days, but Pete and I drove down this dirt forest road in March of 2016, and found it to be in quite decent shape. So, to save yourself about 6 miles round trip hiking, just drive the dirt road about 3 miles to its end in a circular parking lot for 3 or 4 cars, and begin your quarter mile or so stroll down to the famous "gut-swinging bridge" over the Toccoa River from there! This fine stamp carved by spitfire of GA is very "site-specific" and really could not be planted anywhere else. Besides, I have a great memory of taking my dog Victor across that bridge, with her scrunching down low as she always did when crossing swinging bridges, in November of 1985, right after finishing up my second AT and turning around back north to start on the then newly created Benton MacKaye Trail, so I figured why not plant it here, now that I know there's decent dirt road access for "day-trippers" and nice campsites along the river for "overnighters", too!)

Anyway, once you have hopped out of your car, headed towards the sound of rushing water, picking up the white diamond blazes of the Benton MacKaye Trail along the way, enjoyed the bridge and strolled over to the other side, simply go up the trail on the other bank about 6 wooden water bars, passing an uprooted stump on your right. Just past the second of the newer wooden water bars, you should see on your right some rather small double U trees with green ankles. Go right off trail behind them 8 to 10 steps to a larger tree sporting 3 green toes like a bird's foot, and look behind it under leaves and stones for this box prepared for me by beachcomber with stamp carved by spitfire!

3.) Next I would recommend continuing west on route 60 west to Mineral Bluff, GA, then picking up 60 Spur towards Murphy, NC. From there, you have a couple of route options, but we chose NC routes 19/29/74 north through the AT crossing at the Nantahala River in the tiny trail town of Wesser, then zigzagging back on route 28 west to get to Fontana Dam. This seemed the logical place to drop off electric medic's carving for my second AT, southbound in 1985, because it is right on the border of Great Smoky National Park, which ties in nicely with his GSNP logo bear carving - and yes, I did see bears on every single one of my long-distance backpacking trips! So, to find this little one, turn right off route 28 at the sign for Fontana Dam and Marina, pass the turnoff for the Marina on your right, and continue to the long parking area up the hill with a picnic area to your right and a stone water fountain with white AT blazes on it to your left. Locate the tilted blue-framed Appalachian Trail info sign along the sidewalk, and follow the curving wall right from it, very briefly southbound on the AT, towards the yellow gate. Just where the lower portion of the stone wall curves right and the upper portion ends in about one foot, hop over and sit on the lower portion of the wall as if to admire the watery view below. If you very discreetly reach down with your left hand into the crevice between the two wall portions to carefully remove a chunk or two of "cauliflower cement", you should be able to see a small 2" x 3" tilted gray stone behind which my AT #2 box is hiding, tucked well inside its small crevice at the bottom of the wall. Please make sure to put everything back exactly as you found it to try to keep this box safe in its little home right along a very accessible spot on the AT!

4.) Now we're going to have you skip on over to the other side of the Smokies to find my AT#3 box, with stamp carved by mstrwndl of TN to represent a carver's cabin he knew about in the Great Smokies. His cabin is a bit fancier than most of the primitive hikers' shelters along the trail, but we did want to leave it as close as we could to the Smokies without actually being in the National Park. So, since my 1986 AT "thru-hike" was once again a northbound one, we found a likely and easily accessible spot just off exit 451 from I-40, which is soon after where a northbound backpacker like myself would be exiting the park and still in TN, too! How you choose to get there is up to you. We took the "Tail of the Dragon" road west from Fontana, up and around Gatlinburg and Cosby, TN to eastbound on I-40, but westbound from NC works fine as well. Once you take that exit and cross the Pigeon River southbound, paved Waterville Road curves left and a dirt road goes uphill straight ahead. There is no parking lot for the AT here (as at Davenport Gap directly outside of the park a couple of miles drive away), but there is at least room for one car to pull off on the right for a few minutes where the paved road curves left and the AT starts up the hill ahead towards a nice little waterfall. All you need to do to find this AT#3 box is walk a very short distance to the first switchback. Don't take that switchback left, but rather continue straight about 10 steps on a faint path towards the waterfall, then look left up the bank to a mossy green ledge. From between two hemlocks, carefully take a few steps uphill to a couple of flat stones that are holding the box below the ledge, and remember to replace the stones back the same way you found them to keep this box safe.

5.) Next we got back on I-40 and continued east to I-26 south to Hendersonville, then took route 64 west to Brevard, then north on route 276 and west on forest road 475 about 7 miles to hop onto the Art Loeb Trail near Gloucester Gap, at the junction of dirt roads 229, 471 and 475. (A sign at around 5 miles says "rough road ahead", but when we drove it in March 2016, it really was not that bad at all.) In actuality, I backpacked this wonderful little trail as a 2-day break from my 3rd AT when "Jumpstart" (famous for starting his AT hike by parachuting onto Springer Mt. when he was well into his 60's!) met me along my AT#3, took me over to the trail up Cold Mountain and met me again the following day a mere 30 or so backpacking miles later at the other end of the Art Loeb Trail near a campground, hiked another mountain or two with me, and then put me back on the AT with a pizza drop at Beauty Spot in TN - quite a nice little diversion!

Anyway, to find this stamp carved by Mama Fox of NC, find your way to the above-mentioned junction by any route you wish, then take the trail up the log steps closest to the dead end/stop sign. Start switchbacking up the trail for less than a quarter of a mile until you see a large boulder that seems to be almost crossing the trail ahead of you. The Art Loeb Trail actually makes a sharp right turn here into the rhododendrons, but this is the point at which you can stop and take note that no stones need to be overturned in order to get at this box. In fact, moving stones could possibly jeopardize this box's survival. Instead, carefully take five steps left along the front base of the boulder, scooting behind a skinny rhododendron close to the boulder, and then drop down on your right knee to balance yourself while you retrieve this black box from its nesting place under a few sticks behind the first purposely placed stone (remember, you don't need to move the stone!) At this point you may wish to go out on the boulder to view a sheer rock wall off to the right and a nice little campsite down below as you stamp in and read the story of Art Loeb that Mama Fox included in the front of the logbook. Then carefully put the box back in its little nest before heading back down the trail.

6.) From here we continued west on FS 475 to 215 south to Rosman, very briefly east on 64 and then south again on SC 178 to a sizable parking area on the right for the Foothills Trail, which I backpacked in the early spring of 1990 on my way out to some more of the many long-distance trails that I'd been backpacking out west in the ensuing years. To find this stamp by electric medic that depicts the route of the Foothills Trail through this lovely portion of SC, carefully cross the road, climb up a bunch of steps, curve left to cross a bridged stream, curve right to cross the headwaters of this little stream, go up a few more steps to pass into a burned area, and stop just before the trail makes a major curve left away from the road. (At this point, you may still be able to see your car across the road in the valley below.) About 10 steps past a large charred barkless tree on your right just before the start of the curve left, take about 10 steps off trail uphill to your left to reach a 3' flattish sitting rock. The Foothills Trail box rests under its far northern end behind a couple of whitish stones.

7.) Finally, we decided to plant one more box for this trip, the Chattooga River Trail/ Bartram Trail box by figureeight of SC, which also features a map of this particular area, and indeed blends right in from the preceding Foothills Trail box, which is why I just had to continue backpacking these trails in 1990 as well, to loop back up through GA via Rabun Bald and cross the AT back to Cheoah Bald near Wesser before heading back out west again. To find where we left this box, simply make your way to the SC/GA line on route 28 northwest of Mountain Rest, SC, south of Highlands, NC and east of Clayton, GA. Park on the north side of the highway on the Georgia side of the Chattooga River, and carefully cross the road to start following the trail south along the river. Shortly after some trail signs, you should see some old stone bridge abutments on your left and some large rocks off to the right side of the trail. Look at the top end of the rock that has a fallen tree stretched downhill across it for where we left this box until figureeight may choose a more appropriate place to plant it. Meanwhile, hope you enjoy making this loop, whether you do it all at once, or divide it into several shorter trips and hike more of these trails along the way!

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