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Sheltowee Trace


FS906 to White Sulphur Spur Trail at Cave Run Lake


Saturday, March 27, 2010



Aaaaar!  This section of Sheltowee be cursed!  Last year in the stretch before this one - KY1274 to FS906 - I forgot my camera (I’ve still got to go back and get the pictures)!  Today I got to the first rise and my batteries went out.  I headed straight back to Lexington!  I don’t embark on these trips just for the sake of it; I want to fully document them for others who might be looking for places to find peace and tranquility too.  I hope to give them (and possibly you!) an idea of what these places might be like in case they’d like to come out sometime too.  Without a camera I can’t do this.  My writing and my memory are simply not good enough to do the job by themselves.  I’ll be back!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Strike up another life saved by intelligent, considerate driving.  The life was that of the dog that ran right in front of my car, the fool behind me riding my bumper (behaving like a lower life form than the dog), myself, or a combination of the 3.  I was able to come to a stop without having to slam on the brakes. 


It occurs to me that dogs comfort us with their unconditional love, while people who drive aggressively actually manufacture ill will where none previously existed by igniting it in others.  Those people, in turn, spread it further.  Obviously a serious spiritual transgression, why is it that I’ve never heard it mentioned in a sermon – and when is it ever necessary anyway?  It’s the height of stupidity!  Would you actually expect someone to speed up for you since you’re being a “bleep”?  Heck, no!  They’ll slow down to spite you!


K…  Let’s try this hike again…


On Saturday I parked in the lot for the Clear Creek Boat Ramp just before the point at which the Sheltowee Trace crosses the road (if you pass either the Iron Furnace Picnic Area or the Clear Creek Campground entrances you’ve got too far – although access to the trace can easily be attained from both spots).  From here I then walked back to the road and headed right onto the Trace.


Today I wanted to do something different and start from FS906 instead of end there (effectively going in the opposite direction that I had on Saturday), but I was on empty when I got to Clear Creek Lake and didn’t want to chance it.  I’ve described this hike in a south to north direction anyway, however, because I think it’s more interesting that way (directions to both entry points are below, though, so you can decide).


At any rate, I hiked down to FS906 and then turned around.  If you start here what you’ll do is walk up and through the woods to about the mid-level of this ridgeline and then wind around it in an “S” pattern.  The first curve in the letter is a little climb while the second is on an almost level plane, and you’ll end the pattern at a place they call Furnace Arch which you’ll see up and to your left.  There’s a little spur path which leads up there, and when you get to the top you’ll be treated to some great vistas.  I assume (scary, huh?) that they’ve given it the name they have due to the color of the rock underneath which takes on kind of a burnt orange hue – and check out some of the interesting striations here…


After checking this out, I headed on.  The main path will get a tad bit steeper here as you meander around in a question mark shape to the top of the ridge, where you’ll stay for a while.  Among the rock outcroppings up here I ran into a gentleman with a couple leashed (thank you!) dogs.  I was impressed.  To reach the arch from Clear Creek Lake and go back (which appeared to be what he was doing) was about 5 miles, but with 2 dogs to keep tethered his hike must have been quite a workout.  Even more interesting, however, was the fact that he was followed closely by 3 very attractive girls.  Lucky guy!  Being a little out of breath and having just inhaled a handful of trail mix to boot, I kind of breathlessly greeted them all (I hadn’t expected to see anyone).


As mentioned, for about the next 1 – 1 ½ miles the path will lead you through the woods along the top or near the top of different ridgelines, sometimes passing by and through different sections of boulders.  Great vistas abound, and Clear Creek Lake at times becomes visible too as you wind from one side to the other of these ridges.  It’s at the end of this section, however, that the views will culminate in one which has been described as possibly the best one on the entire Trace - a near 360 degree panoramic beauty.  There was a fire pit up here so they may allow camping…


It’ll take you a while to tear yourself away from here, but once you do, the Trace will drop off the ridge top and begin a long, healthy downhill descent toward the lake.  This has been made easier by a long section of switchbacks from which you’ll catch more glimpses of the lake which, on a warm day, will seem like a real oasis as you look at it and seriously consider a dip.


Reaching the bottom, you’ll wind along Clear Creek which soon drains into the lake, and then arrive at KY129 ( Clear Creek Road!) in about 1/2 mile.  I took a spur trail here over a bridge to check out the Iron Furnace Picnic Area and the furnace itself.  This spot was once the center of a booming industry in the railroad days when this furnace enabled the production of train wheels.  Acres and acres of forest were burned here in order to get the furnace hot enough to melt the iron which was used for this purpose.  It was such a quiet area today, though, that it was really quite ethereal imagining this.  If you follow along at the same angle as the interpretive sign to the left, you’ll see the spur path at the back of this clearing which will very shortly lead you back to the Trace.


(By the way, if you’d decided not to take the Iron Furnace spur trail, you would have generally continued to wind along with Clear Creek but you would have crossed directly over it instead of going over on the bridge that I had.  I went that way on the southbound part of today’s trip and walked through maybe 2-3 inches of water for about 10 yards.)


There’s another spur option when you get near the lake and its’ parking lot.  You can take this to check out the lake (or return to your car if you parked here) or you can continue on the Trace directly.  If you do continue you’ll go over Clear Creek Road (KY129) and begin heading through the woods again in essentially the opposite direction that you did before.  In fact, you’ll soon look across the road and see Iron Furnace.


For the next 1 to 1½ miles or so it seemed to me that I was almost forming a circle.  The first ¾ of this would be on a fairly level plane as I walked around one side of a ridgeline and then followed the path as it led up a mostly dry stream.  The last part was then a moderate + climb to the ridge top. 


There were quite a few intersecting trails in this part, most of which were spurs that led to the Zilpo Scenic Byway.  It seems I’ve mentioned spur trails a lot here (and there are a plethora of them out here, El Guapo!).  I reached the first of these about ½ mile after crossing KY129.  This was the Buck Creek Trail, a spur which did not, itself, lead to Zilpo but actually led all the way to Cave Run Lake.  The Trace heads left here.


Near the end of the section, when I began the climb up and around the ridgeline at the back of this ravine, I was reminded very much of the Trace section I hiked northbound between Natural Bridge State Park and the Red Rive Gorge Geological Area – specifically the climb up to KY15.  The trail here is probably just a little steeper and the main path leads left around the ridge before reaching the top, but if you followed the next spur trail (Buck Branch) it would look exactly the same as you follow the switchbacks up to the road.  I continued on the trace around the ridgeline and thought I’d never reach the top!


When I did, however, I emerged on what had to have been an old logging or forest road which provided a reward for my efforts – another great vista of rolling mountains.  This road curved in an “S” pattern at the top of this ridge, and I followed it right to continue on the Trace, but made up my mind to explore the other direction too on the assumption that it couldn’t go back too far – it would surely meet its’ end with a steep drop-off… 


In the next, say, ¼ mile to the White Sulphur Trail intersection there were yet 2 more spur trails which led to Zilpo.  I eventually looked into both of these, and on the first one I arrived at the road looking at a rest-stop-like turnoff from the road down to my right.  On the next spur I emerged looking at another of these turnoffs down and to my left.  I did see a placard further ahead on the Trace and I’ve heard that this is an interpretive trail around this point, so these turnoffs might be used by school busses.  (To make a point of it, this section of the Trace follows Zilpo directly but just out of sight for about ½ mile.  It’s right beside you - probably no more than 20 yards away at times - but you wouldn’t know it unless you were about 12 feet tall.  You’re on the opposite side of the ridge top from it.)


This ridge top was interesting.  The rock formations took on a whitish hue, and this was different from what I’d seen on other sections of the Trace.  Also in another area around the aforementioned placard there was a fence.  They had separated this area off from the deer, ostensibly to see how the vegetation would adapt both with and without their influence.


Soon I arrived at the cleared out area which marked the intersection with White Sulphur.  This would make an awesome camping spot with its great views, although the road would be immediately behind the ridge from you – it’s not too heavily traveled though...  White Sulfur leads to a horse camp of the same name, and I had noticed quite a lot of horse evidence today – both hoof marks and otherwise…  There were mountain bike tracks too.


From here I retraced my steps back to my car after checking out the old roadbed I mentioned before.  It didn’t end quite as quickly as I thought.  It looked like it did, but it branched away to the right from what appeared to be an old turnaround point (there was a very small mountaintop basin behind this) and the trail kept going…  And going… 


The situation was akin to what I’ve experienced on the water before.  There’s this cove or stream you want to explore, you see, but you’re at the end of your day and you’re running out of daylight and time.  You don’t want the waterway to end per-se, because you love exploring, but you do want it to end in order that you can get back soon.  You’re conflicted, you hurry, and you feel guilty for doing so because you know that you’re missing things that you normally wouldn’t in your haste. 


Well, luckily this experience wasn’t exactly like that, because I did eventually reach the end and was able to get this shot – the best, clearest view of Clear Creek Lake I would have on the day.  This is one side trail that is definitely worth checking out – but look at the hike down!?!  I don’t know where that leads, but I’m sure it’s not a recognized path!  Having seen this I retraced my steps and headed back to my car.





To the FS906 Trailhead:


Take I64 to exit 123 (US60) near Owingsville, Kentucky.  Then take US60 east toward Salt Lick and after crossing a little bridge, take a right on KY211.  This will at first weave you around the town and then the road will eventually straighten out to present you with the great farm views mentioned above.  You’ll take this about 3 miles to a road which will come in on your left (this road does not introduce itself, but I know it to be FS129, or Clear Creek Road).  Anyway, there’s a sign on the right side of KY211 here which says “Zilpo” and points left.  The sign also has several points of interest marked on it.  Take the left as indicated, pass the lake, and continue on about 3 miles until you come to the junction with FS909 on your right.  This quickly becomes a very narrow dirt and gravel road, and the first junction is for FS906 on the right.  Take this until you reach a dead end at the fences.


To the Clear Creek Lake Trailhead:


Take I64 to exit 123 (US60) near Owingsville, Kentucky.  Then take US60 east toward Salt Lick and after crossing a little bridge, take a right on KY211.  This will at first weave you around the town and then the road will eventually straighten out to present you with the great farm views mentioned above.  You’ll take this about 3 miles to a road which will come in on your left (this road does not introduce itself, but I know it to be FS129, or Clear Creek Road).  Anyway, there’s a sign on the right side of KY211 here which says “Zilpo” and points left.  The sign also has several points of interest marked on it.  Take the left as indicated, and once you see the lake start looking because you’re going to want to make the very next right (if you go past either of the Clear Creek Campground entrances you’ve gone too far although the trace is easily accessible from these points as well).  This is the entrance to the boat ramp.  There’s room for plenty of cars.