March 22, 2016
Today the pops and I decided to take more of a driving tour, so we thought. We’ve been wanting to see the North Fork and South Fork Falls along North Fork Road, just North of Dover. Once we reach Scottsville it is a scenic drive up 164N which eventually turns into Granny Gap 1 Road. As we were crossing over the Illinois Bayou bridge we encountered a horse drawn buggy with 2 men in bright orange shirts. The passenger had a “y’all don’t belong in these here parts” look in eyes, which meant we were on the right path. We turned onto North Fork Road which is really a well traveled logging road. We set our odometer per Tim Ernst’s instructions and parked at the curve at the 8.7 mile mark, which was the longest 8.7 miles I’ve ever experienced. We had finally reached South Fork Falls! We look down the ravine to our left, and lo and behold, one of the headwaters for Illinois Bayou. Naturally since it had been several days since a solid rain, the flow wasn’t that impressive for the trek to it. The problem I foresee with these particular falls is that you have to catch them after a good rain, but the road will probably be impassable.
Next, we drove .6 miles further down the hairpin turn road and parked at yet another curve to observe the North Fork Falls. It was a slight trickle and I wasn’t even moved to break out the camera gear for that one. We turned around very carefully and made our way back out the long and winding road.
Right before the bridge back over the Illinois Bayou there is a tranquil farm plot. Hanging on the gate was a one-eyed cowboy. He intrigued me and next time I will definitely stop to meet this fellow. The bayou was flowing and made for a perfect pitstop for some pictures.
We decided to park on the bridge and follow the trail down under to the other side. We spent maybe 10 minutes here enjoying the Spring air.
The last leg of our trip was to go see Native American Falls. Tim Ernst said it was one of his favorites and I wanted to see why. After leaving the Bayou, we hooked a right onto Granny Gap 2 Road and cut over to Scenic Hwy 7 N and headed towards Sand Gap. The directions in the Waterfall book told us to park .4 miles South of the intersection of Hwy 7 and 16/123 at the Wilderness sign. In order to ensure our accuracy, we drove to the intersection and stopped at the Hankins Country Store in Sand Gap for some trail grub. We turned back towards Dover and drove a short distance to the Wilderness sign and parked here. It was evident we were at the right place. The road dips off to the right and has a gravel parking area. The book said to head straight down the ravine, so that’s just what we did. Ernst said it was a 1.5 mile roundtrip medium bushwhack and he wasn’t lying. This hike is not for the faint of heart. We knew the entire time walking down the struggle we would have coming straight back up. Before descending into the thorny abyss, an arched tree hung over the faint trail. Thankfully someone tied orange flagging tape to sort of lead the way down. Once we reached the bottom we followed the creek to the left. It is filled with many falls and cascades and made for a beautiful hike downstream.
After what seemed like a lot longer than .75 miles we finally reached the top of Native American Falls. Behind us before the Falls is what I like to call a biscuit rock. This was a very serene place to take a nice break before attempting the hike down to the bottom of the fall.
Now came the tricky part. How to get down. Ernst just said “if you’re lucky enough to make it down”, and by golly we were feeling lucky. We could see an orange flag on a tree in the creek below and we were going to get there. From the top of the falls looking down, we decided to the right looked like the best path, but we had to hike an additional .25 miles downstream to find a way to the bottom. Then we had to hike that .25 miles back towards the fall, but every step was worth it. I can see exactly why Tim Ernst loves this place. It was almost mystical. I was climbing over boulders using my folded tripod as a walking stick to get as close as I could. If time wasn’t our enemy on this day I would’ve stayed here for hours.
After scoping out our surroundings we could see the best way up wasn’t the way we came down, but instead to go up the opposite side along the overhanging cliffs and trudge our way back across the top of the falls and head upstream. After awhile we followed the orange back up into the thickets and briars and made our way to the top. No zig zagging along for an easy transition. Nope, it’s straight up with no good place to stop for a rest or catch your breath. Great leg day.