A little over a year ago a good friend (my wife said I should use BFF here, but I’ll pass…) invited me to visit a place I’d not heard of before – Walls of Jericho astraddle the Alabama / Tennesse border. I wasn’t able to join him last year, but we made the trip together this year on Tuesday, April 1. It’s advertised as a “strenuous” hike, and it lived up to that billing – there is about 1,000 of elevation drop in less about 2 miles out of the Alabama trailhead (meaning “increase” on the way back out) – but it was well worth the effort.
While most folks may visit Walls of Jericho for the views, camping near the cool waters of Hurricane Creek, the walk into the deep gorge on Turkey Creek – the Walls of Jericho – and the multiple, beautiful waterfalls (one of which comes right out of a cave), the wildflowers are also worth the visit. A hint was provided as we started down the trail from the parking area, and almost immediately spotted Pennywort (Obolaria virginica).
As we headed down the initial escarpment, Trillium cuneatum, Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), and Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis) started showing up in quantity, along with a variety of violets, including Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata), Common Blue Violet, and a yellow violet that I think is Viola philadelphica. There was also a scattering of Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) along that trail down to Hurricane Creek, and over on Turkey Creek the Hepatica was abundant. As we approached the bottom, there was an area densely populated with Spring Beauties, both Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana, both with much larger leaves than I’m used to seeing.
Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) were blooming a the junction of the NC / AL trails along the creek, and the Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) we had seen scattered near the bottom became common. Across the log bridge a large stand of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were blooming along the Hurricane Creek bottom. As we headed over toward the bridge across Turkey Creek, we added both Slender Toothwort (Cardamine angustata) and Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) to our growing list of wildflowers (slender being much more abundant), and three different species of Buttercup. Right across the bridge was a very large patch of Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis).
We photographed Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) at Clark Cemetery before heading up the trail along Turkey Creek into the Walls of Jericho canyon. As we headed up the trail, I got a big surprise – Twinleaf! While there were only a few remaining blooms of Jeffersonia diphylla , it was a massive population. Also along this trail we ran into Bellwort (either Uvularia grandiflora or Uvularia perfoliata), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) forming their twin buds under each leaf node, and Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) just beginning to bloom. As mentioned before, Hepatica were abundant along this section of the trail.
Of course, the trail leads into the Walls of Jericho. Here are a few photos of this gorgeous gorge:
This falls is the end of the line – oh, except for the return trip. That 1,000′ elevation gain in the last two miles of the return to the parking area tested my limits. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water.
This is definitely a worthwhile waterfalls and wildflowers hike. I know I’ve missed mentioning a few more wildflowers that were blooming, and you’re rewarded with several beautiful falls. But plan to hike it (or backpack it) only if you’re in decent physical condition. We spent seven hours on the hike, including frequent stops for photography (with the squatting, bending, lying down, and getting back up that entails) and about an hour for lunch and falls photography at the end of the trail. After those 7 hours, we were spent; I’m glad Dave was the one that had to drive us back to Tim’s Ford State Park, where we were staying about 40 minutes away.
Update: The Atlanta-area based Over the Hill Hiking Group (OHHG) hiked this route on Thursday, 4/3/2014, and report that the hike is 7.4 miles rather than 6.0 miles. 7.4 is more in keeping with what it felt like to me. There have been some changes to the trail route over the past year or so, lengthening it but making it steeper, and also the official “end of the trail” may be at the base of the first waterfalls, which would account for the discrepancy in the distances.