Water Feature Names

Confluence of Caney Fork River and Big Spring (creek), Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA, White County, Tennessee I was curious after a conversation with fellow geographer, David Starnes, what the frequency of descriptors (which I call classes for the purpose of this analysis) like stream, creek, branch, prong, fork, etc. are regionally. I did some analysis, and here are some tables of what I found. Details of the analysis follow the tables.

Cumberland River and Obey River confluence, Clay County, Tennessee

I very well could have called this "Hierarchical Water Feature Name Frequency using GNIS in the NHD Regions 5 and 6" but opted for a more user friendly title given my audience. For this analysis I utilized the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) which gets names for features from the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).

I joined NHD data to the NHD Plus data to get stream order information, which for the lay user could be considered a measure of the size of the stream. Since I was interested in changes in the descriptors of smaller water features grading upwards to larger water features, stream order was the easiest measure to work from and 
hierarchically organize the data.

I used Excel to isolate the final word in each water feature name to see only the descriptor. I counted frequency of each descriptor by stream order, as well as the length of stream miles associated with each. Both the count and length can be used to assess frequency.

Table 1 shows the number of unique descriptors associated with each stream order, as well as the mileage of each stream order in terms of total, named, and unnamed features. The class mode shows the most frequently used descriptor.

Table 2 shows the individual descriptors for each stream order and their respective frequency and length. Interesting descriptors point to unique place names such as The Slough in Meigs County, Ohio; The Thoroughfare in Pleasants County, West Virginia;
Right Fork Dixfork in Pike County, Kentucky; Upper River Deshee in Knox County, Indiana; Old Kinniconick Bed in Lewis County, Kentucky; Big Sang Kill in Mingo County, West Virginia; and Virginia Rill in Martin County, Indiana. Curious names likely have interesting stories. If you know one of them, leave me a comment!


Waterfalls and Wildflowers at Standing Stone

Standing Stone map, Overton County, Tennessee
Standing Stone is an area named for the monolith that once stood in Monterey. (Sadly, little remains of the original monolith.) The area consists of a state park, state forest, and a wildlife management area.

I spent several days over the last week exploring Standing Stone trying to catch wildflowers in their prime. My timing was excellent and the showing of wildflowers was as well. After a few hours of exploration I noted that the Chattanooga shale exposed in the park often produced nice cascades and waterfalls. Unfortunately, most were ephemeral features. On a hunch I ended up walking up Bryans Creek and found the most beautiful undescribed 35' waterfall. 

Bryans Fork Falls, Standing Stone SF & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 7 Bryans Fork Falls, Standing Stone SF & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 6

Previous to my documentation of Bryans Creek Falls, I had bumbled around with my friends Kurt Heischmidt and Haley Dickson. We visited OV440 (a cave whose name I feel best to withhold), and a few other interesting features.

Kurt Heischmidt, Haley DIckson, Mill Creek Cave, Standing Stone State Forest & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee Unnamed cascade, Standing Stone State Forest & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 2 Dock, Standing Stone Lake,Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Kurt Heischmidt, OV440, Standing Stone State Forest & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 1 OV440, Standing Stone State Forest & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 4 Low head dam on Bryans Fork, Standing Stone State Forest & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 3 Grave Flower Cascade, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee 1 Grave Flower Cascade, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee 4

Then there were the wildflowers. Five species of trillium, and plenty of other flowers certainly made the trip worthwhile.

Silene virginica, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee 1 Phlox divaricata, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Delphinium tricorne, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Trillim luteum, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Trillium grandiflorum, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Trillium georgianum, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Trillium recurvatum, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee Trillium erectum, Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, Tennessee

Fort Payne Formation & Chattanooga Shale Contact Waterfalls

Part of the beauty of the Eastern Highland Rim is that the morphology of landforms is largely consistent along its north-south axis. Waterfalls are especially predictable when one knows some basic geology, and can recognize the patterns.

It's hard to talk about waterfalls in Tennessee without mentioning the webpage Tennessee Landforms. Tom Dunigan has invested a lot of time in cataloging the resources of the state and making them available to outdoor enthusiasts. The existing waterfall data used in this post all originates from his webpage and my own exploration.

The map below illustrates the relationship to known waterfalls and to the contact between geologic units. Note that described waterfalls are found where streams cross the Fort Payne formation and (since there is no Chattanooga shale on this map, we'll use the next lower strata...) Leipers-Catheys limestone.

Fort Payne Formation & Chattanooga Shale Contact Waterfalls
Examples of its waterfalls on this geologic contact include Cummins, Burgess, Twin, and many of the other large waterfalls in the region. Some areas produce large, spectacular waterfalls with deep plunge pools surrounded by an amphitheater of rocks. Some of them produce gentle cascades in steep walled valleys covered in wildflowers.

The ability to recognize both the Fort Payne formation and Chattanooga shale in the field is important for me in finding waterfalls. It's also important to be able to read maps and understand the shapes, forms, and signatures of each of these rocks to investigate leads.

In the lidar map below, circled in red is an example of the signature I'm talking about. The south by southeast trending "U" shape indicates cliff lines. Where streams cross cliffs, one gets waterfalls. Knowing the general geology from being there in person tells me that it is Fort Payne formation and Chattanooga shale.

The above feature in map, presented below as it appears in real life.

Bryans Fork Falls, Standing Stone SF & WMA, Overton County, Tennessee 1

Spotting the Fort Payne formation in the field is first a matter of understanding what cherty limestone looks like. Chert has sharp edges. Because it is comprised of a lot of chert, it is not easily mechanically weathered and makes great cliffs. Fort Payne formation ranges in color from orange (gravels are often orange) to grey and one can find quartz geodes embedded in and scattered around it under cliff lines. The fossil crinoid stems are some of the largest in the region, with many as thick as a thumb. Other fossil evidence in it includes gigantic worm burrows, which appear as large linear features protruding from the bedrock. Finally, if you have a hand sample, remember that chert will scratch a knife's blade.

Flat Creek Falls, Overton Co, TN Mississippian worm burrows, Fort Payne Formation, Old Stone Fort State Park, Coffee County, Tennessee 1 Fort Payne formation outcrop, Taylor Creek, White County, Tennessee 2 Great Falls 2, Caney Fork River, Rock Island State Park, White and Warren County, Tennessee

Chattanooga shale is much easier to identify. It is a thinly laminated black shale that will easily break given any mechanical weathering. It's ability to be easily mechanically weathered makes it easy to break with your bare hands. In the photograph of Waterloo falls below, the shale on the left appears white due to a gypsym crust (also see the close up of another example of gypsum crust on Chattanooga shale). If you're using color to identify the rock, be sure to look at a fresh face, as opposed to one which has mineralization on it. Often it will create large square or rectangular blocks due to vertical fractures which run at 90 degrees to one another. This can be seen in the photo below with Toni.

Waterloo Falls, Spring Creek, Overton County, Tennessee 1 Gypsum, Pendleton Bluff, Hardscabble Hollow, Jackson Co, TN Chattanooga Shale, Flynn Lick Impact Structure, Jackson County, Tennessee 2 Chattanooga shale, Toni Sullivan, Overton County, Tennessee

Below is a rock cut on Highway 52 in Clay County which exposes the Fort Payne formation and Chattanooga shale in a nice clean exposure. In a natural setting one will not have such a good view of the rock as it will be covered in soil, vegetation, and weathered faces which alter the color of the rock.

Highway 52 rock cut, Jon Zetterberg, Clay County, Tennessee 1

Below is Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park. This is likely the largest volume waterfall in the state of Tennessee. It originates from the overflow of the Collins River on the other side of the ridge as it passes through caves formed at upper contact of the Fort Payne formation with the Warsaw limestone. It cascades down more than 100 feet down into the Calf Killer river gorge.

Twin Falls, Caney Fork River, Rock Island State Park, White County, Tennessee 1


Chimneys State Natural Area

Chimneys SNA map, Marion County, Tennessee
In Marion County, Tennessee, there is a little known State Natural Area named Chimneys. The Chimneys are a series of natural arches and rock pillars formed from the middle unit of the Warren Point sandstone. A meander of Pocket Creek had weathered the ridge down to a knife's edge. The pillar stands approximately 80' above the surrounding landscape, as a detached island of cliff line.

Within the wall of rock, which varies from approximately 25 - 10 feet in thickness, one can find two natural arches. A third arch was likely present until only recently in geological history, but it has since failed leaving only an overhanging pillar.

The trailhead from the parking area isn't obvious. One must wander past the kiosk to the tree line and look for a steep unmarked goats trail down. At the bottom you'll see where generations of dumping left cars and other trash in this beautiful landscape. Plans are being discussed to clean this area.

Beyond the car at the bottom of Overlook Cascade, the trail is virtually non-existent. Be wary summer adventurers, as I would never attempt it during this time of year. My trip in early spring found me literally climbing over a canopy of thick rhododendrons while being attacked on all sides by saw-briers. The wounds and poison ivy on my legs are testament to my success though.

After a totally miserable trip, I get to reflect on some photographs and over time the memory of the pain fades leaving only the beautiful things. In this way outdoor adventurers often gloss over the misery of our conquests. We talk of type 2 fun. This trail was absolutely type 2 fun. I am leaving this blog post as a reminder to future Chuck to plan appropriately before attempting this again.

Here are those photos which don't convey the pain and the myriads of cuss words it took to achieve our objective that day.

The Chimneys, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee Overlook Falls, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee The Chimneys Arches, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee 2 Shauna Wilson, sandstone outcrop, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee Shauna Wilson, Fallen Tree, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee 2 Pocket Creek Falls, Pocket Creek, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee 2 Unnamed falls, Bridge Creek, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee Unnamed falls, Bridge Creek, Chimneys SNA, Marion County, Tennessee Mikes Branch Falls, Marion County, Tennessee 1


Volunteering for the Cumberland Trail

Volunteers, Cumberland Trail, Renegade Mountain Segment, Cumberland County, Tennessee
On Good Friday I joined my friends at the Cumberland Trails Conference for a day of trail building. I wasn't alone, college students from two universities were there on their alternative spring break assisting with trail building. A group of about 40 people descended on a segment of trail on Renegade Mountain (more correctly, but less well known as Haley Mountain) in Cumberland County, Tennessee.

I was shown how to use the tools, mattock and McLeod, and given some loppers and clippers to groom roots from the trail. Thus began hours of swinging a mattock to remove duff from the trail surface and bench it out. Side by side we stood (out of the swinging death zone of a deadly tool) breaking away and moving duff and soil to the trail specifications.

The Cumberland Trail has very particular specifications to the quality of its trail, which is probably why in the segments I have seen, it is the very best trail in the state in terms of quality. Briefly, the specs are that the trail should be 36" wide, and should maintain a slope of less than 5°. Rock steps should be placed where appropriate.

The Cumberland Trails Conference has a team of full time employees who work on the trail. My friend Shauna Wilson is the team leader. She coerced me to come hang out for a day with them because they need volunteer help, and she probably wanted to hurt me a little after the caving trip I took her on. Mission accomplished. My core hurt in the most wonderful way for the next two days. If you are in need of a gym membership but want to save some money, I recommend putting that energy to use on the Cumberland Trail and aside from toning yourself, you will have done something awesome that an untold number of people will enjoy for the foreseeable future.

If you're interested in assisting in the construction of the Cumberland Trail, the team works Monday through Friday starting at 7:30 AM Central Time. Contact the office to get directions and location details. Call 931-456-6259 or ctcoffice2014@gmail.com
(From their website at: http://www.cumberlandtrail.org/get-involved/volunteer/)

Shauna Wilson Dalton Pugh ASB Volunteers, CT Staff, Black Mountain, Cumberland Trail SP, Cumberland County, Tennessee


Dye Tracing in Big Creek Gorge

Rhodamine dye injection above Ranger Falls, Ranger Creek, South Cumberland State Park, Grundy County, Tennessee 1

On Saturday (3/24/2018) I tagged along with the gang from Karst Springs Initiative (KSI) to provide assistance where needed, and to play paparazzi for their efforts to better understand the groundwater in Big Creek Gorge. In other words, I knew there would be some amazing photographic opportunities and I could geek out with like-minded people

Our team consisted of  Ben Miller (USGS), Calla Goins (TTU), Zeke McKee (UCG), Lee Anne Bledsoe (Crawford Labs), and Hali Steinman (WKU) - in other words, an all-star cast.
Ben MillerCalla GoinsZeke McKeeHali Steinmann, Lee Anne Bledsoe

Brian Ham, Jason Hardy, Joel Buckner
Another group consisting of Joel Buckner, Bruce Robtoy, and Brian Ham injected dye into Schwoon Spring sink and Fall Creek sink while Kelly Smallwood and Jason Hardy (The Hardwoods) formed the final group and poured eosin in nearby Schoolhouse Creek.

My group had a few objectives. First we set receptors at the Granddaddy Sink where Big Creek goes underground. Receptors were also placed at a number up springs about a mile upstream from Granddaddy Sink. And finally we were pouring dye into the swallet at Ranger Falls.

The working hypothesis is that the dye will reappear at the springs between Granddaddy Sink and Ranger Falls. However, receptors were placed at other locations in order to develop a more clear idea of the subterranean flow paths and basins. Dye traces of karst areas can often be quite surprising with water moving between surface basins easily through the subsurface. Knowing the subsurface hydrology draws a more complete, and often very different picture of the environment.