Friday, November 14, 2008

High and Dry on the West Fork, Part One

The High Falls of the Tuckasegee, also known as Tuckasegee Falls, on the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River, Jackson County, NC

The Falls of the Tuckasegee River, in Jackson County, are thought, by many, to surpass in beauty anything of the kind they have ever seen.
-Henry E. Colton, Mountain Scenery, 1859.

The High Falls of the Tuckasegee unquestionably rank among the three or four most beautiful and impressive cataracts in the Tennessee Valley.
-The Scenic Resources of the Tennessee Valley, 1938.

Who would have known that those of us living in Jackson County have such a magnificent natural wonder in our own backyard? As soon as I found the photographs and read the descriptions, I started preparing for my own pilgrimage to the High Falls of the Tuckasegee.

I scrounged up some sketchy directions, studied topo maps (both current and archival maps) and turned in last night with visions of Tuckasegee Falls dancing in my head. My plans to roll out of bed early and hit the trail at dawn were dashed when I woke to the sound of a steady rain. But as soon as it slacks off, I'm there...

Unfortunately, I'm about 70 years too late, and I know it.

If our neighbor to the east, Transylvania County, can claim the title "Land of Waterfalls," then Jackson County has a right to call itself "Land of LOST Waterfalls."

Take, for instance, Dills Cove Falls, pictured here:

This lovely waterfall, in the town limits of Sylva, ceased to exist in the early 1970s. As reported in Waterfalls Destroyed a four-lane highway was considered more important.

The story of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee is not quite so tragic. The riverbed and the cliffs are still place. All that's missing is the water. The culprit in the disappearance of Tuckasegee Falls is Thorpe Reservoir, or Glenville Lake, completed in 1941. The flow of water through the West Fork of the Tuckasegee is being diverted to generate electricity to power things so essential to our way of this computer.

In contrast to the finality of the Dills Cove story, there is a tantalizing possibility for the future of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee. But I'll save that for a later day.

For now, suffice it to say the time might come again when we will see what Margaret Morley saw a century ago on her trip from Cullowhee to Highlands:

THERE is joy also in the valleys. From them you look up to the mountains transfigured by a light that crowns them in beauty. In the valleys are the homes of the people, the leafy inclosing hills, and the winding roads, following which a new picture unfolds each moment as you pass along. Leaving Whittier and facing towards the Blue Ridge, one may follow the valleys across the plateau from one bordering range to the other. When you come to the beautiful Cullowhee Valley, you ought to be going the other way, however, for the Balsam Mountains, lying so splendidly against the sky, are behind you, and you are constantly looking back as the valley opens and shuts and those noble heights come and go.

And what does one now see beyond the Balsams? — those spirit-like forms high in the sky? It is the line of the Smoky Mountains, rehabilitated since we left them, and restored to their wonted place in the heavens. As the road winds on and up, you turn to see again and yet again the deep-toned Balsams and that line of dream mountains that grows higher as you ascend. "It's been heavy draughting all the evening." These words from your driver bring your thoughts down to the road which, from recent rains and the passing of tanbark wagons, is, indeed, as he puts it, "terribly gouted out." But you are now up the mountain and crossing the gap where, at the turn in the road, that long white waterfall comes gliding down the slanting cliff, and beyond it in the distance the Balsam Mountains rise, purple, indigo blue, and deep green against a cloudy sky.

Just beyond here you get some one to guide you a mile or two along a wild ravine where the jack-vine grows, to the upper falls of the Tuckasegee, one of the grandest falls in the mountains, the thunder of which is heard for a long distance. Although not so high as the other cascade seen from the road, it is far more impressive, for the much wider sheet of water leaps over a vertical cliff bordered on either side with stern walls of granite. Striking a projecting ledge it separates into two parts to leap again, a mass of foam, to the bottom of the ravine. It is cool and sweet in the spray of the thundering waters and you reluctantly turn back and climb out of the shadowy gorge where the tall trees are draped in vines, among them the great jack-vine whose cables sagging heavily from the tree-tops produce a weird effect in the semi- twilight of the gorge. Nothing in the forest is more suggestive of tropical growths than these enormous vines with their large leaves, the bark peeling in tatters from the stem that when dead separates for its whole length into flat ribbons, black and strange-looking.

Out of the dark gorge, up to the bright sunlight of the road you climb, and continuing on your way, the cliffs that distinguish the country about Highlands soon begin to appear above the trees. Up you mount, now through a forest fragrant with hemlock and white azalea, now over cool, hurrying streams, now close to damp cliffs with little plants in the crevices, the way darkened by the hemlock trees that grow so freely here, on and up, finally to attain the very summit of the Blue Ridge — and find yourself at Highlands.

(From The Carolina Mountains, 1913)

Looking out my window right now, I see blue sky breaking through the clouds. Tuckasegee Falls, here I come...

Dills Cove Falls was located just to the east of SR 1380 (Dills Cove Road) where 23/74 now runs. The street above the falls is still called Falls Circle.

View Larger Map


The Appalachianist said...

I'll be waiting on your word abut Grennville Lake.

writerlady said...

Great post. I'm listing this blog on our Pick of the Week.

kanugalihi said...

still don't understand where dills cove falls was.

GULAHIYI said...

Dills Cove Falls was located just to the east of SR 1380 (Dills Cove Road) where 23/74 now runs. The street above the falls is still called Falls Circle.
Here's the map:,-83.188036&spn=0.098761,0.158615&t=h&z=13&g=Cullowhee,+NC