Nix Hollow
September 9, 2007
Nix Hollow is a small forest valley adjacent to the Mulberry River in north central Franklin County, about six miles west of the Turner Bend community. I'd never even heard of it until I noticed it on a topographic map on a Saturday night while trying to decide where I might go hiking the next day. We were in the midst of an unusually potent rainstorm for this time of year, and the weather radar information I got off the internet said the area around Nix Hollow got more rain that anywhere else. Was it enough rain to make the waterfalls run?
Sunday, I parked the truck on the side of the unpaved Hwy. 215, three miles east of Shores Lake. It was around 11:30. As soon as I'd walked down the embankment and into the woods beside the water, I knew I was in for a treat. The wide, shallow stream ran peacefully through open woods. I hadn't hiked five minutes until I had to stop to take some pictures at a couple of small cascades. A bright yellow fuzzy caterpillar caught my eye, and I got it's picture too. (Later I ID'd this as an American Dagger Moth caterpillar.)
As I continued north upstream, it seems usually one side of the hollow was sloped and the other side relatively flat. I frequently crossed from one side to the other, but it was easy finding a spot to cross. The hard part of the trip was dealing with the heat and thick humidity. Though the sky was overcast and temperatures were in the mid 70s, the moist, heavy air was dead still. Sweat was dripping off my face and my glasses were fogging up constantly. I stopped frequently not because I was tired and wanted to rest, but because I needed to cool off. Several times I took my t-shirt off and soaked it in the stream then pulled it back on. But with the air being so still, this didn't seem to help all that much. This also washed all the bug repellent off my shirt - something those evil horseflies took advantage of.
There were several areas in the first three quarter-miles where the the creek would make a bend before heading steeply up the mountain. I kept thinking I would see a waterfall up ahead as I rounded those bends, but I didn't. Finally, three hours and eight-tenths of a mile up the hollow, I heard and saw a lovely 10-foot waterfall in the distance.
Things stayed pretty interesting after that. A little ways up the hollow, I paused at a small waterfall beside a boulder. I almost stepped on a cottonmouth as I was unpacking the camera. I never dreamed I'd see a cottonmouth on a Ozark waterfall hunt, but then again I was only a mile away from the Mulberry River and was next to a stream.
As I continued upstream another odd caterpillar caught my eye, this one with big fake eyes on its back (it's a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar). Though I've taken several pictures of insects since I got my macro lens in January, it's not like I'm into bug collecting or anything. I just like taking pictures of interesting things, plus the creepy crawlies seem to get in front of the camera a lot.
The clouds thinned out and the sun starting popping through around 4 p.m. Uphill to the East I noticed a line of bluffs and went up to investigate. I unpacked the camera and while waiting for the clouds to cover up the sun so I could take a picture of the bluffs, I ate an early dinner of cheese, crackers and lunchmeat. The sun never did quit shining. While I was waiting, peering through the trees across the hollow I could make out a small bluff on the west side with possibly a overhang and shelter beneath it. I just had to go check it out. I made it down to the stream and uphill to the overhang in 10 minutes. I walked right beside another cottonmouth coiled up on the ground. I changed lenses and tried to get a picture of it, but it started slithering away.
I pressed on up the hollow, which was starting to close in to form a canyon. I looked down and spotted yet another cottonmouth directly in my path. I gotta say a couple of things here. First, I'm not one of those guys that thinks every snake he sees is a cottonmouth (nor a copperhead!). I'm way too interested in correctly identifying stuff, obviously. Secondly, this trip was the first time I've ever consciously thought about and looked for snakes. And I saw THREE of them! Maybe I should do that more often (or maybe not!). Anyway, I had to grab a stick and move this guy out my way, and he acted like he didn't want to leave.
I tried to stay on the hillside on the west side of the hollow, because an enormous boulder about 20 feet in diameter had fallen away from the eastern bluff and was blocking the stream bed. But I came to an area of wet, slick, solid rock beneath a dripping waterfall of sorts. This rock had a pretty severe slope, and there was no way I would be able to even crawl across it without sliding off, let alone walk. So I backtracked a few feet and slid on my rear down the steep hillside to the streambed. Dense vegetation tried to block my away around the boulder, but I struggled through it.
By now I was up in the top reaches of the hollow, and the streambed was a narrow line of rocks and boulders running steeply downhill. Going upstream was about like climbing huge stairs. The terrain flattened out and over to my right there was another small bluff shelter. The baby stream turned and actually ran underneath the overhang for a bit, before dropping into a small pool. I got as far back in the middle of the shelter as I could, and took a series of pictures as I panned the camera. (Then later I stitched the photos together in the computer for a panorama.)
Just past this shelter I found myself boxed in, craning my neck to try to see up to the top of the forested canyon in front of and on either side of me. There's no way for me to describe the immense scale of that view; I'll make a conservative guess and say that the canyon was 200 feet deep.
Though I'd been keeping an eye on the time, I wasn't being the least bit responsible. It was now 6:30, with sunset only an hour away and the truck over a mile. I was banking on being able to find a jeep road that my topo maps had informed me ran above the east side of the hollow. I had stored three different markers for the road in my GPS receiver. Now, if I'd known for a fact that the road existed then my plan would have been a sound one. But I've been burned by incorrect maps many times before, and should have known better. Sure enough, there was no road. I only found hints of an old roadbed long ago abandoned and reclaimed by Mother Nature. I tried bushwhacking south but the area was on an uneven boundary of a pine plantation. Instead of open woods I was faced with a jungle of young hardwood trees and sticker vines. With darkness overtaking the forest, I retreated back to the reliability of the stream.
It was a miserable 2-hour stumble in the dark back to the truck. (I did have a flashlight at least). I got so fed up with my glasses being fogged over and covered with spider webs that I actually took them off in favor of blurry, yet contrasty, vision. I was pushing myself so hard that I kept feeling overheated and would stop to cool down while lying on the first big flat boulder I could find. I'm not all that afraid of snakes, but the fact that I'd seen three poisonous ones earlier certainly weighed on my mind!
I still don't think I've learned my lesson about giving myself enough time to return to the truck before dark, but I'll think twice about ever going hiking again in warm, humid conditions.