The (Mostly) Dry Turkey Creek

Cricket Frog
Last week I took a few hours off and headed down to the Turkey Creek. I’ve kayaked down there twice and hiked trails a few times, but this time my goal was to hike the creekbed. The idea came to me the last time I paddled there, as it was hard to get good photos while the kayak was moving so quickly. I figured that with low water I could wade and take my time with the camera.

It takes a steady day or two of rainfall to get the Turkey Creek to the optimal 2-4 foot paddling level. As it has been ridiculously dry here in western South Carolina all summer and fall, I was sure that I’d be able to walk in the creek. I arrived at our standard put-in, just below the Key Bridge. Normally the water is around the bottom of the steps (like this). This time the water was almost completely gone; there was just a trickle in the middle of the creek, far from the steps. I thought I’d be in for a totally dry hike, but I was wrong. Not too far down-“stream”, there were spots where the creek was full from bank to bank, but not really moving.

At the dry put-in I found several small pools, teeming with speedy water bugs. Didn’t have much luck photographing them, but as I was doing it, nearby movement caught my eye and I spied a frog. It was an unusual brown color and fairly bumpy, but to me it looked more like a frog than a toad. It was a good photo subject, and from looking at my field guide at home, I think it was a cricket frog.

From here I decided to start slogging down the creek. The water was fairly warm and mostly shallow. In general it was clear enough to see the higher ground, but every once in a while I’d have to cross a dark, deeper section. I started out by telling myself I wouldn’t get deeper than my knees. Getting those wet, I decided not to get the shorts in the water. But it wasn’t long before the pantlegs were a little wet. I eventually decided to not go deeper than my waist in order to protect my camera backpack. A couple times the creek got so deep that I had to find a fallen tree trunk to wade across and balance with my hiking pole. But I was able to get about a third of a mile downstream without getting my shirt or the camera gear wet.

The creekbed alternated between rocks, gravel, and mud. The mud had trapped gases which got released as I walked, bubbles popping with lovely stagnant fragrances. Once I came across a nice section of what looked to be the same sort of jagged phyllite I saw last winter.

I didn’t see a lot of wildlife while I was actively wading. It is noisier than kayaking and perhaps my element of surprise was diminished. I managed to see a few turtles, lots of fish confined to the shallow sections, and I heard plenty of birds. However, as I stopped to take a break on a gravel bar, I was treated to four deer crossing the creek in the distance. Wish I’d had the camera ready for it.

I stopped for lunch on another gravel bar. Most of the shoals were overgrown with vegetation, a testament to how long it had been since these bars were fully submerged. After I ate I watched a flycatcher in a tree and debated whether it would wait for me to put the telephoto lens on the camera. I decided to give it a try and of course the bird bailed just as I was ready. But that did prepare me to photograph the flash of yellow that appeared nearby in the same tree. The bird stayed just long enough for me to identify it as my first Hooded Warbler, but not long enough for me to get a decent photo. The blurry result resides at BirdSite for now. Still, it was great to see a new bird species out there in the middle of “nowhere.”

I got a little sloppy on my return hike/wade. There were a couple deep sections where I couldn’t remember exactly where I had come down, so I had to guess heading back up. At one section I was walking along a submerged tree trunk and slipped, soaking my shirt and getting the bottom of the backpack wet. Fortunately I had recovered without getting any of the lenses wet. Grateful, I resolved to be more careful for the rest of the walk.

I arrived back the steps in good order and headed back uphill. The last time I was here there was unfinished trail bridge just below the Key Bridge. It looked finished, so I hiked up to it and was able to walk out on it. It’s in good shape for future hiking and mountain bike traffic.

And so ended my little adventure. It was interesting to travel the creek on foot, but I think I still prefer to paddle it!

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