Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Gettin' Dirty on Winding Stairs

You know that I have a tendency to go on gravel roads from time to time, even though my Ninja -- and certainly its tires -- are not really designed for that.

[OK.  So, what does that have to do with Winding Stairs, Bucky?  This?]

Winding Staircase in Spello, Umbria, Italy
Dave Burns Photography

No, not those winding stairs, though they are in a pretty part of the world, I understand.

Actually, near where I live in South Carolina, there is a road by that name.  I had a hankering to explore a little, so I looked at the map.

Click here for an interactive map.
(Cane Creek is mislabeled.  It is actually West Fork Townes Creek.)

Intriguing, don't you think?

Thirty-three miles to its east end from home, and only a little over 4 miles long.  Worth the trip, I'd say, to have a look. 

I do a little research and find that there is another name for the road: Cheohee.  An Indian name, for sure. It might actually be Tsiy’h, defined as "Otter place," from tsiyu; variously spelled Cheowa, Cheeowhee, Chewohe, Chewe, etc.  Here, it probably refers to a former settlement on a branch of the Keowee River, in Oconee County, S.C.  

Now you know as much as I do.  I guess we don't have to know everything about it to go ride on it, do we? 

I do go on to read that it descends from the east end to Townes Creek, then rises again on its way to SC-107.

I start out and make my way to the east end of the Winding Stairs, mostly via. SC-133 (Crowe Creek Road), SC-11, North Little River Road, Cherokee Lake Road, and Jumping Branch Road that circles the private Lake Cherokee.  These are easy roads with few significant curves, but they're a good way to get there.  The start of Winding Stairs is only about 12 miles away from Whitewater Falls, a destination I have gone to quite a lot over my years of riding 

I reach the start of the road, off Jumping Branch Road.  I stop and change the battery in my GoPro to make sure I don't miss anything.  While I am doing that, I scout out the road condition.

■ Dry.  That's good.  A showstopper if not.
■ Smooth.  Maybe recently graded.  Very nice. 
■ No significant loose sand or gravel.  Excellent. 

Set to go, then.  The road is pretty straight at first, and the riding is easy. There is a steep downhill, but not dirt-bike worrisome. 

Less than a mile in, I find a primitive campground.  I stop and look around while I have a slurp of water.

Looking toward the road in.

Looking toward the road leaving.
Lots of big rocks here.  The creek is not very high, so it isn't very photogenic today.  Being winter, you can see quite a ways into the woods.  There are no structures that I have seen anywhere yet. 

Just across the road is the trailhead for Winding Stairs Trail, a 3½-mile hike that is said to be good for beginners.  This end is the lower elevation; it climbs from here about 1100 feet to the Cherry Hill Campground up on SC-107.  To keep things straight (if you go for a hike), the creek to the south of the trail will be Crane Creek, while the creek to the north will be West Fork Townes Creek.  I'm glad to know that, but I don't think I'll do any extensive walking today.  These boots are nice and protective, but not made for walking.  
Besides, I still have the some more gravel to explore just ahead. 

Soon enough, I mount up again and begin ascending.  The road becomes more twisty.  I expect that a dual-sporter or trail bike rider would enjoy this, though it might be too tame for seasoned riders.  I take it slow and easy, in case of anything untoward like loose gravel or oncoming traffic.

I find that the whole way is easy enough for almost any street bike.  The surface is smooth, with only a little scattered gravel in the center and on the edges.  No deep gravel or sand.  There are a few short sections where there is washboard that rattles my fillings, but nothing much worse than that. Weighting the pegs helps me though those sections. 

I find a spot to stop and look over on where I have come. 


From down there... 

...and there. 

Pretty country. 

I continue to scan the surroundings and find no sign of humans.  No signs, houses, or anything else.  The only guardrails were at the bridge over the creek back there. 

After only 15 or 20 minutes, I emerge onto SC-107.  I turn south and run through some tighter curves.  I stop for a few minutes at Oconee State Park, then go through the towns of Walhalla and Pickens on my way home.  The state park has a lake and lots of picnicking and camping spaces.  It is a good place to visit on a hot summer's day.

I pass Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel, both at the same site.  The entrance is on the left in a blind curve.  Watch out for turning traffic there. 

Walhalla has the Oconee Heritage Center museum and Oconee Veterans Museum that are interesting to visit. 

I arrive home in too short a time.  I only had time to ride about 114 miles today, but I enjoyed the little twisty, gravelly bit on Winding Stairs.

Go visit it when you have a little spare time to wind around. 

Additional Hiking Information:

Other Destinations Nearby:

A Similar Trip With Some Fall Color

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