A half-day trip on Hatchet Creek

This was a half-day trip and since we had never gone down this creek before there would be new territory to explore. We put in at a place off US 280 where the creek was about 12 feet wide. Trees were lying across the water, stretching from one bank to the other, for as far as we could see. The sky was overcast but rain was not expected. We got wet right off the bat at the first tree crossing we came to. After what seemed like an hour of hauling the boat over blow downs, I turned around and could still see the highway where we started. This was going to be a long day if the creek didnt improve, and fast!
After about a mile or so of progress, we dragged up on Dot Walls place. Passing under an old bridge, we came to a waterfall that sloped enough to go down in the canoe. The falls ran through the back yard of a barn that has since been converted into a house. I could see the silhouette of a woman standing in what was most likely to be the kitchen window. About this time Steve and I shoved the green canoe over the falls. Steve was in the front and I was paddling in the rear. The boat shot down the steep slope of the falls on one inch of water that covered the green moss and smooth rock. There was no steering the boat under these conditions so it slammed into a boulder at the bottom of the waterfall. The second collision occurred when I slammed into the thwart and vertical brace of the canoe. My paddle flew out of my hands and probably hit Steve in the back. The canoe rammed into the boulder with such a force that the back end came up and swung around to the right. I rolled out into the shallow water and could not straighten up for a while. The womans silhouette was still in the kitchen window but I pretended not to notice. There was a large dent about the size of a canon ball in the nose of Steves canoe. I imagine the woman in the window was doing the dinner dishes when, looking up, saw this green canoe with these two guys in it slide down the waterfall and smash into a rock at the bottom. While she blinked the two guys made a hasty effort to gather them selves and hobble off out of sight. At that moment she probably thought to herself, If you live long enough, theres nothing you want see.
This event set the pace for the rest of the trip. There were few times where we could actually get in the canoe and paddle it. Most of the time we were dragging it over sand bars and inch deep shoals. Socapatoy Creek is not as pretty as Hatchet, at least what we had seen of it so far. We knew that Devils Canyon was somewhere down stream but had no idea how far. Devils Canyon was probably on of the prettiest places in Coosa County. The creek grade falls rapidly through granite boulders at the bottom of a deep hollow whose banks are steep and covered (used to be) with long leaf pines.

Meanwhile, we finally reached a stretch of water where we could paddle the boat. A big poplar tree had fallen from the bank and the only way around it was through a 5 foot space between the end of the tree and the bank. We started heading that way when there he was! As many times as I have been on the creeks in Coosa County I had never seen a Cotton Mouth. He was swimming in the gap where we wanted to go and looked like he was daring us to challenge him for the space. He puffed his body up like a balloon and floated right on top of the water. We didnt have a pistol so we just stopped and waited for him to do whatever he wanted to do. Soon he turned abruptly and headed under the bank. We slipped on by careful not to turn over. The next time I had to climb out of the canoe to slide it over a half submerged log, I thought about that Cotton Mouth. We didnt see any more snakes but Im sure they were there. You apparently have to work real hard to get bitten by a snake, or be extremely unlucky.
Socapatoy Creek so far was just a shallow, slack waterway that twisted and turned through flat land with little features. Hardwood trees grew on both sides of the creek but the banks are black, muddy, clay walls about 8 feet high and smelled like swamp gas. Being hot and in September didnt add to the appeal either. There was one place where a small stream ran into Socapatoy from the left. It spilled over black shiny rocks flanked by green ferns and mosses. Giant hardwoods provided a solid canopy over the entire area and made it seem later in the day than it really was. This place was worth remembering and possibly returning to later.

We dragged our boat forever over impossible terrain. One step would be in 2 inch deep water and the next step would be in water over your head. Our shins were being tortured only a little more than the rest of out body. We finally arrived at the County bridge where the Ridge Road crosses Socapatoy. I thought Devils Canyon would be just around the bend from there, which meant that Hatchet Creek would be next which meant US 231 would be next which meant the canoe trip from Hell would finally end. We kept on stumbling, falling, cursing and dragging around bent after bend, but no Devils Canyon. I was beginning to wonder if we would make Hatchet before dark when a familiar rock formation appeared. Devils Canyon at last!!
Devils Canyon is in stark contrast to the upper part of Socapatoy Creek. Giant granite boulders are strewn at random causing the water to make torturous changes in direction while making its way to the bottom of the grade. Steep rock and pine covered slopes flank the creek bed making this a unique place along an otherwise boring creek. I never knew why people called it Devils Canyon, unless devilish things happen there. This may be true. Several years ago, Steve and I drove down the miles of dirt road that leads there to go fishing and wading in the creek. I brought along my three-legged German Shepherd named Major II. Upon arriving we discovered that someone else had beaten us to the spot. Bobby Sims and his wife had T-bone steaks cooking on the grill and a watermelon in the creek. Im sure they thought they were in a secluded place and that there would be no chance of anyone disturbing them..at least thats what Bobby probably told his wife. Their Blazer was parked in an impossible spot, down creek and out of view from the road. We had no idea they were there until we hiked down the creek bank and happened upon them. They were out in the creek swimming as we hurried through apologetically, on our way to the fishing hole. Major II didnt break stride when he swept one of the T-bones off the grill, leaped up into the back end of Bobbys open Blazer, and clawed his way to the front floor board. He practically swallowed the steak whole before I could get to him. This all happened in a blink of the eye. There wasnt much consolation I could offer Bobby. Money would not replace the steak that far into the woods and an apology only goes so far. They pretended it wasnt any big deal and they were more understanding than I would have been under the same circumstances. However, it wasnt soon after that Bobby and his wife got a divorce. I figured that must have been her steak that Major II ate that day.

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