This entry will sound redundant because there are only so many words in the English dictionary to describe this remote inhospitable place called the Nolichucky Gorge. The Nolichucky Gorge area is only about 8-10 miles long but it’s some of the roughest territory around. Some of the gorge walls scale 2000 feet or more with rugged cliffs and scattered boulder falls. The cliff walls provide a remarkable canvas which should be dotted with rock art, or at least that’s what I originally believed. I had the chance to sit through a wonderful presentation on Western N.C.’s remarkably successful rock art survey by Scott Ashcroft and others. Scott is also one of the guys that helped spear head the restoration of Jaduclla Rock which is a soapstone boulder imprinted with nearly the entire Cherokee Cosmos. It was logical that the Nolichucky River area should produce similar types of rock art since we know that it is essentially the same groups of Native Americans living in both places. Dr. Jay Franklin had also observed patches of concentric circles on some of the feeder creeks flowing into the Nolichucky. So we have a good idea that these type of things should exist.
My first few times down the Gorge required a whitewater raft as well as a guide. I quickly realized this is not a place one casually enters. The bottom 1/3rd of the Gorge is basically impossible to navigate unless you are using a low flying Helicopter or white water rafting. The cliff walls make it impossible to walk any significant length with the exception of going vertical. When you float down the gorge you don’t realize the difficulty of navigating this area which was the first mistake I had made. I had envisioned serious foot travel by Native Americans, going up and down the gorge with some degree of regularity. This is simply not possible. I certainly believe that groups of Native Americans were traversing parts of the gorge, dropping down from the canyons above, but they could not of started at one end of the gorge and walked the entirety. So this revelation has changed the way I look for the art. Instead of concentrating on the bottom 1/3rd of the Gorge I will likely have more success locating trails on the rim of the gorge and checking the rock shelters that were best accessible from the top of the gorge. The vastness of this place and the fact that it possesses so many nooks and crannies means I’ll be looking for rock art here for infinity.
I think we have had some limited success. I followed a spring to it’s headwaters and observed what I believe to be a Cupule. Cupules are baseball sized ground out holes on boulders and usually found on large boulders in or near rivers. Nobody knows the significance of cupules but we believe they have some kind of relationship with water. One has to be careful not to observe an area of erosion and mistake it for a cupule as they could look very similar. This find stuck out like a sore thumb as there are no surrounding rocks that had any kind of erosion or depressions. Also the placement of the cupule is significant for 2 reasons. The first reason is that it was found very near the springhead. Where water comes out of the ground played an important role in Cherokee life and we see this consistently reflected in the art. Number 2, the positioning of the Cupule was on the front edge of the rock where erosion was pretty much impossible as no water could pool in this area. The only issue I have with this particular example is that it was not found in clusters and cupules seem to normally be found in clusters.