Monday, October 31, 2011

Yes Virginia, There Really is a Boogerman

"People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering."-St. Augustine.

Teacher: "What do you want to be when you grow up Robbie?"

Robbie: "I want to be the Boogerman!"

Classmates: "Guess who has a new nickname?"

That was the case for Robert Palmer who would carry that nickname throughout his lifetime and beyond.

It was my intention a few years ago to hike the Boogerman Trail in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I just couldn't resist the name.

Marti Davis at had this to say about the area of the trail,
"This area is named for one of the first hardy families to populate the rich but remote Cataloochee Valley. According to Ken Wise, author of the irreplaceable 'Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains,' a Confederate deserter-turned-Union renegade raider entered the valley near the end of the Civil War, seeking out suspected Confederate sympathizers Levi Shelton and Ellsworth Caldwell. Kirk's marauders proceeded up Caldwell Fork and whipped the women, who nevertheless remained silent. Undaunted, the Union renegades waited until dark, then followed the women to the lair of their mates and executed them. They were later buried on a hillside overlooking Caldwell Fork Trail.

The story behind the Boogerman Trail's name is a far less grisly story that begins on the first day of school for a local boy, painfully shy Robert Palmer. When the teacher asked his name, the tongue-tied Palmer finally blurted out 'Boogerman,' and the name stuck and he was christened 'Booger' Palmer. He later left the crowded farmland of the Cataloochee Valley to seek a lonelier home place along the trail that now bears his name."

Back in '96 we camped at Cataloochee the night before hiking the Boogerman. The forecast was typical for a Smokey Mountains camping trip, so we were prepared for wet weather. Intermittent drizzle did not slow us down as we hiked to Boogerman's place. We did take shelter briefly in a tree. I did not take any pictures because of the rain, but others have photographed that tree, and here is one I found at flickr,

Part of the trail from the campground was also a horse trail so our boots took on a pleasant natural "flavor" as we tried to dodge the barn apples before angling off onto Mr. Palmer's trail.

We never found the Boogerman, but we did spot a fragment of a cast iron pot in one of the creeks and imagined this as being one of Boogerman's very own cooking pots. Just what did he like to cook, little boys and girls, or maybe possum stew?

We also found a crawfish by the creek. I wonder if Booger ate those?

Here are my original notes from back in 1996:

This trip to the Boogerman trail looked like a complete rainout from the forecast, but I hoped we would be lucky and only get rain at night.
We left Rock Hill at 4:30 p.m. We took exit 20 from I-40 and had to turn right not 200 yards off the interstate toward Cataloochee campground. It was getting dark by this time and the road turned into a gravel one that snaked up the mountain for what seemed like an eternity but eventually emerged on a ridge where there was a paved 2 lane road. A few more miles and we were relieved to find the campground after entering the park. It was after 7:30 when we arrived and we had to set up our tents and make some hot chocolate. This time we set up a canopy over the tents to keep out the rain which was a good idea since it rained pretty hard that night. One side of the canopy pulled loose but we stayed dry. Every time I woke and heard rain, I had to make sure that it really was rain hitting the side of the tent since one of the kids had been known to obey the call of nature standing inside the tent.

The next morning, the rain had stopped. After a breakfast of bacon and pancakes, we hiked 0.8 miles down Caldwell Fork trail to the junction with the 3.8 mile Boogerman trail. Passing through a rhododendron thicket we noticed several good walking sticks. We passed several downed trees which appeared to show the face of the Boogerman formed by “natural” processes smiling at us. We found his farm land and an old cast iron pot. There were several crawfish burrowing in the path near here. As we left this bottom land we stopped at an old split rail fence to eat lunch and take some pictures. We then set off on our homeward leg, and it started to rain hard after we found a large stone wall.

It rained the rest of the way back to camp. When we joined Caldwell Fork trail again we had 2.8 miles downhill to go on a horse trail that had numerous mud holes and at least 12 footlog creek crossings. We learned what a Fraser magnolia was and what “barn apples” were. We found that a poncho will keep your upper half dry only if you wear the hood. Even though one kid walked straight through every puddle, my boots were just as soaked as his when we got back to camp. The hike was 7.4 miles, took 5 and a half hours, and the F.i.L. commented that not once did the children complain. They seemed to enjoy it all the more because of the circumstances. After the hike the F.i.L. took a nap while we got dry, and hid out in my tent because it was still raining and getting colder. We practiced our knots while before starting a pot of soup when the rain slowed down. The rain stopped before sundown, and we decided to try to build a fire. Anyone can start a fire with dry wood, but it takes a real scout to start one with wet wood. Not even the F.i.L. could not get it going until N1S pointed out the “fat wood” that he had brought along. This helped immensely, and allowed us to dry wood over the new fire. We toasted marshmallows, and warmed up by the fire before going to bed. We all slept well that night.

We got up at 7:30 a.m. and ate a good stack of pancakes before driving home. We had quite a mess of wet camping equipment, boots, and clothes to dry out once we got home.


  1. Great Smokey is one national park I've yet to visit at length. I've thought about numerous times, but I always wind up heading west. Thanks for (another) kick in the pants.


  2. Make sure you pack the wet weather gear because it tends to rain a lot in the Smokeys.

  3. I've been there a few times and made the trek up Klingman's Dome. Unfortunately, it was a hazy afternoon and the view wasn't the best. Still said, this park has to be the most scenic, east of the Mississippi.

  4. Andy,

    I have been caught in the fog at Clingman's dome. The rare clear days are true Kodak moments especially if you get there before all the low lying smoke has burned off!