Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wilson Creek- Harpers Creek Falls

HARPER'S CREEK FALLS


Nestled in the corner of Caldwell County, at the foot of Grandfather Mountain is a hidden gem of a natural area.  Beginning from springs on the upper slopes of Calloway Peak (5920'), Wilson Creek flows 23 miles joining Johns River(1020').  Flowing south, the river forms a small gorge and is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River and is considered a part of the Pisgah National Forest.
Until recently it was a remote and rugged afterthought by hikers and vacationers.  Caldwell County has invested money to improve access and infrastructure....and what you have now is a magnificent hiking area.






 Getting there is pretty easy... just take Brown Mountain Beach Road off NC 181 and when you cross the Wilson Creek/John's River bridge, turn left and follow the green mileage markers along a gravel road.  However understanding where you are is a little harder. I have looked at trail maps online for a couple of years, and still not sure I understand the trail system. But thankfully, there is a nice lady at the Wilson Creek Visitor Center named "Glynnis".   Glynnis is a real expert.  Don't even think about hiking one of these trails until you talk with her!
We stopped at the Visitor's Center and were warmly greeted.  She walked us through the trail map and dissuaded us from our original destination by saying: "Don't you want to see the nicest waterfall in the mountains"   I was hooked...off to Harper's Creek Falls we went.


We drove down the road from the Visitors Center until we found a parking lot on the left with lots of cars...at mile marker #7....the trail head was well marked with a yellow/orange blaze....just 1.5 miles to the falls said Glynnis and off we trudged.
The first quarter mile of the trail is a pretty steep haul....about 500 feet.  That is the bad news....the good news is the rest of the trail covers only 100 feet in elevation....hurt early and enjoy a nice hike.   



LOOKING DOWN ON THE PARKING LOT !
Reaching the top of the ridge, the trail 260 (Harpers Creek) to the left intersects with trail 265 (Yellow Buck) to the right.  Being unsure I took the left trail...and soon encountered some young folks trudging out from a night of camping.  "Which way to the falls?"  I asked.  "Don't know, never saw them." they said.  Hmm....so I backtracked and begin up the Yellow Buck trail....only to think. "Why am I taking trail advice from 'hikers' who are packing out beer bottles in a black plastic garbage bag?"   So I returned to the yellow blazed Harpers Creek trail....





The trail to the falls is a nice path through the mountain forest along a ridge above Harpers Creek.  In the early spring, there are several window views of the stream...and many campsites along the banks.  I bet this is a very popular camping destination in the dog days of summer!
About 1.25 miles into the hike, the trail intersects with the white blazed Mountain to Sea Trail.  A sign indicates it is but 8.3 miles to NC 181.  Bear to the right at this point...a small incline takes you the last quarter of a mile to one of the best waterfalls in the state!
The trail dead ends at a cliff overlooking two of the three cascades of the Harpers Creek Falls.  The falls are easily five stories high and plunge off the rocks with an intensity that is similar to the more famous Linville Falls.  
Looking at how to get to the base of the falls, we were offered two choices and both involved ropes!   Yep, to get to the base of the middle cascade on top of the third cascade, you have semi-rappel down a rock face....nope not the Fat Bald White Guy!  

But an easier trek down to the pools side at the base of the third cascade consisted of a rock scramble/slide of about 200 feet with an assist of a rope for the last 75 feet....To my devoted Hiking Companion, I said: "Hey we can do that!"   I hoped!


What we beheld is without a doubt the best swimming hole in the state...and on April 12th...with 68 degree weather.....there were people brave enough to take a dip!





At the base of the falls is a large olympic size pool that is deep and smooth and free of rocks...the perfect summer time swimmin' hole.  At the top of the last cascade was a group of brave swimmers who accessed this choice spot via the aforementioned rope rappel.  

A couple of interesting people attracted my attention.  

First was a the flag shirted girl....
Second was the crazy guy who was making the cascade first his personal bath tub....









Then the guy decided to make the cascade a slide!







We also met a wonderful family whose three siblings, Josh, Keely and Emma took turns swimming in the 50 degree swimming pool at the base of the falls.....



If you want to visit one of the best swimming holes at the base of one of the best waterfall....Harpers Creek trail is a bucket list hike for you!...but make sure you bring your swim trunks....no skinny dippn here!


The trail is a nice 3 miler with many side trails for those who want to explore the riverside...wade in the water ...or take a dip.  Great camping sites and a scenic hike.   Access is a 9....scenery is a 9.... trails are a 9....effort to view ratio is lopsided toward an easy trail for a great view.....Wilson Creek is our main hiking destination this summer....can't wait for the next trail Glynnis points in our direction.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

ROCK CREEK PARK

A LATE AFTERNOON HIKE IN ROCK CREEK PARK

During a recent trip to the District of Columbia, my hiking companion and I took a hike in the famous Rock Creek Park.  
 


 Located in the northwestern corner of the District, there is a wonderful 2000 acre park built around the Rock Creek.  The Park extends northward for 12 miles from the Potomac River to the Maryland state line.

 From the over 25 miles of  trails, we chose to take a hike along a section known as the Western Ridge.  It began at the Pierce Mill in the southern end of the park.

The mill was constructed in 1820 and operated until 1897.  It was recently restored but was unfortunately not open during our visit.  From the mill we hiked up the creek northward toward the main part of the park.

The trail is well marked and well used....so many runners were encountered we felt guilty not running along the banks of the Rock Creek.  But if we had we would not have enjoyed the wonderful scenes that a large creek in the early spring time provides. 

We spotted a pair of ducks on the way up the creek who proved too elusive to capture in pictures.  One time even diving into water to avoid a picture being taken.  

We left them alone intending to sneak up on them on the way back down the creek.  But we did get a nice picture of a spring Red Robin. 
Rock Creek is adjacent to a very busy parkway which unfortunately created lots of traffic noise but leaving the creek and climbing a steep hill into the woods, we escaped to a forest solitude similar to that found in many Piedmont North Carolina hikes. 

 Being that it was late in the day we did not venture far from the Rock Creek and soon returned to its banks and followed the bank side trail downstream hoping to find our elusive duck friends.

Near a bridge we found their hiding place in a calm section of the creek created by bridge abutments.  The calmness of the water created one of the most amazing reflections I have ever captured. 

Not far from this calm section we found our duck friends...and the Daddy Duck was one of the most incredibly colored Mallard Ducks I have ever seen.   
Dating Ducks


Mommy Duck
Daddy Duck
The ducks are more aptly described a "Dating Ducks" as they proved to be inseparable, but were nice to pose for me in the middle of Rock Creek.  
An artist would be too shy to add these colors to this duck...At least 10 different colors




Passing by the Pierce Mill we returned to the Western Ridge loop trail.  The trail led across an 1882 bridge as we chose to walk the eastern bank of the river in order to catch the western ridge trail on the way back.
From a top the 1882 bridge we caught a nice view of the mill dam at the Pierce Mill.




Along the eastern creek bank trail we were reminded that the park is cut from the banks of granite rock hillsides.  

The creek created a nice rocky beach from which I am sure many would venture in the cool water on a summer day.


From the beach we took the steep climb up to the Western Ridge, from which we could look down on the beach from several hundred feet above.








The trail was illuminated by the late afternoon sun which will soon be adorned with spring blossoms.

Returning to the creek bank we crossed a footbridge on the way back to our car and one last picture called out to us.

Rock Creek Park is a place that you need to add to your list of places to visit while in Washington.  It is near the National Zoo and is a pleasant place to spend the afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown.

Trail rating is easy....access is a 9...many places to park in different places in the park.  We chose the one closest to the Pierce Mill.  The trail is an 8....well defined but not well marked as I only saw one trail map and was never quite sure where we were when we ventured from the creekside....scenery is an 8... effort to view is low...easy hike....nice scenery....wish it was later in the spring...can't wait to return one day.




SPECIAL POSTSCRIPT

We stayed in a hotel near these two wonderful churches....one day I vow to return to DC and do a blog with just church photos.....these were two neat old churches.





The white church is the National City Christian Church built in 1930
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_City_Christian_Church



The other church was architecturally more interesting is the Luther Place Memorial Church built in 1873 as a memorial to peace and reconciliation following the Civil War.



The church was right out of a Gothic horror movie but was elegant and inviting nonetheless.  It is of neo-gothic architectural style and features stained glass windows picturing twelve early protestant reformers including Jon Hus.
http://www.lutherplace.org/



These churches can be found at Logan Square where stands the statue of General John A. Logan,  native of Illinois and a hero of the Civil War taking part in the Vicksburg Campaign and later serving as a member of Congress and a vice presidential candidate.