Sunday, August 24, 2014

MOSES CONE MEMORIAL PARK

FLAT TOP MOUNTAIN TRAIL




One of the largest parks on the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Moses Cone Memorial Park located at Mile Post 294 between Blowing Rock and Boone.  Its convenience for vacationers and students at nearby Appalachian State University makes it a popular weekend destination.  

The centerpiece of the 3600 acre park is the summer home of Moses Cone, the "denim king" of North Carolina textile fame. The home, known as Flat Top Manor, is now a popular craft and mountain arts center.  But surrounding this magnificent old home is a wonderful park filled with great hiking paths.
The view from the front porch of Flat Top Manor provides a panoramic view of Blowing Rock, N.C.
The trails crisscrossing the park are mostly former carriage trails, all seemingly leading to the Carriage House where are constructed some well used restrooms.  We chose to hike the Flat Top Mountain Tower Trail which is a 5 mile round trip hike to the top of Flat Top Mountain where stands a 70' observation tower.
The trial leads beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway and winds its way through mountain pastures and meadows on the way to the top of tree covered mountain ridge.

Moses and Bertha Cone were considered "naturalists" before the term became popular and the park's beauty is a tribute to their foresight and care.  The paths are adorned with wildflowers and there is a variety of white pines, hemlocks and sugar maples interspersed with natural mountain foliage, including 32,000 apple trees.  











We happily shared our trail with horse riders.  The carriage trails are wide and graveled and provide a great bridle path for horse riders of all ages.





My Hiking Companion was quite jealous especially when she saw a group with a saddled but riderless horse. "Maybe I can hitch a ride?"











Moving up the trail from the Carriage House we were entertained by a herd of cattle grazing in the warm sun.




One cow begged my Hiking Companion to make her famous by putting her smiling face in the Hiking with a Fat Bald White Guy blog and being the tender-hearted animal lover she is....how could she refuse?



Leaving the pasture, the trail winds through some woods and soon emerges into a large mountain meadow teeming with wildflowers and butterflies.

















The trail winds up the mountain in a gradually steep climb designed to make it easy for a horse to pull a carriage.  Thus the trails though steep were much easier than we were accustomed for a hike of this length.  











Every switchback contains a cut-through for hikers which we used on the way back, cutting an half mile off the trail.                                                           

   

About 2 miles into the trail is a rock overlook where we took a water break and took in a wonderful view of the town of Blowing Rock in the distance.  Not far from the rock cliff overlook is a more formal overlook guarded by this solitary tree.







From the overlook the carriage trail becomes much steeper but still not a very stressful hike at all.  The trail ends at the top of the mountain in a small grass clearing where stands a 70 foot observation tower, evidently converted from a formerly abandoned fire tower.



Eagerly climbing the tower, the FBWG left his Hiking Companion behind.  The tower is much sturdier than it looks and the 360 degree view from the top is magnificent



Grandfather Mountain was kind enough to emerge from the clouds.  We even could see the silhouette of Table Rock, Hawksbill and Shortoff Mountains in the distance.

You meet the nicest folks on the trail.  Today we met Elizabeth a sophomore at App State from Shelby. She is studying to be a nurse.  She was surprised to be able to see the campus from atop this tower.

We also met Sydney and Patrick, two UNCC grads who are now working at App State.  They were looking for some trails to hike and were happy to make the acquaintance of the FBWG and learn of his hiking exploits.

Coming down from the mountain we got another great view of Grandfather framed by the mountain meadow.


Looking back at Flat Top Mountain, one can only imagine what it must have been like to live in this park during the summers during the 1920's.  A horseback or carriage ride through this undisturbed mountain meadows must have given folks great pleasure.  In fact Moses Cone is buried on a hill top in this meadow.  I think I understand why.


Returning to the trail head, we noted that we logged 4.53 miles and there was a trout lake but 1.25 miles away, we decided to stretch our hike to take a visit.



Downhill all the way a wooded carriage trail weaved its way to a magnificent trout lake, which glistened in the afternoon sun.  Pausing to catch some rays on the grassy dam, the FBWG took time to thank God for the beauty of His creation and rest my aching dogs.





Moses Cone Park is a wonderful gift to visitors of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is a 3600 acre park with 25 miles of carriage trails winding through meadows and peaks and pastures.  It is adorned by wildflowers and glistening mountain lakes.  

So how do I rate this hike.....First the effort to view ratio is good...for a 5 mile hike it is really not very strenuous at all and the view from a top the observation tower is one of the best in the area; the paths are well maintained and marked - 9;  the access is right off the Parkway, some 30 minutes from downtown Boone and Blowing Rock - 9; the scenery though not as spectacular as the Gorge provides much variety and interest - 9; overall grade is a 9;  



Sunday, July 13, 2014

GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK

THREE TRAILS AT GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK

Early in our hiking career, the FBWG and his faithful Hiking Companion attempted the summit of Mt. Rogers, the tallest mountain in the State of Virginia. (http://fbwg-hiking.blogspot.com/2012/07/rogers-on-appalachian-trail-we-decided.html).  On this hike we discovered the magnificent wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park and vowed to return one day....and that day came.  We hiked three trails for a total of 5.5 miles...great day in the Old Dominion State.


              TWIN PINNACLES LOOP


We started the day at the Visitors Center where the trail head of Twin Pinnacles Trail begins.  The Vistors Center is located near the summit of the Haw Orchard Mountain, the highest peak in the park.  The trail
is a moderate loop out to Big Pinnacle (5089') on the way there are nice overlooks known as the Twin Pinnacles. 



But before taking the hike, we spent time in the Vistors Center and enjoyed the museum detailing the early American history of the area and the wildlife currently residing in the park.




Some really nice stuffed animals allowed us an up close look at creatures we hope never to encounter on the trail and the history exhibit reminded us of the hard life the settlers of these remote mountains would have endured.






The trail was a wonderfully maintained path through a neat forest.  At this elevation trees tend to be less tall and the undergrowth rich and varied.  Haw Orchard Mountain was once timbered and the ridge was used as a pasture.  So there are few remnants of the original forest but the new growth is lush, green and almost primeval in appearance.  My Hiking Companion expected to see Harry Potter fly through at any moment.

At the first overlook we got to glimpse the peak of Mt. Rogers (5729') in the distance and the incoming rain storm which would soon interrupt our hike.
A view of WIlburn Ridge, a place we had trekked on our Mt. Rogers hike gave us a better understanding of the difficulty of our first venture to this area of the Blue Ridge.





Leaving the smaller pinnacles we headed to the peak, Big Pinnacle, the last ascent being up a steep rock stairway.



Emerging on the Big Pinnacle we discovered an expansive series of rock cliffs which on a clear day would have provided some magnificent views of the surrounding mountains in at least a 180 degree vista.
One view was of the popular Massie Gap Trail.  From this trail folks can interact with the famous wild ponies that roam the Massie Gap ridge.  Zooming in on the trail I captured the image of two horse riders enjoying one of  the many bridle trails that the Grayson Highlands State Park offers. 

Scrambling down to a lower ridge I was able to capture a picture of the incoming rain storm moving from the southeast.  The rain it brought drove us from the rock pinnacle and sent us looking for shelter.
On our way up to the Big Pinnacle we passed a shelter and my Hiking Companion remarked that it looked like a Hogwarts Bus Stop....so we scampered to the shelter and waited out the storm, thankfully much drier that we might have been but for the shelter.
Fearing the weather we decided not to venture down to Cabin Creek and returned to the Visitors Center....electing to drive to the Massie Gap Parking Lot and go visit the Wild Ponies....

      RHODODENDRON TRIAL TO MASSIE GAP
BIG PINNACLE FROM RHODODENDRON TRAIL 

The Rhododendron Trail is a the most popular hike in the park.  It is a 1 mile round trip from the Massie Gap parking lot to the grass pasture of Massie Gap where the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park are normally the feature attraction.




The ponies are not indigenous to the Highlands but were introduced there in 1975 as a means to keep the wild grasslands under control and prevent wild fires from destroying the natural beauty of the mountain balds.  The ponies are part of the wild herd of  Assateague Island off the Virginia Coast.



The ponies are wild to the extent that they are left to forage on an open range but they are cared for by the Park and are very fond of the visitors to the park and are occasionally a nuisance to campers who find them unexpectedly inviting themselves to breakfast.


When we arrived at the grassy pasture that forms the Massie Gap several families were already enjoying the affections the Wild Ponies. The magic of these creatures are best reflected in the eyes of children.








     








   CABIN CREEK TRAIL




The weather cleared and we elected to end the day by hiking the Cabin Creek Loop Trail a 2 mile loop which took us to the Cabin Creek Waterfall....and if you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know how the Fat Bald White Guy feels about waterfalls! 








The trail follows a feeder stream for about 3/4 of a mile to Cabin Creek.  The trail is a deep forest hike surrounded by lush greenery, blooming rhodies and occasional burst of light. 



The downhill trail ends at Cabin Creek marked by a three-sided wooden shelter and a nice rhododendron adorned rapid.  


From this point, the trial begins a steep climb and the roar of the falls just out of sight gets increasingly louder...then we saw the Cabin Creek Falls. 


Lower Cascades Cabin Creek Falls

The falls are two cascades which each have multiple falls streaming off the rock ledges.


Upper Cascades Cabin Creek Falls










Thankfully the trail back was along the ridge line and was really a pleasant forest walk.  We covered about 400 feet in elevation change and got to see a really nice waterfall.  Don't miss this hike when you visit the Park as it is a nice change of pace from the mountain trails over the many ridges of the park.  


As is my custom I stopped to reconstruct a cairn created to point the direction to the trail head of the Cabin Creek loop. In so doing I once again gave thanks for the beauty of the day, and the glory of God's creation. Note the cairn points the hiker to the "narrow gate".  (Matthew 7:13-14)

Rating the trails here are pretty easy.  Access is great.  Travel up I-77 to the Galax exit Va Highway 58.  Follow 58 through Galax, Independence and Mouth of Wilson....then watch for the signs to the Park....entrance fee of $5 is a bargain.



Parking at the trail heads are close and well marked...9 .The trails are well blazed and well constructed. Though not very long, you can easily link several trails as we did for a 5 mile hike....and if you have a horse. ..well that has to be a treat....9  The scenery is harder to gauge as the horses add to otherwise great vistas....8
 The effort to view ratio is also very good....overall a solid 9 hike...And if you are lucky...you may get a wild pony to smile for your camera!




On the way out would could not resist stopping to photograph the New River...at rest in the evening sun.

"When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be -- I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into peace of the wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.  I come to the presences of still water." 


 "And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world and I am free." 

 Wendell Berry.

This is why the Fat Bald White Guy hikes!