Sunday, September 14, 2014

Occoneechee State Natural Area


On a cloudy Sunday, we decided to take a hike to the highest point in Orange County....Mount Occoneechee....  Elevation 867 feet!

The Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is easy to spot from the I-85/I-40 split....there is a large cell tower and old fire tower looking down on the highway in Orange County.   Getting there is a bit challenging....of course I did not follow the map!

A nice bass pond greets you as you turn from Orange Grove Road to the gravel road known as Virgina Cates Road....leading to a parking lot and picnic area at the trail head.  We chose to hike the 2.2 mile Occoneechee Loop trail...the longest trail in the natural area which loops around the mountain....down to the Eno River....then to the Rock Quarry overlook.

The trail is well marked with red dot blazes and is reasonably maintained....but the proximity to the highway makes it the noisiest trail I have ever hiked.... About at the half mile mark, the trail begins to ascend and you are faced with the choice of continuing the loop trail or take the shortcut to the Overlook. We decided to take the loop and began a descent to the Eno River.

 Along the trail I spied a cairn which had been knocked over.  I paused to rebuild it and in so doing once again thanked our Creator for the beauty of the day and the magnificence of His creation.
The trail was adorned with various rock formations of all sizes. I assume Mt. Occoneechee is what early native Americans called a "monadnoch" which means "isolated hill".  Now a geology term for other isolated hills like found throughout the Piedmont... it is in truth a granite remnant of a once great mountain range.

This side of the mountain was insulated from the traffic noise but was not insulated from a dirt bike track sounds which reminded me of sounds made by a chain saw....not the atmosphere for the get back to nature feeling the trail otherwise provided...oh yeah....the dirt bike was finally drowned out by the train whistle of a passing freight train!

We were joined on the hike today by an extra hiking companion...our 13 year old corgi named "Missy".  She made the hike without too much trouble for a girl of her age...happy to have her join us!
We have learned that the Eno River rarely disappoints us and I was anxious to see the beauty of the old river.  This was the first glimpse I got from a side trail leading to a nice river rock promontory. 

You know the Fat Bald White Guy....rock scrambling and the best of both worlds and some nice view too!
From the top of the rock, I could see up and down the Eno as it bends.  Some great reflections on the calm river.

Notice the rope swing tied to the river oak....I bet this spot is a great swimming hole!  There are also so yellow bells still in bloom on the opposite river bank.

 Leaving the river rock, we rejoined the loop trail and soon encountered a rocky bluff overlooking the river below.  I resisted the urge to climb to the top.

The trail along the Eno offered us with many nice views of interesting things...such as this boat sinking at its dock. But this reflection is really something special.

Missy needed a break so we stopped at a trail bench overlooking the river.  The bench is marked by a really scary looking tree!  Adjacent trees bore the initials of countless visitors to the park.  I really resist the idea of defacing trees with carved initials.....and was glad someone had already carved mine into the bark.
There was once a quarry at Occoneechee Mountain and the remnants have created a nice geological feature of exposed rock wall.  Looking up at the top I spotted the overlook and some nice folks waving at me!  A little further up the trail was an unofficial trail which allowed another view of the overlook and this time I spied a guy in a bright yellow shirt!

We soon made it up to the overlook....a pretty nice climb....and met some really nice folks from UNC.  One was  history major, one was a psych major, one was a communications major....not sure about the fourth....but I told them I would make them famous by putting them in the blog...and though skeptical, they relented!
From the overlook we saw some nice views of the river and surrounding countryside....but sadly nothing spectacular.....

I really thought that the overlook would allow views to the south and west and perhaps we could even see Chapel Hill.....message to the park system....turn that fire tower into an observation platform!

Leaving the overlook we had a nice downhill descent along the service road originally built to serve the fire tower.  We ended the hike flanked by late blooming yellow flowers which adorned the trail nicely.

How do I rate this trail?  I really did not expect much but in truth it is a nice Sunday afternoon family hike....kinda hard to find but once you get there it is a good hike.  Access is a 7...should have used the map!  Trails are an 8 as they are well maintained and marked.  Scenery is a 7 mainly because the overlook is over the remnants of the quarry rather than from the peak of the mountain. Easy trail but not much view so the effort to view ratio really does not apply.  Overall rating of 7....                                  

Leaving Mt. Occoneechee, I traveled down Orange Grove Road until in intersected with NC 54 and proceeded to the mill village of Saxapahaw.  There I was told I would find the "Buddy Collins Memorial Bridges".
The bridges are named in memory of the long time director of the community center in the mill village. One parent described the Buddy Collins of Saxapahaw as "a fine man with a heart of gold. The kids under his guidance learned to be truthful, to share, to be hard workers, and to develop their talents. He was a very simple man who believed every child was a blessing, rich, poor, troubled, or just needing someone to be there for them"  I am humbled and honored to share a name with a man such as that!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Grandfather Mountain State Park


Grandfather Mountain State Park has been on the FBWG radar all summer.  The Calloway Peak is on our bucket list....and today we made it half way there.  We selected the trail marked "easy", the Nuwati Trail.  Nuwati is Cherokee for "medicine" and this trail was good medicine for us.

You catch the Nuwati Trail from the Boone Fork Parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 300.  You will know when you get there because it will most likely be full.  The Tanawa Trail runs parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Julian Price Park to Grandfather Mountain.  From the parking lot,  we took a short spur trail to the Tanawa and soon crossed a wonderful bridge over Boone Fork. 

Signing our permit to hike at a trail kiosk...the purpose of which no longer makes any sense....we took off on a 1.5 mile trek to Story Telling Rock and a place called The Refuge. Reminder to my hiking companion...this is another trail what will be lovely when the rhododendrons are in bloom.
The Nuwati trail generally follows the Boone Fork Creek along an old logging road.  The creek divides two ridges on the eastern side of Grandfather State Park.  Along the way are numerous campsites and we met a few campers coming down from the mountain....looking no worse for the night in the woods.
The trail side rock formations are always interesting.  This one looked like someone cut the rock in two like a loaf of bread.  This one marked the intersection of Nuwati and Cragway trails. (more on that later) There are many mountain streams flowing down to Boone Fork Creek.  In a time of wet weather many of the stream crossing might require you to get your feet wet.
One thing very apparent about Blue Ridge Mountain campsites.  They are usually feeding attractions to Black Bears.  There were signs everywhere warning campers to protect their food....this was an apparatus for this purpose...a cable winch of sorts.
It did not take long to make it to Storytellers Rock....a place aptly named for a lawyer who writes Jack Tales....the FBWG gladly posed on top of the rock....then proceeded to scamper out to a rock overlook accessed from the top of Storytellers Rock. From this rock cliff we got a glimpse of the Boone Fork basin to the east.

Looking to the west we got a nice view of Calloway Peak and surrounding ridges. Across the way are the crags of Cragway Trial. (more on that later)

Looking to the south were some fir adorned ridges.

Leaving the Storytellers Rock we proceeded to the end of the trail and found The Refuge.  The Refuge is a large camping area.  Near the back of the campsite is a rock cliff from which a nice view of the eastern mountains is seen.

The mountain was full of large silver birch trees.

Thinking we were only going to do the Nuwati Trail I hiked right by the intersection with the Cragway Trail....and my Hiking Companion said: "I thought we were going to make this a loop hike, it is only a mile."  Yeah right...but did she know the trail was rated "strenuous".  Well I was not going to tell her!

By taking the Cragway Trail we would climb up the northern ridge which we observed from the rock cliff at Storytellers Rock.  

In truth it was a series of craggy rock cliffs from which many nice views of the Boone Fork Basin, Calloway Peak, the Storyteller Rock cliff and surrounding ridges.

I must admit the Nuwati Trail still has me confused as it took us up a pretty steep ridge above the Boone Fork Creek but it was such a well constructed trail that it did not seem steep at all.

You could even see the rock cliff at the Refuge from the Cragway Crags.

As we weaved from craggy cliff to craggy cliff, we observed some interesting rock formations. One clearly evidenced the effect of water seeping into a crack in a rock for centuries, causing the rock to split as if it was blown a part. 

The best views from the craggy cliffs were to the east.   They were the same but different; different but the same.  Coming to the Top Crag we got the best views of the day.

The flora of the high elevation was interesting.  I even found some blackberries ripening in the sun.

The sign says that what you are looking at is "Allegheny Sand Myrtle"  (Leiophyllum baxifollium)

Leaving the Top Crag we encountered a steep rocky trail which was really not very interesting and proved to be somewhat strenuous.  Eventually we made it to the Daniel Boone Scout Trail and mused about being but 1.7 miles from the summit of Calloway Peak.  But alas, our dogs were tired and we decided to take the Daniel Boone Scout Trail back to the Tanawa Trail and head home.

Rating this trail is a bit difficult.  The Nuwati Trail is a wonderful trail and the Cragway Trail up to the Top Crag is also a great trail.  So half the hike is a solid 8.....but from Top Crag to the Tanawa is one sorry hike....mainly because it is so boring and the rocky, root ridden trail makes your feet hurt!  So that part of the trail is a 6....

So access is a 9.... effort to view ratio is nothing to brag about...Nuwati is easy but not the best views....Cragway is harder with better views....trails are well marked but rocky 7..... scenery is an 8.....overall I will give this trail an 8 but if I had to do it again I would have backtracked from the Top Crag to the Nuwati and skipped the loop hike via Daniel Boone Scout trail,

Grandfather Mountain State Park is a great addition to the North Carolina State Park system.  I told my buddy Mike Robinson who is running for State Supreme Court Justice that I would give him a plug the next time I here it is: "I LIKE MIKE" t-shirt at the Boone Fork Parking Lot  trail head sign.  Please vote for Mike!  

Also, my Hiking Companion wants to give a shout out to our favorite Boone Restaurant....the one who puts up with us visiting after hiking and not once has even winced at our the way we usually eat outside!