Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cumberland Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Gully Creek Trail


On September 11, 1935, construction began on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A project of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), construction began a few miles north of Low Gap, North Carolina.  Near Low Gap, the first recreational area opened to the public in 1937 was the Cumberland Knob Recreation area.  Located about an hour from Winston-Salem, this park has for decades served as a gathering place for citizens of all ages.  The visitors center was once a sandwich shop and is now adorned with pictures of our grandparents enjoying a day on the Blue Ridge Parkway.                                                                      

From the back door of the sandwich shop in 1946, visitors could see the outline of Pilot Mountain to the Northeast.

The view from the back door of the Visitor's Center is hidden by the growth of trees but you can still see Pilot Mountain.

The reason the Fat Bald White Guy chose to visit Cumberland Knob was the proximity of the Gully Creek Trail to the newly constructed Blue Ridge Music Center located 4 miles north on the Parkway across the line into Virginia.

Performing this past Saturday was the Synder Family and Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers.


The Gully Creek Trail

The Gully Creek Trail Head leaves from behind the Visitor's Center at Cumberland Knob and descends nearly 900 feet along a spring fed creek bed to the gully below.  The Trail is marked "strenuous" and we have learned to double any mileage on a trail head marker. Nevertheless the Fat Bald White Guy was undaunted by the challenge and the resulting hike was one of the best surprises of the summer!

The Creek seems to burst from the side of the first it is a small spring but before you know it is a roaring torrent cascading down the get this picture I had to climb out onto a boulder in the middle of the creek.....message of warning to hikers....don't laugh at you hiking partners when they fall in the creek trying to follow you cause the "Forest Nymphs" will laugh at you when you fall trying to get back on the trail.

 The trail meanders with the bank of the creek as water cascades down the mountain creating a roar as waterfalls of various sizes are created as water rushes over exposed rocks.

As the creek reaches the bottom of the gully, the trail and the creek merge.  The trail crosses the creek many times over shallow fords. Don't worry about keeping you feet dry.  

The creek is covered nearly completely by a forest canopy of verdant foliage. Sunlight occasionally bursting forth like a spot light illuminating the new rhododendron blossoms 

Leaving the creek bed, and beginning the ascent to Cumberland Knob, the trail narrows and follows the ridge of the mountain in a manner that reminds you of how early settlers may have followed Indian hunting trails.

Occasional glimpses of the surrounding mountain peaks can be taken through gaps in the forest.  This has to be a stunningly beautiful trail in the autumn.  The "strenuous" warning on the sign at the trail head was but a distant memory when I was playing in the creek, now becomes a reminder as the thump of my heart easily outpaces my gait.

As you reach the base of the summit of Cumberland Knob you are given a choice of a 10 minute hike directly to the parking lot or a 30 minute bypass through Cumberland Knob.  Thinking there to be a wonderful view waiting, we chose to make the climb to the Knob at elevation 2885, some 900 feet from the creek bed below.   Our reward was not a view as surrounding trees obscures any vista. Instead we got to rest our weary bones on the benches of a 1938 CCC constructed picnic shelter.  

 An easy descent from the Knob shelter to the parking lot borders a large grass meadow where  members of the Caudle Family Reunion were chasing kids and lounging in the sun.  Time really has not changed this place very much.    So if you want a challenging but rewarding hike.....a nice secluded place for a family picnic or just a taste of a place where your grandparents once visited .... Cumberland Knob and Gully Creek Trail is a great afternoon also has a campground and a nice "comfort station" for those overnight guests.

The Fat Bald White Guy ranks the Gully Creek Trail an 8;  Access is 9....Scenery is a 8......Trail is a 7 only because it ends with a disappointing vista after a long steep pull.....Next time we will reverse the trail and see it the return is quicker.

By the way the concert was great!  The Synder Family consists of a 13 year old Fiddler and a 17 year old guitarist that are spectacular.   Synder Family remakes "Call me the Breeze"   a little sample of the Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers

Directions:  Talk US 52  North past Pilot Mountain and just before it merges with US 77 take the exit for NC 189 toward Galax which takes you through Low Gap, NC and just north of Low Gap exit NC 18 to the Blue Ridge Parkway...take a right and Cumberland Knob is at MP 217....when you leave take a right and drive North four miles into Virginia to the Blue Ridge Music Center.  Great interactive museum is on site.

Linville Gorge - Table Rock Mountain


One of the most scenic secrets of the Blue Ridge is Table Rock Mountain.  A distinctive landmark on the mountain horizon as you travel up NC 181 from Morganton to Linville, this mountain provides some of the best mountain vistas anywhere.  If you had only one hike on your bucket list.....make it Table Rock Mountain!

Getting to Table Rock Mountain is pretty easy.  Travel up NC 181 from Morganton and as you near Jonas Ridge there will be a sign directing you to Table Rock Recreation area at Gingercake Road.  About a mile down Gingercake Road, a NC Forest Service gravel road will veer to the left.  From there is an 8.5 mile trek up a narrow winding gravel road.  You will pass trail heads for Spence Ridge and Hawksbill and will think you are lost but soon you will find a paved one lane steep road past the entrance to the Outward Bound school to a large parking lot serving the trail head of Table Rock and Shortoff Mountains.

Table Rock Mountain is a 3960 foot peak.  The parking lot is approximately 1.2 miles below the summit.  It is a steep but manageable moderate trail.   Several trails diverge from the summit trail and markings are not the best but as long as you stay to the right you will soon reach the summit.

On the trek to the summit you will be teased with views of the Linville Gorge.  Keep you camera handy as you will want to snap a few pictures as you stop to catch your breath.

As you make the final climb onto the summit of Table Rock Mountain you will quickly reach "mountain scenic overload".  The trail ends on the flat rock of "Big Table" the eastern ridge of the mountain.  Looming in front of you is Hawksbill Mountain.

Hawksbill Mountain serves as a ready reference point to two distant mountains. To the left of Hawksbill is the summit of Sugar Mountain as distinguished by the square box shape of the Sugar Loaf Condominiums, the only ridge top structure permitted in the Blue Ridge.  To the right of Hawksbill Mountain is the reclining face of Grandfather Mountain.

Be sure to pack a lunch.  You will want to take a moment to sit and contemplate the majesty of the beauty that surrounds you.  By doing so you will soon find that the shadows cast by moving clouds change the view before you eyes.

Make sure that you allow at least an hour to fully explore and appreciate the many vistas afforded you on Big Table and Little Table.  The entire summit is accessible with a little bit of effort and nerve.  Looking to the southeast you can see Brown Mountain and to the southwest is Lake James.

Some folks say on a clear day the skyline of Charlotte 90 miles away can be seen!  On the day we visited Table Rock the haze on the horizon kept us from seeing the big city for which I was quite thankful!

If you venture to the western end of the summit to the area known as "Little Table" you can get a view of an area known as the Devil's Cellar and Shortoff mountain as well as a view of portions of the Linville Gorge that are seldom accessed by the public.

Looking to the North you can see the Gorge surrounding the Falls 

Looking back from Little Table toward the Hawksbill Mountain I spied a lady taking a picture of the Fat Bald White Guy.  I must be some sight!

There is a US Natural Geodetic survey marker on summit of Table Rock Mountain labeled  "Tble Rck". 
The FAT BALD WHITE GUY rates this hike a 10!.....the Scenery is a 10+; access is an 8; the moderate trail with stunning vistas is a 9.  If you have not been to Table Rock Mountain ....get on them hiking kicks....pack a lunch....bundle the family in the car and as Captain Picard would say...."Make is so, Number 1"

Sing, O Heavens, for the Lord has done it!  Shout ye lower parts of the Earth, sing ye Mountains, O Forest and every tree in it!  For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.              Isaiah 44:23

Linville Gorge - The Falls

THE FALLS AT LINVILLE GORGE (updated 11/17/13)

We ventured to the Gorge on a rainy Sunday because the Gorge had been on fire all week and we wanted, no feared, to see the damage.  We encountered smoke.....and fog....but still have no idea of the extent of the damage done by the Table Rock Wildfire.

We decided to trek to the Linville Falls....and enjoyed the overcast rainy walk to see the Upper Falls.....then the trudge up the hill to Chimney View, but on the way we got a glimpse of the Linville River before the big plunge

It is amazing how calm the river is as it flows toward the falls....deceptively calm. 


On the way down to the overlook, we got a view along the trail of the left side of the twin upper falls.  It was the first time I noticed that it was a double falls.

At the overlook I got some great pics of the Upper Falls.  And a pic of the rapids as the river flows to the Lower Falls.

It amazes me how gentle the river flows to the Lower Falls....into a very narrow channel that roars. 

We trudged up the hill to the Chimney View overlook, for the very best view of the falls....peaking around the tree we can see both the Upper and Lower Falls.

The Lower Falls close up reveals how magnificent this creation of God is.... an incredible sight.

Looking up the river from the Falls, the Linville River returned to a calm flowing river.....but think about it...the Falls are at 2900 foot elevation.....the same elevation as Table Rock wonder the river becomes a series of rapids as it flows through the Gorge to Lake James.

On the way out we stopped a the Riverbend Overlook and I captured two great shots of the Linville River upstream from the falls.

LINVILLE FALLS in the Summer

My favorite area of the Blue Ridge is the Linville Gorge Wilderness area.  The Gorge offers many varied scenery and hiking opportunities.   One of the most scenic and accessible venues in the Gorge are the Falls.  There are two access points to the falls, the most popular is off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the 316.4 mile marker were a visitor's center is located.  But the easiest access is off Highway 181 from Morganton via NC 183.  Follow the signs to a parking lot on the backside of the park.  From both points there is easy access to the Falls.  The trail from the back parking lot is a 1/2 mile trek down a wide well maintained trail to the lower falls overlook.  This area is heavily visited so be prepared to share the trail and the view with vacationing families of all shapes and sizes.

If you are not aware of the lower falls, the upper falls are a bit disappointing.....but the falls mark the beginning of the Linville Gorge, named after William Linville, a early settler who with his son lost his life to a Cherokee raiding party while exploring the Gorge.

The Linville River flows into a narrow channel as it is forced between boulders increasing its flow to a rapid torrent.  Only when you hike 1/2  mile up from the upper falls overlook  to the Chimney Rock over look do you discover the magnificence of the Falls at Linville Gorge.

The trail is wide and well maintained but deceptively steep.  The Chimney Rock overlook is at the bottom of a nice stairway and though not very big provides the best view and photograph locale for the falls.   In the picture above you can see both the upper and lower falls. You also can see people hiking along the river banks who have gained access to the falls from trails leading from the visitors center.

Another 1/2 mile up from Chimney Rock is Erwin Rock overlook.  This overlook provides an panoramic view of the falls with the green backdrop of the gorge.  The effects of acid rain is very noticeable in this area of the gorge as native spruce trees are dying everywhere.  The Linville Gorge Wilderness area has never been timbered so you are viewing the gorge and the falls very much the same as it has always been

The Fat Bald White Guy rates the Falls at Linville Gorge at:   8

                                                            Access                     8
                                                            Scenery                    9
                                                            Trails                        5