Sunday, July 1, 2012

Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Bluff Mountain Trail

Bluff Mountain at Doughton Park

Again owing to the proximity of Doughton Park (Mile Post 241) to the Blue Ridge Music Center (Mile Post 204), the Fat Bald White Guy decided to take on some of the 30 miles of trails in the Doughton Recreation Area.  

Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
 Matthew 7:14

We decided to hike to the Bluff Mountain overlook and nearby Brooks Knob...and chose to do so by way of a wonderful mountain meadow trail.  The meadow once provided pasture....and entry to the meadow is through a narrow gate....and the imagery had me getting my Jesus on.

The trail begins at the Old Soda Shop and after a quick trip over a forest ridge you enter into a magnificent mountain meadow from which are many wonderful views of the surrounding mountains.  From the Old Soda Shop to Bluff Mountain Overlook is about 1.75 miles.  It is a very moderate trail.  Wear sunscreen!
The meadow is on a mountain ridge line and from either side of the trail you can see mountains in the distance as far as the eye can see.

Throughout the meadow are rock out-croppings and lonely trees which provide a needed place to rest and shadow to soothe the sunburn!

The trail winds its way over a ridge and soon you can spy in the distance the summit of Bluff Mountain

The Bluff Mountain Overlook can be accessed from many different locations.  There are wonderfully secluded picnic areas all along the trail.  If you are not up to a two mile hike, you can enjoy the meadow and the overlook from many closer access points.  At the base of the meadow leading to the summit is a large parking lot.  From this parking lot the summit is only .25 miles away- easy flatlander jaunt!

Once you reach the summit of the meadow the trail intersects with the Alligator Back trail.  This trail leads from an overlook on the Parkway to the Bluff Mountain Summit.  If you don't want the sunburn this may be a shadier hike.  At this point the trail turns into a typical narrow mountain path for about 25 yards and you reach a nice shelter with a needed bench to rest your weary bones!  

From the summit (3796 ft) you can see the Blue Ridge Parkway in the distance winding its way north toward the Brinegar's Cabin.

 Near the shelter is the faint outline of another trail. The Bluff Mountain Trail turns down the mountain at this point.  From a map in a hiking trail book I knew that somewhere down this trail was Brooks Knob.  Trouble is no park sign refers to Brooks Knob so I was left to ponder its location.  But the warnings on the sign were a bit ominous!

This part of mountain was once part of the pasture. Old fence posts mark the general outline of what was once part of a mountain meadow. Over many years the meadow was untended and trees and vegetation have taken over.  But unlike most mountain trails, this trail is overgrown due to the many breaks in the forest canopy which allows sunlight to spur the growth.   If you look carefully you can see parts of a fern forest.

Brooks Knob

I almost missed the path to Brooks Knob as I eagerly bounded down the trail.  The path to the Knob is about .25 mile from the Bluff Mountain Shelter on the right.  It leads to a wonderful cliff that overlooks Brooks Creek....but I suspect you have to wait until winter to see the creek as the mountainside is lush with vegetation obscuring the view to the basin below.  Still you will not be disappointed as there is a nice window view of the mountains to the north.

The knob is a great place to take a break from the hike as there is a peaceful feel to the place. We were refreshed by a gentle cool breeze.  It proved to be  a nice place to stretch out and enjoy the scenery.  As I looked to the right I saw an amazing display of rhododendrons growing from the side of a rock cliff.

The hike out was every bit what the sign had predicted....a strenuous uphill climb through lush green vegetation often spotlit by bursts of light shining through openings in the forest canopy.

As we rested a Bluff Mt. overlook shelter, we were entertained by four magnificent hawks performing an aerial waltz.

Every time we emerged from the shed, more hawks would appear. Guess we looked like some kind of animal in distress.

I learned on this hike that reversing your hike is not a bad thing as I really saw some things on the way back that I did not fully appreciate on the way in.

For example, the meadow is full of many varieties of wild flowers.  They do not jump out at you but if you pay attention they will bring a smile to your face as you realize how nicely they accent the lush meadow trail.

  Rhododendrons blooming is the way mountain folk know summer has arrived.  I call them "summer whites".  More importantly a trail like this reaches into the spiritual side of the Fat Bald White Guy. I guess it was started by the narrow gate but on the hike out, the meadow reminded me of another important lesson.

Bishop Lane Sapp of Calvary Moravian Church in Winston-Salem presided over the funeral of Senator Hamilton Horton and he began with a prayer:  

"Lord teach us that just because we cannot seen beyond the horizon does not mean that something is not there"       AMEN!

Fat Bald White Guy rates this trail an 8

Access is 8.... Scenery is 8.... Trail is 8...great trip...five mile hike was a workout but was great fun!

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