Saturday, May 25, 2013

Elk Knob State Park Mt. Jefferson State Park



There are two small state parks within 40 minutes of each other that boast some of the highest peaks and best views of all the State Parks of the North Carolina.  Elk Knob State Park is located off Meat Camp Road in Watauga County and Mt. Jefferson State Park is located off NC 221 between West Jefferson and Jefferson in Ashe County....we visited them both on the same day!

Elk Knob is a new park and has just opened a new trail to the summit.  It is one of the best designed trails I have trod.

The elevation of the parking lot is over 4500 feet....and spring comes late to trees at this elevation....and growth is also stunted...much like we saw on our hike at Mt. Rogers in Va.                                        

Don't let the trail sign fool may be 1.9 mile trail...but there is about a 950 foot elevation change from the trailhead to the summit....the first .5 mile of the trail gets the old thumper thumping!
About halfway up the mountain at about 5000 feet in elevation you get the first glimpse of some of  spectacular views to come. 

Also along the way you get to see some very delicate mountain spring flowers....trilliums I think they are called.

The red flower is known as a "Stinky Benjamin" aka Red Trillium....don't know the nickname of the White Trillium but it sure is a pretty flower.

The blue flowers have a simple name....they are just called "Bluets"

The trail is really very well designed with frequent switchbacks which mask the severe elevation is also very well constructed gravel path with frequent rock benches....a nice place to rest your dogs.

Nicely arranged rock steps are located in a couple places along the trail to aid the hiker but if you read this blog you know I hate steps no matter how pretty they are!

Two trailside natural novelties caught my attention, the first was this natural bridge...the second was the tree growing on top of a rock.

You can tell that you are getting closer to the summit as the trees begin to get shorter...not yet having blossomed the Elk Knob trail has an interesting contrast in color.

The first view you get as you near the summit is a nice look at a distant blue Grandfather Mountain.

The Summit offers two places to rest and enjoy the incredible views....if you go to the Southern overlook first you get to see the western mountains and south into Tennessee!

The Western vista features Grandfather and Sugar Mountains....note the box feature of the Sugarloaf condo...

But as nice as the views are at the Southern overlook, they are simply incredible at the Northern overlook. Just to the left of the green Peak Mountain in the foreground is the blue silhouette of the highest peak in Virginia- Mt Rogers!
On a clear day the sign says you can even see Pilot Mountain!...guess what it was a clear day!

At the base of Peak Mountain was a small farm...I call it "Green Acres" remember Oliver and Lisa Douglas' television are old if you relate to that analogy!

The clouds of the Northeastern sky were very impressive.  I can't decide which view was the best...what about you?

There is no trail in the State of North Carolina less than two miles in length that provides the views that we enjoyed at Elk 5520 feet you can see easily into Tennessee and Virginia.  You can also see the highest peaks in two states....Mt Rogers in VA and Mt Mitchell in NC.

FBWG on a Rock Throne 

The trail is very nice...well designed with great switchbacks....9.....access is good....take 194 off 421 at Deep Gap and the park is about 10 miles away on Meat Camp Road...8....The views are spectacular....10....This trail is a solid 9....and is one that anyone can hike!


The Town of Jefferson is at the foot of Mt Jefferson
We set the GPS and traveled some down home mountain roads crossing from Watauga to Ashe County and made it to Mt. Jefferson in about 40 minutes....This is a park I had written off mainly because the trail was so short....1.5 miles round trip...but decided since the day was early and we were close by to check it out and I am glad we did.

You ride to the summit on the mountain on a nice paved road.  The main trail is the Rhododendron Trail which at its halfway point takes you to a nice overlook named Luther Rock.
Looking at the New River from Luther's Rock

Mt. Jefferson has two with a transmission tower...the other Luther Rock.  From Luther Rock you have an 180 degree view of the surrounding countryside and to my amazement if you look to the Northeast you can see Pilot Mountain in the distance.

Looking west you can see Peak Mountain peaking from behind the Bluff Mountains.

Luther's Rock is well over 4000 feet in elevation and spring is also late at this elevation and blossoms make a nice window frame for my picture of the western mountains.  

We finished the Rhododendron loop trail choosing not to venture down the "Lost Province" trail as the FBWG has a thing about not taking any trail that has the word "lost" in its name...  just sayin....but on the ride out I did stop at a great overlook and got another good picture of the blue Grandfather Mountain in the western sky.

Mt. Jefferson is not a hike you should plan to take but if you are in the area it is worth a stop.  The access is nice.....9.....the views are pretty good....8....the trails are short and not very scenic save Luther's the FBWG rates it a 7....but you got to admit the park does have a pretty cool sign!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Eno River State Park - Laurel Bluff Trail


Laurel Bluff Trail -  Pump Station Loop

Taking a third trip to Eno River State Park, the Fat Bald White Guy and his Hiking Companion were treated to a wonderful spring hike on a trail through the remnants of a an old reservoir. 

 From 1887-1927 this reservoir supplied water to the City of Durham.  

Increasing demand for water in the City of Durham during the 1870's and 1880's prompted the city to enter into a contract with A.H. Howland of Boston to establish a water infrastructure/pumping system sufficient to provide pressure capable of producing 10 streams of water, each 100 feet high, from 10 fire hydrants. The city signed a 30 year contract with the company, with the proviso that equipment and installation would be approved by a city engineer.  In 1886-1887, Howland and W.F. Ellis, along with 75 laborers and two blacksmiths constructed a 100 foot dam across the Eno River at the point Nancy Rhodes Creek empties into the river. The pond formed behind the dam would hold 6 million gallons of water.  A pumping station would pump water from the river up to a reservoir 8300 feet away atop Huckleberry HIll. This 3 million gallon reservoir would gravity feed the City of Durham.

the cornerstone says "1887"

 The Pump Station Loop is a 1.5 mile trail through the remnants of the pump station which pumped water from the Eno River to the Huckleberry Hill reservoir.  Hidden in the woods along the Eno River are the foundations of an engineering marvel of its day.

Getting to the trailhead for this hike is not as easy as other trails in the Eno River State Park.  You take Pleasant Green Road off of NC 70 and at the intersection of Cole Mill Road, you ignore the signs telling you to turn left to access the park and turn right.  You also ignore the sign at the next stop light directing you to the Eno River State Park and proceed across the Cole Mill River Bridge.  At a stoplight at the top of the hill, you will see Rivermont Road to the left.  As the road turns into gravel, you cross a bridge and the trailhead is on the left.

Beginning on the red blazed Pump Station Loop you soon get a glimpse of portions of the old pump station.  We elected to proceed on the white blazed Laurel Bluff trail with a destination of the Eno River Dam some 2.5 miles to the east.  We completed the Pump Station Loop on the trek back.

As with all the state parks we have visited, the trail is well maintained and clearly marked. The Laurel Bluffs trail is a green canopied path that meanders along the bluffs to the south of the Eno River.  

Many side trails to the river provide great views of the Eno.  The best views were from the bluffs overlooking the riverbanks.  

We also got to experience the first of the summer array of wild flowers...

Lavender rhododendrons were scattered on the top of one bluff.   

 Laurel were beginning to bloom as well and many varieties of their pink blossoms adorned the trail.

Angel's Breath and Ferns adorned the trail on the top of one bluff.

The FBWG always finds unusual trees on the trail and this hike was no exception....Located 20 feet from the river was a Carolina White Pine at least 6 feet in diameter and over 100 feet tall. 

Stopping to take a picture of an incredible riverview, the FBWG was thrilled to see flying into my picture frame, the majestic Blue Heron.  The result was one incredible picture of God's natural masterpiece.

A close up of the Blue Heron in flight is amazing. The flight reminds me of a favorite quote: "Creativity is the Blue Heron within us waiting to fly; through her imagination, all things become possible"  Nadia Janice Brown

Over our three trips to the Eno River State Park, we have come to learn that the riverviews are always stunning. The Eno did not disappoint us on this hike. 

At the end of the Laurel Bluffs Trail are the remnants of the Eno River Dam.  At this point we took a break and took in the views just a couple hundred yards away from busy Guess Road in Durham.

Near the dam are the ruins of an old home place and amazingly there stands an old well pump next to the  stone chimney. All that is left of someone's once isolated abode are the front steps, the hearth and this old pump.
Trekking back to the Pump Station Trail we explored some side trails on the riverbank and I got to photograph a small waterfall next to a mossy log.

On the Pump Station Trail the river views were merged with views of the rock foundations of century old buildings.

Upon reflection this was an amazing hike...a six miler full of history, archeology, flora and riverviews. This trail is one of the best kept secrets in the State.

Trail Cairn
Access is good once you know where your are need a map 7...scenery is a solid 9....trails are great 9....overall for a flatland hike this is a 9....a hike you must take.  I can only imagine how beautiful it would be in the fall...