Sunday, June 30, 2013

Julian Price Park - Boone Fork

BOONE FORK TRAIL  at Julian Price Park

Julian Price Park is a wonderful  4200 acre park on the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP-297) near Blowing Rock, North Carolina.  In my youth it was one of my favorite destinations as I traveled with my parents in their Airstream Travel Trailer.  The park has a great campground that adjoins an 47 acre lake.  While I had played in every nook and cranny of the campground, and had taken hikes around the lake, today was the first day I hiked the Boone Fork Trail.

The Trail is a five mile loop which originates in the Julian Price Park picnic area.  It is not named after Dan'l Boone but it is name for his uncle and generally follows the Bee Tree Creek and the Fork River.   We decided to hike the loop clockwise and found it to be a good choice.  Someone reviewing the trail said that hiking the loop in this manner made the hike seem like a begins slowly and ends with a crescendo....this hike is one of the most enjoyable hikes we have experienced. 

The first mile of the hike takes you parallel to the Parkway and through the Price Park campground and as we emerged from the forest I was surprised to see "wild turkeys".  Then upon closer inspection we found them to be the cardboard joke of some campers who were enjoying the reaction of hikers.  This is exactly the type of thing that my dad and his best friend, Buddy Morrow would have done. The trip through the campground brought back a lot of memories...the smell of campfire....the familiar campsites....and the old stone water fountains reminded me of many good times. 

 See if you think these deer are real, as we found them near the "turkeys"?

Turns out the deer were very real and were so used to people that we got some nice photos of them as they were feeding in the woods near the trail.  The  trail leaves the campground and joins the Mountain to Sea Trail as it intersects with the Tanawha Trail.  The orange blazed  Boone Fork Trail is easy to follow and at the 1.5 mile mark emerges in to a wonderful mountain meadow.

Even though it was past peak blossom time, we found the meadow covered with wildflowers and butterflies....and this one pink mountain laurel.  From the meadow you descend into a mountain forest and soon hear the gentle roar of a Bee Tree Creek.  The trail is covered with a canopy of rhododendron and large oaks interspersed with silver birch....and birds that provide some of nature's best background music.

We soon came upon a trail cairn and is my custom I added my stones with my prayers of thanksgiving....after all we were worshiping in one of God's greatest cathedrals today!

"But ask the animals, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?"  Job 12:7-9


The trail runs with Bee Tree Creek as it meanders down the mountain toward Fork River.  Along the way we got to play in the creek, ford a few streams and see some nice small waterfalls.

Some of the best mountain creek scenes caused the FBWG to pause time and again to pull out the camera and try to capture the majesty of what we were seeing....and as good as these photographs is just not close to as good as the real thing.
This video gives you a taste of what Bee Tree Creek sounds like as it roars through the mountain forest

Soon the creek flows into the Fork River and the trail ascends to the a path above the river and the sound of the creek becomes a roar of a series of picturesque water falls.

 Hiking the trail in this manner had us going down Bee Tree Creek and up Fork River... and over every ridge there was a new waterfall to scamper down to view. 

As we traveled up the river, the river began to calm and we were presented with many swimming holes and we knew we were getting toward the end of the hike as the trail got more crowded as some of the picnic crowd had made their way to down the river for  a swim.

Along the way we were treated to a wonderful display of late blooming rhododendron...what I like to call "Summer Whites"

I really want to take this hike again when the Rhodies are in full bloom...the creek basin and the trail must be a spectacular display of color at peak blossom time.

 With about a mile to go we rested our dawgs at a nice riverside beach.  If there had not been so many picnic folks walking through the FBWG may have been tempted to christen another river falls as "cotton tail" (for new readers go read Spence Ridge blog entry).

This beach was across from an very interesting rock island which boasted a tree growing from the middle of the rocks.  As we rested here a family arrived and waded to the island only to discover our friend Nicky No Neck lounging in the sun....glad I did not take a swim!

As the trail got closer to the picnic area we caught occasional whiffs of some charcoal cooked hamburgers.....and we captured one of the best pictures of the day.

The Boone Fork Trail is one of the best trails the FBWG has has good length and enough elevation to get the thumper thumping....but it is one of the most continuously interesting hikes we have taken.  From the woodland the mountain meadow...the wild flowers....the creeks....the waterfalls....this trail has everything but a spectacular high mountain vista.  Access is a 9....right off the Parkway between Boone and Blowing Rock.... Trails are an 8...well marked but can become a muddy bog during wet days....scenery 9....lots of great places to enjoy your day.....Overall 9...this is a hike anyone can take...

Oh by the way.... I could not help but take a nostalgic ride through the Price Park Campground....and stop at the Price Lake overlook to take a stunning picture of the lake with Grandfather Mountain as a back drop.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Peaks of Otter - Flat Top Mountain

FLAT TOP MOUNTAIN at Peaks of Otter

Flat Top Mountain
Sharp Top Mountain

Near Bedford, Virginia, on
the Blue Ridge Parkway are two magnificent twin peaks known as the Peaks of Otter.  The most popular peak is Sharp Top Mountain which is accessed from the Peaks of Otter visitor's center.  It is said that the name of the peaks is derived from the Cherokee word "otarri" which means "lofty places".  Early surveyors, including Thomas Jefferson, thought Sharp Top was the highest peak in the State of Virginia (3875')**...trouble was Flat Top was higher at 4001 feet ....and they did not know of Mount Rogers to the south at 5900 feet.  We chose to hike Flat Top.  Trail research said it would not be as steps....nice trail....great views.

You can hike Flat Top from the Peaks of Otter Park or you can do as we did and access the trail head from a parking lot in the northeastern end of the park. Passing the crowded parking lot at the trail head, we were forced to park at the nearby Cascade lot thus extending  the hike to a 6 mile round tripper. 

The trail is well maintained but deceptively steep and deceptively long.  It proved to be the equivalent to a two hour step climber workout at the YMCA!  For three miles we huffed and puffed up an increasingly rocky trail made up of helpful long switchbacks which gave the old thumper time to slow down. 

The trail up was a typical mountain path with occasional glimpse of late blooming mountain laurel and window previews of scenery we were hoping to enjoy when we arrived at the summit.

 Strategically placed along the trail are trail benches...a great place to rest your dawgs and catch you breath. You can judge the distance up the trail by theses three benches as they seem to be placed at half mile intervals.

At the 1.75 mile mark, the trail becomes steeper and the switchbacks shorter...we made sure we took a break at what turned out to be the final trail bench where we were greeted by other hikers coming down the mountain telling us of terrible views and steep climbs ahead...good thing I had looked at some trail research which told me that they did not make it to the we trudged on....

There is a faux summit which was the place the other hikers had forsaken their hike at the 2.1 mark...there is a sign indicating that the real summit was but a half mile away....still some very nice views of the northeastern mountains off a rock cliff.

The day was intermittently cloudy and the sunlight danced with the clouds providing some interesting shadows on the distant mountains.

Undeterred by the pessimism of other hikers we labored on toward the of the longest half mile hikes I can remember!

The trail led steadily upward toward the summit through some sunlit fern meadows.

There were some interesting boulder fields adorned by wild flowers.

The summit of Flat Top Mountain once reached provides many choices for viewing the surrounding countryside.  From the summit sign we followed several trails and were rewarded with spectacular views.

Looking west the mountains seem to merge into the sky.

 Trudging to the other side of the summit and looking east, the populated piedmont provides an interesting contrast to the western view.

 Peaking around to the north side of the mountain as seen from the eastern cliffs, the clouds dancing in the sky provide some changing views.

The twin peak Sharp Top Mountain can also be seen from the summit of Flat Top Mountain shrouded by a dark cloud.
Whatever view we chose, it was the ever changing clouds that dominated the scene which reminded me of a verse from Alexander Pope:
 Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutored mind Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind; His soul proud Science never taught to stray Far as the solar walk, or milky way; Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n, Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heav'n.

 On the way down....we slipped, slid and stumbled along a rocky occurred to me that I had not seen a trail I made one. With each stone I praised God for the beauty of His Creation and my good fortune to be blessed with the opportunity of experiencing it on this beautiful day.

Now, if  God made the clouds so beautiful, did He not mean for us to gaze upon them and be thankful for them? - Alfred Rowland

The Peaks of Otter is a wonderful park on the Blue Ridge. It takes about 2.5 hours to get there but the park is but 10 miles from Bedford Virgina. The trek up Sharp Top can be bypassed by using a shuttle bus but Flat Top can only be reached by foot.  The access is a 8 owing to the long drive...the trail is an 8...rocky and steep....the scenery is a views as good as any you will see....overall grade is an is a hike we are glad we took but not one we are anxious to repeat.....this is not a hike for rookie hikers as it tests you both mentally and physically.

FAT BALD WHITE GUY on Flat Top Mountain Summit

**Thomas Jefferson visited the Peaks of Otter but never climbed to the top....
1816 January 2. (Jefferson to Alden Partridge). "I am but recently returned from my journey to the neighborhood of the Peaks of Otter...When lately measuring trigonometrically the height of the peaks of Otter...I very much wished for a barometer, to try the height by that also. But it was too far and too hazardous to carry my own, and there was not one in that neighborhood. On the subject of that admeasurement, I must promise that my object was only to gratify a common curiosity as to the height of those mountains, which we deem our highest, and to furnish an a peu pres, sufficient to satisfy us in a comparison of them with the other mountains of our own, or of other countries."[4]