Saturday, September 14, 2013

South Mountain State Park - Chestnut Knob


                                    Chestnut Knob Trail

Every time we go to Linville Gorge as we exit from I-40 at Morganton we see the sign for the South Mountains State Park....but we always turn right and head for the Gorge....on this Sunday, turned left and ventured to another great North Carolina State Park. South Mountains State Park is located in Burke, Cleveland and Rutherford Counties.  The South Mountains were the geological buffer between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians. Early settlers were shocked to find gold flakes in the river mud they used to seal their log cabins....soon a gold rush followed in 1828 and some mining continued into the early 20th century.  Like most of our State Parks, the existence of South Mountains State Park is owed to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Boasting 100,000 acres, the park is one of the largest in the State Park System and has many hiking trails both short and long....a nice mountain river to frolic in.... great camping and picnic areas...and more equestrian trails than I have ever seen in one park.....and some nice mountain views.

The Ranger suggested to us the Chestnut Knob trail but warned us of the steep ascent at the beginning of the trail.... but undaunted we jumped at the chance to prove our cardio vascular health!

Leaving the parking lot and passing the picnic area we found ourselves on a wide hiking boulevard ....with lots of Sunday "hikers"....the trail is a former logging road and is labeled the River runs parallel to the Jacob's Fork River and links up with the High Shoals Loop which leads to the most popular destination in the Park, the  High Shoal Falls which we were told is an 80 foot tall waterfall.  

Soon we found the Chestnut Knob trail head and parted company with the other "hikers".  Just like Mr. Ranger said....the initial ascent was a bit reminded us of Flat Top Mountain but thankfully much shorter.   The trail has many nice switchbacks and steps to aid the ascent and on a hot and humid day in the mid 80's it was all the FBWG and his hiking companion wanted in the way of a work out.  The trail ascends for nearly a mile on its way to the Gorge View Overlook.

I don't know the name of this yellow flower but we stopped to get a closer look at it and catch our breath about halfway up the initial ascent.

At several points along the trail we were treated with a forest window view of the mountain scenery we expected to see on the summit.  This view revealed the early signs of fall as some leaves had begun to show some color....

The Gorge View Overlook offered a nice bench which we shared with a father and two young daughters from the Charlotte area....the girls had lunch....had trudged up the same steep trail and had not broken a sweat nor seemed out of breath at all....oh the advantages of youth! 

The High Shoals Falls were seen in the distance as only a shiny rock face on an the side of a mountain....we could not see the falls at all until I unpacked by binoculars

Leaving the Gorge View Overlook, we traveled along another logging road which provided a much more gentle ascent toward the peak of Chestnut Knob.  The final ascent being assisted by stairs.  The summit is another logging road which leads down to the Chestnut Knob Overlook from which there are some nice views and more importantly on that hot day a nice cool breeze too.
Looking Southeast toward the City of Charlotte

The elevation at the overlook is only 2291 feet...similar to that of Moore's Knob in Hanging Rock State Park but the rugged terrain makes it feel like you are much higher in the mountains.  Mr. Ranger said on a clear day you could see the skyline of Charlotte....but all I saw was an odd shaped pointed mountain.

The rocky knob featured an bowed pine tree which provided an interesting framing to the photograph of the mountains to the south.

I also took some photographic liberties with a dead tree on the summit.  I liked the way the shadows of the limbs contrasted with the white clouds and the blue sky.   The sunburst through the pine bows offered another interesting view.  Reminding me of a quote of Kahil Gabron: "Life without love is like a tree with out blossoms or fruit"

We met a nice young couple who originally grew up in the State of Maine.  They scampered to the another rock cliff and I could not resist making this lady famous by putting her in Hiking with the Fat Bald White Guy.....I could tell she was impressed too!

The view from this rocky cliff was as pretty as the young lady from Maine.  At the peak in the distance you can make out the outline of an abandoned fire observation tower.

As is custom on the hikes we are usually entertained by soaring hawks. This hike was no exception.  Four or five graceful birds took turns entertaining us with as they soared in the winds overhead.

One even perched on a nearby tree and allowed me to photograph him chillin.

Leaving the rock cliffs I captured a view of the Chestnut Knob from a window in a rock.

The South Mountains State Park is another gem.  The trails are a 9 as they are well maintained and well marked...the access is an 8....just 20 miles southeast of Morganton...follow the signs....the scenery is an 8....not breathtaking but merely spectacular. This is a park that anyone can enjoy.  Overall a solid 8.

 On the way home as we approached 1-40 at Morganton we noticed we encountered a summer shower coming off the mountains...and we spied in the distance two familiar friends....Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains.

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