Sunday, September 28, 2014


 Rattlesnake Knob and Copperhead Knob

The Fat Bald White Guy was able to attend the inaugural Black Mountain Weekend hosted by North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest.  A double treat was that my son the Real Big White Guy (RBWG) was able to attend it with me.  Great men's conference, but looming above the Ridgecrest Center was the Rattlesnake Trail. The FBWG and his new hiking companion, the RBWG, could not resist!

One of our speakers was Frank Turek who is the author of a book entitled.  "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be Atheist" 
 Frank pointed out many truths of science and history that pointed to the existence of an awesome Creator God.  The sign reminded us of a verse he cited. 

 "For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without an excuse" (Rom. 1:20)
From the parking lot outside our residence lodge we could see the sun breaking up the clouds and the first evidence of fall adorning the trees.  My brief trail research had good news and bad news.  The trail to the Rattlesnake Knob was only 1.5 miles long but climbed 750 feet.  A side excursion to Copperhead Knob was a .4 mile round trip. So I expected a four mile round trip.... but no one counted the extra 100 feet or so elevation from the parking lot to the trail head.  This was a steep climb. And you know how much I dislike steps! 
The Real Big White Guy hustled up the steps leaving me huffing and puffing behind....oh the advantages of youth!  

After climbing two different flights of steps we encountered a steep narrow trail which made me wonder if we would ever find the trail head to Rattlesnake Knob.

When we finally arrived at the trail head my viewranger app registered .8 miles!  And we did take note of the warning on the sign... more on that later!  

The trail is really a narrow logging road and is surrounded by tall trees, wildflowers and lush rhododendrons.  Oh yes, did I mention that the trail was steep?
Noticing that we were knocking down cobwebs on the trail I related to the RBWG a lesson learned on Rockjock Trail in the Linville Gorge.  The presence of cobwebs indicated we were the first ones on the trail and therefore no one had scared away the snakes!  We learned on Rockjock when we encountered a Timber Rattler that snakes like to lounge in the afternoon sun on lonely trails.  No sooner than I said that, I stopped and pointed to the trail ahead.  There was Mr. Nicholas Noneck.

Truly a beautiful snake. It was black with blue stripes. From the color we concluded he was a Carolina Panther Snake.  This is all we saw of him.  It took several well placed rocks to get him to move from his warm spot, as we chose to obey the sign and not pet him.

Not far from the Carolina Panther snake we got our first glimpse of Ridgecrest in the distance.  It sure did look a long way off and we had not reached halfway point yet!  Soon we came upon the Copperhead Knob spur trail.  The sign said the knob was .2 miles away.  We climbed along a narrow trail and the RBWG pointed out the evidence of a recent fire. 

 While we debated whether is was a natural or controlled burn, the RBWG stopped and proved to me that he had learned something on the trail.  Our second Nicky Noneck was lounging in the sun.  It was a small rat snake which really look like a tree limb.
This snake was more easily identified as a Carolina Rat Snake, sometimes referred to as "Fedora".  It took great exception to be interrupted from its afternoon sun bath, but eventually conceded the trail to us.  The trail up to Copperhead Knob is very narrow and overgrown to the point that we were looking for the real thing as we climbed to the top.  Getting to the knob, the RBWG, exclaimed as he got his first glimpse of the distant mountain vista, "Now I know why you hike!"
From Copperhead Knob you have a nearly 180 degree view eastward.  Ridgecrest, Black Mountain and Interstate 40 seemed quite small when framed by the distant blue ridge.  Thinking of our brothers down at Ridgecrest, I was reminded of a Psalm of David: 

"As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time forth and forever" (Psalm 125:2)

After returning to the Rattlesnake Trail we trudged up a steep incline to a large camping site which served as an intersection of sorts for two trails.  The logging road continued to the right and a sign directed us to the narrow trail on the left to Rattlesnake Knob.  I told the RBWG that this is the type of trail we encounter in the gorge.  It was narrow, steep and rocky.  The effort was worth it!
The view is to the north and west and with some rock scrambling we got to see nearly 180 degrees of mountains in every direction.

Waiting to greet us on the summit was John Newby, an assistant district attorney from Kinston.  John played football at Furman and is a very big white guy (VBWG).  I could not resist taking a pic of the RBWG and his new friend, VBWG.  Any Sasquatch sightings in the area can now be disregarded.

"Before the mountains were born, or you gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God! " Psalm 90:2

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. My God, my Rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and my horn of salvation, my stronghold and my salvation, my Savior... 2 Samuel 22:3

Rating the trail will be difficult.  As far as effort to view, the trail is about right.  It is far from an effortless trail.  It is deceptively steep for such a short distance.  Our round trip was 4 miles and I would bet from the parking lot to the summit of Rattlesnake Knob and Copperhead Knob we climbed 900 feet.  The access to the trail is great if you can get into Ridgecrest ....8;  the trail is well marked and well maintained but aside from the views from the knob, there is not much to see...7; the views are great....mountains in every direction form a nice back drop to the Ridgecrest Center first hike with the RBWG ...10+  The trail is a solid 8....if you are at Ridgecrest you have to take this hike!
One last thing....I like Mike!  He has the endorsement of the Fat Bald White Guy. For that matter I am sure the Real Big White Guy and the Very Big White Guy also support him.  Please vote for Mike!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Occoneechee State Natural Area


On a cloudy Sunday, we decided to take a hike to the highest point in Orange County....Mount Occoneechee....  Elevation 867 feet!

The Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is easy to spot from the I-85/I-40 split....there is a large cell tower and old fire tower looking down on the highway in Orange County.   Getting there is a bit challenging....of course I did not follow the map!

A nice bass pond greets you as you turn from Orange Grove Road to the gravel road known as Virgina Cates Road....leading to a parking lot and picnic area at the trail head.  We chose to hike the 2.2 mile Occoneechee Loop trail...the longest trail in the natural area which loops around the mountain....down to the Eno River....then to the Rock Quarry overlook.

The trail is well marked with red dot blazes and is reasonably maintained....but the proximity to the highway makes it the noisiest trail I have ever hiked.... About at the half mile mark, the trail begins to ascend and you are faced with the choice of continuing the loop trail or take the shortcut to the Overlook. We decided to take the loop and began a descent to the Eno River.

 Along the trail I spied a cairn which had been knocked over.  I paused to rebuild it and in so doing once again thanked our Creator for the beauty of the day and the magnificence of His creation.
The trail was adorned with various rock formations of all sizes. I assume Mt. Occoneechee is what early native Americans called a "monadnoch" which means "isolated hill".  Now a geology term for other isolated hills like found throughout the Piedmont... it is in truth a granite remnant of a once great mountain range.

This side of the mountain was insulated from the traffic noise but was not insulated from a dirt bike track sounds which reminded me of sounds made by a chain saw....not the atmosphere for the get back to nature feeling the trail otherwise provided...oh yeah....the dirt bike was finally drowned out by the train whistle of a passing freight train!

We were joined on the hike today by an extra hiking companion...our 13 year old corgi named "Missy".  She made the hike without too much trouble for a girl of her age...happy to have her join us!
We have learned that the Eno River rarely disappoints us and I was anxious to see the beauty of the old river.  This was the first glimpse I got from a side trail leading to a nice river rock promontory. 

You know the Fat Bald White Guy....rock scrambling and the best of both worlds and some nice view too!
From the top of the rock, I could see up and down the Eno as it bends.  Some great reflections on the calm river.

Notice the rope swing tied to the river oak....I bet this spot is a great swimming hole!  There are also so yellow bells still in bloom on the opposite river bank.

 Leaving the river rock, we rejoined the loop trail and soon encountered a rocky bluff overlooking the river below.  I resisted the urge to climb to the top.

The trail along the Eno offered us with many nice views of interesting things...such as this boat sinking at its dock. But this reflection is really something special.

Missy needed a break so we stopped at a trail bench overlooking the river.  The bench is marked by a really scary looking tree!  Adjacent trees bore the initials of countless visitors to the park.  I really resist the idea of defacing trees with carved initials.....and was glad someone had already carved mine into the bark.
There was once a quarry at Occoneechee Mountain and the remnants have created a nice geological feature of exposed rock wall.  Looking up at the top I spotted the overlook and some nice folks waving at me!  A little further up the trail was an unofficial trail which allowed another view of the overlook and this time I spied a guy in a bright yellow shirt!

We soon made it up to the overlook....a pretty nice climb....and met some really nice folks from UNC.  One was  history major, one was a psych major, one was a communications major....not sure about the fourth....but I told them I would make them famous by putting them in the blog...and though skeptical, they relented!
From the overlook we saw some nice views of the river and surrounding countryside....but sadly nothing spectacular.....

I really thought that the overlook would allow views to the south and west and perhaps we could even see Chapel Hill.....message to the park system....turn that fire tower into an observation platform!

Leaving the overlook we had a nice downhill descent along the service road originally built to serve the fire tower.  We ended the hike flanked by late blooming yellow flowers which adorned the trail nicely.

How do I rate this trail?  I really did not expect much but in truth it is a nice Sunday afternoon family hike....kinda hard to find but once you get there it is a good hike.  Access is a 7...should have used the map!  Trails are an 8 as they are well maintained and marked.  Scenery is a 7 mainly because the overlook is over the remnants of the quarry rather than from the peak of the mountain. Easy trail but not much view so the effort to view ratio really does not apply.  Overall rating of 7....                                  

Leaving Mt. Occoneechee, I traveled down Orange Grove Road until in intersected with NC 54 and proceeded to the mill village of Saxapahaw.  There I was told I would find the "Buddy Collins Memorial Bridges".
The bridges are named in memory of the long time director of the community center in the mill village. One parent described the Buddy Collins of Saxapahaw as "a fine man with a heart of gold. The kids under his guidance learned to be truthful, to share, to be hard workers, and to develop their talents. He was a very simple man who believed every child was a blessing, rich, poor, troubled, or just needing someone to be there for them"  I am humbled and honored to share a name with a man such as that!