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!

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