Sunday, June 26, 2016



Wilson Creek is a wonderful gem of wilderness. Today we set out to find two waterfalls on the North Harper Creek Trail...and saw but two other hikers on the trail all kind of place!
The trail is a former roadbed eroded over time to a wide path through the woods down to the creek.  The trail is #239 on you handy Wilson Creek Map and can be a bit confusing when you get to the creek.

We were greeted by blooming Summer White Rhododendrons sprinkled all along the trail.  These late blooming rhodies are always a treat to find on a hot summer trail and today was no exception. 
Trail #239 is a 1.3 mile gently sloping trail which intersects with Trail #266 which is the North Harper Creek Trail that runs the length of North Harper Creek, portions of which are an old logging railroad bed.  Where #239 intersects there are many red flags to designate the blue blazed North Harper Creek Trail.  I assumed #239 ended here....I was wrong...but none the less dutifully followed the blue blazed North Harper Creek trail...what I should have done was keep going straight down to the creek...the hike would have been shorter but we would not have discovered a nice secluded waterfall!
All along the trail we got glimpses of the creek but aside from the occasional creek crossing we could only hear the roar of the creek as the trail is a ridge trail above the creek bed.  We encountered a couple and asked how far to the falls...."What falls?"  Uh oh...we checked our map and our GPS still convinced that there was a waterfall ahead...and turns out there was one!
Just up the hill from the creek crossing we found the familiar roar of a water fall some fifty feet below the trail....and off we went finding a secluded waterfall and accompanying rock beach...great place to rest our dawgs and grab a powerbar lunch.

We thought the waterfall was the Chestnut Grove Branch Falls....but truth is we really don't know the name of these "Secluded Falls".  The Secluded Falls is a twenty-five foot emerald rock waterfall.  The water flows into a small reflective pool, pausing before it flows down the mountainside.
Feeling the need to give thanks for the beauty of this day and the natural wonder before me, I constructed a small cairn, with each rock a separate prayer of thanksgiving.
Deciding that we missed the Chestnut Branch and the North Harper Creek Falls as we bypassed side trails, we decided to backtrack up the trail but this time taking the side trails to the creek.  The first one we chose yielded spectacular results.  We emerged from the trail on the top of the rock face of the North Harper Trail Falls.

Carefully walking down the rock face seemed the right thing to do.  About halfway down I considered it safer to stop and take a picture looking back. I want to return when the water levels are up as this must be a nice scene.
Leaving the rock face top of the falls, we returned to the blue blazed North Harper Creek Trail attempting to find the bottom of the falls.  We came to the intersection of Trail #239 and realized that at this point #239 did not stop but merged with North Harper Creek Trail.  The map was right....imagine that ...and the Chestnut Branch Falls was just right ahead.

What we found did not look much like a major waterfall and again consulting the map and GPS I remained confused and decided to follow the creek downstream looking for a waterfall.

Turns out had we chosen to head upstream we would have found this wonderful waterfall, just a couple of hundred yards bad...but thankfully others found the waterfall and took great pics.
The trip downstream was not without views...just lacking in waterfalls...but I did stop and take in this small beauty.

Great hiking...figure we took in over six was hot and we were tired but the unexpected flora seemed to help the disappointment in not finding the waterfall.

The trail if taken correctly is a moderate trail...all I had to do was walk from the trailhead to the creek and then take a side trail upstream...but because I didn't I found Secluded Falls and added about four miles of wonderful hiking to the trek.

Rating the trail is hard because the route I took and my failure to lay eyes on the North Harper Creek Falls...access is 7...way back in the Wilson Creek Natural Scenic Forest Road 464...aka Pineola Road...we got there via Mortimer Road at Jonas Ridge....get a map; the trail is an 8...great trail well marked but at times confusing...scenery an 8...effort to view is about right....over all a solid 8 trail.

Sunday, June 19, 2016



We visited the Roan Balds last October and pledged to return this year in June to catch the famous rhododendrons in full bloom.  We almost missed their peak but found an idyllic display of nature's beauty nonetheless. Carver's Gap - October

This section of the AT crosses the Roan Balds

The trail head to this section of the Appalachian Trail is on Highway 19E and begins at the border between Tennessee and North Carolina at Roan Mountain. The third week of June is the annual Rhododendron Festival at nearby Roan Mountain State Park. The area was crowded with sightseers. From the trail head, the color of the season previewed the sights we were soon to enjoy.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
                                                            The Song of Solomon 2:12

The rhododendrons were accenting the fence which nicely framed the view of Roan Mountain.

The Trail is at this point a wide gravel path that winds through a wonderful evergreen patch of woods before emerging again into the grassy bald.  As we entered the woods, we looked back and received our first glimpse of the Grande Dame of the mountains-Mt. Mitchell.

                                 The mountains are the beginning and the end to all natural scenery.
                                                                       -John Ruskin

On the way up to the summit of Round Bald, I passed a family of hikers led by their patriarch Walter Pitts.  I turned to take a look at Roan Mountain and took a picture of this fine gentleman. He is from Valle Crucis and having made him famous in this blog, his life will never be the same!

From the top of Round Bald, the panorama of the beauty of the surrounding mountains was unveiled nicely adorned by various colors of flowers.  Leaving Round Bald, we began to see the orange Flaming Azaleas intermixed with the lavender rhododendrons.
 "People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us."-Iris Murdoch

Leaving Round Ball, we trudged through Engine Gap on our way up to Jane Bald.  To the left we observed the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee and to the right were the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Every vista was accented by the colorful flowers of the day.  While the rhodies were past peak on Round Bald, as we trudged up Jane Bald we began to see that the higher elevation had preserved  peak blossoms for us to enjoy.  We began to see painted on the slopes of Grassy Ridge Bald, a lavender hue.  Talking to a member of the conservation staff, we learned that the flowers a top this bald were indeed at peak!

At Jane Bald we met a great couple, Mark and Kristie who agreed to pose for a picture. They were two of many really nice folks with whom we shared the trail.
Leaving Jane Bald we chose to climb Grassy Ridge Bald.  The trail up is much narrower and we soon found we were enveloped by rhododendrons. 

On one section of the path we entered a rhododendron tunnel and found the path strewn with lavender petals.  No bride walked on a path so elegantly adorned with flowers!

As we emerged from the trail onto the lower slopes of the Grassy Ridge Bald we were greeted with more rhodies as well as a scene of endless sea of blue mountains in the distance.
The trail leads up to the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald and along the way, we took in the first of many great views of nearby Grandfather Mountain. At a similar evelation, the distinctive features of the Grandfather reminded me that we were hiking on Father's Day weekend.

                                                    "My father considered a walk among the mountains equivalent of churchgoing"
                                               -Aldous Huxley
From the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald, we looked back on the summits of Jane Bald and Round Bald as they laid out before Roan Mountain.  But our destination for the day was a peak to the south of Grassy Ridge Bald summit which we understood was covered with blooming rhododendrons
On our previous trip to the Roan Balds we saw that the trail extended to another small peak that though it was a bald had no grass but instead was covered with rhododendrons.  We were excited to see that this peak was covered with lavender-pink blossoms.  The trail was narrow but the experience was amazing. It was like waking up in the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz!
"All across the meadows, many poppies blossomed, and they were so hypnotic and brilliant in color they nearly dazzled Dorothy's eyes..."  - The Wizard of Oz

The trail led up the ridge to a rocky peak from which there were several outcroppings to sit and take in the views.  Unlike the previous part of the trail there were only about six other people on this ridge.  My Faithful Hiking Companion decided to rest her dawgs and I proceeded on to the end of the trail.
Spread before me was a scene from the imagination of a painter.  Green mountains seemed to melt into a blue sea of more distant mountains.  From this small cliff there was a 180 degree view with Mt. Mitchell framing the scene to the right and Grandfather Mountain framing the scene to the left.
This was a perfect end to a magnificent trail.  Each peak bringing forth increasingly more beautiful scenes. 
Backtracking up the trail, I paused seeing a small rock a top a large boulder.  Not seeing any other rocks to make a cairn, I nonetheless paused to consider the majesty of God's creation and to offer my thanks for the day.  Doing so I set the stone on its edge hoping to give reason for others to pause and do likewise.
There may not be a perfect trail but there are certainly times when ordinary trails become extraordinary.  The Carver's Gap section of the Appalachian Trail during June is truly an extraordinary experience.
Note the bee in flight!
The trail is moderately difficult depending on the weather. We had a day in the low 70's with a nice breeze. Most folks limit their hike to Round Bald which tends too be a very sociable one mile hike...others trudge on the Jane Bald which is another mile...the more adventurous take the three mile hike to Grassy Ridge.  Today we added another mile to experience the Rhododendron Knob and this made all the difference! 
I hiked a total about 8 miles and the scenery a 10+ hike;  access is good but parking is limited on a busy day - 9; the trails are well marked and maintained - 10; the effort to view ratio is near perfect as the harder you work the more you see!  This is a buck list experience!
"I thank you God for this amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of the sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes!" - e.e cummings