Saturday, May 20, 2017



Located between Sanford and Lillington near the community of Broadway lies one of the State Park system's best kept secrets. Raven Rock State Park is located a top the river bluffs overlooking the Cape Fear River.  We decided to take the signature trail, the Raven Rock Loop Trail, down to the river.
The park is located on both sides of the Cape Fear.  It has two signature trails on the west side along with the visitor's center. 

The Raven Rock Loop is billed as a 2.6 mile trail, which it is but if you want to go on the spur trail taking you beneath the river bluffs, and scamper around as we did... then expect to put in nearly 4 miles.

The trail is very well maintained and very busy on this hot Saturday afternoon.  We started at the visitor's center and followed the pathway to the trail head across the road and up the hill.  It is a well marked trace through the wooded riverside forest. 

A little over a mile brought us to the signature overlook.  Perched on top of the river bluff cliffs, about 100 feet from the river.  The views were very disappointing.   Spring growth obscured much of the river view.  We did get a view upriver and a glimpse of the river just below the overlook.  Message to Park folks....if you build an overlook, make sure there is something to see.

Not far from the overlook the loop turns back to the parking lot.  At this point is the spur trail to the riverside.  The trail leads down 135 steps, 102 of which are part of really nice wooden staircase, that includes switchbacks and benches.

The stairs lead to a series of trails that took us beneath a massive granite river bluff.  Most folks start to the right at the bottom of the steps only to encounter a sign telling them the trail ends.  Take a left and there is about a half mile of river side trails that let you explore the rocky cliffs.

The sheer size of the rock wall is pretty impressive.  I took this picture of a couple who were walking next to a portion of the wall just to illustrate the point.

The cliffs remind me of the Jomeokee Trail on Pilot Mountain, but larger.   My faithful hiking companion wondered why we did not observe any rock climbers on these cliffs.  The trees and the cliffs obscured the sun, which was good since it reach 90 degrees!   As seen in this photograph, this trail can be quite sociable.  There were families with children everywhere.  This is a good thing but I am not sure some parents factored in the 135 steps out or the 90 degree heat...just glad it was them and not me!

The trail involves some rock scrambling.  We scampered over and through a number of piles of large boulders as we made our way upriver beneath the river bluff.

My Faithful Hiking Companion spotted this neat dry waterfall.  It was obvious that in a rainy season, these rocks form a very nice waterfall.   And seeing what looked like a cave in the indention to the rock wall, the FBWG just had to go check it cave...but got to pose for a nice picture nonetheless.
We took a break on these rock steps and downed some Gatorade Go Juice.  It is an idyllic place sitting on these rocks watching the stately Cape Fear flow by.

Not far from the rock steps the trail abruptly ends as the cliff pinches the trail into the river.  There was a narrow ledge that looked very inviting as I think from there would be a great view up river.  But as I was contemplating the wisdom of trying to make it, a young limber back and his family showed up and he scampered down to check it out.  He agreed with me that the chances of making the ledge without ending up in the river was about 50/ we turned around.
As we turned to follow the trail back downriver, my Faithful Hiking Companion spotted one of the neatest features of the trail. It was a "rockdock"!  A large rock was positioned just off the river bank with a young sapling growing from the middle.  It looked like the perfect dock for a river boat.  
While we were certain we could climb off the riverbank on to the rock dock, we were less certain that the muddy bank would support an easy climb out.  And not wanting to swim down the Cape Fear, we demurred.  But a neat feature nonetheless.

We trudged along the river bank trail down river toward the steps.  We observed the cliffs from a different angle and found the river reflecting the trees from the eastern banks.

Soon we arrived at the steps and pondered the "end of trail" sign.  Wondering what was around the muddy corner of the rock wall we gave in to our obstinate defiance and took the trail less traveled and were rewarded for our efforts.
On the other side of the rock at the muddy corner is a cove surrounded on three sides by rock cliffs.  In the middle of the cove was a stand of trees illuminated by sunlight like a scene from the movies.  Behind us was a the river and as we turned we saw a wonderful forest window featuring the passing Cape Fear.

As we turned the muddy corner to head back we paused to rest our dawgs at a river tree.  In a younger day I would have shimmied up that tree as it extends over the river.  Earlier in the day I may have foolishly even tried it...but I was hot, muddy and tired so I thought better of it.

The views of the river were especially good from the river tree.  The reflections on the calm water actually are seen better in photographs.  The tree provided a nice foreground for a glimpse upriver.
Taking the steps out did not prove to be the challenge that it appeared.  There are 102 wooden steps and a nice bench at the top!

We took the loop out and I think it is actually shorter and less steep than the trail we came down.  The trail ends up in the first parking lot and there is but a short walk left to return to the visitor center where we parked.

This trail is easily accessed off NC 421.  Raven Rock Road is about halfway between Lillington and Broadway....access 10;  The trails are very well marked and maintained....9;  The scenery is good but not spectacular...the overlook is disappointing but the riverbank trail makes up for the loop trail is a 7...but the spur is an 8;....effort to view is okay....really an easy trail that everyone can make.  Overall a 8.5 rating.

We will return on a cooler day as there are several interesting hikes yet to take in this park.  If you live in the area, make Raven Rock are frequent destination for your next hike or picnic.



The Ole Gilliam Park is located on Carbonton Road (NC 42) about six miles west of Sanford in the rolling sand hills of Piedmont North Carolina.  The Park is a wonderfully reproduced mill village in which many activities and events are held. 

A large mill pond is a nice feature of the park around which the mill village is constructed.  The original mill was constructed by Stephen Henley in 1850.  In 1870, Henley sold the mill and the Gilliam Family leased and operated the mill until they purchased it in 1890.  In 1928, the mill was washed away in a flood.  But a half century later it was rebuilt up the creek from the original site.  The 1979 mill is a very accurate reproduction.  It was the weekend project of a man named Worth Pickard. It is the feature building of the park and grinds mill weekly. 

The Mill was open but not grinding the day we visited.  I got a few photographs of the inside which is filled with original mill equipment gathered from various sites throughout the southeast.  Bags of corn meal and hominy grits were for sale.  Folks were very friendly even letting me go upstairs to poke around.

At the time of my visit I did not realize the mill was a reproduction.  In fact I took a picture of a drawing of the original mill.  The folks who reconstructed this mill did a fantastic job maintaining historical accuracy.  It appears that the original mill was served by a creek and there was a long wooden race feeding the water to the wheel.  

The current mill is served by water from the large mill pond which is piped to the mill race.  There were old mill stones scattered around the mill and various pieces of equipment adorned the walls.
I took many pictures of the mill from different angles but most of the mill is obscured by summer growth along the creek banks.  This park is a wonderful place to visit.  We missed the festivities earlier in the day.  There were venders set up on the east side of the creek across from the mill village. 

One exhibitor was a blacksmith and he was demonstrating to the visitors how to make a square shaped rod from a round piece of iron.  There is a real art to his craft. 

If you are in the Sanford area, be sure to drop by the Ole Gilliam Mill Park.  It is privately run by evidently some very dedicated volunteers.
Props to Worth Pickard for recreating this old mill.  Props to those who have created the Ole Gilliam Mill Park.  I look forward to returning one day for some BBQ and Bluegrass music!
From the Park's website:
"A man plus a penny postcard plus an old memory equals what has grown into one of the states' premier historic parks.  It is difficult to believe that this slice of the past was built almost entirely on weekends (didn't miss church either) by Worth Pickard and a handful of friends and family."