Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pilot Mountain State Park - Yadkin Islands


Nestled in the corner of the Pilot Mountain State Park is the Yadkin Island section.  Connected to the main park by a six mile corridor, the Yadkin Island section is next to the Horne Creek Living Historical Farm and houses the remnants of the Bean Shoals Canal.  It is a great park to visit for folks in the Piedmont Triad accessed off the Jomeokee exit on NC 52 just south of Pilot Mountain.

We parked on Hauser Road just past the entrance road to the Yadkin Island Section of the Park.  The sign at the trail head is confusing.   Following the Yadkin Island trail the out and back is less than five miles...doing the loop as we did and including the Bean Shoals Canal trail, we logged over 5.5 miles.   But if that seems too much of a walk, you can drive to within a half mile of the river.  So pick your route...we took the long way.

A short trail leads from the parking lot to the Bean Shoals Canal access road.   The trail follows Horne Creek as it meanders towards the river.  The first part of the trail is very wooded and almost overgrown but it soon connects with the gravel access road.  Soon you cross the first of two creek fords.
At the second ford, you have a choice to make.  While not well marked, the Yadkin Island Trail veers from the road to the right.  The river is about a mile and a half from this point should you choose to take the Yadkin Island Trail.  However, if you want to walk a loop you must cross the ford and find a picnic area about a half mile down the road. 

It turned out that the
Yadkin Island Trail is a winding old postal road that climbs over a ridge that the gravel road goes around.  But since it was not well marked we decided to travel a bit more down the gravel road to find the trail head to the Horne Creek Trail.

On the left about a half mile from the second ford is a small picnic area.  At this spot is the trail head to the Horne Creek Trail.  It is a 2.5 mile trek to the river which intersects with the Bean Shoals Canal trail.  This is a wonderful winding forest trail on the banks of Horne Creek as it meanders to the Yadkin River.  But before leaving the picnic area, we enjoyed the colorful blossoms of summer wild flowers and a butterfly. 

About a mile and a quarter into the Horne Creek Trail, we came upon a nice trail bench which overlooked a nice creek crossing and a small waterfall. The trail wrapped around to the crossing, but we took a shorter route down from the bench.  It proved to be one of the better views of the trail.

Passing the creek crossing the trail tops a small ridge and soon emerges at some "active railroad tracks".  Yep, the trail crosses the railroad before you get to the river.  Better look both ways and listen for a train whistle!
The railroad tracks hug the banks of the Yadkin River and actually runs in the path of the Bean Shoals Canal.  Just over the tracks is the river trail.  The Horne Creek Trail and the Bean Shoals Canal Trail combine for a little over mile trek along the banks of the muddy Yadkin.

All along the river bank trail we had various views through forest windows.  There are very few open views.  But we sure could hear the flowing river and occasional laughter of kayakers who were drifting down the slow flowing river.
This section of the river crosses the "shoals" which is a granite ridge that the river crosses. At this time of the year the river is barely waist deep.  Many places waders can walk in the middle of the river with water lapping at their calves. 

It is no wonder that folks looking to connect Wilkesboro to Salisbury by river in the early 1800's would have tried to figure out how to bypass this rocky ridge.  In 1820, some enterprising business folks raised over $30,000 to build the Bean Shoals Canal.  That would be over a half million dollars in today's money.  The idea was to create a low water dam from the Surry County shore to one of the midstream islands and divert the water through the Bean Shoals Canal. 

The water would be deep enough to transport goods by small bateau thus opening trade with the western piedmont and mountains.  Before they could finish the project, they ran out of money and the stone works were abandoned to the forest. If it had worked it would have been an engineering marvel.  The railroad used the foundations left from the canal upon which they constructed their tracks.  The remnants of hand hewn and laid stones give tribute to the unknown craftsman who laid them over 200 years ago.
At the end of the Bean Shoals Canal ruins, the trail narrows and views are harder to come by. The river divides into three channels as it flows around several river islands.  I understand that the water at this point was shallow enough that a horse and wagon regularly forded the river carrying mail.   All that we saw in the river at this point was a river with her boyfriend for small mouth bass. 

At this point we turned around and decided to walk out by way of the Yadkin Islands Trail but were unsure about where to pick up the trail off the Bean Shoals Access Road.  To our rescue a Park Ranger appeared and not only told us how to complete our trail loop but even gave us a ride up the road to the trail.  (which is why there is a gap in our route map above)
In about a mile along this winding forest road, we were surprised to find that we emerged at the second ford and were less than a half mile from our car.  The best I can figure, if you take the Yadkin Island trail, it is a about a two mile out and back to the parking lot.
The Horne Creek/Bean Shoals Canal/Yadkin Islands loop that we cobbled together is a less than six mile hike through a piedmont forest and along an old river.  Along the way we got to ponder the history of the Bean Shoals Canal.  The access to the trail is a 10....easy to find and several ways to get to various portions of the trail.  The trails are an 8...a little overgrown and the trail at the second ford was not marked.  The scenery is also an 8...too much growth along the river trail to enjoy the river scenes. The effort to view ratio was about right....a moderate trail for a moderate view....give the trail an 8+  It is a great day hike for folks in the Piedmont Triad.  

On the way out we ventured down the Shoals Road into the Surry County community of Shoals and took a view pictures of Jomeokee....aka Pilot Mountain.

If you want more information on the Bean Shoals this out

In the late 1810s, Hillsborough landowner and lawyer Archibald DeBow Murphey hatched a plan to turn the Yadkin River into a commercial waterway, linking the western and central parts of North Carolina to the eastern part of the state. He wanted to make transportation easier between these regions, directing commerce from the western regions of North Carolina to Fayetteville and Wilmington rather than Virginia and South Carolina. As part of this project, it would be necessary to navigate around the Bean Shoals, an area of the Yadkin River with granite shoals, rapids, and shallow water. 
Locals John Hixon and Hiram Jennings were commissioned in 1817 to devise a plan for getting around the shoals. They advised building a 3-mile-long canal, requiring a dam and three locks, to bypass the area; the cost for this was estimated at around $30,200. Murphey and others formed the Yadkin Navigation Company to sell stocks and raise money for the canal and other construction efforts. English engineer Hamilton Fulton was hired for the large sum of 1200£ in the summer of 1819, after the canal building had begun. By summer of the following year, much of the work had been done, but the company was running bankrupt with costs for the canal running over $38,000. In 1825, the company conceded that their plans had failed, and the project was never finished. Parts of the 1200 ft long canal wall, originally up to 20 ft high, can still be seen along the north bank of the Yadkin River at Bean Shoals.

Sunday, July 16, 2017



One of the most majestic waterfalls the Fat Bald White Guy has visited is the Laurel Fork Falls near Hampton, Tennessee.  We ventured there on a hot day at the end of July and found a truly idyllic natural portrait unveiled before our eyes.  Previously in the week, I was attracted to the observations of Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World; A Geography of Faith

There she wrote: Earth is so thick with divine possibility, it is a wonder that we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.   Well the Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion sure do have bruised shins from this hike.

Where is Laurel Fork Falls?  It is located in eastern Tennessee, forty miles west of Boone near the picturesque Lake Watauga.  I had never visited this area before.  Lake Watauga is a hidden gem!  Beautiful man made reservoir at the head waters of the Watauga River.  There are plenty of various water sports opportunities there as well a very nice public beach.  If you vacation in Boone, take a day trip to this lake.  

To get to the falls, you follow Laurel Fork which appears to flow into Watauga Lake.  The trailhead is a popular spot located on Highway 321 just west of Lake Watauga on the outskirts of Hampton, Tennessee.  A small parking lot on the left accommodates about 15 vehicles and provides a very nice map.  
The trail is a less than six mile round trip and is rated moderate.  There is one short steep climb to the top of the river bluff in one bend of the river.  It is a thumper of a climb but not something too hard for most people to handle.  The trail is mostly smooth and flat with occasional slippery rocks to manage.  The constant views of this mountain stream keeps your interest all the way to the falls.

Early in the hike the stream hugs a rock wall that must be over a hundred feet tall.  It makes you appreciate the power of the water as you understand that each line in this rock wall was caused by a hundreds of years of flow of this ancient river.  You also get used to the constant roar of the water clashing with the rocks which only increases as you get closer to the falls.

The Laurel Fork Trail is a blue blazed trail that is easy to follow as it snakes along the riverbank.  A little over a mile into the trail it merges with the Appalachian Trail and becomes a white blazed trail to the falls.  This sign indicates the merger of the trail and directed us toward the falls.

Near the 1.5 mark, the trail crosses the river.  You are tempted by the trail to ford the river but just past this ford is the first of two really nice bridges.  

The bridge offered a few photographic opportunities that I gladly took up.  The rustic wooden structure contrasting with the wilderness was not quite the same as the lamppost from the Chronicles of Narnia, but was "kinda but different".

I can't overstate the obvious pleasure I enjoyed as I hiked along the river's edge.  Scene after scene of fast flowing mountain stream over rocks and around lush green foliage was a constant sensory delight.

Another bridge crossing provided us a nice place to take a break.  The day was hot and humid and hydration was required.  As we paused, I got to reflect on the beauty of the view from the middle of the bridge.

Not far from the second bridge, we encountered a fork in the trail.  The green moss covered logs are a good place to rest your dawgs and take a drink of fluids as the white blazed trail takes you up a steep climb to a river bluff, some 300 feet above the stream.  The hollow log reminded me of an old bluegrass tune Doc Watson would sing about catching a rabbit with a brier hiding in a hollow log. Doc Watson and Bill Monroe "Feast Here Tonight"

From the top of the river bluff, the trail snakes along the rocky ridge. While foliage limits the view of the water below, the ever present roar of the stream can still be heard and occasional forest windows open up for a view.  

Another helpful sign is erected on the bluff again indicating the direction of the falls. At this point there is a steep decline down to the river.  The sign is about at the 2.0 mile mark.
The falls are less than a mile from this point and for us there was one more obstacle to overcome to get there.  The river edge trail seemed to me to end on a rocky outcropping beside the stream. The rock was clearly marked by a white blaze.  It appeared to me that it directed the trail over the rock as it did not seem to be a way around the rock.  So I instructed to my Faithful Hiking Companion to take a muddy bypass while I climbed the slippery rock face.  Some "moderate trail" I mused?! After climbing hand over hand halfway up the river bluff, I realize that the trail did not lead over the rock and I had missed the trail around the rock...yep...most times when your trail leads to a dead end, the Lord provides a simple path around the obstacle...if you are patient and observant that is.
The path indeed leads around the rock outcropping and a rather rocky path leads to the foot of the falls.  
The falls are nearly 100 feet tall and pour over the rocky cliff with great intensity.  The roar of the falls makes it impossible to talk except by shouting.   A couple and their two dogs were swimming in the pool beneath the falls and a rock cairn adorned the stream. 

I waded out the cairn and was joined by one of the dogs accompanying the young folks swimming.  I believe her name was "Kono".  She was reluctant to jump in but the male Labrador was an eager swimmer. 

Behind the falls rises a rather impressive promontory.  I wondered what the path was like to that peak.  Also the path leads to the top of the falls but since I had already climbed a rocky bluff I was not interested in another excursion.

The rock cairn is always a reminder to me of the majesty of God's creation and again the words of Barbara Brown Taylor echoed in my mind: "People encounter God under shady oak trees, on riverbanks, at the tops of mountains and in long stretches of barren wilderness.  God shows up in whirlwind, starry skies, burning bushes and perfect strangers. When people want to know more about God, the son of God tells them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, to women kneading bread and workers lining up for pay. Whoever wrote this stuff believed that people could learn as much about the ways of God from paying attention to the world as they could from paying attention to scripture?

The trail is a near perfect day hike.  Located 40 miles west of Boone, the trail head is accessible directly off US 321.  Access is a 10.  The trail is well maintained and moderate (if you follow it that is!!) and the constant scenery of the flowing river allows it to be rated a 10 as well. The scenery is continuously breathtaking  culminating in one of the best waterfalls I have ever seen...10;  the effort to view ratio is near perfect...5.86 mile hike makes it a hike worth the trip....rarely does a trail impress me as this one did...a perfect 10 hike!