Monday, October 26, 2009

Excuse Me - Could You Tell Me If This Is Peak Leaf Season Yet?

South Mountain State Park – 9/27/09 - High Shoals Falls Loop and Chestnut Knob Trail to Overlook – 7.3 Miles

My good friend Nora, who has long been a flea market cohort and is fast becoming a hiking buddy, joined me for a jaunt to South Mountain State Park, another gem in North Carolina’s state park system located in the rural region south of Morganton, west of Lincolnton, north of Shelby – well, you get the picture. Our original plan was for Saturday, but a heavy rain convinced us to delay until Sunday. Jacob’s Fork River was still running high and we had blue skies to greet us.

A funny thing happened on the interstate – I got a call on my cell phone from a friend in the Carolina Berg Wanderers hiking group. Why was Ruth Ann calling me on a Sunday morning? Had I forgotten about some hike I had signed up for? Turns out Ruth Ann was driving right behind me… and she was headed for South Mountain! Thank goodness, too, because my memory of directions was sketchy. Ruth Ann and her friends led us all the way to the park entrance. She is a frequent visitor to South Mountain and her group was hiking a different loop than we were.

Nora is a novice hiker who spent time outside before entering the consuming world of parenting. She has lots of enthusiasm and a readiness to re-discover the outdoors, and I am finding an increasing delight in guiding people like her to our terrific NC resources. Maybe in addition to Girl Scouts, I can become a resource for women “of a certain age” who are looking for an introduction to outdoor exploration…

 But first, South Mountain State Park: the attractions here are many, with 20 (count ‘em) backpack camping sites in 6 areas of the park, a primitive family camping area (pit toilets, no electricity, first-come basis – Jim and I camped here with our kids about 12 years ago), group camping facilities (can be reserved) and equestrian camping (ditto). There are horse trails, of course, and mountain bike trails, and all trails are open to hikers – watch out! There are also picnic areas and shelters, free of charge. Less than two hours from Charlotte, I consider this about the closest we can get to the real mountains.

Nora and I visited the main attractions for hikers, first following the H.Q. Trail to the High Shoals Falls Loop, criss-crossing Jacob’s Fork River on bridges and climbing up wooden steps. Like Stone Mountain SP, there are lots of manmade structures to protect humans from themselves! Yellow and brown leaves were sticking to the big wet rocks, signaling fall has arrived here. High Shoals Falls was thundering today, the force of the water blowing our hair back, and the normally dry platform was slippery wet.

We continued to climb past the top of the falls and crossed the wide and calm Jacob’s Fork on a long bridge. Surprisingly, very few people were on the trail (I guess we were sinners skipping church to get here early). As we walked across the bridge, I told Nora about our family visit years ago. I remember that our son Brett was wearing his first backpack, getting in shape for backpacking since he had advanced in the ranks to Boy Scouts. I also remember that our youngest daughter, Laura, was wearing denim overall shorts and she fell into the water – yes, we let the child play in the calm water at the top of the waterfall. Many lessons learned since then…

 Nora and I followed the Falls Loop Trail back to the main trail and stopped creekside for a little snack, then headed for another park highlight – Chestnut Knob Overlook. The Chestnut Knob Trail is 2 miles one-way and fairly steep, so a little bit of a cardio workout. Summer flowers were fading but the fungi and lichen were interesting – in fact, Nora was “likin’ the lichen.” Some interesting finds:

Moss, lichen and fungi - oh my!


Cool fungi and leaf arrangement on the end of a log

Fall colors - is it the peak yet? Nora and I enjoyed belly laughs over people who want to know when peak leaf season is. "Excuse me, sir, is this a peak leaf? If it is, it's beautiful - if not, it's just so-so." BTW, This is a sassafras tree.

Chestnut Knob is a rock outcropping with a wide view out to the Kings Mountain range. We took our front row seats for this peaceful scene, enjoying the rest and another little snack. We heard voices approaching..and here came Ruth Ann and friends. Soon a lone hiker joined us, and as he scanned the horizon he said, “Well, I see the Charlotte skyline.” Sure enough, when I put on my glasses and held my tongue just right, there was the faint outline of Charlotte rising from the horizon just like the Emerald City! (Look about a quarter of the way in from the left side of the photo. See it??)

The descent back to the parking area was quick – along the way we saw these unusual purple leaves. We also saw lots more people, as church had finally let out.

On our drive home we stopped at Red Bone Willy’s, a local country store in Lawndale that sells bits of nostalgia, old-fashioned candies, Grape Nehi’s, moon pies and homemade ice cream. Nora and I got the last bit of pumpkin-apple-vanilla yumminess before who walks in? Ruth Ann & Company once again! A delicious ending to a delightful day!
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. ~Aristotle


Steve said...

We were up through Zirconia on over towards Mt. Mitchell on Saturday, and went from 70 and sunny to 10 feet of visibility and 38 degrees in the course of about 1 & 1/2 hours. The color was good along the Blue ridge Parkway at higher elevations, but lower, it wasn't so great. Love your blog BTW!!

smoky scout said...

I was in the Smokies this past week and it truly was peak leaf season - everything was yellow with some orange and red tossed in. But even one leaf turning color is exciting to me!


Hey, I couldn't find an email for you. Check out the story at