Thursday, August 9, 2012

Saturday In The Park

Moses Cone Park – 6/13/12 – 14 Miles

My friend Mike, whose hiking resume is extensive (I have yet to name a place in the U.S. that he has not hiked), posted on the Bergs website a last-minute Saturday hike at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (aka “Moses Cone”) located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, in the part of North Carolina known as the High Country.  Why?  To expose some of the newer Berg members to this beautiful resource and meet some new folks.  What a great idea!  I think I’ll tag along.

Even on short notice we had a group of 8, everyone new to me except Mike (on the left).

Brief background on Moses Cone Park:  It was the summer residence of Moses Cone, very successful in the textile industry in North Carolina and known as the “Denim King.”  Mr. Cone died after just a few years of enjoying his mountain home, called Flat Top Manor after a mountain on the property.  Many years later, having no children, his widow, Bertha, bequeathed the entire estate to build a hospital in Greensboro, NC, and the estate later gave the property and home to the Parkway.  The manor house is now the Parkway Craft Center.  The 25 miles of trails at Moses Cone Park are all wide graveled carriage roads meandering throughout the estate.  Read more in Danny Bernstein’s book, Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage.

We parked near Bass Lake at the lower end of the park and Mike revealed his hike plan for the day…which was a rough outline to modify as we went along, covering about 8-9 miles.  A bit unusual for a group hike, but Moses Cone is more of a stroll through a park than a hike through the forest.  Mike likes to “lead from behind” and he instructed everyone to go at a comfortable pace and wait at every intersection for the group to reassemble.  

A spectacular summer day walking around Bass Lake

Past the lake we turned onto the trail section called the Maze, where the path slopes very gently upward in long switchbacks turning around on itself.  On the map it looks like a rope tied in an intricate knot.  The result is gaining elevation without really trying.  At the Apple Barn we turned right onto Black Bottom Road, then soon turned left onto Watkin Road and continued the gradual climb towards the Parkway.  (This section is also part of my old friend, the Mountains-To-Sea Trail.) 

Emerging rhododendron bloom

More rhodies

Bumpy moss carpeting on a tree trunk

Watkin Road runs into Deer Park Road, which continues to the manor house, along the way passing near a building that now houses restrooms.  Horseback riding is allowed on all the trails in Moses Cone Park – but you must provide your own horse.  On this particular Saturday there were lots… and lots…and lots of horses.  

Lunch break in front of Flat Top Manor

John and Mike

Consulting the map and the clock, the group decided to deviate from the original plan back to the parking area.  The new destination lay in the opposite direction:  the Cone cemetery where Moses and Bertha are buried.  We followed Flat Top Trail underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway and climbed up along the edge of open pasture land still hosting curious cows.  

At the turnoff to the cemetery we found that we were no longer interested in gravesites but felt ambitious to hike another two miles to the Flat Top lookout tower, originally a wooden structure built on the highest point of the Cone property for the enjoyment of their guests.  (A steel structure replaced it in 1954).  We walked through more open fields before slipping back into the woods to ascend Flat Top Mountain.  We met plenty of horses and hikers along the way.  

On top of Flat Top Tower – what clouds?  Funny, I never notice them until I see the pictures.

From the manor house to the lookout tower and back is 5.6 miles, still strolling easily, chatting with everyone and enjoying the day. I very much enjoyed my new hiker buddies, comparing notes on various trails both local and out west.  We took the most direct route from the manor house to the edge of Bass Lake and completed the loop around the lake.  By now the trails were busy with joggers, walkers, baby strollers and duck feeders. 

Our total effort for the day came to about 14 miles – a bit of a surprise and more than advertised, but everyone was happy with the group’s flexibility and the inclusion of the lookout tower.  This was a good reminder to me that not every hike has to be extreme to be rewarding.  Some days it’s just fun to walk in the park.

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.  Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.  Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.  Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.  One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.  ~Mary Jean Iron

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