Friday, January 18, 2013

Hanging Rock State Park

Hanging Rock State Park – 11/10/12 – 7.5 Miles

A week home from Haiti, I was feeling antsy to get out on a trail and planned a hike at Pilot Mountain State Park.  Jim asked to join me, a bit of a surprise since Saturday mornings are his prime cycling time, but I guess he missed me, eh?  A little glitch…on Thursday the state park folks tried a little prescribed burn in Pilot Mountain SP and it got out of control, so the park was closed down while the fire people did their work.  So what’s the next best thing?  Hanging Rock State Park.

I’ve hiked through part of Hanging Rock SP previously – it’s one of the pearls of NC that the string of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through – but I’d never climbed its signature point, Hanging Rock.  Jim and I chose the route in Danny Bernstein’s book, “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage,” that includes Hanging Rock, Wolf Rock, House Rock and Cook’s Wall, all massive rock outcroppings from which to gaze out at the North Carolina Piedmont.  Hanging Rock SP is part of the Sauratown Mountains.

I could take up space paraphrasing about the history of the park but their website is the best source for information:  “Many facilities in the park were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) between 1935 and 1942. A concrete and earthen dam completed in 1938 impounded a 12-acre lake, and a stone bathhouse, diving tower and sandy beach also were built. Other facilities constructed by the CCC include a park road and parking area, a picnic area and shelter, and hiking trails. In 1991, the bathhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.”  Admission is free (like most of NC’s state parks) and it is one of only two state parks that has cabins for rent (the other is Morrow Mountain SP).  

From the impressive visitor center Jim and I followed Hanging Rock Trail, very wide and heavily used.  I was a staunch critic of the stone work given my (scant hours of) experience on the Smokies Trails Forever crew a month ago.  

A glimpse of Hanging Rock through the trees.  Why is it so hazy and why is my throat so dry?

And thar she blows.  How will we get up there?  The trail winds around to the back side, of course.

Looking at Moore’s Knob, another awesome viewpoint in the park – and the smoky haze is due to the fire over at Pilot Mountain SP, still not contained.
Our perch on Hanging Rock.  This is an easy to moderate hike, less than 1.5 miles from the parking lot to the summit.  A thrilling spot for minimal effort. 

We backtracked down Hanging Rock Trail and turned left onto Wolf Rock Loop Trail.  From here it’s an easy stroll through pines and some hardwoods to Wolf Rock.  Along the way we investigated a couple of side paths to smaller rock outcroppings. 

More haze from Wolf Rock

Great signage everywhere, but always carry your park map too.  Now we headed toward Cook’s Wall, checking out House Rock along the way.

Looking at Hanging Rock from House Rock.  I was surprised that there were only two other people at this expansive rock outcropping on this lovely Saturday, but then again, it does take a little more effort to get there (on the way to Cook’s Wall).  It is not part of a loop and the trail dead ends at Cook’s Wall.  You have to want to go here.  Have you noticed that most people don’t venture very far from the parking lot?  

Next stop, Cook’s Wall, an incredible rock face to stand on.  There was a college age fellow parked there with his lawn chair and his lunch and he talked incessantly to everyone that walked up.  Apparently he had camped in the park and set up court for the day at Cook’s Wall.  I had to walk away after a couple of minutes when I realized that he was not going to stop sharing his voluminous information.  I mean, I like chatting with hikers, but he had a monologue going.  Jim and I found a space (almost) out of earshot to sit and enjoy the view.

View from Cook’s Wall

Looking at Pilot Mountain – white smoke on the horizon.  Before it was brought under control the fire consumed 625 acres.

Jim and I backtracked to Wolf Rock Loop Trail and turned left for our descent.  Here the map is necessary to decipher the way back to the visitor center main parking lot, as the trail runs concurrently with part of the Chestnut Oak Nature Trail and skirts alongside pavement.  Altogether we hiked 7.5 miles.  A nice way to spend a Saturday with my favorite fella.

“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is best from the top.”  ~Arnold Bennett

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hiking in Haiti - La Citadelle

La Citadelle and Sans-Souci – Milot, Haiti - 10/28/12 – 3 Miles

How did I jump from the Great Smoky Mountains to Haiti?  Kind of a short story.  My church put together a mission trip to Haiti and I joined in.  One of the best leaps of faith I’ve ever taken.

Our group of two women and seven men flew from Charlotte to Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti to spend a week doing light construction work and helping with a food distribution program for the elderly in a remote part of the country.  Life is so different there, each day felt like ten days, as every experience was unlike what happens in the U.S.  Taking a (cold) outside shower meant hoping that the neighbors next door (the U.N.) haven’t accidentally shut off the electricity that pumps the water supply.  Riding into town to buy food meant hopping on the back of an open flat bed truck and hanging on for dear life, exchanging money, negotiating to buy bags of rice or beans in a marketplace filled with sights, sounds, smells you don’t encounter at your local grocery store.  Going for a walk along the road brought us into contact with the family cows being walked home for the night, motorcycles with five people hanging on (including little kids), passing cemeteries with above-ground crypts with burnt chicken parts on top.  There is an order amidst the chaos, much poverty, and abundant grace.

Our group put together a video of our experiences in Haiti that you can see here.  It is worth the 12 minutes.  You should be able to recognize me – the one with the white skin and white hair.  I’m sure some of the Haitians thought I was albino. 

After a rousing worship service on our Sunday there, we spent the afternoon exploring La Citadelle, a mighty fortress high on a mountain outside the remote town of Milot.  After driving several miles up the mountain on a restored stone-and-concrete road, we parked our truck, navigated through the Haitians selling souvenirs and offering to be tour guides, and walked the last couple of miles.

Our trusted transportation for the week

Lush Haitian countryside

Walking up the mountain with lots of enthusiastic “guides” who would not take no for an answer.  Eventually I gave in and chatted with the two who had singled me out, flanking me like bodyguards.  They were very nice teenage boys, this is the only way they have of earning money, and they’ve picked up several languages.  Interestingly, they are not allowed inside the fortress.  It’s not exactly open to the public.

Banana trees everywhere

La Citadelle is the largest fortress in the Americas and is designated as a World Heritage Site. It has become an icon of Haiti and some call it the 8th wonder of the world. It was built by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France in the early 1800's (somewhere during the time of the construction Christophe helped assassinate the emperor and declare himself king of the northern half of Haiti.) The site could be a tremendous tourism draw if Haiti can ever attract tourists.  It sits on the top of Bonnet a L'Eveque Mountain.

A guard station on the road up to the fortress (I think).  See the sharp mountains in the center back- ground?  On the other side of them is the town of Milot, where we spent most of our time.

Our translator/ guide/ friend Jacqueline (on the left) gave us a personal tour of the interior of La Citadelle.  Don’t know how he got the keys.

La Citadelle was fortified with 350 cannons, never actually used. 

Like I said, it’s technically not open to the public.  A few safety issues need to be addressed. 

Looking 300 feet straight down.

Piles of cannonballs – too heavy to be souvenirs – not like picking up rocks on the trail.

About as high as we could get

Piles of cannonballs in the lower right

After La Citadelle we walked back down to our truck (passing through the vendors again) and drove back down and around the mountains to Milot.  At the edge of town sits the ruins of Sans-Souci Palace, one of nine palaces owned by the same Henri Christophe and built while La Citadelle was being constructed. This sits at the bottom of the mountain right at the end of the street in Milot. It is another tourist gem and in its day was referred to as the equivalent of the Palace of Versailles in France.  Henri committed suicide here in 1820. The palace was largely destroyed by a big earthquake in 1842.  This photo is the back side of the palace.

Walking up the back steps of Sans-Souci Palace

The remains of the front gardens and buildings

Sans-Souci Palace

Looking through a doorway at the town of Milot

A Catholic church and the town of Milot at the bottom of the curved roadway behind the palace

A sculpture of Henry’s wife, Queen Marie-Louise, on the palace grounds. She and her daughters were "escorted" from the palace along with the king's corpse.  They returned to France.

This was one short afternoon in our week-long visit in Haiti.  We met wonderful, friendly, genuine, gentle, gracious people who tolerated our lack of their language and treated us warmly.  I was very glad to return to my physical comforts at the end of our week, and I think about our friends with little shelter and even less food, realizing what I take for granted, and am humbled.  My life is easier mostly because of an accident of birth.  I hope to visit again in the next couple of years.  I fear that little will have changed, because the problems of corrupt governments and generations of poverty are not overcome in so short a time.  But someday wouldn’t it be wonderful if tourism could be ignited in Haiti and you could all go to see La Citadelle?

Never know when you’re making a memory; they will wish they was here together again someday ~ Rickie Lee Jones