Sunday, September 13, 2020

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park – 8/31/19 
Pinnacle Overlook/Tri-State Peak/Wilderness Road – 3.2 Miles – 
White Rocks Overlook – 6.6 Miles

Laid out over the interlocking puzzle pieces of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park tells the story of Native Americans and then westward migration of settlers through this low spot of the Appalachian Mountains.

The park is spread out and deserves advance planning (i.e. reservations for some sites/tours) and more than one day to appreciate its offerings – alas, that’s all we had. The biggest surprise of all: the town of Cumberland Gap, sequestered in its little valley surrounded by federal land.

First thing Saturday morning, Jim and I entered the Visitor Center seeking wisdom on where to start. The ranger said, “You should get in your car right now and drive straight up to Pinnacle Overlook because the clouds are pouring through the Gap and y’all want to see that. Then you can come back and figure out the rest.” We ran out the door, map in hand.

Town of Cumberland Gap, VA-TN-KY, clear skies

View from Pinnacle Overlook:  
Town of Cumberland Gap on the (left) eastern side
Cumberland Mountain stretching out through the center
A glimpse of clouds over Middlesboro, KY on the (far right) western side

Middlesboro, KY, in a bowl covered by a thick layer of cotton

Clouds thinning and moving out

Next we drove to the Thomas Walker parking area (who named the Cumberland River and subsequently Cumberland Gap) for a short loop hike beginning with Object Lesson Road. Odd name for a trail? Let that be a lesson to you.

Our goal was Tri-State Peak where the KY/TN/VA borders meet. Just a few hikers on the trail, including one young guy who passed us, then Jim passed him, and I passed him as he stopped to rest, and he said, "Look at you!"  Yeah (I thought to myself) I may be old but I know how to pace myself. [Before the end of the day kharma would punish me for this snobbery.]

At the tri-point there is a gazebo structure, a survey marker, and monuments for each state with its state bird, state flower, state song, capital city, and other important stuff.

Of course, you have to do a full plank to touch all three states at one

We backtracked to the intersection of the Tri-State Trail (aka Cumberland Trail) and the Wilderness Road Trail, marked by Indian Rock, and we stopped to eat lunch. We turned left to walk on the Wilderness Road Trail back to our car. Part of this section is the original wilderness road that settlers took through the gap to a better life, preceded by Daniel Boone who scouted it in 1769, preceded by Native American hunters, preceded by buffalo and other game. Cumberland Mountain is a long stretched out mountain ridge, like many along the Appalachians, and this low point or gap was the only way across on the arduous journey.

 Back at the Visitor Center we watched videos about the area (a good idea if you’re not running up to the Pinnacle first thing) and debated how to spend the rest of our day. Again, ranger input helped us choose a hike to White Rocks, an extensive cliff face on the Cumberland Ridge known for its whitish color due to quartzite running through the rock. It was a significant landmark for early settlers traveling the Wilderness Road toward the Cumberland Gap. The trailhead is about a half-hour drive east of the VC at the town of Ewing, VA.

Looking at the cliffs as we drove to it, I should have realized that the trail would be straight up. 
A poor photo, but you get the idea – I wish I had.

The hike started from a full parking lot at Ewing Trail. We started at 1:45 pm, later than I might have if I had known what was ahead. I mentally kicked myself for not getting more specifics. Signage for mileage was iffy, not complete, but all those cars in the parking lot couldn’t be wrong – right? So 3.3 miles, over 2,000 feet elevation gain, a ridiculously hot day, and I whined like a champ because I was with Jim and not other hiking friends. I was a strong hiker and we made very good time, but I did get way too overheated on the steep, steady grind. The trail wasn’t scenic or interesting (perhaps my memory is not objective). At 2.5 miles, we turned right onto the Ridge Trail, and even that mile “on the ridge” required effort with some minor rock scrambling. There are zero photos to document this part of the experience.

When we arrived at the first overlook, Jim went out to enjoy the views while I stayed in the trees to try to cool down. When I finally stepped out into the sun to join him, it was pretty awesome.

There was just one young couple there also, otherwise the cliffs were empty, despite the full parking area. However, the Ewing Trail splits at the Ridge Trail intersection, going left on a loop to Sand Cave, also a highly recommended destination but even further distancewise for us. Maybe that’s where everyone else was.

We had a brief conversation with the young couple and they left ahead of us. A few minutes later we started back, too, and we saw them stopped on the ridge trail. A young male elk was grazing on the trail! Two hikers stood on the trail beyond him, said they had been cautiously following it since the intersection. He had red tags (number 276) on both ears and didn’t seem at all perturbed as we watched and took photos – and he didn’t seem inclined to yield. Finally we began advancing, talking loudly, and Mr. Elk turned nonchalantly and walked on back to the intersection.

The hike down was cooler but grinding on my knees, so I generally had something to complain about the whole way. Which is worse, out of breath or grinding knees? Whichever one you are experiencing. But the reward for the effort was the town of Cumberland Gap, nestled in the palm of God at the foot of the mountain (too verbose?) We walked up and down all three streets, lamented that we weren’t staying at the sweet B&B (no vacancy), and checked out the local businesses, including a café, two antique stores, a blacksmith shop, and the Little Congress Bicycle Museum (!)

We landed on barstools at Angelo’s in the Gap. Chatting with the very young bartender, we learned that the bar is in a former bank building and they use the bank vault to store beer kegs. They had 28 beers and 3 ciders on tap! The guy next to me introduced himself (as fellow barstool sitters do). He's retired from the military, worked for a few years with GSMNP and CUHA. He told us about more trails in the park and gave us maps for next time.

Connected to the bar was a dining room with Italian fare. Jim and I carried our adult beverages to a table and wolfed down a giant pizza while listening to the former high school principal playing his guitar and singing “Fire on the Mountain.” Ah, a good day after all.

Let a joy keep you. Reach out your hands
and take it when it runs by.” 
~Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Danny Bernstein: Midsummer Walk In DuPont Forest

Danny Bernstein is an experienced hiker, an outdoor enthusiast, and a history lover. To me, she’s also a “partner in crime” for many adventures both local and in faraway places. When we hike together, I can be sure to learn things I would not have discovered on my own. Danny shines an informative and entertaining light on every subject that she undertakes to write about. Her latest contribution to the outdoor world of North Carolina is DuPont Forest: A History, in bookstores beginning September 7. Below is a sample of what awaits:

For a small forest, DuPont State Recreational Forest has countless entrances and six access (parking) areas. This has a lot to do with its history—before, during the DuPont Corporation days and even later. Many trails start from a pull-off outside of the forest with a couple of parking spaces. Since I am walking all the trails in DuPont Forest, I need to know all these entrances.

The DuPont plant was located in Cedar Mountain, close to Brevard, North Carolina, but DuPont Corporation owned land in both Henderson and Transylvania Counties. Guion Farm is the main entrance on the northern side of the forest, which is different from the High Falls area with its three waterfalls and visitor center.

On today’s hike, I turn off the main road—if Staton Road can be called a main road—and take Sky Valley Road. The road passes large homes, horse farms and houses under construction. At the intersection with Old CCC Road, the pavement stops. I pass the barred entrance to Buck Forest Road and then the Guion Farm Access Area. It’s a huge parking lot, perfect for horse trailers and large vehicles. At 8:30 a.m. on a weekend morning, I’m the first one here.

On Tarklin Branch Road, the trail in front of the parking area, it’s a hot summer scene with wide-leafed sunflowers swaying in the breeze. Pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata), a short plant with thick leaves and drooping white flowers, hides among taller vegetation. Blackberries are still red and not yet ready for eating.

To hike all the trails in DuPont Forest, you have to walk many trails both ways—there and back. Many trails just don’t connect to anything else. Other times, I need to redo a trail I’ve already walked to get to a new trail.

When I hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I use two or three trails in a day. But here, it could be a dozen trails, some both ways. To keep myself sane and on track, I create a spreadsheet of my planned hike. Here’s the spreadsheet for this hike:

Guion Farm Hike
Next Turn
Park at Guion Farm

Guion Farm Connector
Right on

Tarklin Branch Road
Right on

Tarklin Branch Road
Right on
There and back
Sandy Trail
Right on

Grassy Creek Trail
Right on
There and back
Sandy Trail
Right on

Wintergreen Falls Trail
Right on
There and back
Wintergreen Falls Trail
Right on

Tarklin Branch Road
Right on

Shoal Creek Trail
Left on
There and back
Walk on SR 1128
Right on

Farmhouse Trail
Right on
There and back
Guion Farm Connector
Left on

Buck Forest Road
Right on

White Pine Trail
Right on

Hickory Mountain Road
Right on

Guion Farm Connector

Drive north to Guion Trail

Guion Trail

There and back

Sky Valley Road continues

I could pick up Flat Rock Trail

There and back

On Sandy Trail, two mountain bikers come toward me. I move to the right as far as I can.

“Hiker up,” the first one says.

“Are you the last one?” I ask the second cyclist.

“Yep,” he replies. Both parties speak their lines as expected. I wish all cyclists were as knowledgeable as them. Multi-use trails work when we’re all trained. Bikers are supposed to yield to hikers—some say “every single time,” but the reality is that bikers are faster, bigger and have a harder time stopping than I do.

Grassy Creek Trail is new to me. I have to rock hop across the creek. The steppingstones are flat and reasonably close together, but I lose my nerve partway through and just walk through the water. My feet will be wet all day, but I feel safer. Now the trail is rocky and rough.

Rock Hopping On Grassy Creek Trail

Guion Farm was once a farm. It’s now thickly wooded, except for a cleared area around the parking lot. A Hendersonville Heritage article explains:

The DuPont Corp. established a forest management program under the leadership of Charles Paxton. One of the first forest practices was the establishment of 330 acres of white pines on abandoned pastureland in the area known as the Flatwoods or Guion Farm. In 1957 the DuPont Corp. entered into an agreement with Champion Paper to harvest timber from other areas of the property. Many harvested areas were re-planted with white pine.

By the time Paxton retired in 1978, he had planted two million white pines.

Then to Wintergreen Falls, a waterfall that’s considered off the beaten path. Still, when I get there about 11:00 a.m., there are plenty of bikers and one hiker with a dog on a leash. “Thank you for keeping your dog on a leash,” I say.

Wintergreen is named after the wintergreen or teaberry, a ground cover around the falls. The water only drops a modest twenty feet. It attracts fewer people than the three falls on the visitor center side of the forest. To see the falls, you have to scramble up rocks and roots. It’s hidden behind trees and shrubs all the while you’re climbing; you need to have faith that it will be there. Then the shrubbery clears and you’re facing the chute square on.

Wintergreen Falls

I retrace my steps back on Tarklin Branch Road. When I round the corner, I hear a woman’s voice.

“Now wait you guys”—obviously speaking to children tearing up the trail on their bikes. Then there’s a loud “Danny!”

Sara Landry

It’s Sara Landry with her son, Zac, and his friend. Landry is the executive director of Friends of DuPont. We talk about the upcoming DuPont Forest master plan—or, to be more exact, future funding for the future master plan. The forest has been growing with donations of small parcels of land here and there, which have been gratefully accepted. But now the forest needs to have a plan to integrate these new pieces.

The last few trails are a mystery. I can’t find them on the ground as easily as I did on the map. “Don’t confuse the map with the territory,” one of my teachers used to say. I don’t exactly know what the context was, but the sentiment is correct.

I deviate from my carefully constructed spreadsheet and find Shoal Creek Trail last. It’s a dark, shady trail where mushrooms have popped up. I walk Shoal Creek Trail as well as Farmhouse Trail and head back to my car. The whole hike is 9.6 miles in about four and a half hours, including lunch. That was the easy part. But my day isn’t done.

I drive up Sky Valley Road to look for Flat Rock Trail, as my notes state, but the road gets rougher and rougher. I worry about getting stuck on the road, and I can’t find the trailhead. I’ll have to leave it for another visit. So far, I’ve walked fifty-four distinct miles out of the one hundred miles in the forest. Plenty more to go.

This is an adapted extract from DuPont Forest: A History written by Danny Bernstein and published by The History Press. The book is available at Park Road Books in Charlotte and online.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Carolina Thread Trail: Andrew Jackson State Park

Carolina Thread Trail: Andrew Jackson State Park – 8/24/19 - 2.5 Miles

Five days home from my Pembrokeshire Coast Path thru-hike in Wales and I felt a little antsy to walk somewhere. Late August in the Carolinas means hot and oppressive humidity, but big storms blew through overnight, a cold front moved in, and today was 70 degrees and misty/drizzling – the P’shire! Jim was busy volunteering as a marshal for the Tour de Turns bike ride, so I took a short drive to a Carolina Thread Trail walk.  

Andrew Jackson State Park is in Lancaster, SC, a quick 35 minutes from my home. I was a little surprised to be the only car in the parking lot on a Saturday morning, but I was here for hiking and the trails were open. [FYI if you’re going, look at the website. Different components have different hours of operation. The park office is open from 11 am to noon (!) and the museum is open 1 pm to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Budget cuts? Short staffing?]

The story goes that Jackson’s father died several weeks before Jackson’s birth, and his widow moved with her children to this area of the Waxhaws to live with her brother, James Crawford, and his family.

I took a quick stroll around the main grounds, checked out the bathrooms, the impressive amphitheater, the schoolhouse and the closed museum. (No structures remain from Jackson's time.)

Replica schoolhouse

“Boy of the Waxhaws,” a sculpture featuring young Jackson by Anna Hyatt Huntington, whose work I've enjoyed on the extensive grounds of Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC. 

A stone monument to Jackson’s statement that he was born here (to affirm naysayers, I guess)

Replica of a “meeting house” of the Scots-Irish Presbyterian tradition
in which Jackson was raised

The Crawford Trail loop begins beside the meeting house. It’s a one-mile leg stretcher walk, sandy soil with gold flecks, otherwise nondescript, no water feature or views. The trail crosses a paved road, takes a 90-degree left turn at a group campsite (looks like for horses) and crosses the paved road again to return to the trailhead. This early bird caught all the spiderwebs.

Have I seen everything there is to see in just 45 minutes? Of course not. I cruised through the 25-unit campground, happy to see it full on this overcast misty morning, kids’ bikes already riding the circuit as parents coaxed campfires back to life.

The park includes an 18-acre lake with a small fishing pier and a 1.3-mile trail all the way around called “Garden of the Waxhaws Trail.” A counterclockwise ramble around the lake was the best part of my visit. Tree identification signs punctuate the trail. It passes through the campground, which has a small beach. A sign says “do not enter, only for campers” which I ignored, otherwise how can a visitor walk on the trail?

Past the campground, a boardwalk extends through an obvious flood area, beautifully crafted with intriguing curves that draw the hiker along to see what’s next.

Always on the lookout for wildlife, I saw three gleaming white egrets. I disturbed them on one shore, they flew to the other side, and when I reached them again, they returned to the first shore in a huff. Beauty in motion.

Campground across the lake

Visiting Andrew Jackson State Park later in the day is worthwhile for exploring the buildings and the history, but the quiet simplicity of the undisturbed lake in the early hours won me over.

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” 
~Henry David Thoreau

Friday, August 7, 2020

Pembrokeshire Coast Path - Day 14: Manorbier to Amroth

Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Day 14 – Manorbier to Amroth – 8/16/16 
16 Miles – 2,550 ft. gain

The rain woke me from an already-restless sleep, wind gusting and loud raindrops that my earplugs couldn’t suppress hitting the picture window beside my bed. I pulled back the curtains to affirm that the weatherman is right today.

Our customary early start meant foregoing the last opportunity for the “breakfast” part of B&B’s but Jim, our host, left goodies in a little fridge outside our door. Once again it was tricky to eat in the room amidst all the chaos, but we got the job done and out the door on time. [A pat on our backs that we never left anything behind at any of our accommodations.]


I stepped out the door “rain ready” in my rain pants, rain jacket and pack cover. Danny and I walked through town on roadways to return to yesterday's stopping point. The former Manorbier Army Camp property has been repurposed as a youth hostel and campgrounds. Here we started our final hike on the P’shire. 

Experiences of the prior 13 days manifested on our last day – wet weather, strong winds, route finding through towns, road walking, coffee break cravings, cliffs, beaches and woodlands. What we lacked was low tides, calm seas and sunshine. Ah well…

Back on the clifftops, the fierce wind was familiar and intimidating; we knew there was little chance of it abating (in fact, it did not stop for one minute all day long). A confusing tangle of paths led out to the edge of Lydstep Point, but thankfully the P’shire signposts directed us across the neck of the peninsula and down to a smart little community of caravan homes called Lydstep Beach Holiday Village, an alternative to walking along the beach. The land was once part of elegant Lydstep Estate. I was charmed by the modest attractive homes with a knockout view of Lydstep Haven – what a lovely location for a holiday getaway or, heck, a retirement cottage.

Lydstep Manor House

Goodbye, Lydstep, until next time!

Enduring more exposure and sideways rain, I began having a conversation with myself about finding an alternative.  When I looked out where the path was headed, Danny and I began talking out loud and we agreed: let’s find a way inland to a road. Lucky for us, the area encompassing Giltar Point is a rifle range associated with Penally Camp, and at a fence we found signs for an alternative route away from the cliffs.

Giltar Point – no thanks, we’ll pass

At the main road through Penally, we turned right and followed the sidewalk to the New Overlander Inn – if ever we needed a coffee shop, it was now!  We blew into the café sopping wet, commandeered a table and spread out our gear. No doubt we were rude Americans, but I hope we were forgiven.

It was hard to put all that wet gear back on and return to the fray. I knew I would press on and complete the hike, but the mental struggle was real. I recalled our training hike back in May in a downpour on the Mountains-To-Sea Trail and realized, “This is what that was for!” 

Entering the town of Tenby at South Beach

Looking back at South Beach

Looking ahead towards St. Catherine’s Island and Fort St. Catherine

Still avoiding the full force of the elements, we opted to cut through town rather than round the point of Castle Hill. Tenby is a 13th century medieval town, but it’s also a quaint not-too-small seaside tourist town. The sidewalks were bustling with people trying to squeeze a good time out of drenching rain. On a clear day we would have stopped for lunch at a streetside table for two and enjoyed the people parade. Today we were tested to follow little acorn stickers on lampposts. They were easy to see until they weren’t. In this tourist haven we couldn’t find local residents to direct us, so we burned time and some extra calories going back and forth until we hit on an escape route out of town via The Croft, back on the P’shire once again.

Goodbye, Tenby, wish we had gotten to know you! 
Castle Hill and the ruins of Tenby Castle on the left

The Croft is a minor paved road leading out of town, threading between beach parking, campgrounds and small hotels. We spotted public toilets at a car park and hurried down the hill, only to find that there was a pay stile charging 4p to pee! I was not about to dig deep into my backpack to find coins. If I was arrested for jumping the stile, at least I would be locked up in a dry cell.

Alternating from pavement to footpath, we enjoyed passing through lush Lodge Valley’s twisted trees and narrow hedgerows, brief glimpses of the ocean, and more campgrounds and hotels. If only we were guests at one of them tonight! But…

A few steps’ detour to the shoreline to peek at the village of Saundersfoot shrouded in mist. 
On a sunny day (and low tide) we could have walked on the beach from this point 
all the way to the end of the trail in Amroth.

Having pushed past the time we should have eaten lunch, in Saundersfoot we stopped at the first restaurant we saw (The Captain’s Table) for a dry lunch break. Our rain jackets and daypacks dripped in little puddles around our chairs. Once again we packed it all up and stepped outside.

Leaning into the wind and chilling rain, Danny and I pressed on, passing Coppet Hall Point and Wiseman’s Bridge without comment. The last half-mile of our journey was on the beachfront road at Amroth.  Seeing its cheerful (but deserted) shops selling sand toys and ice cream, for a moment I felt transported across the Atlantic to the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, SC.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path monument at Amroth

There was no one to greet Danny and me at the monument marking the southern terminus, but we cheered and celebrated our 186-mile accomplishment as though it was being broadcast worldwide. We took photos of each other, but we needed one of us together for the ultimate victory pose. I went to the pub across the road, The New Inn, and asked if anyone was willing to join us in the pouring rain to commemorate two women finishing the P’shire. A woman immediately volunteered, pulled her coat over her head and splashed through puddles to serve as photographer. She seemed as excited as we were! Only later did I realize that she needed the assistance of her cane to get out there.

Elation, exhilaration, jubilation, exultation, all those big words for YIPPEE, WE DID IT! 
This was my favorite part of Day 14!

We entered the pub to cheers and toasts from patrons enjoying the weather through the window. Danny wanted a hot drink and I was ready for my celebratory cider.

Can you believe our accommodations for the night were back in Saundersfoot?  Ah, me. Our taxi retrieved us from the pub and delivered us to Cwmwennol Country House, where we converted our room into a laundry, hanging wet gear on every available knob and peg.

Our B&B did not serve dinner and was not within walking distance to town, so we took taxis to and from dinner at Harbwr Bar & Kitchen. I thought about all those hotels we walked by today. One last delicious meal, one last pint of cider for our Welsh Adventure!

The beauty of the Welsh Coast exceeded all my expectations. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a moderate hike with a few strenuous sections. Our schedule was ambitious and the hike can be stretched out over more days, which I recommend in order to enjoy more attractions. You can book your own accommodations and be self-supporting, but it was fantastic to have my suitcase waiting for me at the end of each day. I gained confidence that I would be comfortable as a solo traveler on long distance trails like the P’shire, but sharing the journey with Danny was very special.

No matter where I travel, from the backcountry to small towns to large cities, the people I meet are the best part of it all. Everyone we encountered in Wales (even if they weren’t Welsh!) was friendly, curious, interested, patient and helpful. I am grateful for them all.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; 
but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ~Ernest Hemingway