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Hanging Rock State Park April 21, 2015

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
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12 comments
The famous hanging rock.

The famous hanging rock.

My friend Gary lives in the Raleigh-Durham area, and I live west of Asheville. We have made many trips back and forth, but this time we decided to meet somewhere in between. We settled on Hanging Rock State Park, north of Winston-Salem.

It is located in Stokes County near the town of Danbury and not far south of the Virginia border. The interesting rocks are the remnants of the Sauratown Mountains, an isolated range east of the main Blue Ridge complex. The Sauratown Mountains owe their continued geological existence to their being composed of tough, resistant quartzite.

I made a running joke out of the fact that they are not composed of granite. I’ve noticed that whenever people encounter a very tough and ancient-looking rock, they will often refer to it as granite. Actually, the quartzite is even prettier than granite, as it has streaks of white quartz running through it in all kinds of interesting patterns.

The weather forecast called for rain, but Gary and I decided to go ahead with the trip, especially since the park features waterfalls, which would be especially impressive after all the precipitation we’ve been having. And even though the website I looked at featured photos taken in crystal-clear weather, I ended up deciding that this was in fact a perfect day to visit Hanging Rock, enshrouded as it was with thick, atmospheric fog and featuring roaring waterfalls.

We met up at the Visitors Center, where the parking lot was nearly empty, and headed up the Hanging Rock trail. The rock gets its name because it actually overhangs the trail, but rather than making a technical climb up to it, you angle gently around to approach it from a more hospitable direction.

Looking up from below Hanging Rock.

Looking up from below Hanging Rock.

I am enjoying myself in the fog and drizzle.

I am enjoying myself in the fog and drizzle.

We came around to the upper rocks, which are populated by small, twisted pitch pines. They made me think of Japanese brush stroke paintings.

Beautiful and mysterious.

Beautiful and mysterious.

Looking down into the abyss.

Looking down into the abyss.

The pines disappear into the fog.

The wind-sculpted pines disappear into the fog.

We returned to the Visitors Center and made the short hike to the Upper Cascade.

Approaching the cascade.

Approaching the Upper Cascade.

Plenty of water flow.

Plenty of water flow.

Colors of the spring forest.

Colors of the spring forest.

Now we drove to the most famous of the Hanging Rock waterfalls, the Lower Cascade. At the trailhead, you are greeted by a sign with a friendly reminder of possible death.

Always good to keep in mind the possibility of death.

Always good to keep in mind the possibility of death.

The Lower Cascade is truly remarkable, framed by dramatic rock formations.

A truly dramatic waterfall.

A truly dramatic waterfall.

Gary admires the cascade.

Gary admires the cascade.

You could scramble around to reach different viewpoints.

You could scramble around to reach different viewpoints.

Plants cling to the cliffs.

Plants cling to the cliffs.

Finally we returned to the cars and drove down to Walnut Cove to have lunch at a Mexican restaurant. A very pleasant outing, and worth the drive for both of us.

I believe this is a kind of myrtle, taller than the sand myrtle of the Smokies.

I believe this is a kind of myrtle, taller than the sand myrtle of the Smokies.

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Spring in the Plott Balsams April 14, 2015

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
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4 comments
Fisher Creek, gateway to my favorite backyard mountains.

Fisher Creek, gateway to my favorite part of the Plotts.

Just to the southeast of the Smokies lie the Plott Balsams, my backyard mountains. The Plotts rival their more famous neighbors for the profusion of spring wildflowers. You’ll even find some plants here that you don’t see in the Smokies. For instance:

Larkspur (Delphinium).

Larkspur (Delphinium).

On a showery afternoon, I headed up the East Fork trail. Soon I met a fellow creature who was also heading up the trail. I felt speedy by comparison.

What beautiful patterns and colors!

What beautiful patterns and colors!

As I usually do, I went straight to the top without taking many pictures. It was completely socked in and spitting drizzle at the Fox Hunters Camp, my frequent destination for a good steep 2000′ climb. Up in the clouds, I moved through the temperate rainforest.

Everything is upholstered in moss.

Everything is upholstered in moss.

On the way back down, I spotted a cluster of mixed white and red trilliums beside a little streamlet.

Just starting to open---in two different colors.

Just starting to open—in two different colors.

I always notice this small cascade, which runs beneath a curved treetrunk.

I always notice this small cascade, which runs beside a curved treetrunk.

Halberd-leaved yellow violet. One of the few violets that I can identify.

Halberd-leaved yellow violet. One of the few violets that I can identify.

Trillium grandiflorum. You can also call it Great White Trillium, but somehow I like the Latin better.

Trillium grandiflorum. You can also call it Great White Trillium, but somehow I like the Latin better.

Trilliums and toothwort.

Trillium and toothwort.

I have a weakness for unfurling ferns.

I have a weakness for unfurling ferns.

Chickweed.

Chickweed.

Showy orchis.

Showy orchis.

A whole flock of large-flowered bellwort.

A whole flock of large-flowered bellwort.

And near the end of my short hike, I saw this splendidly cheerful blossom.

Fleabane (Erigeron)---I think!

Fleabane (Erigeron)—I think!

Cold-weather climb to Fox Hunters Camp January 8, 2015

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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5 comments
View to the southwest from Fox Hunters Camp in the Plott Balsams.

View to the southwest from Fox Hunters Camp in the Plott Balsams.

The plan for today was to join Clyde Austin, Mike Harrington, and Frank March for a bushwhack along All Night Ridge, which parallels Anthony Creek in the Cades Cove area of the Smokies.

But the Park Service had other plans. At sundown yesterday, they closed the Newfound Gap Road. There was only a dusting of snow yesterday despite cold, blustery conditions, but the thinking seems to be that black ice might be a hazard overnight. Having seen this pattern before, I figured they’d probably reopen it around 9:00 the next morning. And they did—just about 9:00 on the nose.

That didn’t do me any good. I had to meet my friends at 8:00 at the Anthony Creek trailhead. To get there on time from my house in Sylva, NC, I would have needed to drive past the Smokemont gate around 6:00.

I’d been looking forward not only to hiking on a ridge where I hadn’t been before, but using my cold-weather gear. The forecast was for temps near zero in the early morning. I’d dug out my heavy parka, my heavy mittens, and my Sorel boots, which haven’t been used much since I left New England. Never mind.

I woke up to a temp of 4 degrees at my house and decided I’d wait till things warmed up a bit and do a hike I’ve done many times before in the nearby Plott Balsams. You climb from 3000′ at the trailhead to about 5000′, where you find an open spot known as the Fox Hunters Camp. And you pass a beautiful waterfall that’s just a little bit off the trail. I’ve featured it often in this blog. But I never get tired of it, especially in icy conditions.

I figured I’d do the side trip to the waterfall on the way down. I headed up the steep East Fork trail, plodding along with a heavier pack and more layers than usual. It turned out I was overprepared. The temp at the trailhead was in the upper teens when I started, and I didn’t really need the snowpants or the down parka. Another weather system was coming in, and things warmed up rapidly.

It was so pleasant at the Fox Hunters Camp that I just relaxed in the sunshine for a while. There was no wind.

View toward the ridge of Pinnacle Bald. Note the big, smooth cliff on the side of the ridge.

View toward the ridge of Pinnacle Bald. Note the big, smooth cliff on the side of the ridge.

I descended, passing lots of rhodo that had gone droopy in the cold. It always bounces back with a vengeance, growing more ferocious than ever. If you bushwhack in this part of the country, you know what I mean.

It looks wilted and unhealthy. This is an illusion.

It looks wilted and unhealthy. This is an illusion.

I reached the really steep part of the trail and turned off on sort of a bench in the hillside to reach the waterfall. There’s no trail, but it’s quite a short distance.

Big icicles close to waterfall.

Big icicles close to waterfall.

The waterfall shows off for the camera.

The waterfall shows off for the camera.

I’ve visited the waterfall in all levels of waterflow and all degrees of iciness. Today, it was not iced over as completely as I saw it last winter—it takes about four or five days of continuous severe cold for that to happen. A sort of tube of ice forms over the whole thing, with just a narrow slit where you can still see the water flowing, almost as if designed so that the viewer can appreciate the living water in contrast to the frozen mass.

But today offered something good, a high level of flow from some very heavy rains we had not long ago. At any rate, it was beautiful.

Below the upper section of the waterfall I noticed an interesting ice pattern.

Odd ice shape.

Odd ice shape.

I gazed down to the sunny lower falls before continuing on my way. Always a worthwhile trip.

The ice had a different texture in this section. Maybe it comes from greater turbulence in the water.

What looks at first like foam is ice with a cauliflower texture.

P.S. I am adding some info at the request of a viewer.

Photo:

Flat area of the camp.

Flat area of the camp.

Map:

Fox Hunters Camp

X marks the location. Click for zoom.