Sunday, March 08, 2009

Where Heaven and Earth Meet: A South Mountains Park Trip

You have often heard me comparing woods with cathedrals or churches before. Truth is: I go into woods for the same reason I go to church: I feel closer to “something bigger than myself”, something eternal and awe-full, call it “Nature”, call it “God”, something that my left brain cannot quite bring itself to define or comprehend, but which it helplessly and happily surrenders to.

It’s a feeling of accepting, of letting be “had”, and of completely letting go: there is no such thing as trying to control your environment when you’re either in church, or in the woods. You just become vividly aware of how much you’re part of a continuously moving world, a world that doesn’t begin nor end with you, but a world you’re just a spec in.

The awareness of your finitude becomes acute, and you’re letting the big, wide continuum guide your pace and flood your senses with new sensations, feelings, smells, noises, and new fears … And through this a-typical experience, one becomes richer, and more aware, one becomes refreshed and ready to see the routine world with new eyes.

I love any kind of walk in the woods. But the trails that I find quite by accident or the ones that are tucked away somewhere far, with no other noise then the river, and the wind through the trees are my favorite. And I just wanted to share with you my most recent journey to a park that till yesterday was foreign to me: South Mountains State Park in NC. About 40 miles, give or take, off I-40, towards Hickory, this park is remote and quiet, very smartly built for access of any kind, beautifully kept and although made to accommodate most disabilities, or transportation (foot, bikes, horses, cars), it preserves a wildness about it that makes it unique and, keeps it “natural”.

I will let the pictures tell the story of walking along the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail: as the name suggests, the trail loops around the High Shoals Falls: one side of the trail takes you right along the Jacob Fork River, all the way up to The Falls, and the other side takes you trough the quiet and majestic woods all the way back to the paved streets of civilization. When I say “majestic”, I am not just using a cliché: the park boasts elevations of up to 3000 ft, so the entire time you’re trailing, you have the feeling you are either at the bottom of the world, or on top of it. The river has cut through the mountain a deep and narrow path, and everything above the river seems canyon-like steep: it’s quite impressive indeed.

Due to the major snow storm that North Carolina has seen only a week ago, the river was swollen up in all its glory, bouncing happily from boulder to boulder, and giving you a spectacle to remember for the eyes and the ears.

Enjoy, unfortunately, without sound … !

The long trail ahead: starting out. Notice the tallness of the trees and maybe the steep path.

This amphitheater looked desolate in the middle of nowhere. I was not sure what the purpose of it was, but I liked the way it just stood there, lonely, awaiting a crew and an audience. I loved the wood and how it complemented the environment well.

A first look at the Jacob's Fork River: wide and noisy.

Some of the roaring water closeups were fascinating! I hope you agree.

They had built these wooden overlooks, which allow you to watch the river, and its path from above. Notice the height of the mountains in the background - where the Falls form.

Several wooden bridges, trunk upon trunk, and plank of wood upon plank of wood, lead your path towards the Waterfalls. The marriage of wood and rock is perfect harmony!

The "middle falls", although not as tall as the top ones, were an amazing spectacle, of water force unbound: the bouncing of the torrent was breathtaking. Rhododendron bushes were watchfully guarding the path of the river, awaiting for the first blooms.

The water drop in the middle falls.

Huge mossy boulders guard the path towards the top falls: menacing, blocking the sky, and intimidating. They even "warn" you on your way up that these boulders have vertical cuts through them, which makes them very brittle in case of an "earth shattering event", they call it.

Thanks to the snow storm, The Falls were amazingly abundant! The observation deck, as you can see was drenched, and so was my camera. I finally made it to the top! Almost!
Walking across the "big waterfalls", onto the other side ...

A look from above The High Shoals Falls, right before the drop.

A quiet puddle, in the river: crystal clear and fresh. Cold, too!

Since the return trail was away from the river, and thus I had no distractions ... I started noticing some of the other richness that The Woods had to offer:
the perky rhododendron buds ...

... evergreen holly bushes ...

... a "twisted" tree. One of the (woman) hikers remarked: "Wow! This must be a female tree: it cannot make up its mind which way to go". I, of course, beg to differ.

Another man-made wonder: a "maze" to prevent cyclists and riders from using the trail. I was not convinced of its efficiency.

And back to the human world, leaving the rocky beauty behind, tucked away in the mountains, where it will keep itself fresh - till the next visit.

For a complete view of this trip, and much, much, much more photos, please visit The Wander World Photo Album, where The South Mountains State Park chapter has its new home. And thanks for visiting with me.

1 comment:

Dawn in NC said...

What a wonderful trip, AW! You are such a talented writer and photographer. This park is definitely going on our list of places to visit!