Monday, February 29, 2016

The Swamp Rabbit - from Furman to Travelers Rest

It’s about 3 miles from Furman University to downtown Travelers Rest riding on the Swamp Rabbit Trail: the perfect weekend challenge on a warm, sunny day! From the Duncan Chapel Rd. intersection to Center St. is actually 3.5, but if a 7 mile round-trip is too much for the shorter legs in your peloton, there are plenty of spots along the way to park & ride – this is a very customizable stretch of trail (and less than 7 miles from downtown Greenville for those cycling sans children).

The parking lot at Duncan Chapel Rd. is convenient as it has space for more than a handful of cars. The old rail car to the side of the trail pays homage to the trail’s origins as a rail line connecting Greenville with Travelers Rest, and the trailhead features a convenient map, water fountain and vending machines. A southern gateway to the University, the trail runs adjacent to the softball fields for the first bit before crossing a small creek and running parallel to the University service buildings – a slightly less scenic section.

from left: view of the softball fields, Furman entrance off Duncan Chapel Rd., service buildings

Almost a ½ mile in, you’ll pass a gate through which you can access the road that leads over the impoundment of Swan Lake to the parking lot at the Trone Student Center. If you are looking for a lengthier route, the 1.5 mile lake hike loop starts at the student center and features scenic views of the clock tower and the lake, other points of interest including the rose garden, the Place of Peace, the Susan Shi Garden and the Thoreau Cabin. There are also a disc-golf course and public restrooms accessible from one of the three entrances onto campus from the trail.

Soon after passing the 26 ½ mile marker there is a pleasant little rest area with benches and landscaping. Carl Kohrt Drive is just beyond, with a gravel pull-off that fits less than 5 cars but can provide another spot to easily jump on the trail. We opted to park there on our most recent trip, as the round trip total was brought down to 5 miles: much more manageable for the two petit cyclists. The Furman trail system is also accessible from this point, which marks the northern boundary of the University.

Leaving Furman behind, we continued north and soon crossed Roe Ford Rd. Another dirt parking lot (this one with space for a handful of cars) and then a wide-open section that is home to a wildflower garden and footprints of the old warehouses that once stood on the spot, Paris Mountain visible in the distance.

After passing the 26 mile marker, the trail crosses under West Duncan Rd. and enters a section of the old rail bed that cuts through the terrain.  A small stream was running along the side – filmy, brown water led me to question its source. Otherwise this section is beautiful, and in the spring the canopy will form a tunnel to shade the trail. This stretch is also home to Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Fitness Park, opposite the Reedy River Baptist Church Pocket Park. While the pocket park is a simple bench in a pastoral setting, the fitness park has a variety of features allowing for an extensive work out, and is open from noon until sunset. Named in the memory of two brothers that lost their lives to addiction, the park was created by the Chris and Kelly’s Hope Foundation. This philanthropic organization supports programs helping teenagers and young adults beat addiction, and the White Horse Academy (a residential treatment program for boys ages 13-17 that it sponsors) can be seen up the hill.

We passed a cemetery and then entered a heavily forested section with fencing on either side protecting riders against a rather steep drop-off. Just before Old Buncombe Rd. there are the remains of an old structure down on the west side, the walls barely standing in their battle against time. On the north side of the intersection is a “Ghost Bike,” a memorial to cyclists killed on Greenville County Roads.

From Old Buncombe to Edwards St. is quiet forest, and it is rather suddenly that we emerged into the sunshine and Travelers Rest at the intersection. The gas station and TR History Museum are on opposite sides of Edwards Street, and then just as suddenly we were back in the woods. Although the trail runs parallel to Main St. for the next ½ mile, it is strategically shielded from the road by a thin strip of forest, punctuated only by brief glimpses of the town. A small trailhead signifies the proximity to Trailblazer Park and the TR Farmers Market, access provided by means of a staircase leading off to the west.

In downtown Travelers Rest the trail runs right next to Main St. The Spring Park driving range comes first, and then we passed plenty of familiar spots including the Whistle Stop, the Forest Coffeehouse (which has a prime outdoor people-watching area), Sidewall Pizza and the Café at Williams Hardware.

from left: the Whistle Stop, the Forest Coffeehouse and Cafe at Williams Hardware

 At the Center St. /Main St. intersection, the trail crosses over to the east side of Main Street via the pedestrian crossing. This is the Sunrift Adventures/Tandem Creperie and Coffehouse corner, a perfect spot to turnaround (after lunch of course!) The posted distance to Furman from Church Street (just a block south) is 9.1 miles to downtown Greenville, a reasonable distance for a longer adventure…

We stopped a little more frequently on the way south, taking a break in the fitness park before returning to our car. Final verdict; this section of trail has it all, from access to parks, restrooms and restaurants, plus the bonus of proximity to the University. Although the trail is narrow at points (and the portion running through Furman is a bit bumpy), it is more forested than the section we are used to that runs from Falls Park to Swamp Rabbit Cafe. We’ll be back for another trek, possibly pushing north from TR to see how far we can make it!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Swamp Rabbit Station

An empty boxcar sits on overgrown tracks in an industrial area of Berea, but there’s plenty of traffic passing by – only it’s of the two-wheel, self-powered variety. The railcar is part of Swamp Rabbit Station, a pocket park off the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail - the multi-use pathway that has cemented Greenville’s reputation of an outdoorsy, bike-friendly town.

The boxcar sits not far from where the Swamp Rabbit Trail intersects Sulphur Springs Road. When Greenville County first purchased the old railroad it was sitting on a siding, and knowing it would be near-impossible to move once the tracks were removed it was moved closer to the road where it would be accessible for removal.

A museum in the Midwest expressed interest in the 70-year old boxcar, but as those plans never came to fruition the county moved in to bigger and better ideas. One idea was that the old rail car could be turned into a snack bar/coffee shop catering to those using the trail – check out this Swamp Rabbit Station video.

The business never materialized; instead, the train car was incorporated into a 2012 Leadership Greenville project of creating a pocket park with para-cyclist turnaround. Finished in 2014, the park features a water fountain, benches, bike repair station and landscaping. The boxcar was renovated to remove asbestos and abate lead, painted green, and the entrances were boarded up for safety.

Last year Motive Power & Equipment Solutions refurbished and donated a 1942 locomotive to the pocket park. The 150-hp, now-yellow locomotive had originally been manufactured for the U.S. Navy, and together with the green boxcar represent Berea High's school colors.

What’s next for the pocket park? The initial hope was to invigorate the surrounding Berea community, making the intersection a community gathering spot and on/off point for the trail. Although that plan might not be progressing as quickly as hoped, the park remains a convenient spot to meet friends on the trail, take a break from cycling, or just explore a piece of rail history. Although passing years have brought the shift  away from the days of rail transport shaping the growth of the region, the old boxcar sits in witness to the new transformation of the Upstate: into an outdoor enthusiast’s playground and a cycling mecca. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Pearson's Falls near Saluda, NC

The recent trips to North Carolina – Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, Charlotte and vicinity– have reminded me how close the Upstate is to the state line. It seems some scenic adventures in our neighboring state haven’t really popped up on our radar because, well, they’re in a whole other state. Such is the case with Pearson’s Falls. An invitation from friends to join them on a short waterfall hike brought us to the Pearson’s Falls Waterfall and Botanical Preserve near Saluda, NC, just an hour away from Greenville.

The trip from Spartanburg is less than 40 miles, and although it’s fewer miles if you’re headed up from Greenville, it will take 10-15 minutes longer as you’ll be on small roads the whole way up. Old Highway 25 cuts the corner off, taking you past the North Saluda Reservoir and bypassing Tuxedo, NC – not only a straighter shot, but one of the most beautiful roads in the Upstate. On sunny days be prepared to share the road with cyclists, and once you get closer to Saluda get ready for some stunning mountain views.

Pearson’s Falls has been owned and maintained by the Tryon Garden Club since 1931. As it is a privately owned property there is an admission fee (however nominal), and because the glen has set operating hours visitors should check the gate schedule before visiting. We timed our visit to arrive soon after opening, allowing for max time outdoors before having to head back to pick Lauris up from school. Following the gravel Pearson Falls Road south straight from Saluda is the easiest way to get there, although you can take the paved 176 around to the paved end of Pearson Falls Road near the North Pacolet River bridge. Upon arriving we paid the upbeat gate attendant (“you’re my first visitors of the morning!”) and parked in the small parking area before setting off on the gravel trail to the falls.

The preserve is advertised as a botanical, bird and wildlife sanctuary, and encompasses 268 acres of native forest surrounding Colt Creek. Many of the larger trees near the trail are labeled, and the resulting mix – tulip poplar, beech, maple and buckeye – present a typical cove forest type. Being a rather chilly February morning with three exuberant children along for the hike we didn’t see any wildlife; on the other hand there were plenty of spots of snow, ice, icicles and frost for the boys to poke, prod and pick-up.

Vilis walked the whole 1/3 mile to the falls by himself, although I had a firm grasp on his hand as the trail ascends rock steps which can be uneven or narrow in spots. With picnic tables and benches providing ample rest spots along the trail, we could easily have spent hours getting to the falls if we had listened to Mikus’s suggestions on where to stop for snacks…

Several small cascades along the way provided a lovely sound of running water until we reached the lower falls, a wide ledge with about a four foot drop. Just behind are the main falls, a 90 ft. waterfall that cascades down layers of rock to reach the narrow creekbed and boulders below.

The falls are named for engineer Charles William Pearson who scouted the mountains for Southern Railroad. In 1931 the Tryon Garden Club bought the property to protect it from development, and today it is designated as a North Carolina National Heritage Site of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, a North Carolina Birding Trail Site, and is in the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Gardens.

Although we had packed a lunch the lure of lunch in Saluda proved too great to overcome. There were several tempting options, and having picked Wildflour Bakery (“All we knead is love”) we were soon seated with delicious sandwiches in hand. Well, the moms had sandwiches – the kids chose sticky buns!

A morning spent outdoors meant a couple of passengers dozed off in the back of the car on the way home. We made it to school pick-up with plenty of time to spare, and the afternoon was spent enjoying the sunshine in the backyard. Final verdict on Pearson’s Falls? Yet another magnificent waterfall that is going on the list to hike in the spring! 

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Rocky Broad Riverwalk

The town of Chimney Rock is a miniature Gatlinburg (gateway to Great Smoky Mountain National Park), complete with putt putt golf, a gem mine, backcountry outfitters, inns, lodges & tiki bars. That’s not to say it is without charm; the tiny town has its own unique appeal, from the picturesque main street with its backdrop of forested mountains rising up on both sides, to the pictorial view over the Rocky Broad River.

On a wintry Valentine’s Day we weren’t the only ones checking out the mountain town. The previous day had been sunny, and although the wind had a bite to it the exposed heights of Chimney Rock State Park were bearable. This particular day the sun was obscured by clouds, and a repeat visit up the side of the mountain was the last thing on our minds, temperatures having dropped by at least 15 degrees. After our explorations of the nearby town of Lake Lure, fingers and toes were chilled. Although it’s just a short walk from the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge to the main drag of Chimney Rock, we elected to drive and were soon parking in front of a store called Gold Rush, so very fitting to the atmosphere of this mountain town.

Our first order of business was lunch. Roberts had been craving a burger for most of the trip and so we opted for Riverwatch Deli & Grill. A homey, diner-like front room opens up into a larger back room with a bar and more tables, although on our visit the rear area was definitely more chilly. The boys absolutely demolished their kids meals (we just don’t feed them at home…), and my Smokehouse burger (bourbon smoked bacon, cheddar, bbq sauce and grilled onions) soon disappeared as well. A little greasy, but just what the doctor ordered on a day spent outdoors. As far as sides go I should have stuck with fries, but instead ordered the baked potato salad, tempted with the mention of bacon – of which I had plenty of on my burger. I’ll live. The beer menu was impressive for it being off-season, a who’s who of area microbreweries including Highland, Green Man (I recommend the porter), Hi-Wire, French Broad, Catawba, Pisgah, Oskar Blues, Deep River and Foothills.

Along with warmer temperatures will come access to the rear deck from which there’s a memorable view of the Rocky Broad River. Once we had finished our meals we bundled up and headed out that way, descending several flights of stairs down to the Rocky Broad Riverwalk. The 1/8-mile trail leads along a natural walkway, with stone bridges taking you over to a bar in the center of the river and back. The trail starts next to the Chimney Rock Park Ticket Office and goes under the park access road along the river, with access to the riverfront shops & restaurants until it curves back up to the street beyond the Harley Davidson Store.

Glaciers formed the Hickory Nut Gorge billions of years ago, carving out the deep gouge in the landscape and leaving behind the Rocky Broad River bed… aptly named. Between the stone bridges, large boulders, pebbles in rushing water and endless rock-throwing opportunities, we could have explored all day – if not for the below-freezing temperatures. Were it summer we would all have been wading in the swift current, but on a winter day even a wet glove would have signaled the end of our trip. The fact of the matter is; any season, this spot is magical, maybe just a Frozen kind of magical in the winter! Eventually both parents were tired and cold, but it took quite a bit of coaxing and bribery to get the kids back to the car despite almost numb noses and toes – it’s that perfect mix of running water and rocks, with a hint of danger in paradise. Final verdict: only an hour from Greenville, we’ll be back soon – two gloved thumbs up!

A colorful mural near one of the entrances to the Riverwalk, Chimney Rock visible in the background

Friday, February 19, 2016

A little "Dirty Dancing" at the Lake Lure Inn

Lake Lure officials were approached in 1986 by film producers wanting to film an entire movie in the town. The proposal was turned down, as certain landmarks would have been completely reconstructed. I’ll bet those officials were kicking themselves later when that film went on to become a top-grossing movie and prompt three decades in home video sales… the movie in question being Dirty Dancing. Eventually the 1987 classic starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey was partially filmed in Lake Lure, although primary filming was conducted at Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, VA.

source here

Set in the fictitious Kellerman’s Resort in the Catskills, Frances “Baby” Houseman falls in love with dance instructor Johnny Castle. The lake and river scenes were mainly filmed around the western end of the lake (near the marina), while the famous dance practice scenes were shot on a specially-constructed platform in the lake. It turns out the water can be chilly in October… Good thing for Patrick it wasn't a cold day in February!

Located just down the road from the marina is the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa. With a backdrop of mountains, the rooms overlook the Town Center Walkway and offer views of Lake Lure and Morse Park. Having undergone an extensive renovation in 2005, visitors have a choice of guest rooms, suites and bungalows, and features include a spa, restaurant and lounge.

Not only did the actors, producers and other staff stay at the 1927 Lake Lure Inn while filming in 1986, but some of the restaurant scenes were filmed in the Inn’s Veranda Restaurant and the mirrored practice room is now Roosevelt Hall. There’s a nod to the fame Dirty Dancing has brought with a Swayze Suite (though the actor actually slept in Room 205), a Jennifer Grey Suite, Baby's Bungalow and Johnny's Cabin, but other famous guests who have stayed at the hotel include Franklin D. Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter on their honeymoon.

Today the hotel is filled with antiques, paintings and old photographs dotting the walls. In the lobby is a rare collection of antique, upright disc music boxes, including an authentic Regina, Symphonion, Polyphon, Stella and Fortuna. The keys on a player piano depress as if touched by a ghost, while in the corner an old Badenia stands, behind whose closed cabinet doors can be found a full orchestra: piano, violin and cello pipes, orchestra bells, snare drums, a Chinese cymbal and xylophone. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the décor nostalgic and stately.

The scenes of Swayze and friends dancing in their cabins were filmed not far away at the former Chimney Rock Camp for Boys. While visitors to Lake Lure can still step into the movie in the Inn’s Veranda Restaurant, they can’t visit the camp cabins as the land is now a gated residential development called Firefly Cove. The 54-acre site's 41 plots initially cost $600,000 - $1.5 million... and that's just the lot! The people who built their house where the dining hall used to stand (and Baby takes her first dance steps with Johnny) are Dirty Dancing fans, and actually incorporated the hall's foundation stone into the design of their home.

On the east end of the lake on the Lake Lure Golf & Beach Resort golf course is another site that was used in the film. There is a sign at the hole where Baby asks her father for money for an abortion for Johnny's dance partner, but be prepared to play a round of golf to see it. The steps on which Baby practices her moves are still on a hillside somewhere in the area as well.

Patrick Swayze died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, but his legacy lives on; not only in the Dirty Dancing Festival that takes places annually in Lake Lure, but also in the rooms of The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa. Dirty Dancing fans should not miss this corner of Lake Lure in their explorations, however it doesn’t take a movie buff to appreciate the historical and aesthetic qualities of this grand hotel. And hey, if it’s Valentine’s Day? Make sure you sing a few bars! (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life…

Baby: Me? I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Winter on Lake Lure

The bright blue waters of Lake Lure are highly visible from the heights of Chimney Rock, appearing almost turquoise in the monochrome greys and browns of winter. Once you descend from the mountain it becomes obvious the Lake is far bigger than expected, stretching along the Hickory Nut Gap and Buffalo Creek drainages like a giant letter X.

Once home to the Cherokee and Catawba Indians, the Gorge provides a natural gap that was used by early settlers to travel west through the mountains. It is even possible that the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have passed through the area in the 16th century. In more recent times the gap was a popular travel and trade route. Then in the 1920’s while Dr. Lucious Morse was building up Chimney Rock into a tourist attraction he also turned his attention to the Gorge, where he imagined a resort community around a mountain lake – before there was even a lake!

In 1925 the construction of the Rocky Broad River dam began, and in 1927 the town of Lake Lure was incorporated around the new lake; however Morse’s development dreams were soon dashed along with the economy, and the family was barely able to hold on to the acreage that is now Chimney Rock State Park.

We had opted to explore the area over two days, and after waking up in The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa to an overcast sky above the lake, we nevertheless bundled up to see what we could see. Our first stop was the old 1925 bridge over the Rocky Broad River. Residents rallied around the obsolete structure in 2010 when the replacement was being built just a hundred feet south, and successfully preserved it – for a garden. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is less than five years old, but already has attracted national attention. With fairy gardens, sculptures and carefully tended beds covering the three-arched concrete structure, there was plenty to discover and examine, even in the winter.

I can imagine that spring and summer bring a cacophony of colors and smells, as well as crowds. Different sections are home to herb gardens, roses, artistic plantings and more, and a return visit in the summer is in order to see the garden’s full potential.

The garden also serves as a gateway to Lake Lure, the highway passing to the south of the lake with scenic vistas opening up every once in a while. The adjacent land is almost entirely private, the west end possibly the only exception. From the Flowering Bridge we walked to the playground, which is part of Morse Park, a peninsula jutting out into the lake with trails and a gazebo. A very romantic spot to spend Valentine’s Day, despite the bitter cold! The boys skipped stones across the ice, taking sticks to the edges in attempt to shatter the edges. The scenery (and cold!) was breathtaking, Chimney Rock visible in the far distance because of the American flag, and the rock balds on the north face of the gorge rising up alongside the lake.

The Town Center Walkway follows the contours of the highway and south shore for a short distance, from the Lake Lure Beach and Water Park, past the Lake Lure Inn & Spa to the intersection of Jack London Rd. The view of Morse Park is quite picturesque, and the beach, Inn and distant mountains provide interesting scenery along the way. A little ways farther you’ll find a toy train museum that might prove to be a welcome indoor attraction in inclement weather; we were sad to find it closed.

The highway continues to wind around the various drainages to the lake, private homes dotting the shore interspersed with the occasional inn or restaurant. The restaurant parking areas provided opportunities to pull off for views from different perspectives around the lake, and after the golf course the road curves in towards the Lake for one final time before continuing west along the Broad River towards Rutherfordton. (We didn’t get a chance to explore it, but just south of the golf course is the Donald Ross Nature Trail Park, with a wooded walking trail system developed on an unused portion of the municipal golf course.)

Although there are small roads winding all around the rest of the lake, it isn’t possible to drive completely around as there is an unconnected portion east of the Rumbling Bald portion of Chimney Rock State Park. Bald Mountain Lake and another golf course are located at the north tip of Lake Lure, edged by Buffalo Creek Park further north, while to the east are mostly private homes, a few resorts, and Upper & Lower Hickory Nut Lake.

Frozen toes and rumbling stomachs pulled us away from our explorations, back through the town of Lake Lure and on towards that of Chimney Rock. As we passed over the Rocky Broad River on the new bridge, the turquoise waters receded in the mirror like a mirage, the cloudy sky swallowing it up as the walls of the valley rose up around us.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chimney Rock State Park

Our arrival to the Broad River Valley was preceded with a scenic drive through North Carolina’s apple country. We passed the turnoff to the long, winding road that would take us to the popular Sky Top Orchard, but soon orchards and roadside stands were crowding Highway 64, and continued to line the road all the way to Bat Cave, NC. From there it was a short drive east to Chimney Rock, the town that sprung up around the iconic landmark of the same name. The 315 foot spire was first incorporated into a park in 1902, when Dr. Lucius Morse from St. Louis purchased 64 acres on Chimney Rock Mountain for development into a park. The Morse family remained owners until 2007, when the parcel – which had by then grown to include some 1,000 acres – was sold to the state of North Carolina. 

Today the mountain is part of Chimney Rock State Park, which will eventually be combined with an additional 6,000+ state-owned acres in the Hickory Nut Gorge area (although currently Chimney Rock is one of only two parts open to the public). My last visit was some 12 years ago when Roberts first moved to the area (and the park was still private), and although I vaguely remembered the view, this experience was mostly novel. Wasn’t I lucky to be revisiting the same spot with my Valentine of a dozen years in a row?

View from Chimney Rock towards Lake Lure

Turning onto the park road from Main Street in Chimney Rock, we passed through the gate and over the Broad River before proceeding about 1 mile up steep switchbacks to reach the park ticket plaza. Make sure to check the website for deals and promotions, and free tickets for kids are often part of special programs (such as successfully completed TRACK Trails). Our arrival coincided with lunchtime, and so we bypassed the Meadows for one of the picnic areas located on the main road snaking up to the main parking lot. The day was cold, and after bundling up and wolfing down a quick lunch, we continued up to the Outcroppings Trail.

View of Chimney Rock from upper parking lot

There are five main trails in this section of the park: Great Woodland Adventure and Four Seasons Trail (both departing from The Meadows), Hickory Nut Falls Trail (leading from the upper parking lot to the waterfall and picking up the other end of Four Seasons Trail on the way), The Outcroppings (which climbs stairs from the top parking lot all the way up to the peak of Chimney Rock), and Exclamation Point Trail (which continues on to the highest point in the park). Since the elevator is out of commission until further notice we started up The Outcroppings, which is actually several loops and spur trails leading to all the natural attractions. Vista Rock was our first scenic viewpoint, after which we climbed up Pulpit Rock before climbing the stairs to Chimney Rock, elevation 2,280’.

The day was windy and cold, the flag snapping overhead as we admired the view of Lake Lure and the gorge. We didn’t linger long; our little hikers were protesting, their exposed cheeks rosy from the chill. We continued up Exclamation Point Trail to Opera Box and Devil’s Head, where Vilis was released from the confines of the backpack carrier and allowed to explore. Sheltered from the wind, we enjoyed the scenery and sunshine and then headed back down, as the rest of the trail was closed due to treacherous conditions.

Taking a breather (and a hot chocolate) in the Sky Lounge, we headed back down an alternate loop, passing through the Subway (a low-clearance passage) and past the Grotto back to the base of the trail. Here we explored The Birdhouse (an educational area concerning all the regional birds) and Gneiss Cave. The fissure cave was formed when an enormous chunk of mountain slid down and formed a cavern; although the main portion is closed due to the threat of White Nose Syndrome, visitors can climb a dozen steps down to an overlook.

The Subway

Gneiss Cave

Outcroppings Trail summary: 499 stairs, 315 feet. More if you head up Exclamation Point trail! Not for the faint of heart, but unquestionably worth the effort for the spectacular views… Budget yourself at least two hours, to explore not only the various natural features, but also stop for a cup of hot chocolate and truly appreciate the stunning scenery!

View of Lake Lure from Vista Rock
Next on the list would have been the Hickory Nut Falls Trail, but it wasn’t meant to be; just as on the Exclamation Point Trail, ice and treacherous conditions were behind trail closures. A 1.5 mile round-trip takes you to the foot of a 404ft waterfall, famous from the film “Last of the Mohicans.” The view from the viewing platform can be seen here. (As far as movies go, the park was also featured in the 1984 thriller “Firestarter” based on a book by Stephen King and the 1984 drama “A Breed Apart.”)

We drove back down the mountain to The Meadows and parked near the entrance of the Great Woodland Adventure. The 0.6 mile loop is geared towards families, with sculptures and educational signs introducing the animals that live in the forests of Hickory Nut Gorge. The Woodland Adventure is also a TRACK Trail, and we explored the 12 discovery stations, crawling into a turtle’s shell, jumping alongside a jumping spider and examining giant acorns from a squirrel’s point of view.

One last stop - Grady’s Animal Discovery Den, home to a few mammals that were burrowed away to hide from the cold, and amphibians and reptiles in a heated shelter. The boys could finally see what an owl pellet looks like (up until this point had provided some rather heated discussion on the trail), and check off a few more discoveries in their TRACK Trails booklets. Finally we jumped back into the car, shedding hats and gloves and snow pants and bumping the heat up, headed yet even further down the mountain to Lake Lure, the blue jewel sparkling at the depths of the Hickory Nut Gorge.

View from the Opera Box
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