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The following entry is by Jon Burr, a guest blogger living in Saxapahaw, NC.  Jon is an avid hiker, kayaker, writer and a former student at Appalachian State University, where he came to know and love the High Country.  He is currently a teacher at Elon University.  The following entry features his most recent adventure in Eno River State Park, which is part of the NC “low country.”

The high country destinations detailed on this site were once in my backyard and an important part of my everyday life. I hiked the same trails, swam in the same waters, and took in many of the same views. Several years ago, I had to leave the mountains (though, as they say, I never really left), and these familiar natural sites were replaced with the buzzing of city streets and the whirr of interstate traffic. I quickly became a stranger in an artificial land.

Adventuring outward, I soon discovered a few urban oases that might make high country travelers who have journeyed to the “lower country” think they have returned to the familiar hills of Appalachia. These places have become my home away from home.

One of my favorite “lower country” destinations (max. elevation of 730 ft.) is Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina. Between the park’s eastern and western halves, it is home to a combined 20+ miles of trails through forests and along the river’s banks.

On this occasion, our journey took us into the western section of the park via Cole Mill Rd. We parked at the picnic area and hiked on a spur towards the Cox Mountain Trail. After only a few minutes of walking, we came upon a familiar sight to those in the high country who have been to Grandfather Mountain—a suspension bridge!

Approaching suspension bridge from east

My childishly energetic jumping, bouncing, and running on the bridge made for a harrowing journey, and the dogs with us quickly became timid. Once I calmed my gait, we were able to cross. After walking for around 1/2 mile, we passed the Cox Mountain Trail and hiked towards a popular gathering spot within the park—Fews Ford. At this location, the river becomes shallow and many people and animals frolic in the cool waters.

Fews Ford looking east toward Buckquarter Creek Trail

After some swimming, we followed the Fanny’s Ford Trail along the western banks of the river (instead of the Buckquarter Creek Trail and Holden Mill Trail that span the eastern banks).  Much to our delight, we were soon rewarded with a wildlife sighting!

Turtles of the Eno

On this visit, we also saw many fish and frogs. Previous hikes have resulted in regular deer sightings and even an occasional fox. Showing the same childish spirit exhibited on the suspension bridge, I hopped into the waist-deep water (a chilly surprise!) to get a better photo. Instead of being rewarded with a photo-op, I emerged smelly, soaked, and covered with algae—and, alas, I had scared the turtles away. Eyes were rolled. We hiked on.

When water levels are up, the park is one of the most beautiful places in this part of North Carolina to canoe / kayak. We soon found out why. The many large rocks make for a technical paddle and some churning waters. This is a great spot to stop and enjoy the river and its rapids.

Looking north from rockface on Eno's banks

Taking advantage of the low water levels, we decided to cross the river and hike on the more popular Buckquarter Creek Trail because it hugs close to the river’s banks. Our crossing allowed us an encounter with another of the park’s many small rapids. This one had me wishing I’d brought my kayak!

Whitewater!

A short hike later, the Buckquarter Creek Trail leaves the banks of the river, dips into a dense, tranquil forest, and becomes the Holden Mill Trail.

Hiking south towards river on Holden Mill Trail

After a few miles of hiking through forests and along the riverbank, we looped around and returned to Fews Ford and, after another 1/2 mile or so, the parking lot. Another fun day in the “lower country” of Eno River State Park—a hat tip to my high country friends.

Hike it: Eno River State Park is a natural playground. Compared to the high country, none of the trails are terribly strenuous. Linking multiple trails together could easily result in an all-day adventure. Wear “water shoes” and swimming trunks because you are likely to get wet (and will probably have more fun if you do).

  • Length: 4.1 miles (Holden Mill Trail + Buckquarter Creek Trail)
  • Duration: 2-3 hrs.
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Hike Configuration: Loop
  • Blaze: Red (Buckquarter Creek Trail) and Yellow (Holden Mill Trail)
  • Condition: Rugged
  • Trailhead: Either parking lots at the park entrance at 6101 Cole Mill Rd.
  • Traffic: Moderate
  • Directions: 1.) From the high country, travel east on I-40 towards Durham. 2.) Merge onto I-85 North and take exit 170 for US 70 West. 3.) Turn right onto Pleasant Green Rd. and then left onto Cole Mill Rd. 4.) Cole Mill Rd. dead ends into the park.

Entry by guest blogger, Jon Burr

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Standing atop Wiseman’s View at night is a little scary.  The moonlit canyon inspires feelings of smallness, ineptitude, and a general sense of insecurity at one’s own ability to survive in such a place.  Yet in spite of these feelings, people such as myself are repeatedly drawn to this spot and to the Linville Gorge which plummets over a thousand feet below it.

Charles and I are on our way home, driving up from a long day of enjoying the sights and sounds of Asheville.  The moon hangs like a polished orb above us and is so bright we can almost see without the car’s headlights.  As we drive, a wood cock dashes across the road and I almost wreck the car trying to get a look at this seldom-seen bird.

It’s about the time we get to North Cove that I blurt out “Hey babe, let’s drive up to Wiseman’s View on our way to Boone.  The moon will be amazing and we may even see the brown mountain lights.”  I know that Charles, in his obsession with the Gorge and unquenchable moon-lust, won’t be able to say no.

And so we find ourselves driving up a narrow, gravelly, wet road on the west rim of the gorge.  On our way up, we enjoy views of Hawksbill as the leaves are not yet able to obstruct our view.  Surprisingly, quite a number of car campers have braved the wet roads and cool, windy night to stake out campsites along the road.

At the top, we park the car, throw on our jackets and walk out to Wiseman’s View.  Charles has a flashlight, but because the moon is so luminous, he stashes it in his coat pocket.  As we stand on the windswept overlook, Charles and I are bathed in moonlight and the sound of the rushing river below.  An enormous rainstorm the night before has risen the water level several feet and it sounds like a raging bull beneath us.  Looking out into the Gorge, we see two small campfires twinkle along the river; Charles and I muse about what it would be like to camp so deep in the Gorge on such a raw spring night.

We stand a while longer on the outlook, silently hoping to see a glimpse of the famous Brown Mountain lights that we were lucky enough to spot one weekend while camping along the river.  The lights are most commonly seen just along Table Rock.  Because it’s such a beautiful and mysterious night, I feel sure we’ve got a good chance.

See it:  The Linville Gorge is mysterious, dangerous, wild, and even mythical.  That’s why year after year so many people visit it.  Wiseman’s View is especially popular as it affords fantastic views of the Gorge just minutes after stepping out of your vehicle.

To get to Wiseman’s View, turn onto the Kistler Memorial Hwy. (formerly NC 105) from Hwy 183.  On your way up, you’ll pass the following places:

1. Alternate parking area for Linville Falls
2. Information Cabin (on your right)
3. Parking area for Pine Gap Trail
4. Parking area for Bynum Bluff Trail
5. Parking area Cabin Trail
6. Parking area for Babel Tower Trail
7. A sign will point the way (to the left) for Wiseman’s View.

You’ll also pass numerous car campsites.  These sites usually operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The campsites are easy to access, relatively large, and some can accommodate more than one vehicle.  Fires are permitted.

If you’re interested in the Gorge in general, you might enjoy the following links, which offer additional information on the Gorge as well as the Brown Mountain Lights:  Tips on Linville Gorge, Linville Gorge & Brown Mountain Lights.

Charles, inspired by our experience, wrote the following poem:

________________________________________
Wiseman’s View

We live here on the cusp of tame and wild:

civilization’s trappings (gaudy signs,

bright lights to mend the darkness, barking dogs

to insulate a house) can disappear

in seconds from a simple change of course.

We spent a day in artful buildings cast

by clever men:

before us lay their bright

ingenious pinnacles, and we drove home

through dynamited corridors of granite.

At last, we turned away from the perfection

and shame of man’s devices on a road

into the gorge.

Before us now lies darkness,

the cenotaph of Table Rock, the plunging

reality of cliffs and river pure,

two token campfires in the scary wild.

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There are many trails in the Moses Cone system that are well worth your time, but the trail leading up to Flat Top Tower is one of my favorites.  That’s because this trail offers something that will please almost any type of hiker.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and Charles and I are in no rush. We walk up the Flat Top trail at our leisure, stopping to snap photos and admire wildlife.  While the entire trail is beautiful, it’s the first few hundred feet that I love best.  Not only do I find the rolling meadows and views of Grandfather aesthetically inspiring, but more importantly, these views remind me of the childhood days I spent hiking the Moses Cone system with my grandparents.  It was these two wonderful people who taught me how to love the Blue Ridge mountains.

Above: view of Grandfather from trail

As we work our way up the trail, we move through wooded copses and out onto an open field.  The sun is high overhead and it’s one of those spring days where all you want to do is lie in the sun and not move.  Charles and I somehow resist this urge and continue up the trail, knowing the best is yet to come.

Above: meadow adjacent to Cone Manor graves

After moving through a mile and half of gravely, switch-backed trails, we make it to the top of the mountain where the fire tower rests.  I’m initially hesitate to climb the tower as it seems thin and shaky, but the sound of voices from the top boosts my confidence and I head up.  (Plus, I know I can’t wimp out after coming this far; what would my fellow hikers think of me?)

At the top, it feels like I can see the whole world.  To the north, Boone stretches out before me and to the south lies Blowing Rock.  In the distance, I can even see Table Rock, Price Lake, and Mt. Mitchell.  Knowing that common words are a poor substitute for scenes such as this, I record the vista, hoping to in some way preserve its magnitude.

Above: panorama from fire tower

Hike it: The Moses Cone Trail systems are among the most popular in the High Country.  Most of the trails are extremely accessible as they were once carriage trails commissioned by Mr. Cone.  Today thousands of walkers, joggers, hikers, and horseback riders frequent these trails and rest assured that should you hit one during the high season, you won’t be alone!  But if you’re comfortable with a general lack of solitude, then one of the many Moses Cone trails is for you.

The Flat Top Tower trail, in particular, is very popular.  From the Cone Manor to the top is 2.8 miles.  The trail is listed as “moderate” and you’ll gain a good bit of altitude as you hike.  The trail itself, however, is very accessible as it is switch-backed and gravelled.  The trail also offers a wide variety of experiences from meadows to woods to vistas, making it the perfect “please all” kind of hike.

For more information on the Moses Cone Trail system, please visit the following:  CNY Hiking & Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

Entry by Lori Beth

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