Sunday Hikes: Table Rock Mountain, North Carolina

Table Rock seems to be the go to name for any mountain with a flatish granite top. It seems like half the states have a Table Rock Mountain and all of them have incredible views! Perhaps one of the most popular and most beautiful is Table Rock Mountain in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. About two hours from Asheville, Table Rock rises 2,000 feet straight up from Linville Gorge with a squared off peak that makes it impossible to miss when driving towards the mountain. It is easy to see Table Rock’s 4,101 foot elevation on paper and dismiss it since that is not very high even for east coast standards but the views from the top rival any other mountain range in the country!

After camping in an awesome little campsite off of Forest Service Road 210 (the long dirt road that leads up to the trailhead), we woke up a bit late at 9am and made coffee before heading up to the trailhead about 1.5 miles away. The road is typically fairly well maintained but the recent hurricanes on North Carolina’s coast sent enough rain to wash out the roads in a few places and create somewhat rough conditions. It is certainly still driveable but be careful in low clearance and 2 wheel drive vehicles. The trailhead has a large parking lot to accommodate how many hikers and rock climbers come to this area. I think we saw more climbers than hikers here actually. We excitedly hit the trailhead with perfect weather and an eagerness for great views.

The trails length is a bit iffy because there are many side trails to explore and an open granite top to run around on but if you hike from trailhead to where the trail ends and the mountaintop opens up then the trail is about 1.2 miles round trip. The trail is steep, slippery, and a steady incline but it is still a relatively easy trail thanks to the short distance.

Driving up the steep road I saw sneak peeks of the great views to come through the trees. The first opportunity for a view unencumbered by trees is made possible by a large rock sticking out from the trail that looks out on the Linville Gorge. Even from here (about halfway up the trail to the top) the views are amazing and make this mountain feel huge!

From here the trail continues steeply through the trees with long switchbacks and rocky steps. Soon the trail goes through two tall rocks and up some more before a split about halfway through that will take you up and right to the summit or down and left to some great rock climbing spots and is part of the Mountains-to-Sea through hiking trail.

After some more swithbacks through some dense rhododendrons the views start to really open up to the west and soon we created the peak of the mountain where there is the foundations of an old rock house that once stood at the summit.

There are many bushes on the large flat peak of Table Rock with chunks of granite poking out and giving way to incredible views. To the north is Hawksbill mountain and a thick forest.

To the west and south west is Linville Gorge plummeting down and in the distance clouds shrouded the black mountain range and Mt Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US.

To the south is Shortoff Mountain and Lake James.

And to the east is the flat North Carolina country that seems so far down if you fell you’d never land (don’t test that).

In every direction the views are breathtaking and worth a long while to take in and enjoy. We found a nice spot to sit down and brew some coffee and enjoy the beautiful day and beautiful views around us. We sipped our coffee and explore the top of the mountain a bit longer before deciding it was time to hear back. On our way back we ran into a friendly older man who knew everything there was about these mountains and just had to share it. He asked if we knew about the “stack rock cave” and when we said no he told us to follow him. So we did. He took us back down the trail and just after the two tall rocks we followed him somewhat warily through the brush and scrambled up a small rocky cliff and at the top was indeed a cave created by two pillars of rock that was layered making it a “stack rock cave”.

The views were very cool from here and despite the somewhat sudden and weird nature of us finding out about this place we were grateful to this guy for sharing his knowledge with us. After chatting with him a bit we headed back down to the trail head to eat our lunch. We made sandwiches in the car and then headed back down for Asheville and eventually home wishing we were still on the mountain.

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is one of the most photographed things in Acadia National Park and for good reason! The Lighthouse is perched perfectly picturesque on the edge of Mt. Deserts rocky shore and it has become a symbol for the eastern United States’ first National Park.

Sunday Hikes: Prentice Cooper State Forest

The Prentice Cooper State Forest is 25,000 acres of land around the Tennessee River gorge about 10 miles west of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It has 35 miles of hiking trails and free camping.

Josh and I wanted to get in a solid hike in the area and chose to take the dirt road to the Snoopers Rock trailhead. From there we could check out “Snoopers Rock” and hike to Natural Bridge and back. This would be a 6 mile round trip distance.

We parked at the trailhead and followed a spur road for a 1/4 mile and discovered that we could have driven down and parked right there at Snoopers Rock. Snoopers Rock is a rock overhang with gorgeous views of the Tennessee River gorge.

There were quite a few folks at Snoopers Rock since it was so easily accessible. After soaking in the unearned view for a moment. We then followed the signs towards Natural Bridge.

This route was much less traveled. The trail followed the river from on high. There were many trees down across the trail which made it more fun rather than difficult. After a mile or so we reached somewhat of a hiking crossroads in the forest.

We followed the path to Natural Bridge of course, while making a mental note to come back and check out these other trails. The hiking thru this area felt like we were hundreds of miles from civilization as it was quiet and secluded. We passed several rickety wooden bridges and soon we arrived at Natural Bridge.

We hiked over the rock bridge and down under it and then back up the top. It was impressive and a lot of fun pretending to rock climb.

After playing around a bit we hurried back and made much better time on the return trip. This was a great hike and a lot of fun. I highly recommend the Prentice Cooper State Forest if you are visiting Chattanooga and want to get in some nature too. rk

Picture of the Day: Grand Canyon Sunset

The Grand Canyon is a magical place to be at sunset. As the sun sets over the horizon the light is sucked out of the canyon but not before it puts on one last show of reds and oranges lighting up the massive canyon. Every second the light changes and will put your focus on another one of the infinite rock formations before you. The Grand Canyon isn’t just a place to see but to experience and every day there is an unforgettable experience. If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon then get out and go right now.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: The Channels

I was searching for a late afternoon hike in southwest Virginia and found The Channels. It looked very amazing online with “east coast” slot canyons and other rock features. I was excited.

Trusty Google maps took me down a long and winding rural road and turned me onto a dirt and gravel road in The Channels Natural Area Preserve. About a hundred feet up the road was this sign.

I wasn’t sure if the 3 mile trail started here or at the end of the gravel road or if that was one way or round trip distance. I figured I would drive ahead and see. The road was rough and a high clearance vehicle would be preferable although if it was dry then a car could make it if you take it easy. After driving a couple miles and passing through several open gates, I came up on a locked gate. I took that as indication that I should proceed on foot.

After a ways of steady, but not steep, incline I came up on an open area with 3 paths leaving in a fan pattern outward. There was no sign. After deliberation, I took the most likely path which was the left fork as the trail snaked much more narrowly into the brush.

I started getting a little anxious and nervous because it was darker in the woods and you could hear creatures rustling about. I figure The Channels has black bears so I didn’t want to run into one alone. I started singing a bit which should scare off anything or anybody. This part of the trail was much steeper and more beautiful but I had the feeling I had gone a long way and had no indication that this was the right direction. The multitude of spiderwebs across the trail and the fact I saw no tracks (except dog/coyote) concerned me I was off in the wrong direction. Only the occasional red blaze kept me going. Finally I ran into a sign saying I was in The Channels, except I was still in the woods.

I figured I must be close now and redoubled my pace up the trail that was now more steep than ever. I passed a nice stream flowing downhill and abruptly the trail ended at a fence. I had passed through The Channels Preserve and come out the other side.

I saw that the red blazes continued north along the fence line. However it was getting late and I didn’t want to get caught here after dark since I hadn’t brought a headlamp or flashlight. I decided to turn back. Since the return was all downhill, I took most of it at a jog and made much better time. I did stop to take a picture of the trail that I thought was particularly pretty and of a cool old growth oak.

Once I got back to the open area It did seem a bit lighter in the sky so perhaps I could have continued and found the rock features this area was named for. But caution probably was the best option as no one would find me up here in this secluded area for who knows how long if I had gotten lost.

After counting my steps, I figure I hiked about six miles round trip. I’m not sure I was even on the correct trail. However, I had fun and got a workout so the hike must be considered a success. I hope to get back up this way again soon to try and find the Channels this Preserve is named after. As always, thanks for reading. rk

Sunday Hikes: Beehive Trail

The Beehive Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s “iron rung” trails meaning it is mostly a non-technical rock climb up the Beehive cliffs with the assistance of iron rungs in the rock places there by the NPS. The nearby Precipice Trail is similar but involves more rock scrambling, higher cliffs, and is all around scarier but sadly it was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting when we last visited in July. The falcons don’t seem to like the Beehive cliffs though which is good for me since the Beehive is one of my favorite hikes! My only complaint is that it isn’t longer at two miles round trip (only .5miles or so is climbing).

We had just been at Sand Beach and walked across the street to the Beehive trailhead to begin our hike. It was a beautiful summer day on the Maine coast and the greens of the trees and blues of the water were vibrant as ever in the afternoon sun. Last time I hiked this trail was in the peak of Maine’s fall leaf season and the whole place was lit up with reds, oranges, and purples that glowed on the mountains. One day I hope to visit Acadia in the dead of winter to experience it in all seasons. But anyways the trailhead marker is a small stump with words carved into it and the trail starts off very rocky and uphill.

Soon we reached a fork in the road in the shape of a circle with hard granite sticking out of the dirt. A sign pointed left and a sign pointed right toward the Beehive and that’s the way we headed. Soon there is a sign warning of the dangers of climbing Beehive and it includes the fact that multiple people have fallen to their deaths on these cliffs.

With this grave news the Beehive pokes up through the trees looming as a high up peak with little ant-like people on its face. The reason it is called the Beehive is evident with this view.

The trail doesn’t take any time getting to the climbing and pretty soon we were waiting behind an old lady stuck 3 feet up with her family telling her she probably should sit out of this hike. After they talked her down we carried on upwards with some big rocky steps and a couple iron rungs. After the first few sets of iron rungs a view opens up of sand beach and the bay where we had just been. The water a deep blue that shone in the afternoon sun.

From here we climbed up several sets of iron rungs before crossing a small wooden bridge sticking out of the side of the cliff. The views here are great.

After the bridge we turned a corner and after a few more iron rungs we were up at the rocky top of the mountain with amazing views of Mt. Desert Island all around.

After we took in all the great views we went over the top of the mountain to reach the return trail. The return trail takes you down quickly with a bunch of steps cutting through the aspen forest. It felt like no time before we returned to the fork and then soon we were back at the trailhead and ready for the next hike.

I love the Beehive Trail! It is so fun and unique with great views! If you ever have the chance to visit Acadia I would highly recommend the Beehive trail.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Blue Mesa Trail

The Blue Mesa Trail is a one mile paved loop trail in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. The trail takes you through blueish-gray badlands littered with petrified logs and a couple signs about the areas history. According to one of the signs this area was once a swamp filled with dinosaurs but now it’s a unique and beautiful desert filled with Dino ghosts. Petrified Forest is one of the most fossil filled places in the country and Blue Mesa has some of the most fossil discoveries in the petrified forest. So keep an eye out while hiking and maybe you’ll spot a prehistoric giant alligator skeleton sticking out of the ground (probably not though).

I woke up early in the Kaibab National Forest 15 minutes from the Grand Canyon’s rim where I had spent the previous day. I made some coffee and hit the road for Petrified Forest National Park. I got to petrified forest around 9am and I spent my whole morning in the southern end of the park where the majority of the petrified logs are. Around noon I arrived at the Blue Mesa area and set off to hike.

The trailhead has great views of the surrounding desert and it looks like the perfect western landscape looking out at the rugged terrain while a train chugs along in the distance. There is a “sun shelter” at the trailhead which is a nice spot to make a little lunch before or after the hike. The trail is paved for the entire mile but is very steep at the beginning as the trail drops from the top of the mesa to the bottom. I loved the views from here as I descended into the ancient dino swamp.

After the steep descent the trail is mostly flat as it makes a loop through the bowl shaped area created by the walls of badlands around. My favorite part of this trail was how the badlands looked completely different from every angle making it feel like there was always something new to look at and examine.

The park’s namesake petrified forest of logs also inhabits the Blue Mesa reminding everyone that there used to be trees in this now empty desert.

I made my way around the loop, taking pictures along the way and then found myself at the bottom of the steep incline back up to the trailhead. I was surprisingly winded once I reached the top so I took a second to drink some water and enjoy the badlands once more before I departed from the area.

The Blue Mesa Trail was one of my favorite hikes I did that day and I would gladly return to hike it again!

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is awesome! It is an American icon of ingenuity in the west and the history behind it is enthralling! The scale of it is enormous and the canyon it sits in is beautiful making me wish I could go back in time to explore it pre-Dam. I love taking pictures here and was happy to visit recently and get some pics. Here are a few I took while the water was a vibrant blue-green popping in contrast to the canyon’s tan and brown walls.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: The Paint Pots Trail

This is a fun little 1.2 mile hike right off the main highway in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, Canada. As beautiful as the Banff-Windermere Highway is, Josh and I wanted to check out a hiking trail.

The Paint Pots Trail starts by winding through some trees. Shortly you come to a bridge crossing over the sparkling clear Vermillion River.

The trail then crosses an open area of scrub, oddly colored mud, and trickling water. The strange color of the mud is actually ochre beds which have been mined in this area for a very long time. Artifacts from local native tribes and more recent industrial mining are littered along the trail. There is a good bit of signage making this an educational hike as well.

Finally the trail ends at several ponds formed by natural springs which feed the trickling water below. The trail returns by the same path.

This is a fun hike that you can breeze through or take your time and enjoy. We spent a good bit of time trying to get the perfect camera shots on Josh’s camera. Not sure if those ever came out? Thanks for reading. rk

Picture of the Day: General Sherman Tree

This is a picture of the worlds largest living thing (not including fungus) and a few of his friends! Look at the people in the bottom left corner for a scale on how huge these trees really are!

Thanks! – Josh