RESUMING THE CHASE
This season has offered the best fall color Iíve seen in the southeast in years.† I saw some great foliage on hikes in the Shining Rock and Mount Rogers areas in early October, but I wanted more.† I continued my pursuit of the best fall colors in recent memory with a dayhike in Hanging Rock State Park last weekend.
I chose Hanging Rock for a couple of reasons.† First, I knew that the colors were rapidly fading at the higher elevations.† Hanging Rock is located in the Piedmont though, so I expected the colors to be lingering there.† Also, my mom, sister, and niece live in Winston-Salem, so a hike at Hanging Rock would give me the opportunity to visit.† Finally, it would give me a chance to return to a place where I used to hike on a regular basis.†
It took me a bit over 2 hours to drive from my house on the far side of Charlotte to Hanging Rock.† Hanging Rock is located north of Winston-Salem near the town of Danbury.† I arrived at the park well before rush hour, which in this area is defined as Sunday after church lets out.† I decided to use my head start to visit some popular areas that would become crowded that afternoon.
First I walked down to the lake to view the fall colors.† The foliage across the lake was nice, though it wasnít nearly as spectacular as what Iíd seen earlier in October.† Afterwards I returned to the car to get organized for my hike.† I had chosen to do my favorite hike in the park, which consists of a loop connecting Moores Wall, Cooks Wall, and Wolf Rock.† The park does offer a couple of other nice hikes.† The hike to Toryís Den is pleasant, and features a minor waterfall and a small cave.† The hike down Indian Creek beyond Window Falls is surprisingly attractive, as it passes through a gorge en route to the Dan River.† The best aspect of this trail is that it is lightly traveled.† The same canít be said about my intended route, but I expected the views from the cliffs to offer the best fall colors.
I hiked up beyond the lake and joined the trail to Moores Wall.† I passed through the campground, and began a moderately steep climb towards the parks highest point.† Along the way I passed another group of hikers.† When I reached the observation deck on the summit, I was surprised to have it to myself.† There is a nice view from the cliffs below, but the deck does provide a 360-degree vista.† It wouldíve made a great lunch spot, but the wind was brutal.† After only a couple of minutes there, I was ready to leave.† Plus, other people began arriving before long.
I retreated down to the main trail and followed it through an area of interesting rock formations.† It was here that I found the holy grail of lunch spots.† It was a sloping rock that was somehow in the sun but out of the wind.† It offered a decent view, and kept me out of sight of the trail.† It was amusing to eat lunch and listen to other hikerís conversations as they passed by.
After lunch, I explored some of the passages through the rock formations before descending.† On the way down I passed at least a dozen people heading up.† Apparently my timing had been good.† After a long descent I crossed the trail to Toryís Den and began the climb to Cooks Wall.† This ascent is easier than Moores Wall, and it leads to my favorite spot in the park.† At a junction on the ridge, I took the side trail out to Cooks Wall.† I reached the cliffs there a short time later, and was pleased to find only two other people there.† I took a break to enjoy the sweeping views.† The best vista was to the west, to Sauratown Mountain and Pilot Mountain.† From here I spotted dozens of birds soaring on the thermal currents created by the cliffs of Hanging Rock.† Iíd like to think that the birds were hawks, but they were probably just buzzards.† Regardless, they were fun to watch.
From there, I followed the ridge back to Wolf Rock.† From Wolf Rock I had a final nice view of the surrounding cliffs, including the ever-popular Hanging Rock itself.† From there, I took a different trail back down to the lake, completing a pleasant and scenic loop.
It was only mid-afternoon, so I decided to spend a few minutes visiting a couple of waterfalls.† I hadnít been to the Upper Cascades in a long time, and dreaded the crowds that were sure to be there.† After a short walk I arrived at the viewing platform, which is a large wooden eyesore that the NC state park system is regrettably fond of.† Fortunately, stairs at the end provide access to the base of the falls.† The water was up from the recent rains, and the cascades were nicer than I remembered.† Even better, there were only a few people in the area, and none were at the base of the falls.† This gave me the opportunity to take a few photos.† Later, I followed a faint path to a point below another run of cascades.† This required a steep climb, and the view wasnít nearly as good.† If you visit, Iíd recommend concentrating on the main viewing area at the base of the first cascades.
I was short on time, but wanted to visit the Lower Cascades before I left.† Unfortunately, there is no trail between the Upper and Lower Cascades.† In fact, visiting the Lower Cascades require driving to another part of the park.† The last time Iíd been there Iíd followed a path to a steep descent down to the base of the falls.† At the time, Iíd been amazed that the nicest waterfall in the park was so remote and largely unvisited.† Boy was I in for a surprise today!† When I arrived at the trailhead, I found a new parking area full of cars!† Previously, Iíd thought that the Lower Cascades were relatively unknown.† Apparently that is no longer the case.
A short hike led to another massive viewing platform and a long staircase.† I descended into a small amphitheatre to the base of the falls.† Here I found an absolute circus of people.† Apparently all of the people I had been expecting to see throughout the day had been waiting here for me.† There were old folks, young folks, dogs, and a huge group of Asians, and everyone had a camera.† Judging from the number of flashbulbs going off, Iím guessing that most of those people wonít be happy with their photos.† That brings up something Iíve been wondering about.† Are there any famous professional Asian photographers?† Because there sure are a lot of amateurs!† I had to jockey for position just to find a place to set up my tripod.† The effort was nearly futile, but I managed to get a couple of rushed shots before a family and a dog decided to pose in front of the falls.† At that point I gave up, as I was more than ready to get out of there.
Iím sure Iíll return to Hanging Rock again.† Next time though, Iíll be sure to stop at the Lower Cascades in the morning, before the crowds arrive!
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