I travel for a living, and sometimes my job takes me to fascinating places.  On other occasions, I can’t wait to get home.  Lately, it seems like there has been less of the former and more of the later.


A few weeks ago I suffered through one of my worst trips.  I was sent to Orange, Texas, which is about a 2 hour drive east of Houston.  Hoo boy.  Where should I begin?  One evening after running, I was walking through the grass back to my hotel.  I was in the middle of the lawn when I realized that something invisible – actually, make that many somethings – were biting my legs.  I’m not certain, but I suspect they were fleas.  I ran for the shower, which would’ve been pleasant if the water hadn’t reeked of bleach.   I’ve never been a fan of bottled water, but I sure drank more than my share that week.  Oh, and did I mention the hotel?  I stayed at the finest hotel in town, but it was infested with crickets.  Is there a more exciting way to wake up in the morning than to be roused by crickets jumping across your pillow?


The worst thing about Orange though was the general stench.  The whole place smelled like rotten eggs.  If I had to sum up Orange in two words, I’d probably go with “who farted?”


Last week I was originally scheduled for one of my favorite destinations – Greenville, South Carolina.  At the last minute though, it was changed first to Atlanta (bad) and then to Dallas (worse).  After my experience in Orange, I was definitely not looking forward to returning to Dallas.


Dallas wasn’t as bad as Orange, but it was still a relief to return to North Carolina.  By the time I got back, I was itching for some fresh air.  The weekend was already full of obligations, and the weather forecast looked nasty, but I knew I had to get out.


At the last minute I was able to round up some friends for a hike first thing Saturday morning.  Bob and Joel were itching to hike, too, and Myron and Dorcas were eager to get out for their own reasons.  They were staying in Morganton, but didn’t have a shred of hiking gear.  Luckily, everyone else was able to bring enough stuff to outfit them.


We all met at South Mountains State Park at 8:30.  I chose this destination because it was a short drive, and I needed to get home in time for a 4pm football game.  South Mountains was convenient to everyone else as well, particularly Myron and Dorcas, who were less than 30 minutes away.


The plan was to meet at the trailhead at the end of the road, but somehow we all found each other at the new Visitor’s Center.  We poked around there briefly before relocating to the trailheads at the end of the main park road.


It was a chilly, cloudy morning, with a cold rain expected to start that evening.  We didn’t loiter around the parking lot for long, as everyone was ready to get the blood flowing.  We found the Little River Trail behind the old Visitor’s Center and started up an old roadbed.  A steady climb quickly warmed us up, and before long we joined a horse trail coming up from the road.  We were hoping that we wouldn’t run into any horses, as Myron and I both had our dogs off leash (in violation of park rules).  It was a cold winter morning though, and we hadn’t seen any trucks or trailers in the official equestrian parking area on the way in.


A bit later we passed a modest view to the east at a small clearing.  We climbed a bit more from there, before cresting a ridge and beginning a mild descent to the Little River.  We crossed the infant river on a footbridge and followed it briefly.  A couple of minutes later we reached a spur path leading to a fence decorated with signs warning of imminent death.  At this point, we knew we had nearly reached our goal.


I have wanted to visit Little River Falls for years, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten around to it.  There is no official trail to the falls, and to further complicate matters, the lower part of the waterfall is on private property.  I’d heard that the private property wasn’t posted though.  We decided to at least give the falls a look.


Beyond the fence is an old road, but Bob spotted a footpath running closer to the river.  We followed it briefly, and arrived near the brink of the first drop.  Little River Falls is actually a series of waterfalls, slides, and cascades.  The first fall is a pretty impressive sheer drop, but dense vegetation makes it difficult to get a good look at it.  I spent quite a bit of time searching for a good vantage point, but never found a spot where I could get a photo.  Descending to the river below the falls and working back upstream might’ve worked, but it would’ve required getting wet and climbing across icy rocks.  I decided to save that for another time and concentrate on the falls further downstream.


The woods from here down are mostly open, and the “bushwhacking” to the base of the middle drop was actually pretty easy.  This time, our efforts were rewarded with a view of a long, sliding cascade.  The far side of the gorge here is a sheer rock wall, and on this chilly morning it was covered in ice.  I did manage a few photos here before continuing downstream.


The final plunge is a long, steep slide over open rock.  This part of Little River Falls reminds me of North Harper Falls, in the Wilson Creek area, or the lower part of Bridal Veil Falls, in DuPont State Forest.  Bridal Veil Falls, coincidentally, is also on the Little River, but it’s a completely different Little River from the one in South Mountains State Park.  How many Little Rivers are there in North Carolina, anyway?


Bob and I worked our way down to the bottom before it was time to head back.  Seeing Little River Falls turned out to be a real highlight of the day.  Now I wonder why it took me so long to visit it! 


The climb out of the gorge was a bit of a grunt, but we made it back to the trail without much difficulty.  From there we continued ahead on the Little River Trail.  My plan was to make a loop connecting to the Chestnut Knob Trail, which would take us back to the parking area.


It wasn’t long before we ran into the first group of horseback riders.  We managed to corral the dogs without too much drama.  When we met another group a few minutes later though, it was time to leash them.  At that point they were pretty much exhausted, although their fatigue had a lot more to do with playing with each other than with the actual hike.


The rest of the hike was largely uneventful.  We passed the Sawtooth Trail Campsites, and yet another group on horseback.  By the time we reached the spur trail to the Chestnut Knob overlook, it was 12:30.  Originally I had planned on lunch at the overlook, but nobody seemed particularly enthusiastic about making the side trip out there.  We ate lunch at the junction, and I didn’t linger long afterwards.  I was eager to get back for the previously mentioned football game, and according to the sign, we still had 2.2 miles to go. 


I started down ahead of everyone else and set a brisk pace.  Although I was moving pretty fast, I was shocked when I reached a sign stating that I had 0.7 miles to go 18 minutes later.  Had I really covered 1.5 miles in 18 minutes?  I rather doubt it, as I certainly wasn’t hiking at 5mph.  Apparently the mileage on the trail signs is a little bit off.


I endured some painfully slow drivers on the way home, but still made it back with plenty of time to split some firewood before the game.  Unfortunately, the game didn’t quite turn out as I’d hoped.  Although it was extremely exciting, my ASU Mountaineers lost in the semifinals of the playoffs at Montana in a blizzard.  They had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds from the Montana 3-yard line, but came up short.  When does the 2010 football season start?

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