THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS
Originally we planned a 3-day backpacking trip for this year's MLK holiday weekend. Then I found out that I had to work on Monday, so that was scrapped. A nasty weather forecast for Sunday reduced our plans to a simple Saturday dayhike. Rain was expected in the mountains, so we decided to head east.
Christy and I hadn't been to the Uwharries in several years. Our last trip came after a severe snowstorm, and we spent a full day crawling through fallen trees. Christy hadn't been in a big hurry to go back, but somehow I talked her into it.
We drove to the central portion of the Uwharrie range. We parked at the Yates Place primitive Campground. I was mildly surprised to find a large church group there breaking camp. They were loading up packs, presumably for a weekend backpacking trip on the Uwharrie Trail.
Christy, Saucony, and I hiked through the campground and followed an old road, a footpath, and finally powerlines west towards the trail. Along the way we wandered through a recently logged area that was a muddy mess. We reached the trail, and were greeted with a sign on a tree warning of logging operations ahead. Oh goody. What were we in for?
We hiked south through a battered landscape. The ground was a chewed up mud pit from all of the trucks. At one point we passed a puddle full of oil. Ah, your tax dollars at work.
We finally reached the far side of the cut. Our surroundings quickly improved as we passed into an open hardwood forest. We traversed rolling hills before reaching a junction with the Dutchman's Creek Trail. This is where our loop started. We elected to hike it clockwise, so we continued south on the Uwharrie Trail.
We continued through the woods and descended to a pleasant campsite at Dutchman's Creek. We rock hopped across and climbed away from the stream. We crossed several small streams and old roads before reaching a signed 4-way junction. The Uwharrie Trail and Dutchman's Creek Trail form a figure 8, and this spot marked the middle of it. We turned west here on the Dutchman's Creek Trail and descended to Island Creek, where we paused for lunch.
After lunch we continued downstream and passed a group of backpackers. Then we endured a surprisingly steep climb to a summit with some limited views of Badin Lake and the Uwharrie Mountains through the trees. We followed the ridge for awhile before descending. This stretch of trail closely followed a property line. I know this because there was a neon gold no trespassing sign on virtually every tree for several hundred yards. This was obnoxious but intriguing. Either someone is a bit obsessed about their private property or they've got something to hide. This area is famous for it's once productive gold mines. Most were abandoned long ago, but new technology has enabled miners to rework some of these old mines. Could there be an operating gold mine beyond those signs?
We'll probably never know. The only gold we saw was on those signs. We followed the trail away from the property line and descended into a minor valley. Then we climbed steeply again to another summit. We eventually worked our way down from this peak and reached Dutchman's Creek once again. Here we encountered a large boy scout troop out for the weekend.
We hiked upstream and rock hopped the creek 3 more times. This stretch was probably the highlight of the hike as we passed gentle cascades and worked our way through thick stands of laurel and rhododendron. Finally we climbed away from the creek and reached a well-maintained gravel road. An old hip injury was bothering Christy, so she decided to follow the lane out to the main road. I continued ahead on the trail. It only took a few minutes to reach the Uwharrie Trail once again. From that point, it was simply a matter of retracing my footsteps back through the logging zone. Why did I have to do the ugly part of the hike twice?
I returned to the campground and drove back and picked up Christy. It had been several years since I'd been to the Uwharries. America's oldest mountain range hadn't changed much in the meantime. It was still a decent place to get some exercise and fresh air in the cooler months. It's not the most exciting destination, but it is a quiet place to go without having to drive several hours from Charlotte. I'm sure we'll be back, but not necessarily to hike. The Uwharrie River is high on my list of places to canoe, and the national forest has a new network of mountain biking trails we're eager to try out.
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