Saturday, September 29, 2012

Chimney Rock # 4: The Outcroppings Trail

I hope you enjoyed the previous posts,
especially the one about Chimney Rock
and Exclamation Point.  As we descended
back to Chimney Rock, we continued down
the mountainside on the Outcroppings Trail,
which we found to be an eye-catching adventure.

This is the stairway that begins our 
downward climb.  We would see many
huffing, puffing climbers working their
way up.  Our plan had three advantages:
going down didn't leave us breathless, the
great views were always before us, and 
our hike ended near our car.  YES!!

This was really relaxing after our
previous strenuous climb.

Part of the way down, I got this
classic view of the iconic Chimney 
Rock, with flag unfurled in the breeze.

Our winding path was full of 
interesting rock formations.
Along the way, spectacular views
of the gorge below opened up.

Pulpit Rock

I loved the humor of the park signs.

Some were not humorous but cautionary.
Pay attention, Liz!

At this point we were still far above
our car.  March on!

Occasionally, we saw glimpses of early fall
color.  But we had intentionally planned our
trip for before leaf season to avoid the crowds.

This sign explains the bridge 
photo that follows.

Just a little while longer.
And it's all downhill.

Renovation work continues on
an area called The Grotto and The
 Subway.  We still got a good look.

Work on The Grotto from below.

Work crews even removed a section of the
boardwalk to keep the curious from danger.

The whole mountainside is alive with 
birds calling and in flight.  This educational
stop was near the end of our hike.

We were interested to read about the
Peregrine Falcon, because we had seen one
high up on Exclamation Point.  First we
had seen him solitary on a perch, then in
flight, in pursuit of prey.  We didn't see
the result of his efforts.

Moonshiner's Cave, also called Gneiss Cave,
is currently closed due to the dreadful bat
disease, White Nose Syndrome.

Here we are at Vista Point,
nearing our destination.  

This precariously balanced boulder seems
to dare us to pass beneath it.
But nothing will keep us from our car now.
We have conquered Chimney Rock and
its mountainous terrain.  The journey has
been its own reward.

Two final posts will cover all the "lowland"
sights we enjoyed on our trip and several
educational features at the park.  They're
not as exciting as these first four posts but
if you have time, please enjoy them, as well.
They'll be posted right away.

Chimney Rock # 3: The One You've Been Waiting For . . .

Truly, this is the post I'VE been waiting for.
Even seeing these views again gets my heart
beating fast.  Let's hit the trail!

This is as far as you can go by car-- the
parking lot at the lower concourse. There,
most visitors take the elevator up.

That's right, the elevator.  Carved inside
sheer rock, it was completed in 1949 and
has just undergone a complete renovation
and modernization, including "escape" stairs.
It's 26 stories up.  I'm sure the operators get
tired of folks quipping "First floor, please."
This is the tunnel you walk to get to the elevator.

On this map you can see where the elevator
rises to the Sky Lounge.  From there you're
just a few steps away from the park's center
piece: Chimney Rock.  From there we'll ascend
to the park's highest spot: Exclamation Point
on the Skyline Trail.

Here's Judy on our first ascent up
Chimney Rock.  Note, I was still at
the bottom of the stairs and letting her
go first.  My legs always get a little
rubbery in high, open spaces.  My brain
knows I'm not going to fall but my
acrophobia says an unknown force will
somehow hurl me over the railing or I'll
lose my equilibrium while looking down.

Here's a nice view of Hickory Nut Gorge
from between the mountainside and 
Chimney Rock.  I'm still delaying my 
climb, you see.

Okay, here we go, into the gale force winds.

We both made it and the wind turned
out to be just a gentle breeze.  Perfect day!

At the top, this plaque commemorates the
three Morse brothers who envisioned and
brought into being this wonderful exhibition
of God's natural creation.  The Morse family
operated the park until they sold it to the
state of North Carolina just a few years ago.

Standing near the flagpole, I turn toward
the mountain to see the challenge that lies
ahead.  A 200 foot climb up mountainside
stairways to reach Exclamation Point, the
highest spot in the park.

Just under the projecting overhang is
the Opera Box, and amazing formation.
I wasn't quite sure I would get there.

Now to descend the 44 steps of Chimney 
Rock.  At the bottom we begin the much
more intimidating climb to the crest of the
mountain.  (At the bottom and to the right,
you can glimpse the starting point for the
Outcroppings Trail, which will be the next
blog adventure.)

As I look at this imposing structure
I'm thankful for good engineers and
construction crews.  Going up!

See?  Very sturdy.  YIKES!

Here's Judy at the Opera Box, which we had
 viewed from Chimney Rock, far beneath us.

To me, this is the classic view of Chimney
Rock, seen on post cards for decades.  But
now I know where they took the photo from!

Nice aerial view of the town of Chimney
Rock, too.  We frequently heard small  planes
fly over during our visit, and wondered if
people were paying for plane flights over
Hickory Nut Gorge.  Our view was plenty
good enough for me!

Here are the mountains on the opposite
side of the gorge.

Judy snapped this one just so I could
prove I was really up there.

A little too open for me.  But we're still going 
higher.  Straight up the mountainside.

To Devil's Head.

See if you can find the boulder known as
Devil's Head.  Hint:  I think the rusty iron
gate is a clue that in times past many thrill
seekers have tried to get to that rock.  No
statistics on the number of deaths in the park.

Liz, this sign's especially for you!
(Private joke.)
And I know you speak Spanish, so no excuses!

We finally reach Exclamation Point, and 
what a view we beheld.  First, the valley,
a gorge carved out by the Broad River
over many ages.

Our altitude, only 2480 feet, is deceptive.
All along the Blue Ridge are peaks well
over 6,000 feet.  But views are relative to their
surroundings.  Most hikers can attest that
places like Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock,
and Chimney Rock seem higher than many 
peaks in the Appalachians because everything
around them is so much lower.  That's definitely
the effect here.




And for Liz and the rest of you, 
another subtle warning.

The air was as crisp and clean as on 
Mount Mitchell.  We were in no hurry to
start our trek down.

This is as high as you can go without
defying the signs, which I wasn't about to do!

Yes, we were there, and very happy about it.

Time to head back down the steep trail.
This sloping rock runway seems perfectly
designed for a hang glider takeoff.
But we'll go back the way we came, thanks!
The thrills are far from over.
After our descent, we'll go even deeper
into to the gorge on the Outcroppings Trail.
Coming very soon!