Monday, September 20, 2021

CHIMNEY ROCK STATE PARK, NORTH CAROLINA: Hiking, Nature, and Spectacular Views

52 Places to Go: Week 38

Chimney Rock, North Carolina

We stood at the railing and gazed almost one thousand feet below to Hickory Nut Gorge and the hills beyond. Like a silver ribbon, the Rocky Broad River threaded its way down the valley into Lake Lure. Above us, steep granite cliffs rose another 400 feet and the towering monolith of Chimney Rock was just a few steps away. We were with our family in Western North Carolina at Chimney Rock State Park for a day of hiking and sightseeing. 

View of Hickory Nut Gorge from the patio outside the Sky Lounge at Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock has a long history. After nearly a century of private ownership, when Chimney Rock was operated as a popular tourist attraction and nature preserve, it became a North Carolina State Park in 2007. During our family vacation at Lake Lure in August, it was on the top of our list of things to do. At Chimney Rock Village, a small community with hotels and tourist shops along the river, about a half hour from our rented house, we followed the sign into the park. 

After crossing the river we wound our way up to the entrance and bought our tickets for the day. By the time we arrived (about 11:00 am) the upper parking lot was full. We were directed to the lower parking area, the Meadows, and caught a shuttle bus to the parking area at the base of Chimney Rock. But we weren’t there yet! 

Stairway from the upper parking lot to Chimney Rock.

The energetic members of our family climbed a series of stairs from there to the top. Art and I took the elevator–blasted into the rock in the past by the original owners--and shot up nine stories to the top in less than a minute, and with much less effort than it would have been to walk.
Chimney Rock, Elevation 2280 feet (315 meters)

From the patio outside the Sky Lounge a short stairway led to the top of Chimney Rock–but even from the railing of the patio the view was spectacular. After appreciating the view, we bought sandwiches at  the cafĂ© inside the Sky Lounge and ate them at a picnic table outside.
Beginning of Hickory Nut Falls Trail.

There are numerous opportunities for hiking in the park. After lunch, we took the Hickory Nut Falls trail, which begins at the end of the upper parking lot, going down stairs to join the trail.

Trail to Hickory Nut Falls is 1.4 miles round trip.

Following a wide, shaded path we walked gradually uphill through thick woodland. Scenes from several movies have been shot in Chimney Rock park, including Last of the Mohicans, and as we walked through the forest it was easy to imagine that the scenery must have been much the same long ago when the area was inhabited by Native Americans.
Hickory Nut Falls is formed by Falls Creek, which starts from natural springs on the top of Chimney Rock Mountain. 

At the end of the trail, Hickory Nut Falls cascade down the granite face of the mountain. At a height of 404 feet, it is one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. 

View from the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls toward Hickory Nut Gorge. The stream continues down a rocky ravine into the Rocky Broad River.

While resting on the rocks at the base of the falls, we caught our breath and watched dozens of fish swimming in the shallow pool. While our family was not alone admiring the falls, it wasn’t crowded, and it was easy to keep our social distance from other people.
Hickory Nut Falls.

We visited Chimney Rock on a sunny August day, midweek. The temperature was warm, but comfortable for hiking. The park is open year-round with activities to fit the season. For more information about visiting Chimney Rock, click HERE.

The round trip to Hickory Nut Falls (1.4 miles) takes 45 minutes--1 hour.


All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist.


Monday, September 13, 2021

WILDLIFE VIEWING AT THE DELTA PONDS IN EUGENE, OREGON Guest Post by Caroline Hatton at The Intrepid Tourist

52 Places to Go: Week 37

Green Heron (Butorides virescens) with a fish story to tell, at the Eugene Delta Ponds

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton took the photos
in this post in July 2021 when she enjoyed this free outdoor activity.

For the first time since my husband and I moved to Eugene, Oregon, our car was due for an oil change. I googled “Eugene Toyota” to see where to go and more importantly, where to take a walk while waiting. On the map, my eyes focused not on the red pin, but on what it partially covered: a sprinkling of blue fragments between a freeway and a bend in the Willamette River!

The Delta Ponds, a wildlife oasis in the city of Eugene

Zooming in revealed Delta Ponds City Park. There, what was once the natural network of water channels of the braided river became disconnected from the main stream by urbanization and gravel extraction. After the City purchased the residual ponds from the gravel company, decades passed. Then eight years of award-winning efforts restored native plants and the connection to the river, offering a haven for American Beaver (Castor canadensis), River Otter (Lontra canadensis), juvenile Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), and Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata), a place where over 150 bird species have been observed.

Delta Ponds pedestrian bridge over a highway

On July 3, 2021, the temperature was predicted to reach the high 90s F (30s C), but not until 5 p.m. or later, as is usual for the daily maximum in Eugene. At 8 a.m. it was almost chilly at the ponds. The adjacent freeway was invisible from the trail, but traffic was heavy and fast, its whooshing noise inescapable from anywhere around the ponds. Yet the air smelled fresh.

The main trail, around the outside of the ponds, was a wide, flat gravel path. That’s good because it won’t get muddy when it rains, but not so good because footsteps make crunching noises that might scare wildlife away.

Trail spurs allow peeks at busy pond life

Soon the first of several spurs appeared, silent dirt paths leading to the water’s edge. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and Canada geese (Branta canadensis) went about their business.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) keeping his legs crossed, maybe for fishing luck

In the hour we spent there, we saw five lone Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and three lone Green Herons (Butorides virescens), planted in the landscape like statues or taking flight and landing again.

What was that?

At the end of the second spur, we were scanning the water when a flash of movement left behind some ripples in growing circles. “Beaver?” I wondered out loud, but not too loud.

“No flat tail,” whispered my husband. “Nutria?” (the unwelcome South American swamp rat, Myocastor coypus).

“Too big for that,” I said, buzzing with excitement at the only remaining possibility: a River Otter!

Nutria (Myocastor coypus)

But when it surfaced, its brick-shaped muzzle was thickly whiskered and its round ears rather large. It was a nutria. It dove, its long tail lingering in the air like a tease. It emerged and dove a dozen times. The show wouldn’t end. Yet I tore myself away, hoping that on such a lucky day, I might see a Beaver.

We didn’t see a Beaver, but we saw people who did, a gray-haired couple with binoculars and a lens twice as long as mine. The only other visitors we met were a jogger, a woman with her dog, and a young family.

Green Heron holding a fish out of water

From a peninsula with an info board, I saw a Green Heron catch a fish (see the photo at the top of this blog post), flip it the long way, and swallow it whole, and I got photos to prove it! I couldn’t wait to get back to my laptop, to see them all on a larger screen.

Oops—we forgot to get the oil change. We’ll just have to go back!

All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold.