Like Little River and Flat River, Eno River is a Neuse River tributary. Originating in Orange County, Eno River flows 33 miles east and then empties into Falls Lake in Durham County just south of where Flat River terminates. Eno River is well-known for its beauty and the high quality of its water. To a large degree the exceptional character of its waters can be attributed to the fact that about 5,600 acres in the river basin are protected lands.
Established in 2000, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is a 1175-mile pathway that stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (See map below.) Currently 680 miles of the MST consists of hiking trails (red lines), and the remainder involves the “temporarily” use of roads and byways (black lines). The hiking trails are blazed with three-inch, white dots. A 216-mile alternate Paddle Route (blue line) begins just south of Falls Lake and runs to the Pamlico Sound where it ends at the most northernmost point on the Neusiok Trail at Pine Cliffs Recreation Area.
The portions of the MST that run through Hillsborough and Durham (inside orange box) trace almost the entire length of the Eno River.
Among the many resources available at the MST website is a series of 20 trail segment guides. The guides provide blow-by-blow descriptions of each portion of the trail for travelers walking either east-to-west or west-to-east. There is also an interactive Google map that allows one to examine the twists and turns of the MST in minute detail. Where relevant, screen captures of the interactive map are used throughout this post to illustrate the routes taken along the MST.
My outings along the Eno River were made over several days and covered nearly its entire length, with one major exception. A long portion of the Eno River passes through Eno River State Park. The park is extremely beautiful and includes an extensive network of trails, but because I have often hiked those trails in the past, I decided not to revisit them for this series of small adventures. Instead, I hope to return to Eno River State Park on other occasions, and to make a separate posting devoted entirely to that very special place. The parts of the trail shown bounded by the yellow oval on the map below are within Eno River State Park, and were not visited during any of these small adventures.
My explorations of the Eno River involved nine different destinations, visited on several distinct occasions, as well as a few brief stops at additional points of interest. These nine destinations are listed and their locations shown on the partial map of the MST above. The descriptions of my visits to these nine locations are arranged in order from east-to-west, moving along the river in an upstream direction. The geographical ordering of the outings does not match the chronology of the trips I took, so the dates that I visited each location are specified below so that photographs can be accurately linked to the time of year they were taken.
Eno River Boat Launch
March 2017, Week 3
During one of my first trips to the area, I attempted to view the points at which the major tributaries of the Neuse River flow into Falls Lake. The Eno River Boat Launch is the most easily accessible point along the Eno River just before it makes its contribution to the waters of Falls Lake.
There isn’t much to see at the Eno River Boat Launch, but there is one short, unmarked path leading away from the southwest end of the parking lot. The trail begins by hugging the river’s edge, taking visitors through spots heavily adorned with trash too copious to be called litter. The path then moves into the woods in an irregular manner before disappearing all together.
The red line on the map below represents an approximation of the route I walked. I had hoped to make my way to the point where the Eno River meets the Flat River (green arrow), but I found no way across the river. Thus, I was unable to reach my goal using the approach I intended (dotted line). In fact, the closest I came to the spot was during a walk I took as part of a different adventure to be described in a future Wand’ring Again posting.
Old Oxford Road to Red Mill Road (MST Segment 10, west-to-east Mile 15.2 to Mile 19.2)
April 2017, Week 3
The last portion of the MST that follows the course of the Eno River is shown below. I started walking this stretch at Old Oxford Road (green square), just across the road from Penny’s Bend, and turned around when I reached Red Mill Road (orange square). This section of the MST was quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, and provided an exceptional hike.
I pulled into the Penny’s Bend parking lot, north of the Eno River and just west of Old Oxford Road, at 7:00 a.m. There was little traffic, and it was easy crossing the road and bridge to the south side of the river and the western end of the MST segment I planned to hike. Later, on my return trip, traffic was much heavier and crossing the narrow bridge on foot was a more nervous experience.
I began enjoying the trail immediately. After only a few steps I was enveloped in the trees and the road was no longer in view. The path was well-worn, clearly blazed, and easy to walk, and wildflowers were on display every few paces.
These included delicate-looking stickwilly (aka bed straw; above), Solomon’s Seal (below left) and false Solomon’s seal (below right).
After only a short distance, the trail crossed abandoned railroad tracks.
Not far past the tracks, I spotted a toad beside the trail and stopped to take some pictures and have a chat. Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind me, and I turned to find a young man and his very mellow dog approaching. Somewhat embarrassed, I confessed to talking to the toad. The man didn’t seem the least bit surprised, and instead asked if I had noticed the snake in a tree at a spot I had already passed. I admitted that I had not, and he provided a precise description of the reptile’s location. I thanked the man, wished him a pleasant day, and doubled back to see the smooth green snake.
Shortly after resuming an eastward trajectory, I came across bellwort (rather blurry, below left) and Jack-in-the-pulpit (below right).
The trail often ran parallel to the Eno River, but it rarely got close enough to see the water. At only a few spots was I able to look down from above to glimpse the Eno, and even though the spring foliage was not yet very thick, there was enough to almost completely obscure the view of the water.
Before leaving a wooded portion of the trail, I noticed some round-lobed liverleaf (aka round-lobed hepatica) growing beside the path.
After leaving the woods, the trail followed green lanes and crossed several grassy fields. I couldn’t help but notice that one of this field’s inhabitants had left his front door wide open.
At the edge of one of the fields were some wild strawberry plants.
A bit further along, just before the trail returned to the woods, a sunny expanse of forest road was teeming with zebra swallowtails. These handsome creatures were maintaining their reputations – fluttering here and fluttering there. I waited patiently, and eventually one landed nearby, but it insisted upon a rather unflattering pose, and then quickly rejoined its companions within their flittering commotion.
After winding through more woods, the trail eventually crossed Red Mill Road, but that is where I turned back. Immediately by the trail on the west side of Red Mill Road there is a small parking area and a map showing Lake Falls and the surrounding areas – places one would get to if hiking continued on the other side of the road.
On the way back to Old Oxford Road, I spotted a distinctive plant that I knew I had seen before, but that I was unable to identify. It has five heart-shaped leaves that form a ring that looks like a halo or crown or aura. If someone can tell me what this plant is, I will be very grateful.
Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve (including MST Segment 10, east-to-west Mile 62.3 to Mile 63.7)
April 2017, Week 1
Diabase is formed when molten rock seeps into the spaces around, between, and within preexisting rock. When the intruding lava fills a horizontal plane-shaped space, it forms a diabase sill. Just such a diabase sill was formed about 225 million years ago, near current-day Durham, about four miles west of what are now the northern shores of Falls Lake. Over time, the softer ground surrounding the diabase sill eroded leaving the rather hard sill close to the earth’s surface. When the eastward-flowing Eno Rover meets this diabase sill, it is forced to take a horseshoe-shaped detour, thus forming the distinct appearance of Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve. (See green oval below.)
The earliest known reference to the 84 acres as “Penny’s Bend” was made in 1890 when D.G. McDuffie mapped Paul C. Cameron’s Snow Hill plantation. The identity of the area’s namesake is unknown, but Penny is assumed to be a family name. The property featured a combination grist and saw mill located at the turn in the river near the northeast portion of the property. Built in 1836, some meager remains of the mill can be found not far from the preserve’s parking area.
Penny’s bend is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and managed by the North Carolina Botanical Garden Foundation. Being rather alkaline, the soil on the peninsula is more like that of Midwest prairie land than that of the piedmont, and as a result it supports unique plants that thrive in its sweetness. For this reason, Penny’s Bend attracts lots of wildflower lovers, especially during the spring months. Although I’ve often found the parking lot full, in my experience most visitors seem to be fishermen who hunker down close to the water’s edge, rather than hikers who take to the trails.
My walk (red line on map above) began at the preserve’s parking area (green square). I followed the George Pyne Trail that overlaps with the MST (dotted green line) to Little Blowing Rock (also sometimes called Little Hanging Rock; orange square). At the northwest extreme of the preserve, the trail turns east and south to connect with the Cash’s Point Trail, and I took this route back to the car. Although the peak time of year for viewing wildflowers had recently passed, there were still plenty of blooms to be seen.
When reading about hikes that are well-known for wildflower displays, it is easy to get especially excited about the possibility of seeing rare and unusual specimens. Nevertheless, I often find that the flowers I most enjoy are those that receive little attention because they are so common.
For example, two of my favorite wildflowers, spring beauties (above) and green and gold (below) were present at almost every turn along the riverside trail at Penny’s Bend.
Wood sorrel (above) and golden Alexander (aka meadow parsnip; below) were also plentiful. I love yellow flowers, but they tend to flare in my photos if they are in direct sunlight. I really need to learn more about photography if I want to avoid this problem in the future. Or maybe I’ll limit myself to taking pictures of those growing in the shade.
Displaying their distinctively-shaped leaves, may apple (above) grew abundantly in the shady areas, and their blooms often could be seen if time was taken to peer beneath the foliage (below).
Large clusters of meadow chickweed (below) were on display in many of the sunnier spots.
The walk along the river was beautiful and serene, and although the trail did not cover a great distance, I ended up spending several hours at Penny’s Bend because the lovely sights and sounds were so plentiful.
There were many turtles to be seen sunning themselves on logs in the river. Almost inevitably, the sound of my footsteps caused the sliders to take cover by splashing into the water. I commented on the large number of turtles to a fisherman I passed, and in turn, he remarked on the size of the largest ones, saying, “some of them are as big as your hat.” Evidently, he thought my wide-brimmed, straw headgear was absurd, himself preferring the standard truckers’ cap.
Most descriptions of Penny’s Bend highlight the fact that Dutchman’s breeches grow along the river. This is special because the flowers are much more typical of the western part of the state, and their presence in the piedmont is unusual. I knew I was visiting the preserve a bit past the prime time for spotting the tiny white blooms, but I did see one small cluster near the northern-most segment of the trail.
The George Pyne trail climbs a bit as it turns eastward, taking the hiker to the top of Little Blowing Rock. From that vantage point, there was an excellent view of dogwood trees that were in bloom.
I highly recommend that nature lovers visit Penny’s Bend. If it does not provide as much trail as you would like to walk, simply extend your adventure beyond its boundaries by following the MST with which it connects.
Roxboro Road to Penny’s Bend (MST Segment 10, west-to-east Mile 10.3 to Mile 13.7)
April 2017, Week 3
Penny’s Bend Preserve is connected to a popular Durham city park (West Point on the Eno) by three-and-a-half miles of the MST. I walked this part of the MST by starting at the western end (green square on the map below), and turning around at the eastern end (orange square), passing through three distinctly different areas along the way.
I parked at the West Point on the Eno lot on the north side of the river, and began my walk by leaving the park using a path that runs beneath the Roxboro Road bridge. The first part of the trail hugs the river, taking the hiker along a narrow strip of land just behind the homes of local residents.
To the south were lots of nice views of the river, but to the north the view mostly consisted of a series of grubby backyards.
This part of the trail ended at the neighborhood River Forest Park (purple diamond on map above).
The second part of the trail began at the eastern end of the park, and was composed of a series of service roads.
A short distance from the park, the road was blocked by a few downed trees, and I needed to push my way through the adjacent woods to bypass the obstacles.
Except for the barricade of fallen trees, the service roads were easy to walk, but as might be expected they were not very interesting. Nevertheless, I did see occasional wild strawberries and scattered tulip poplar blooms along the way.
Buttercups (above) and sand blackberry bushes (below) were also common sights.
At one point, a string of wooden boardwalk segments led through the woods to a residential area. Within the woods, lovely white atamosco lilies (below) were growing in abundance.
Eventually, the third part of the trail moved off the road and into the woods, first passing through an area of young growth (above), and later past an old, abandoned shack (below).
Later, I enjoyed seeing lots of carpet bugle (aka ground pine; above) before arriving at Penny’s Bend and turning around to retrace my steps back to the car.
On the way back, I spotted several oak toads (above) and an eastern box turtle (below).
I also saw many golden-backed snipes (below left), a bess beetle (aka horned passalus beetle; below middle), and an American giant millipede (aka iron worm; below right).
Overall, this hike was the least exciting of those I took along the Eno River, but I still enjoyed the seven-mile walk.
West Point on the Eno (including MST Segment 10, east-to-west Mile 67.1 to Mile 68.9)
April 2017, Week 2, June 2017, Weeks 1 & 2, and July 2017, Week 1.
West Point on the Eno is a 404-acre city park that occupies land on both sides of the Eno River in Durham. Originally inhabited by the Shocco and Eno Indians, Europeans settled in West Point in the 1750’s. Of the 32 mills that once dotted the shores of the river, the one at West Point remained active for the longest period because Shoemaker’s Ford allowed access from both the north and south.
I visited the park on four occasions: once to hike the trails on the south side of the river, once to hike on the north side of the river, once to attend a workshop at the historic grist mill, and once to attend the annual Festival for the Eno River.
South of the Eno
When I first visited West Point on the Eno, my plan was to combine the Buffalo Trail, the South River Trail, the eastern half of the Laurel Cliffs Trail, and the Buffalo Spur Trail to create a loop hike. I also intended to take a detour at about the halfway point to visit the sight of Michael Synott’s Mill (yellow rectangle on map above). Synott’s Mill is thought to be the first mill built on the Eno River. It was erected in 1752, about 30 years before the better-known West Point Mill, but apparently fell out of use when Synott died in 1780.
I began my hike at a picnic area in the southwest corner of the park (red circle on map above), walking west on the Buffalo Trail. Because the trail followed a V-shaped culvert, it was not very pleasant to hike, and after a while I decided to follow an unmarked trail that branches off to the south. This trail was more enjoyable, but before long led out of the park and into the backyards of residential homes. The path of this out-and-back walk is shown in red on the map above, with the broken lines representing the unmarked trail.
After returning to the car, I relocated to a lot near the West End Mill (green rectangle), and walked along the South River Trail. This trail ends at Walnut Creek, and the Sennett Hole Trail begins on the opposite side. I anticipated there being a bridge across the creek, but instead found that the crossing is formed by a series of stepping stones. The water was deeper than the height of my boots, and I was not confident that I could stay on the stones, so I abandoned the idea of crossing. Instead, I followed an unmarked trail that led south and then west.
I had read that there was an unmaintained trail that ran along the south side of the river all the way to Guess Road at the western boundary of the park, and hoped I had discovered it. I followed the unblazed route for some distance, but before long I could no longer see its path, so I turned around, followed an unmarked branch to the Buffalo Trail, and then retraced my steps along the South River Trail. This route is illustrated by the pink lines on the map above, with the broken lines again representing the unmarked trails.
During my walk along the Buffalo Trail, the only wildflowers I saw were a few rattlesnake weed blooms (below).
Along the South River Trail, I saw multiform rose (above) and bigleaf periwinkle (below) near the dam.
Further along there were crow poison (aka false garlic; above) and pinxter flowers (below).
North of the Eno
The MST hugs the north banks of the Eno River, as shown on the map above.
The MST (broken lines on the map above) overlaps with a considerable length of another path, the Eagle Trail. After parking at the North Bank Entrance lot (green rectangle), I followed the Eagle Trail (yellow line) to its terminus at the lot of a building owned by the Eno River Association (yellow rectangle). Most of the remainder of my walk involved doubling back over the portion of the MST I had already covered. The portions of my walk unique to my return to the car are shown in purple, and include: 1) cutting south to meet up with the MST somewhat east of Guess Road, 2) walking under Guess Road to the end of the part of the MST on the north bank of the Eno, 3) climbing wooden stairs up to road level, 4) doubling back and covering the last portion of the MST not previously visited, and 5) taking a shortcut through the woods to reduce travel time on the road back to the parking lot.
I saw lots of spring wildflowers in bloom, mostly beside the MST, with only a few within the pervasive shade of the woods.
Both atamosco lilies (above) and Solomon’s seal (below) grew abundantly.
Yellow, and purple oxalis (above) grew in the shade of dogwood trees (below).
The river is shallow and rocky at Sennett Hole, and an island of large boulders sits in the middle. It appeared that someone had set up camp among the rocks, because a plume of smoke was rising from within.
Along the riverbank, yellow buckeye (above) and ground ivy (below) were plentiful.
Possumhaw viburnum (above left) and trumpet creeper (above right) blooms also adorned the trail.
At another shallow stretch of the river, dozens of western tiger swallowtails hovered above the exposed stones, with some making brief visits to the adjacent trail.
On the nearby banks, sweet cicely (above) and moss pink (below) grew,
The MST passes under Guess Road and then climbs a set of wooden stairs up to road level. The trail then crosses to the other side of the river and, continues into the eastern end of Eno River State Park.
As I doubled back on the MST, I saw woodland stonecrop (above) and wild comfrey (below) beside the trail.
Not surprisingly, there were also lots on toads and turtles about.
The last part of the walk sparkled with the brilliant golds of star tickweed (above) and hairy cat’s ear (below).
Below is a picture of a “mystery plant” that I saw all along the river, and any help naming it would be much appreciated. As you can see, it has curly, orange, fleshy leaves/petals that protrude from the middles of the stalks. I thought it looked so unusual that it would be easy to identify, but I’ve had no luck doing so.
Overall, the hike through the north side of West Point on the Eno was one of the loveliest I’ve taken in the area. Nevertheless, visitors need to be careful to avoid treading on the “goodies” that folks leave bundled along the trail. Evidently lots of people think that cleaning up after their dogs merely involves bagging the poop, but not actually removing it from the park.
Workshop at West Point Mill
The West Point Mill was built by William Thetford and Charles Abercrombie in 1778. Above you see a photograph of the mill taken in 1895. The mill changed hands several times over the years, remaining in use until 1942 when a flood caused by a spring thaw cracked the dam. Over the next 30 years, the mill was abandoned, fell into disrepair, and suffered at the hands of looters and vandals.
After the Eno River association prevented its scheduled demolition, the mill was purchased by the City of Durham. In 1973, just as restoration was about to begin, the mill’s foundation gave way and the building collapsed. Soon thereafter, photos of the original mill, the remains of its framing, and the intact portions of the foundation were used to guide the building’s reconstruction from materials gleaned from other local grist mills. Today, a team of volunteer millers use the rebuilt mill to grind corn, wheat, and other grains on most weekends.
For as long as I can remember, I have been attracted to gristmills, so I was very pleased when I learned that the Eno River Association had organized a Saturday morning workshop at the West Point Mill. Eager to see the mill in action and to assist with its operation for a few hours, I arrived early and spent some time wandering in the park before the workshop started.
A river-crossing located between the dam and the mill is shown on the park map. This must refer to Shoemaker’s Ford because, although the water is very shallow, there is no man-made structure that allows one to cross the river at that spot. Instead, if one takes the path that starts near the front of the mill and runs eastward, a footbridge across the water awaits. It almost abuts the Roxboro Road bridge and provides pedestrians with a pleasant view of the river. I was happy to see a nice collection of turtles crowded on a log beneath the walkway.
Above is a picture of the dam (or is it better described as a weir?), and below is a view of West Point Mill. You can see some of the machinery from the original mill that is distributed around the grounds outside the mill.
When the four other attendees arrived, the workshop got underway.
The power for the mill is provided by water from the millpond that is diverted along a flume leading to the mill. A log is positioned across the head race to prevent large debris from flowing onto the millwheel when the sluice gates are opened. As you can see in the photograph below, the West Point Mill is equipped with an overshot water wheel.
As the wheel revolves, a series of connected gears rotate when they are engaged. In turn, the gears cause a set of wheels to rotate, and belts fitted to the wheels drive all the subsequent mechanisms, including a moveable millstone that grinds the grain against a stationary bedstone. Because watermills are composed of nothing but simple machines, their workings provide excellent demonstrations of the utility of levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, inclined planes, wedges, and screws.
Three millers were on site for the workshop. They had spent considerable time cleaning up the mill and preparing for the day’s activities. It was a big job because recent rains had caused flooding that covered many of the mechanisms with mud. Although they got the mill up and running for a brief time, before long a belt slipped from a wheel and everything ground to a halt. As soon as that problem was addressed, others arose, and soon the remainder of the workshop needed to be cancelled. I know the millers were disappointed and felt like they had let the attendees down, but I was satisfied and thought the experience very worthwhile.
Above you see a picture of the mill after the recent rains, and below is a photo of the mill in similar circumstances in 1908.
Festival for the Eno River
Having evolved from the North Carolina Folklife Festival that began in 1976, the first Festival for the Eno River was held in 1980. A two-day event, the festival is always held over the 4th of July holiday, with profits used to create additional parklands. This year was the 38th installment of the revelries held at West Point on the Eno, and my first time attending. The festival features musical acts, demonstrations, and vendors of food, drink, and arts and crafts. There is no parking at West Point during the festival, but eight full-size buses provide free uninterrupted service to and from a lot about a half-mile from the park. I arrived at the festival just after the official starting time of 10:00 a.m., and situated my folding chair and cooler in the shade of a large tree.
Musical acts performed until 6:00 p.m. on four stages distributed around the park. These included the River Stage (green dot on the map above), the Grove Stage (blue dot), and the Chimney Stage (yellow dot). My seat was in front of the Meadow Stage (red dot), but before settling in I roamed around the grounds, taking in all that the festival had to offer.
Craft booths included those dedicated to jewelry, sculpture, photography, painting, and especially pottery. Works created from fiber, wood, leather, metal, stone, glass, and mixed media were also on display. Artisans who produced musical instruments, batik, hammocks, and origami were present, as were friendly folk eager to adorn attendees with henna and face paint. For me, the biggest and most delightful surprise was the Sweet Valley Bonsai Nursery booth that, or course, reminded me of the many miniature trees and forests that my father shaped and kept in and around our home in Bethlehem.
Many of the other booths shared information about organizations such as the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, the North Carolina Sierra Club, the Piedmont Wildlife Center, the New Hope Audubon Society, and the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Some of these included live animal displays. Representatives from the Durham County Democratic Party were in attendance, but there was no republican party booth. Instead, folks from the Wall Street Journal were there to share the right-wing perspective.
I saw three musical acts from my seat. Tea Cup Gin (above left) played “an eclectic blend of early 20th century musical genres” (They introduced one number as ‘a big hit in 1918.’), the Eno Islanders (above right) played Hawaiian music, and Ellis Dyson and the Shambles (below left) played Dixieland tunes. Most of the audience avoided the broiling sun that beat down on the grass immediately in front of the stage, but some of the braver folks danced or made use of the hula hoops that were scattered on the lawn. For the first two hours, one little guy (below right) stood motionless, starring at the hoops, as if mesmerized by the toys. Little by little he crept closer and closer until he finally grabbed two of them in the third hour. He didn’t really know what to do with the hoops, but he seemed delighted to simply fling them about every so often.
During one of my excursions around the festival grounds, I stopped at the Grove stage to watch the Apple Chill Cloggers (above), and later at the Chimney Stage to listen to the “antifolk” (I have no idea what that means) songwriter, Charles Latham. I also enjoyed a leisurely visit to the Packhouse and Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography (purple rectangle on the map above; photo below from the museum Facebook page).
Born in Durham, Hugh Mangum and his parents relocated from the downtown to what is now West Point on the Eno in 1893. when Hugh was 16 years old. From that time on Hugh lived a rambling life, moving throughout the southeast by train, taking photographs of the region’s people as well as pictures around his home on the Eno. He worked out of temporary studios as well as three permanent ones in Virginia.
Mangum studied at Salem College in Winston-Salem and earned a degree in hypnotism. In 1906, he married Annie Carden, a woman renowned for her beauty who posed for him regularly. He was enthralled by the eccentric and bizarre, and was fond of creating portraits of people using props and unusual hats. He died of influenza at the age of 44.
One of the few original structures still standing on the West Poin property was originally a packhouse used to store tobacco. Mangum used part of the packhouse as a darkroom where he developed photographs from glass negatives.
The packhouse currently serves as a museum where much of Mangum’s equipment and many of his photographs are on display. The museum is usually only open on weekend afternoons, but was accessible to visitors throughout the festival. Below is a picture of the museum interior that is better than any I could manage. It was taken by Lori Sullivan. Her photo is followed by a couple that I took of some of Mangum’s works that are on permanent display. Pictures taken by local high school students formed a temporary gallery in one room of the museum.
I had wanted to visit the museum for quite some time, but its limited hours of operation had deterred me. I was pleased, therefore, that the Festival for the Eno River afforded me the perfect opportunity to see it. In addition, because it is the only structure at West Point with air conditioning, it was nice and cool while I toured the exhibits.
I attended the festival on July 1 – my mother’s birthday. I couldn’t help but imagine how much she would have liked the event, and especially chatting with the various craftspeople on site. I could almost hear her asking informed questions and offering sincere compliments to everyone on hand. But would she have enjoyed tasting all the different goodies offered by the many food vendors?
Gold Park to US 70 (MTS Trail Segment 9, west-to-east Mile 52.2 to Mile 55.4)
May 2017, Week 1
The Great Trading Path (aka Occaneechi Path or Catawba Road) was among the many Indian trails used during the late 1600’s. Thought to have coalesced from a collection of shorter foot trails, the Great Trading Path was used as the primary travel and commerce route across the North Carolina Piedmont for about 30 years. The path originated at Fort Henry (modern day Petersburg, Virginia) and followed a course roughly like that of Interstate 85, passing through Charlotte before heading into South Carolina and then Georgia. The portion of the trail within North Carolina was called the Upper Road, and the more southern part was known as the Lower Cherokee Traders Path.
The Occaneechi Indians are a Siouan tribe that dominated the Piedmont fur trade during the heyday of the Great Trading Path. A settlement of these people was located where the trading path crossed the Eno River. Occaneechi Town, discovered by archeologists in the spring of 1983, was located near the present-day town of Hillsborough. With a population of about 6,000, Hillsborough is a charming town that is rich in history, a favorite among North Carolina authors, and home of the beloved Mystery Brewing Company brewery and public house.
Three-and-a-quarter miles of the MST run through Hillsborough. The section starts at Allison Street (aka Eno Mountain Road; green square on the map above), crosses the Eno River three times, and ends at US Route 70 (orange square). The western trailhead is located south of the Eno River Mill office parking lot, just west of Gold Park where large mounds of winter vetch were in bloom.
The first part of the trail is the Hillsborough Riverwalk. The paved Riverwalk goes through Gold Park and then passes beside the extremely popular Weaverstreet Market before ending where the trail continues as a gravel pathway. While on the Riverwalk I stopped to experience A Sight to Behold. The 21-foot-tall sculpture was made by Patrick Dougherty from locally-harvested southern sugar maple, sweetgun, and elm saplings.
Beyond the Riverwalk the trail continues as a gravel path through private property owned by the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust (CAHPT). It wasn’t far down this footpath that I came to the Oxbow Archaeological Site mentioned above. I also passed the spot where, until recently, a recreation of Occaneechi Village stood.
Building of the original replica (nice oxymoron, eh?) began in 1997 by John “Blackfeather” Jeffries. The village gradually fell into disrepair, and its elements were relocated to Alamance County for use in a new Occaneechi tribal center. Last year, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, Orange County, and the town of Hillsborough joined with Jeffries in a rededication of the site where he and an assistant are currently working on a replica replica. In fact, as I walked by the location the men were drilling holes in the ground and erecting cedar posts for the village walls.
Within the western part of the CAHPT property lies the long-abandoned Occoneechee Speedway, one of the first two NASCAR tracks and the only remaining dirt track of those in use during the association’s first year. Several paths link the MST to the historic site, and a visit to the old speedway made for an enjoyable detour.
The route I followed through the area is shown in green on the map above. The MST is illustrated by the black dotted line.
I started by taking a series of short trails to the river. These paths led past the remains of some of the fencing around the track and a tree that was evidently modified by a thrifty NASCAR enthusiast. There was no queue for tickets, but I couldn’t get the attention of any salesperson, so I crashed the gate.
The Big Bend Trail was short but the views of the river were very picturesque.
A took the tiny path that connects the riverside path to the Speedway Trace Trail, and then followed the track in a counterclockwise direction to the surviving spectator stands. In front of the stands were the remains of the flag stand and a rusted-out car.
Daisy fleabane was growing throughout the green areas in front of the stands.
A set of wooden steps at the south end of the track took me to a path leading back to the MST, which entered the James M. Johnson Nature Preserve after only a short distance. Because of the many blooming mountain laurel, the nature preserve may have been the prettiest portion of the hike. It was, however, the most challenging part to walk as the trail climbed up and down several hills, and some segments ran along the sides of steep ridges. I often had to move extra slowly to avoid tumbling down to the river below.
The segment of the MST ended after it crossed some running water and then climbed a steep rocky embankment to US Route 70. I didn’t bother scrambling up to the highway, but instead headed back to Hillsborough.
Ayr Mount is another property owned by the CAHPT. It features a plantation house built in 1815 and a one-mile loop trail called Poet’s Walk. (The path is shown in red on the map above.) Because Ayr Mount is located directly across the river from the Occoneechee Speedway, I decided to visit there before calling it a day. Although there are plans to construct a footbridge connecting the two sites, such a crossing does not yet exist, so I drove to the north side of the river after I got back to my car.
Large magnolia trees (are there any other kind?) stand proudly on the lawn around the plantation house, while an assortment of smaller trees shade the nearby cemetery.
While the Occoneechee Speedway Trace Trail was popular with locals interested in getting in a few laps of exercise, the Poet’s Walk attracted people who were in no hurry, being happy to take in the surrounding beauty at a relaxed pace.
On the way back from the river, the path moved out of the woods and across a meadow and by patches of evening primrose.
Before ending up back at the house, the trail passed a pond where yellow flag iris was in bloom. Although the plant is a non-native, invasive species, the flowers were very pretty.
As I finished my walk I met a couple visiting from Minnesota. They had driven to North Carolina to attend a family wedding and were taking some time off for sightseeing. It was a beautiful sunny day and hard to imagine the blizzard they told me they had left behind.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
May 2017, Week 3
As I’ve mentioned before, the Eno River Association organizes lots of in-nature events throughout the year, including wildflower outings on weekday mornings and guided hikes on Eno River State Park trails on Sunday afternoons. In addition, they host other “one-off” events, like the West Point Mill Workshop described above. Another unique happening was scheduled for a Sunday several weeks ago. It was a morning hike at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area that featured a local geologist as an instructional guide.
Because the forecast practically guaranteed it would be a rainy day, I decided not to make the two-hour drive to what I anticipated would be a cancelled event. As it turned out, it was a perfect day for being in the outdoors, and I regretted my foolish reliance on weather predictions that seem to be wrong more often than not. I ended up spending most of the day moping around the house, but eventually decided to search for YouTube videos that might educate me about the area.
What I found was a posting of raw “footage” recorded for a short piece about the geology of the mountain. The video was very long and repetitive, and the geologist did not address some of the questions I had about the area, but some of what I learned seems worth sharing.
Unlike the mountains in the western part of the state, the original rock in the Hillsborough area was formed from volcanic activity. This occurred about 600 million years ago when the region was part of the landmass that is now South America. Heat and pressure from subsequent volcanic activity, and chemical alterations and mineral deposits caused by millions of years of magma-heated water circulation, created the metamorphic rock that makes up today’s Occoneechee Mountain.
Trails at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area and Park provide views of an antebellum quarry from both above and below. At the quarry it is easy to see the alternating layers of gray quartz and white, talc-like pyrophyllite that make up the mountain. The rock excavated from the mountain was crushed and used to form railroad beds up until 1910 when the quarry was closed.
The Eno Rover flows along the northern side of the park, and once powered a cotton mill that was located just east of the mountain. The Eno Cotton Mill was built in 1896 and operated until 1984. Several dozen mill families once lived in a town situated between the mountain and the mill, but the town was abandoned and little evidence of its existence remains today.
I hiked at Occoneechee Mountain on two occasions. The first time I walked the convoluted route shown in orange on the map above, and the next time I followed the out-and-back course shown in green. When I encountered the Brown Elfin Knob Trail, I couldn’t help but imagine the perverse acts that caused the elves’ knobs to turn brown. I later learned that Brown Elfins are butterflies that are not usually found in the piedmont, but thrive in the unique mountain climate of the park.
Except for an initial flat stretch that passes by two small ponds, the trails on the east side of the park included several steep inclines. By comparison, the slopes on the western trails were rather gradual.
Along the way, raspberries were growing in several sunny areas, and wild blueberries grew in a couple of shadier spots.
The most popular spot at the park seemed to be the lookout at the top of the quarry (labeled with a Q on the map above). This is understandable as it provides the most expansive views. The picture below was taken from atop the quarry, and you can just barely see a bit of the river peeking through the trees down below.
Among the wildflowers that I saw that day were oxeye daisies (above left), galax (above right), spotted pipsissewa (below left), and slenderleaf sneezeweed (below right).
After my first visit to Occoneechee Mountain, I learned about several spots that I had failed to visit, so I decided to return and check them out. These included Coon Rock, Panther’s Den, and the remains of the old mill town that people call the Ghost Town. On the map above, these spots are labeled with blue, purple, and yellow ovals, respectively.
Coon Rock and the Ghost Town are both located just outside the boundaries of the park, but are reached using easy-to-spot trails. Coon Rock was clearly a popular spot for people with little respect for nature. It was littered with trash of all sorts – cans, bottles, empty snack wrappers, torn clothing, and more. The so-called Ghost Town was also a bust because, except for a couple of lumps of concrete, no remains of the mill town were visible. Perhaps there is more to see in the winter when vegetation does not obstruct the view.
There is a path to the Panther’s Den, but the entrance is barracked. I assume that it was once a featured attraction of the park, but that it was closed at some point, perhaps because it was considered too dangerous. Anyway, although it was a bit difficult for this fat old man to get around the blockade, I did manage, and followed the narrow and slippery path to the rock formations at the end. Because it had started to rain shortly after I started hiking, I decided not to climb up the slick rocks to peer directly inside the “den.” Instead I was satisfied to simply glimpse it from below.
My time at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area was very enjoyable. The road to the communications tower at the top of the mountain (pink line on the map), however, is rather dreadful and should be avoided.
King’s Highway Park
May 2017, Week 1
Conceived by King Charles II, the King’s Highway was a 1,300-mile colonial road that ran close to the coastline and provided a continuous route from Boston to Charleston beginning in 1735. Two branches of the road, the Fall Line Road and the previously mentioned Upper Road, ran through the piedmont of North Carolina. I assume that Hillsborough’s King’s Highway Park gets its name from the long-gone route, although I have found no sources that confirm this. I also suppose that the title Upper Road Park wasn’t appealing enough, so it was named after the more easterly route.
King’s Highway Park is an 18-acre natural area that was opened in 2007. The only information I could find about the park trails was the set of dashed lines shown on Google Maps. I decided to approach the park from the northeast, via Cody Lane, and to first walk along the Old Trading Path Trail. Cody Lane, however, ended in front of a private home. When I asked a young man in the front yard about the trail, he claimed to know nothing about it or even about the existence of the park. Disappointed, I doubled back and accessed the park by way of Ben Johnson Road and an inconspicuous gravel pull-off (black line on the map). As soon as I pulled in I was greeted by Japanese honeysuckle and yellow sweet clover growing beside the parking area.
After following a path to a canoe launch, there was no Lake Trail to be found. There was a young man sitting at a nearby picnic table talking on his cell phone. Seeing that I was wandering around cluelessly, he broke away from his conversation long enough to describe how I could find a path along the river. He told me to head north through some tall grass, and then to walk to the left toward a telephone pole painted with stars.
Just beyond the pole was the river, and the trail ran for a short distance to the north. It passed under a train trestle, but ended before reaching Johnson Road.
The Old Trading Path Trail was approximately where the map suggested it would be – on the opposite side of Johnson Road from the entrance. All in all, there was very little walking to be done at King’s Highway Park, but it was a nice secluded spot and I still managed to see plenty of wildflowers and several types of sedge.
The flowers I saw included moonflower (above left), Carolina wild petunia (above right), whorled rosinweed, (below left), and water hemlock (below right).
My favorites, however, were the butterfly weed (below left), and Small’s ragwort (below right).
A short distance from the park is a private residence of some renown. I had read reports that the owners had erected two giant chairs on their property, and that they could be seen by simply stopping at the side of the road. When I drove to the location, I encountered a half-empty/half-full situation – there was a giant chair, but only one. It was guarded by a donkey that charged across the lawn when I took a photo. I was unsure whether it was glad to see me or wanting me to keep my distance. To get some idea of the scale of the chair, notice the partially obscured cars parked in the background.
East and West Fork Confluence
April 2017, Week 2
I was very excited when the Eno River Association announced an outing to an area not yet open to the public. It was a hike through property located just north of Hillsborough where the east and west forks of the Eno River converge. The West Fork Eno River is shown in green on the map below, the East Fork Eno Rover is shown in yellow, and the Eno River is shown in blue.
The hike consisted of walks along two different loops. The first (shown in red) followed a partially completed trail to the confluence. This was the longer walk and the one I enjoyed most. In addition to four or five guides, there were about 20 eager visitors who took the hike. For the most part, we walked single-file along a narrow path, and I was lucky enough to be behind a woman who knew lots about wildflowers. Ever few yards she spotted something and identified the plant and told me a bit about it.
The treasures I saw included little brown jugs (above), bellwort, (below left), and wild geranium (below right.)
Several people brought dogs along. One large man came with his tiny lapdog. As we moved along the trail the dog was making some funny noises and I asked, “Is he barking or sneezing?” Several other hikers chuckled, but the dog owner ignored the question. I really was curious, but evidently the answer was obvious to everyone but me.
When we arrived at the confluence it was funny to see so many folks as eager as I was to simply see the spot (shown above). I couldn’t help thinking, “These people are nearly as strange as I am.”
When we reached the end of the completed portion of the trail, we climbed a hill through the brush to the field in the middle of the woods and headed back to the parking lot. At that point, several people decided to call it a day, but most of us stayed for the next walk as well.
The second walk (shown in pink) involved a bushwack to the remains of an old mill. The leader of this walk didn’t know much about the mill, but speculated freely about the remains we saw. Later, as we neared the end of the walk, we came upon what was left of a sharecropper’s homestead. As folks took turns peering inside a window, we hear rustlings inside. Just as the hiker in front of me walked away from the opening, an enormous turkey vulture came flying out. I dropped to the ground and the ugly bugger flapped right over me.
Eno Fork Origins
Having visited many spots along the Eno River, I next wanted to see the origins of both the east and west forks of the river, so I tried to find places at which I could do so. Google Maps shows the West Fork Eno River beginning at a pond on a farm in Cedar Grove, about 11 miles north of Hillsborough. It was easy enough to reach the pond on Tom Pope Loop so, I drove out there for a quick look-see.
East Fork Eno River begins at a larger pond about one-and-a-half miles to the east. Although also located in Cedar Grove, no views of pond were possible from public roads. The closest I got was a view of the river from NC Route 86, about a mile south of the pond.
Lake Orange is formed by a dam on the East Fork Eno River situated about midway between Hillsborough and the pond where the river originates. I drove out Eno Cemetery Road to see the lake, and found a small collection of unique-looking homes built on the lakeshore. Not surprisingly, I also found a graveyard – the Eno Presbyterian Church Cemetery or “Old Eno” Cemetery.
The cemetery was established in 1755, and includes 126 marked grave stones and 375 unmarked ones.
The oldest marked stone is for Joseph Thompson, who was born circa 1742 and died in 1792.
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NOTE: My sister-in-law, Marilen, provided invaluable assistance with flower identifications.