“Watch for falling bombs!” is what the sign should have read as we were pulling into the campground. While we were a tad early for fall foliage, giant acorns from chestnut oaks were dropping all around with resounding thunks. A helmet wouldn’t have gone amiss… especially when a direct hit to my thigh hurt like a paintball at point blank range, complete with a yellowing bruise.
We were in Pilot Mountain State Park, one of my favorites out of the forty-some lovely state parks of North Carolina. The park is located on the western end of an ancient, isolated range called the Sauratown Mountains, which rise sharply above the surrounding terrain. Pilot Mountain itself was a landmark for Native Americans and pioneers. Today the peak - a white hump of quartzite capped with greenery - makes for a spectacular view, even from the highway (US Route 52).
The Jomeokee trail, looping around the peak, is a very popular one with easy access from the picnic areas and parking lot. A sign informed day-trippers driving in that the waiting time for a parking spot up top was at least 30 minutes long! The trail is a little technical, but short at a scant 0.8 miles. It rounds the dramatic rock faces of Big Pinnacle, and turkey vultures circled effortlessly in the blue skies above. More strenuous is the Ledge Spring Trail following along the rocky cliff. A fine afternoon meant the trail was fair littered with climbers and their gear – everyone from Boy Scouts to a sorority reunion seemed to be trying their hands (and feet) at it.
Roads less taken included the Mountain and Grassy Ridge Trails, ascending and traversing the mountain. Yellow wingstems were in full flower along the sunnier patches of the upper Mountain Trail, and sprawling stands of pokeweed with their hot-pink stems and deep purple berries made for striking contrasts in the shadier parts. Grassy Ridge deserves its name. The same weeds we mow in our sad excuse for a lawn back home were growing in riotous green splendor on the forest floor, producing a rather restive feel under the canopy. Grassy Ridge is also a bridle trail, though most of the evidence we saw were riders at the junction heading down the longer corridor trail to the river. This actually put us more at ease, as our dog has a tendency to bark at horses and, even more unsettling, a penchant for their poop!