Fall Creek Falls, North Carolina

Here in Henry County, we are very close (about 3 miles, depending on where you are standing) from the North Carolina border. In fact, when I head to the Ridgeway library, I actually cross the border into North Carolina and back into Virginia on my way.

Ever since we moved here, a neighbor who became a very close friend has been telling us that we had to go check out the waterfall on DeShazo Road.   From what he was saying, I was picturing a smaller stream with an abandoned falling-down mill and an arduous hike but I really couldn’t have been more wrong.

The falls are quite pretty.  Like so many things around here, I find a larger version by the same name in another state. There is a Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee.  These are not those falls.  These falls are actually part of the Mayo River State Park, a new park in North Carolina. Per Wikipedia, the Mayo River State Park owns over two thousand acres along the Mayo River corridor but  the current park only has trails along about 400 acres of it down near the town of Mayodan.

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The only access to the waterfall is along DeShazo Road, where a trailhead prevents access by ATVs with pylons across the entrance.  People park alongside the road to make the short hike down to the falls.  When we visited shortly after a rain, we passed two gentlemen coming up from the falls as we were entering and a lady out walking her dog coming in as we were leaving.

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The trail is clearly marked and mostly level until you actually get to the falls.  There was no litter.  The trail floor is natural earth so it probably has the potential to be muddy although it is the type of soil that is abundant here and drains well.

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It is a very short hike to the waterfall.  I’m guessing it is about a quarter of a mile. Some people say that you can see the footings of an old mill at the top of the waterfall.  For me, it is hard to distinguish stone footings from natural rocks.  We felt that the channel in the foreground of the picture below might be intentionally carved by human hands but there is no way to be sure.

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The only bit of the trail that was difficult at all was the bit going down to the base of the falls.  There were two paths – one dangerously close to the edge of a drop off and another maybe twelve feet away that was pretty steep.  We did this trail before Mother had a walking stick and she was wearing open toed sandals.  Even at that, she didn’t have much trouble with it, only requiring a gentle push up the hill as we were leaving.

I am hoping that there will eventually be trails leading from the Mayo State River Park up to the falls but it will be a good hike, distance-wise. In the meantime, the falls are reasonably accessible and quite beautiful.

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The Gravely Preserve

Mother has always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.  At seventy, and after two years of little to no activity, the move to Virginia has reawakened her desire to get on the Trail.  We aren’t that far from it and the section through Virginia is supposed to be one of the most accessible, according to her.  She’s found a section hike that is just under five miles, round trip, within a short drive and it looks like this is something that is going to have to at least be attempted. No one just dives into the Appalachian Trail though so we’ll have to work up to it.

There is no shortage of local trails to take in first while we are building up muscles (maybe?) and stamina.  Before the unseasonably warm temperatures drove us indoors to hide, we went to the Gravely Nature Preserver in Ridgeway.  It’s a 75-acre preserve with a variety of trails that wind through the thickly wooded land.

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The trail is easy, without a lot of ups and downs until you get to the end, where you go downhill at a pretty decent grade. It’s not treacherous at all but it’s worth going down it instead of up.

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There are multiple trails to walk in the preserve, all of them starting off of the main trail loop, the Cliff Jones trail, and there are a few points of interest along the way.  The Cliff Jones Trail is only about a mile long and is entirely shaded.  About midway along the trail, there is the Burgess Family Cemetery.

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It is a reasonably large family cemetery but the tombstones are in fairly bad shape, many having fallen over and beginning to crumble.  There is a lot of deadwood along the whole trail, leaving a question about how well the trail is maintained or if the focus is just on the natural state of unkempt woodland.  It was still worth the visit.

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The trail itself is well marked and clear of debris.  There was almost no litter.  One of the side trails, the Rhododendron Trail, is supposed to lead through a “tunnel” of the woodland shrubs which flower in May.  We didn’t attempt that trail on this excursion because it was marked as moderately difficult and the rhododendron had long stopped flowering by the time we were there.  It is something that, along with the Burgess home site trail, we hope to catch next spring.

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The Gravely Preserve is off of the beaten track and there is little chance that a tourist is going to stumble across it accidentally.  It is a nice attraction for the town of Ridgeway though and I hope that more people do make the effort to check it out.

Smith River Fest Approaches

I have never made it to the Smith River Festival since I’ve been here.  There is just so much going on this particular weekend.  It looks like so much fun.  There is a 5K mud run, a rubber ducky race,  a boat race, tube rentals, a beer garden, and, this year, an angling pond.

Our big conflict is the mid-atlantic beer festival held in Roanoke on the same weekend, MicroFestivus.  For $40 (if you buy your tickets early), you get admission to the event, an event pint glass, and forty tastings.

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Martinsville’s Lake Lanier

Nestled in between the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Druid Hills in Martinsville is a small but beautiful private lake called Lake Lanier.  It’s not the Lake Lanier.  That’s in Georgia.  But it is Martinsville’s Lake Lanier.

Each year around Halloween, Henry County Parks and Recreation holds the annual Goblin Gallop 5K around the lake, ending up at the old Druid Hills school house where volunteers provide congratulations, smiles, and fresh pumpkin pie.

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It’s a beautiful run and I took these photos when I ran it in 2015.  The leaves had changed colors and were falling but the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. When a breeze would come up, a flurry of golden leaves would fall and swirl around the runners’ feet as they went by.

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Big, stately homes peek up all around Lake Lanier.  It’s one of those neighborhoods that is just so pretty that I don’t think that we’ve had an out-of-town guest that we haven’t taken on a drive through the Forest Park neighborhood just to look at the houses and it’s always fun to get them to guess what the ones for sale are going for.  If they are from one of the larger metropolitan areas (most of our guests are from the Dallas area), they are simply flabbergasted at the prices. In Dallas, these would easily be million dollar homes.  Heck, in McKinney , a Dallas suburb, they’d be million dollar homes.  In Dallas proper, they would be astronomical.

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Here’s a map from Zillow.com that shows a sampling of things for sale in the Forest Park neighborhood.  It’s important to know that Zillow is not tied directly to the multiple listing service for this area, so it may not reflect the most current status of a listing or even the current active agents.  If you want real-time information on the local real estate market, you should look at the  local listing board, the Martinsville, Henry & Patrick Counties Association of Realtors site.  What Zillow does well though is let you see where they are in relation to, say, Lake Lanier (the bit of blue there by Root Trail).

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I am not an active real estate agent though I did get a license and try when I first got here.  I don’t have a license any more though and I don’t have anything to do with the real estate market (though I do have some friends who happen to be absolutely excellent Realtors).

Point being, I don’t have any vested interest in it.  I just love to see people’s expressions when they say “that is only that much?”  So, if you’ve got some time to burn and love to look at houses, pop over to the Martinsville, Henry & Patrick Counties Association of Realtors site and do a search on Forest Park (location/subdivision).  You will more than likely be amazed.

 

Gardening in MHC

I would call myself an avid gardener but then someone  is going to ask me the name of a plant and I’m going to blink like a deer in headlights.  Let’s just say that I really, really like to play in the dirt. I make an effort to remember the names of the plants but I don’t think that they really care.

The soil here is red and I’ve been told that that means that it is rich in iron.  Plants that love acidic soils, like azaleas, love it. In fact, the azaleas need absolutely no care here to thrive.  It does help to keep the wisteria out of them and they don’t seem to like  a blanket of leaves around their base.  Other than that, they are the gift that just keeps giving.

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Rhododendron also thrive here.

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And peonies.

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The biggest problem for gardeners here is not the soil or the weather. It’s all the critters who see the flowers as salad. The deer come all the way up to the house and eat the prettiest blossoms.  Actually, I’ve been lucky with them only eating the blossoms.  My neighbors have had some of their plants eaten all the way to the ground.

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If you are trying to tame an area that’s been long neglected, there is one other pest to be aware of.  Wisteria.  I’d always heard about the invasive kudzu in the south so, when we got here and saw this:

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I thought that we were looking at kudzu. Our neighbor would squint at me whenever I talked about our battles to eradicate the vines that travel along the ground and climb anything and everything in its path.   Now that we’ve cut away all of the vines from all of the trees and shrubs and have been preventing them from taking a hold anywhere new, I understand that it really is wisteria.  Left alone,  it will climb to the top of the trees and then bloom the distinctive purple blossoms in early spring.

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It can kill a tree or shrub either by girdling its trunk or blocking its canopy from getting sufficient sunlight.  When Mother moved here, she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to help her bring a wisteria that she was growing in her back yard in Texas.  Since she got here in April, she never saw this cedar tree in bloom:

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I’ve got several new beds of flowers started and hope to be able to post some photos as the beds mature.  So far, obedient plants and coneflowers are real winners. Daylilies just need to be shown the dirt to do well but they seem to particularly attract deer.

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the perks to living in the Martinsville-Henry County area is that we are less than an hour away from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We take Highway 58 from Martinsville west through the communities of Patrick Springs, Stuart, and Meadows of Dan to get to the Parkway.   It doesn’t take long before the Blue Ridge looms up on the horizon and it is always a beautiful trip just getting to the Parkway itself.  So far, we have only explored the section of the Parkway that runs north to Roanoke, passing by the community Floyd, which was voted one of the South’s best small towns by Southern Living in 2016.

We always make a stop in Meadows of Dan first.  Meadows of Dan is a small but extremely beautiful town whose business district sits right at the on ramp to the Parkway.  There are several restaurants here and a few little shops.  Nancy’s Candy Company can reunite even the most cynical adult with their inner child.  They have lots of freshly made fudge and truffles and just about anything that can be dipped in chocolate has been.  Poor Farmers’ Market is a must-stop and there is nothing that you could need on the road that they don’t have.  There is a sandwich shop and ice cream counter in the back.  There are three large rooms filled with jellies and jams and cast iron cookware.  Books by local authors, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies are piled up on display cases.  Even the gliders and settees out on the porch are for sale. There is fresh produce out front and the small room as you enter is a traditional convenience store with fried pies and soda pops.

We recently discovered a restaurant just east of Meadows of Dan called The Crooked Road Cafe.  This stretch of 58 is also part of what is known as “The Crooked Road”, a stretch along which you’ll consistently find authentic bluegrass music. The cafe is known for its pizza and gyros but also features live music, shares the site with a historic grist mill that you can tour for free, and has an adorable back patio that sits alongside the headwaters of the Dan River.  It’s hard to believe that the river here, which looks like little more than a creek, will become a large river by the time it gets to Danville.  The cabin in the background is a vacation rental called “A Blue Ridge Haven”.

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There are two main stops along the Parkway between Meadows of Dan and Roanoke.  The first is Mabry Mill, a national park featuring a historic grist mill still in operation, a historic Appalachian cabin, a restaurant, a gift shop, wooded trails, and live music on Sunday afternoons.  According to the NPS website, Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The  mill, as well as all of the Parkway here, is dotted with rhododendron, which bloom large purple flowers around April or May.

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The speed limit along the Parkway is 45 miles an hour and drops down to 25 when you get close to event venues like Mabry Mill or Floyd Fest, an annual music concert held in July that last several days and draws some big names.  The Parkway is well-patrolled and the speed limit is strictly enforced.

All along the Parkway, there are turn offs for viewing the valleys that run alongside the Mountains.  The first after Mabry Mill is the Rocky Knob Recreational area, which is more than just your average outlook, having hiking trails and campgrounds.

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Most of the outlooks are little more than a parking lot with a tremendous view and a placard explaining what you are seeing.  Even in winter, though, these stops can be worthwhile because you can see so much more without all of the foliage and contemplate what life must have been like here before the American Revolution. The Parkway often closes for inclement weather during the winter though.

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After Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob, you’ll run into the town of Floyd.  We’ve learned over time that you shouldn’t just stop in at random stores.  You should allow yourself several hours and try to get into each one.  What happened to us is we would check out a different store each time and were sorry to have not known about it before.  For instance, you absolutely must visit the Floyd Country Store.  We didn’t go in there until our second trip up.  The Floyd Country Store is like the centerpiece of Floyd and has food and live music as well as the sundries you’d expect.  If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Floyd. It was a couple more trips before we figured out that The Republic of Floyd is a craft beer store.  We are now enormous fans.

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The Hotel Floyd is a boutique hotel just off of the downtown scene, separated by an old cemetery that’s worth a look as well.  Each room is decorated themed on a different business in the area so each room is entirely unique.  The ones we stayed in were gorgeous.  It doesn’t look like there’s a bad room in the inn.

Word to the wise, there are at least two businesses that you have to look for because they are slightly off the beaten track.  One is a bakery called The Grateful Bread that is easy to miss  because it’s down the hill behind Dogtown Roadhouse (a popular restaurant on the main drag). It’s not big but the baked goods are fresh and tasty and the proprietor, when we went, was super friendly. The other business is an antiques store called Finders Keepers. When you get to the intersection in the middle of town (by the hardware store), turn east.  It’s just a little bit down the road.

Honestly, you can spend a whole day in Floyd.  And that’s not even mentioning Chateau Morrisette Winery.  Floyd is often our only destination on the Parkway.  We go up there for a few hours and we are home by dark.