First, a riddle. I ate lunch in McDowell County, I browsed among shelves of jars of jam in Avery County, and I paid my bill in Burke County. Where was I? (Hint: it was in NC.)
Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant sits on the spot where the above-mentioned counties meet. Inside there are signs saying “Entering Burke County,” etc. We were on a return trip to the places we missed on the Christmas tree adventure, and we arrived at lunch time, as planned. The location was interesting; the food was delicious.
I wanted to explore NC Highway 221, as it was described in a recent issue of Our State magazine, and the restaurant was the first stop. Another highlight along this road is the Crossnore Presbyterian Church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church is built of stone from the Linville River; the inside walls as well as outside walls are stone. Even the chairs behind the pulpit, where the pastors sit, are stone. The wall forms the backs of the chairs; the seat, arms, and front two legs are stone. Fortunately for the pastors, there are red cushions on the seats and backs!
There is another church, E. H. Sloop Chapel, on the campus of Crossnore School and Children’s Home, also built of river stone. On the inside back wall is a fresco painted by Ben Long ( who has painted 14 other frescos in churches in the area). Called “Suffer the Little Children,” it depicts Jesus surrounded by children, with one arm around one child’s shoulders and the other hand over a child’s head in blessing. He looks like the Jesus in art that everyone is familiar with, but his face is the kindest, tenderest I’ve ever seen. Adults are standing around, watching. It’s an intimate scene that draws the viewers in. If you’re ever on Highway 221 on the way to somewhere else, take a few minutes to see this art.
I had never heard of “The Linville Look,” referring to bark shingles. I first saw them on the outside wall of a building that’s part of the Crossnore Presbyterian Church. Up close, it looks and feels like what it is, tree bark. From a distance it has a distinct texture, with every shingle being slightly different. After I saw it the first time, I began to notice it everywhere, from the roof of E. H. Sloop Chapel to stores and businesses in Jefferson and West Jefferson.
This was on the Friday following Christmas and we hadn’t made specific plans for Saturday. Sometime in the afternoon John said “Tomorrow I’d like to go back to Elk Knob State Park and hike the Summit Trail.” Good idea! There is something good about making plans so you see what you want to see, and there is good in leaving room for spontaneous activity!
We quickly found out that the trail, labeled as moderate to strenuous, is 1.9 miles, one way, and that there is a gain in elevation of about 1,000 feet. The “strenuous” part sounded ominous and I warned John that I may have to stop before reaching the summit. I had everything I needed: hiking boots, binoculars, bird book, water bottle, but I hadn’t brought my hiking back pack to carry it all in. No matter; I had two hands.
Have you ever stopped to notice the air? The smell? The feel? As soon as the parking lot at the trailhead was out of sight, I noticed. I stopped and inhaled deeply. Aaahhhh, the forest air! There was no scent that I could detect – just pure, clean air that somehow was different. The weather was moderate, low humidity, no wind, sunshine. I had to take off my jacket (something else to carry). The look of the forest was also different from my experiences. There were no leaves, no evergreens. Looking into the woods, up on my left, down on my right, seeing shades of gray and brown and shadows of trees on the leaf-covered ground, was lovely. I think the air and the sights of the forest kept me going.
I’ve never been on a mountain with such good switchbacks- they were engineered and constructed perfectly. I actually felt like I was just walking instead of hiking, most of the way. Near the top the strenuous part appeared, where even the switchbacks were steep. Steps had been built into the trail, some with large stones and some with timbers. Steep, but doable. It would have been easier if my legs had been longer. Sigh.
At the top were two overlooks, so we had awesome views in two directions. I’d hiked 1.9 miles uphill, which I’d doubted I could do. I was elated over that success, and the views were an additional reward.
When we got back to the park office I asked about the trees. At the top were beech trees, short because of the climate at that elevation, and lots of flame azaleas which are deciduous. No evergreens grow on the mountain because of the ph of the soil. I didn’t ask about the absence of birds; I hadn’t seen or heard a single bird the whole time. So I needn’t have carried the bird book. But the binoculars were good for looking down into the valley.
I bought the obligatory tee-shirt, and as we were walking to the car I was thinking how ready I was for lunch. Got in the car, looked at the clock, and it was 3:00 p.m. Wow! We ate in Boone, not knowing if it was a late lunch or an early dinner. Yum.
Wishing you so much fun you are unaware of the passing of time.