Category Archives: Hillbilly Highway

The Hillbilly Highway Ideal for Pondering Life

Slow down and seek out a ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady’ spot

Note: This is the fifth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

“Find yourself a piece of grassy ground, / Lay down close your eyes. / Find yourself and maybe lose yourself / While your free spirit flies.”

– From “Cool an’ Green an’ Shady” on John Denver’s 1974 “Back Home Again” album.

5 Cool Green and Shady path

Entrance to an old logging road near the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina

GLOBE, N.C. – I always find the song above by John Denver soothing. It is largely because of the subject matter. It was also released the year I graduated high school and left my native West Virginia for Charlotte.

Moving to North Carolina was not on my list of options at first. But then the state of West Virginia decided it needed our home to build a bridge. So gone was our home with its many cool, and green and shady spots in the woods of our lower back yard along Elk Creek. Within a few weeks of moving out of that house, I was on my way to North Carolina to work for the Charlotte Ambulance Service.

5 Harpers Creek

Harper Creek near Edgemont, N.C.

Fortunately, when I moved to North Carolina, I was immediately introduced to the mountains of Western North Carolina in Caldwell County by my uncle, who moved here in the early 1960s. He knows every back road, especially those adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest.

It was with him that I learned to slow down a bit. Over time, I was slowing him down as we would camp. The silence of the forest, interrupted only by songbirds or the occasional rustle of an unseen but nearby critter, mesmerized me. And it reminded me of my home that no longer existed. I needed it. Badly.

What I have learned over the 44 years since I first left West Virginia – and returned and left, repeat, etc. – is that my favorite places along the Hillbilly Highway are those places that few dare to travel. The trails, paths and old logging roads of the Appalachian forests lead into deep green forests and the mysteries held beyond the next switchback.

Bird 2 D Smith

Photo by Debbie Smith

But this is also where you will find the places that John Denver called ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady.” His lyrics could not be truer for me. “Find yourself and maybe lose yourself /While your free spirit flies,” happens to me every time I venture into the forest. A rock, a stump, the ground, it doesn’t matter. As I sit and listen to the songbirds celebrate the woods, I want to stay among them as did the ancient natives who preceded us, simply sitting against a tree as I dissolve into my essence.

One day, I believe I will.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

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Wilson Creek a Must Stop on the Hillbilly Highway

Getting to it is not an easy drive or hike, but it’s worth it

Note: This is the fourth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

4 Wilson Creek

Wilson Creek in Caldwell County, N.C.

MORTIMER, N.C.Wilson Creek is misnamed. Part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it starts out small near the top of Grandfather Mountain, but after tumbling thousands of feet through an ever-widening gorge in the Pisgah National Forest, it has the power of a river.

It has been known to wipe out towns and isolate communities for days. Indeed, Wilson Creek has destroyed this and nearby communities twice – in 1916 and 1940. In fact, the second flood forever wiped out the logging industry which drove the region’s commerce so successfully, that despite its isolation in the rugged hills of the northwest section of Caldwell County, it could have become the center of government and commerce in the county.

The 1940 flood, though, took out homes, churches, sawmills, roads and sections of the narrow-gauge railroad that led in and out of this remote, heavily-forested sloped village on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Now, its 27-mile drop to the Johns River is through remote – rather, inaccessible – areas of the thick and dark Appalachian forest. Only the experienced hiker should venture its steep, rock slopes. Swimmers should beware of deceptively deep, but teasingly appealing pools. Kayakers are common sites in any season. Like me, they seem to prefer weekdays in the spring and fall, though the water is generally higher in the spring.

Wilson Creek 4 [Gorge]

Wilson Creek earned its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River in August 2000 after community leaders convinced elected officials at the local and federal level to work together – across party lines – to protect and preserve it. It can be viewed by driving along the narrow and dusty Brown Mountain Beach Road, which runs from Adako Road to Rt. 90 in Mortimer. Here, once on Rt. 90, the traveler will be on the only state road in North Carolina not completely paved. There are parking spots along Brown Mountain Beach Road, but the hike down to the creek is strenuous at time, but certainly worth it, especially where the gorge empties into a large pool where the creek abruptly levels out.

There is plenty to see and lots of kind folk to meet in nearby Edgemont and Collettsville. In Edgemont, at the old train depot, decades after the last trail rails were taken up, one can still see the circle of earth made bare where the Roundabout was. With that as a clue, one can venture into the nearby forest and see evidence of the railroad bed. The old station is large with many benches.

200px-US-NationalWildAndScenicRiversSystem-Logo.svgEarly in the 20th Century, Edgemont was the last stop listed on train schedules in the local newspaper. Beginning in Newton in Catawba County, the train would stop in Hickory, Granite Falls, Lenoir, Mortimer, Edgemont and other small towns, perhaps with only the train station. It clung harrowingly to the steep cliffs into which the rail path had been carved, though it would have been worth it, just for the view of Wilson Creek.

There is a visitor center on Brown Mountain Beach Road and for the adventurous, one can hike along the headwaters. One can access it – and the Appalachian Trail – from a small parking area below the Linn Cove Viaduct of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I have spent hundreds of hours over the past 44 years sitting on my favorite relatively gently sloping cliff of Wilson Creek. In every season. I’ve hiked it at its headwaters and I’ve sloshed through it near its mouth where it empties into the Johns River. I have meditated and never ceased pondering what is around the next rock, over the next log, or just under my next step as I hike it.

Wilson Creek 1

For me, it represents what I love about Appalachia, about traveling along the Hillbilly Highway. It is adventure. It’s fun. It’s risky. It is a place to take visitors, whether to look out a car window or put on hiking boots. It is stunningly beautiful and essential for preserving for future generations.

In short, it is rightfully a National Wild and Scenic River. It is also a must stop along the Hillbilly Highway.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

 

 

Towering Mountains and Church Steeples along the Hillbilly Highway

The Grandfather of mountains affords mile-high stunning views

 Note: This is the second installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here. 

By Michael M. Barrick

2 Grandfather Mtn bridge and steeple

FOSCOE, N.C. – Towering mountains and church steeples are common sites in Appalachia. Not so common are swinging bridges that are a mile high. But there it is on the far left – The Mile-High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. Seen here from N.C. Rt. 105 in Watauga County, the bridge was built in 1952 and renovated in 1999.

Winds of more than 100 miles an hour and temperatures below zero have been recorded there. Not far further up the road, one can see the famous “profile view” that gives the mountain its name – the appearance of a Grandpa – beard and all, reclining. Its peak is the intersection of Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties. Indeed, Caldwell County, where we live, has the greatest rise in elevation among the state’s 100 counties, from roughly 1,000 feet to just under 6,000 feet. Its peak is the banner on The Lenoir Voice. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018