Rock Home | Suggested
Hikes | Order
a Trail Map | Area
The Map Room |
Camping | Current
View | Cradle of
Forestry | Photos
of the Southern Appalachians
As a child, I remember the graphic
relief map that my fifth grade teacher had hanging
in the back of the classroom. I remember staring
with a distant fascination at a large cluster
of high mountains at the southern end of the Appalachian
Mountain chain. Even as a child, I was determined
to see what was on top of the raised bumps that
depicted the highest mountains in the eastern
Later in life, the US Forest Service
began making hiking trail maps available to the
general public. As each map became available,
I would buy and eagerly study each map. I was
looking for the perfect hike. When the Shining
Rock Wilderness Map was made available, I scrambled
to explore the high peaks that fascinated me in
my earlier years.
Looking down the
Big East Fork
In the North Carolina mountains,
there are six mountain ranges that have peaks
over 6000 feet. The Great Smoky Mountains, Black
Mountains, Plott Balsams, Craggy Mountains, and
The Great Balsam Mountains are the group that
the Shining Rock belongs to.
You can hike here for days and you
won't drop below 5000 feet in elevation. There
are views, creeks and the rarified air that can
only be found in Southern Appalachians. It doesn't
matter how many times I hike the same trails here,
each season changes them. The spring brings wildflowers
that fill that air with a unique fragrance. A
summer hike brings a quiet forest filled with
dense vegetation that allows for secluded camp
sites just a short distance from the trails. The
fall with it's colors and the winter has grand
views that rival the rocky mountains.
After hiking here for longer than
I would like to admit, this area still remains
one of my favorite hiking haunts.
The top of Black
After extensive logging in the Northeast
nearly depleted stands of virgin timber, lumber
companies brought their operations to the southeast.
The first logging here, on a large scale, was
begun in 1906. The town of Sunburst was established
near Lake Logan to support this logging operation
of unprecedented proportions. Some loggers were
local residents but most were immigrants looking
for a better way of life.
Due to the rugged terrain and inaccessibility,
enormous engineering feats were required to accomplish
the logging of this area. Roads and railroad grades
had to be constructed. Housing and support services
had to be established. As you hike here, the results
of this great undertaking are everywhere you look.
Cables and other articles left behind are scattered
across the landscape. Many trails follow rail
road grades and other road beds. But the most
obvious remnant of logging is the great grassy
| Trails that lead everywhere and nowhere
The first settlers moved into this
area in the late 1700's. The grassy bald's that
have been a part of this area served as summer
grazing land for their cattle.
In the 1920's the grassy bald's
increased in size dramatically. Slash, the small
branches that the timbermen can't use, was routinely
heaped in piles in logged area. These unusable
piles of wood would accumulate by the acre before
regulation was introduced to end this practice.
After years of logging in this area, acres and
acres of this refuse littered this area.
In 1925 this scattered slash ignited
into a forest fire of epic proportions. The flames
lasted for three days and burned thousands of
acres. At the time of the fires logging operations
were in progress. Several narrow gauge locomotives
were trapped in the back country because rail
road trestles burned in the fire's path. Because
these logging locomotives were leased, the trestles
had to be rebuilt in order to retrieve them.
In 1942, another catastrophic fire
swept through this area, burning even more intensely
than the fire of 1925. This fire dealt a decisive
blow in that it destroyed much of the organic
material on Black Balsam Knob, Tennenet Mountain,
Grassy Cove Top and Flower Knob. In our lifetime,
we will not see any trees on these mountains of
any significant height.
|The peaks of the Middle Prong Wilderness
Although this area is administered
by the US Forest Service, The Shining Rock Wilderness,
Middle Prong Wilderness and the surrounding Pisgah
National Forest has a National Park feel to it.
The Wilderness itself is a wonderland of 6000
foot mountains, deep valleys and rushing creeks.
It encompasses 493,000 acres and boasts more than
a dozen peaks over 5000 feet.
As with most national parks,
you don't have to be a hiker to enjoy this area.
Short hikes are in good supply and views from
the Blue Ridge Parkway allow you to see the grand
mountains of the wilderness area from the comfort
of you car.
In the valley below there are
a series of sights and attractions that are accessible
by a short walk,automobiles or a wheelchair. On
Rt. 276, there are 16 miles of waterfalls, picnic
areas, exhibits, day-hike trails and campgrounds.