Tuesday, November 06, 2007
The southwestern corner of North Carolina is rich with natural history. It's a world of tortured terrain consisting of mile-high peaks and plunging valleys, untold numbers of waterfalls, rushing mountain streams, looming granite walls of exposed rock, a rich growth of plants and trees that rival the Great Smoky Mountains, and all of it nearly ruined and wrecked by rampant development, urban sprawl, and the ever-present stench of Mankind's destructive ways.
On August 19, 2004 I made my first visit to a tiny bit of this part of North Carolina that is relatively undisturbed by the suburban sprawl that is eating away at this land like a runaway cancer. Several thousand acres had somehow lain unpurchased by developers--a vast U-shaped high elevation valley full of rocky peaks, deep forests recovering from the turn-of-the-century rape by logging companies, but in a near-wild state. There were moves afoot to get these several thousands of acres into a wilderness designation and into public hands. But the Duke Power Company, with its bottomless pockets, stepped in and grabbed Panthertown so that the corporation could slash a powerline right-of-way down the very center of the valley. After they had done this, they "generously" handed over the remaining halves to the National Forest system as a supposed gesture of good corporate citizenship. They even got a lot of mileage out of this trickery as if they'd done a good deed.
If one can try to ignore the horrid slash down the middle of Panthertown, it remains a place of startling beauty. After you drive past the sprawling high-income subdivisions and the estates of multi-millionaires standing out like sores all over the slopes and atop the ridgelines, you can park along a Forest Service Road and stroll into this tiny remnant of wilderness.
On my first trip into Panthertown, I saw just why it is so admired by so many. Plutons lift up from the level valley floor and offer amazing views from their rocky summits. Waterfalls seem to be hidden around every bend in every stream. In the deep valleys, the air is alive with the sound of rushing water. The forests are not old, but are green and beautiful nonetheless. If you know where to look, it's not hard to find bear tracks, and at night you can be serenaded by the coyotes that have taken up residence there.
I spent that first day hiking over and around Little Green Mountain, discovering various waterfalls, and swimming in the cold pools at the base of Schoolhouse Falls. I pretty much fell in love with the place, but don't visit it as often as I likely would, for it's painful to see the inexorable ringing in of the valley by the constant crush of subdivisions that will inevitably close it in, making of it nothing more than a pathetic urban park.
Near the summit of Little Green Mountain the fragile mosses are intact and untrampled.
Lichens, mosses, grasses, and water conspire to reduce the mountain to a plain.
Greenery and stone and this old stump combined to create a pattern that I chanced upon. The last time I visited this spot, the stump was gone, likely burned in the campfire of some moron.
Schoolhouse Falls. Even on the hot August afternoon, I found the waters in this great pool to be among the coldest in which I've ever been swimming.