Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Land of Waterfalls

The area around Highlands, NC is often termed "The Land of Waterfalls". And it's for good reason that this name stuck, because I'm not sure that there has ever been an accurate count of the number of notable waterfalls in that area. I've met people who have spent years scrambling around off trail in the back country areas of this part of North Carolina seeking out hidden waterfalls and cataloging as many as they could find. Some of these people share information regarding previously unknown features, and others keep those places secret.

In my own experience, I have yet to find a spot with as many waterfalls per square mile as this part of Nantahala National Forest. It's hard to fathom just how many there are in this patch of land on the eastern facing slopes of these mountains.

The reason for this is, of course, geology. The rocks here are very tough and unyielding, mainly in the form of granite and gneiss. In addition, there was some relatively recent mountain building going on in this compact geography. The current explanation for this is that about eight million years ago the mantle extended a region of hot material upwards, forcing the otherwise dormant and eroded range here to be in turn pushed up, resulting in very steep slopes that, in conjunction with the toughness of the rocks, created many, many hundreds of waterfalls.

Here are three that we visited on this latest trip.

This is Ranger Falls. This one was only a one-mile stroll from our campsite. It's a mere 35-foot waterfall and not as spectacular as many in the area, but well worth the short hike to see it. It acts as a barrier along Skitty Creek, protecting the native Brook trout habitat above the falls from the introduced Rainbow trout below it. Waterfall photography is difficult in bright sun, and just about the only time the sun showed its face on our entire trip was when I got to this waterfall to photograph it. Wouldn't you know.

Dry Falls, which I covered a couple of days ago. Easily one of the most impressive waterfalls I have seen in the southeastern USA.

This was my third trip to see Laurel Falls. It's an easy hike along a trail from Forest Service Road 67 near Standing Indian Campground. The water looks a bit muddy here, but this was not the case. It had been raining intensely for days and the runoff had been filtered through the deep, rich soils of the forest, staining the water with tannin. It was still relatively clear, but darkened from the mildly acidic staining of the soil and leaf litter.

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