Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Our First Spring Fling

The original plan for the first weekend in spring was to tour the hospital where Gabriel is to be born. We also needed to attend some birthing classes and maybe some good ol' breastfeeding seminars too. Don't get me wrong, I want to do everything I can to make sure Gabriel's transition from womb to world is as smooth as possible, but that doesn't mean I couldn't get a little excited when we found out the hospital tour and classes were full this weekend. The weekend had officially become plan free!

Our last time out it became official: No more camping for Laura until the baby comes. With this in mind, I started making hotel arrangements. The great thing about the mountains is that you get away from all the commercial and industrial garb of the city. The bad thing is, if you don't plan on camping, good luck finding a hotel. We called up Dennis to see if he wanted to go too, and hey, maybe we could crash at his parents in Greenville again! (See previous post for details.) Well, he was working, but he said we could crash there without him, no big deal. I was sure it wouldn't be a big deal, but I hate feeling like I might be inconveniencing people, even though in this case I knew Dennis' parents would enjoy the company. Sure enough, when we arrived in Greenville, Mrs. Dennis was excited to see us. We had an absolutely great time. I never thought I would go to Greenville and enjoy the company more than I enjoyed the trails, but that was certainly the case this weekend. We spent the first night enjoying her stories about her kids. Saturday night they listened to our account of the day on the trails and on Sunday we went to church together and enjoyed a great meal at Chipotle... our FAVE! And I'm not sure, but I think Gabriel may have gained new grandmother along the way. Anyhow, anyone reading this is probably here for the pictures and/or the account of the trails, so here you go.

(Laura, me and Austin chilling at the base of Bridal Veil Falls)

We started off late Saturday morning. We headed up the winding road that leads into the Middle Saluda River watershed of western North Carolina. First, we had to go through Caesar's Head State Park. Right before the entrance, after gaining a couple thousand feet by road, we stopped at a roadside granite monolith with a low enough angle you could walk out onto it. The bad part of it was that being so close to the road, it was covered with graffiti. The good part was the view was pretty unbeatable. I'll wait for the part when sunset comes to put up the pictures. From there, with a short stop at the Caesar's Head Visitor's Center, we went on to the Bridal Veil Falls trailhead. The trail was an anti-climactic hike down gated gravel roads to the falls. The mountain bikers were out in full force on this first weekend of spring. The waterfall was pretty busy, but with so many viewing areas the crowds weren't a problem at all.

This waterfall is hard to describe and even harder to photograph. About 120 feet above where the trail meets the base of the falls, Bridal Veil makes its first sheer drop of about 10 feet over a granite ledge. After that tumble, the water spreads wide and thin on a huge granite mountain face. It's too wide and too tall to get into a picture, especially on a sunny day when the thin water reflects the sun's rays straight into your lens en masse.

The big granite slope of the falls.

The water reaches the bottom of the granite in many separate sections but eventually meets back up, forming a shallow, sandy river bed and disappearing into the woods of DuPont State Forest. It was such a perfect day. Maybe a slight chill when the wind blew, but any hiker will tell you that beats hot and sweaty. We flopped down on a big bolder, had a snack, and just soaked up the sun.

Me at the top of Bridal Veil Falls where it makes its initial drop.

After hanging out and trying to get a good picture of the waterfall, I scrambled up to the top of the falls. It really wasn't a scramble at all. The easy slope and smooth granite made for a stroll easy enough for even the feeblest of hikers. I could hardly suppress the urge to slide down the big rock face, but the water crashing violently into the rocks at the base convinced me not to.

From there, we headed back to the car and after stopping to check out a huge flock of Eastern Turkey hens being chased through a pasture by some excited jakes, we continued up the road to Hooker Falls.

Hooker Falls was a little disappointing. The parking area looked like a Wal-Mart parking lot the day after Thanksgiving. The trail, excuse me, dirt road, that led to the base of the falls was populated by people in jeans, mini-skirts, dresses, high heels, and those over-sized skate-boarding shoes. There was even a family of four on bikes (which is crazy because the road is at best a quarter mile to the base of the falls) where the mom, bringing up the rear, was holding the leash attached to a mini-poodle. I never thought I would say this, but the natural beauty of the falls, in my opinion was completely sapped by all the man-made garbage they put around it, making it accessible for everyone. I never thought I would say anything like that. Don't get me wrong, waterfalls can still be great with maintained trails and observation decks nearby, but something about this one just didn't seem to balance well.

Hooker Falls from the side.

From there we walked back to the parking lot. Laura decided to chill in the car while I crossed the bridge and headed upstream to get a glimpse of Triple Falls. It was a very nice change of pace from the over-crowded Hooker Falls. The sun had started retreating, so all those in mini-skirts had to get back to their warm cars. This waterfall was really quite a treat. Three absolute beauties, one right after another. They had carved out plenty of room at their base for you to safely roam around near the falls without being in real danger. If I posted all the pictures I took of these three falls, I might overload the website. I'll leave you with this one. Although I spent most my time right underneath each falls, I was able to get this from a gap in the trees that allows you to see all three falls at once, a real treat.

After a few more shots of the tumbling creek below the falls, I headed back to the car. There was just enough time for us to make it back to the aforementioned rock overlook to catch the sunset.

You can't see it well, but the mountain you see in the right portion of the picture is Table Rock, a South Carolina icon. This was the visual highlight of the trip. It didn't show up on film, but from here you could also catch a small glimpse of the Greenville skyline. Before it went completely dark we headed up the road to get a few shots of a roadside waterfall we sped past on the way in.

lower portion

upper portion

Compared to last weekend, it didn't seem like we got as much hiking in as we should have, but the slow pace this weekend was a nice change. We woke up late, we lounged on rocks, and we enjoyed some great company. With the reality sinking in that Augusta may be my home for another 4 years or so, it was a welcome relief knowing that weekend getaways like this one, at the Dennis house in Greenville, are just up the road.