We left after an early lunch at 11:30 a.m. (Good thing we ate.) We decided that Chaplin had recovered enough from his minor injury to join us; after all, we would just be walking along a serene valley next to the mountain. The map (worthless) indicated that the walk would be moderate (not strenuous, like the earlier trip to the summit) and we only intended to go about four miles (two miles each way to an old homestead and back). As you probably surmise, there were surprises in store.
Our first surprise was the 200-foot waterfall that campers talked about, but was not on the map. Wow, the water rolled right over the solid granite rock face, plummeting to a small pool below - 300 steps below. 300 wooden steps that we would need to climb as we returned at the end of the hike. Oh well, we would only be walking four relatively flat miles. The 300 return steps would be difficult, but we were up to it.
Chaplin was magnificent as we descended into the abyss. None of his usual fears surfaced. When we reached the bottom and were able to look back up at the amazing waterfall, we found our new friends, Steve and Evin and their three dogs, at the bottom - a great surprise. After a round of talk and picture taking we left our friends.We moved along the relatively flat valley along the babbling stream. So peaceful. So serene. "Oooh. Look out!," Dianne gasped, "Don't step on the salamander!"
I have to tell you that I have never seen a living thing (without feathers) as red as that salamander was. It stayed still long enough to get a picture; then we found another one a few feet away. We googled it when we got back and determined that they were rusty mud salamanders. The dogs didn't even notice them. Sight hounds, yeah right.
OK then. We continued along the trail and the stream and saw some amazing views of the mountain that we had climbed earlier in the week - glad we're not doing any climbing today, except for the 300 steps at the end.
After what was truly a pleasant walk, we eventually reached the half-way (not really) point of the hike. We came upon the really interesting Hutchinson Homestead (something that was actually on the map). It consisted of a series of well-preserved buildings that were constructed in the mid 1800's - a cabin, barn, outhouse, you get the picture. We wandered around for a while looking at the informative placards. The homestead was located right at the base of the granite cliffs. What a setting.
Time to move on. I, CAREFULLY, looked at the map. Instead of retracing our steps, we could take another moderate trail, with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, that would only add a half a mile. Dianne agreed that it would be more interesting (not entirely my fault), so we located the alternate trail and moved on, and up, and up, and UP! (The map said nothing about going UP!).
After innumerable switchbacks (and some minor complaining from Dianne) we reached the top. (Straight up is moderate?) We had magnificent views of the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment on one side and Stone Mountain on the other - well worth the sweat. Really, it was.
When we reached a fork in the trail (still at the top of the mountain we did not intend to climb), I carefully re-consulted the state park map. If we went right, we would supposedly travel across a ridge and add another half mile with the possibility of going down and then back up and then back down, and back up at the 300 steps.
If we went left we would go down and be deposited half-way back to the campground on the level trail. We were tired at this point, so we opted to go left. Oh my gravy! (My new favorite non-expletive from The Amazing Race.)
and began our descent. At this point, I must digress: Way, way back
at the waterfall, Dianne began telling me that an earlier injury of her big toe (right foot) was causing her some minor distress. Several months ago (December), back when we were in Kansas, she had dropped the TV remote on it. Much later, mid-March, the toe nail came off. Since then it has been growing back and painted red so that it did not look gross. Well, back at the waterfall, the toe started to hurt when it hit the front of her hiking shoe while going downhill. Sooooo, now that we were going down a steep descent, she gave me her right shoe to carry while she hiked with one bare foot. Down we went. At least we would be half-way home when we reached the bottom.
OH MY GRAVY! We reached the bottom of the mountain, and we were BACK AT THE HOMESTEAD! Oh my gravy. I re-consulted the map and IT was wrong, Oh my gravy. We were still two and a half miles from the campground! Dianne was barefoot (she ended up taking off both shoes so as not to be UNEVEN), we still had the 300 steps to climb at the end, and the day was slipping away.
By the way, Chaplin was fine and thoroughly enjoying the day. We stopped to eat the two apples that we brought along and gave the dogs a doggie treat. We retraced our steps back down the trail that we could have taken an hour ago.
Soon after moving on, the trail changed from sandy gravel to granite gravel - so the shoes went back on (after two miles of barefoot hiking). Ahh! The 300 steps were every bit as fun as we thought they would be, especially after hiking 7+ miles! Here are a couple photos of the infamous steps, from the bottom up and after we finally reached the top, looking down.
Back to the motor home - arrival time 3:30 -- four hours and, according to Dianne's pedometer, almost eight and a half miles! The dogs slept. Dianne reminded me what a good sport she is :-) Hey, it was a good work out, wasn't it??
Dianne here: "Good workout?!" It took me two days to recover!!
If you'd like to follow the entire eight-mile hike with us (without all the exertion), I've put together another slide show of the photos we took along the way: