10 BEST reasons to go in the woods
10 BEST reasons to go in the woods
October is the perfect time of year to get out and hike, and judging by the gridlock on the road ascending Pilot Mountain last weekend, lots of people in the Piedmont Triad know it. A couple reasons: The leaves begin to turn colors from a field of green to a brilliant kaleidoscope of yellows, oranges, crimsons and purples. The air is crisp and clear
I haven’t been to the peak of Pilot Mountain yet; it’s next on my list. But the Ledge Spring Trail is pretty great. My dearest and I made a half-day of it. Coming down from the top, we stopped often to take in breathtaking vistas that included the three or four tiny digits representing the Winston-Salem skyline 25 miles away. By the second leg, the trek was arduous, as advertised.
I got involved with rock climbing at the age of 18 in San Francisco, and had some great adventures with the sport during a road trip that included stops at Yosemite and Joshua Tree. My sister and her husband have been the more serious practitioners in our family of late. There are swarms of climbers at Pilot Mountain this time of year: encampments on the ground and lines of climbers gripping nearly vertical rock faces secured by rope. I like to say that rock climbing combines the strength of weight lifting with the poetry of ballet.
My wife is taking a class on nature and psychology. The premise is that nature heals us, and by being in nature we become inspired to do our part to repair the environment. The therapeutic effects of being in beautiful places are obvious: Our senses are awakened by brilliant colors and sublime heights. Also, physical exertion and the challenge of walking over uneven terrain makes us feel more alive in our bodies.
Our hike brought us into contact with Girl Scout groups, college students, couples of all ages and a father-and-son team, of whom the younger partner seemed to have the most navigational sense. It made us happy to find other people enjoying nature and growing deeper in relationships with one another.
Pilot Mountain rises more than 1,400 feet above rolling farmland. The wind seems to blow a little more robustly at these heights. And the altitude provides a perfect vantage point to observe large avian creatures. We watched a majestic black bird with a generous wingspan soar around the cliffs and then bank gracefully. We couldn’t identify the species, but the park advertises ravens and red-tailed hawks, among other birds.
We thought the cacophonous symphony we heard might have been crickets, but no confirmation there. The state park website does state that American toads, chorus frogs and spring peepers reside in pools of water, and songbirds such as the eastern bluebird, Carolina wren and brown thrasher “supply the woods with music.”
How it got this way is one the preoccupying questions about great cities — and great natural places. Again courtesy of the website, the geological heritage of Pilot Mountain is its status as a remnant of the ancient Sauratown range. Characterized as “a quartzite monadnock,” the formation is what’s left after millions of years of wind and rain shaped the surrounding countryside into a rolling plane.
And contrary to my assumption that the place got its name because of its value to aviators, the website explains that the Saura Indians, who preceded the Cherokee, called the mountain Jomeokee, a word meaning “great guide” or “pilot” because it guided hunters along a north-south path through the area.
Speaking of awakening the senses, the visual grandeur of the wilderness is one of the great joys of being there. A wash of boulders between two formations of sandstone, Three Bear Gulley resembles a staircase, and the slender trees struggling up from the rocky ground look like apparitions ascending its heights.