As I have mentioned before on this blog, I enjoy hiking. I am also attracted to water – mostly water that is moving fast enough to make sound. I have hiked along the coast, through the mountains, in the desert, in deep forests, along rocky peaks, and in suburban areas. More often than not, I select a place to hike that is either in sight of water or has running water as a destination. My family takes advantage of state park trails which are frequently near the shoreline of a lake or wind along a creek or river.
The ultimate culmination of a hike to me is a waterfall — the bigger and louder the better. One of the tallest I have seen recently is just outside Cherokee, North Carolina. Mingo Falls is on the Cherokee Indian Reservation (Qualla Boundary), just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 120 feet tall, the waterfall is one of the tallest and most spectacular in the southern Appalachians. The hike on Pigeon Creek Trail to the waterfall is only 0.4 miles in length, but is considered moderate in difficulty because it is largely composed of steps and a fairly steep climb up to the falls.
I took this photograph in December, just after Christmas. It was a great time to get a shot because the foliage was gone from most of the trees, which revealed a good portion of the width of the falls as well as the vertical expanse. I was standing on the small bridge at the base of the falls where the creek continues cascading down the hillside. The sound is mighty but not deafening. I love waterfalls, and this is one of my favorites. In fact, it is currently the home-screen photo on my iPhone.
There are still plenty of outdoor places in America you can visit that are protected enough to offer a glimpse at how the landscape on this continent may have appeared to early native inhabitants and explorers. A prime example are some of the national parks. I think the National Park Service is one of the best government programs of all, and I wish our federal leaders would find some other areas to cut funding and leave this division alone. We have some incredible treasures around the country, several of which I have visited. I have never been disappointed.
One of the best parks to visit to experience what I am describing is Yosemite National Park in the High Sierra region of California. First protected in 1864, Yosemite is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more. There are so many places in this park where you can stand, and for as far as the eye can see, there is no sign of civilization. The vistas are absolutely breathtaking, including perhaps the most photographed view of all from just beyond the tunnel on Wawona Road, where the valley opens up and welcomes you to what many people refer to as God’s Cathedral. Indeed, the scene is like a place of worship on a monumental scale, and for those who have any appreciation at all for the beauty of the natural world, it invokes a sense of reverence and awe.
My wife and I joined up with a good friend of ours there in July, 2013, staying several nights in a cabin and spending our days hiking along the valley floor and up to one of the high spots overlooking the valley. Yosemite is another one of those places that reminds me just how small I am and how magnificent this planet is. John Muir, the famous naturalist who helped draw up the proposed boundaries of the park in 1889, described Yosemite as being “full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons of life, mountain building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stone, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful with humanity.”
My wife and I really love to hike, and we have had the opportunity to hike in some beautiful spots: along the Pacific coast, in the desert, at Yosemite, and many other lesser known spots. Some of the greatest rewards of hiking are the vistas that some trails include, and some of the best I have ever seen are on mountain trails. Today, we hiked along the ridge that goes to the summit of Whiteside Mountain just outside Highlands, NC. The view from 4,800 feet was breathtaking. We have certainly been at higher elevations in other places, but the view today was spectacular, probably because of the mix of sun and clouds and the multiple shades of green introduced by the onset of spring.
I cannot understand people who have no appreciation for the outdoors — for the majestic presence of mountains and seashores, the mighty rumbles of thunder, the magnificent beauty of an ancient tree, a field in bloom, or a rushing river. I look forward to more excursions to follow trails like the one on this mountain, to see open sky and miles and miles of the earth below.
If you like hiking, or simply taking a walk on a nature trail, the state parks and national forests in north Georgia are some of the best places to enjoy this activity. The state of Georgia does a fine job, with dwindling resources I am quick to add, with the access to natural resources it provides through the state park system. The trails vary in length and difficulty levels to accommodate almost any age and degree of fitness. Most parks have trails that are wheelchair accessible. The diversity of flora and fauna in the southern Appalachia is unmatched anywhere in the U.S. There are very few weeks out of the year where the weather makes outdoor exploration uncomfortable here. I have spent many hours wandering mountain paths through densely wooded countryside and have always come away restored.