As summer recedes, I find myself shucking off responsibilities more and more to get outside. This warmth won’t last forever. The green will fade and go. The serenade of crickets will hush. I need a bit more summer. More days in the lush, humid forests of our mountains. More afternoons absorbing the sun after a cool dip in a stream.
Today was the last day of my short summer break. I was busy cleaning the house, doing laundry, and prepping for the upcoming year of teaching when wild called me. Those who know the call…know.
Water bottles get filled, backpack stocked with ponchos, and off we go. My kids are used to it by now. Hikes are rarely planned. They are responses to the call. They happen at all times. So at 3:30 pm today in a rain storm, we jumped into the car and headed towards Old Fort, NC.
Tom’s Creek Falls trail itself is short. It is flat and has been graveled. There are even a couple of benches along the .8 mile trail to the observation deck. There are also campsites all along the creek; perfect spots to be lulled to sleep by the babbling water.
The falls are beautiful. I’ve read that it measures 60 feet but looks much taller. You can rock hop all around the base and let little ones splash around in the shallow pool. There is an abundance of mica all around, sparkling in the water like fairy dust and paving the land with a brilliant shimmer.
The official trail stops here. However, the falls are just the beginning. If you do not have small children with you, that is. The Mines of Moria are no place for wee ones.
Rock hop the left side of the creek (facing the falls). Follow it back up the creek about 50 yards and you will see a gully in the hill side. Climb up through it about 25 yards or so. Be careful. There are guardians here. Hidden in the rocks. Camouflaged well against the rust colored earth.
Copperhead snakes are a common site around this area. Gatekeepers of the deep, dark recesses no longer accessible to us humans. My teenage son spotted one below the rock he was on; knowing it by it’s triangular head and distinct color and markings.
As you reach the top of the climb, you will be looking down into the entrance of a mine. Below, a perfect archway is carved into the mountain, conjuring musings of ancient fairy tale adventures. But no secret password is needed to enter here…one not need to wait for the light of a full moon to expose the way in… it is open… Unfortunately it is also flooded. Deep, cold waters fill the tunnel.
(You may need to lighten your screen to see the archway in the photo)
I have yet to find any historical information about this mine online or in books. There are foundations to what was most likely a water wheel back down at the creek. The water wheel might have been used to pump water out of the mine while it was in use. These foundations are found up a side trail just before the falls to the right. Follow this trail up the mountain for more surprises!
Up you go, between the foundations. The trail will eventually lead you close to the top of the falls. They will be on your left as you ascend above them. You will be walking alongside the creek which is much narrower up in these parts. Soon you will come to a little side trail on the left that leads down to a magical, little waterfall about 10 feet high. It is a steep trail with loose rocks so take it slowly. This is a quiet area where you can cool off all alone, surrounded by rock and water.
After you are done immersing yourself in this place, go up back to the main trail and follow it though the dense trees. Make sure to look down to view the lovely fungi in this wonderland.
Soon, you will come to another little side path to the left. You will hear a waterfall and possibly see it when the foliage is sparse during colder months. This path is much easier than the previous one. It brings you to another waterfall a bit smaller than the last but with a larger area in which to spend your time. There is a small, pebble beach to relax upon.
The trail continues on, through the forest. I don’t know how far it goes as we stopped after about 10 minutes of hiking through densely growing Rhododendron trees. It must not be traveled much as it was covered with debris and fallen limbs and hard to make out in places.
We made our way back out to the main falls where a couple of families were now playing with their small children. Shrieking with laughter, the children splashed and waded in the clear, cool mountain water…making summer memories…