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Danny Bernstein

Fort Matanzas National Monument in Northern Florida

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 13, 2010 09:21 PM
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Fort Matanzas

European settlement of the United State did not start with Jamestown (1607) or Plymouth Rock (1620). The Spanish created the oldest continuously occupied city of St. Augustine in 1565.

Fort Matanzas - close upBut of course, the Spanish were not the only ones who wanted this garden spot. The French had established a fort further north at Fort Caroline. They attacked the Spanish in St. Augustine and were wiped out in a few weeks. The word Mantazas means slaughter in Spanish.

The Spanish realized how vulnerable they were and built Fort Matanzas on the Matanzas River in 1740-1742 to protect St. Augustine. The fort became a national monument in 1924.

Fort Matanzas - down the stairsLenny and I visited Fort Matanzas National Monument located 15 miles south of St. Augustine. We took a ferry (all of five minutes) to explore the fort. You could go up to the top with a well-secured ladder. Here I am going down.

The Fort is intimately connected with Castillo de San Marcos, a major fort in the center of St. Augustine. More about this national monument in my next post. 

Biscayne National Park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 10, 2010 09:28 PM
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Biscayne NP - Boca Chita Lighthouse

Lenny and I are in Miami to visit his mother. But we took a day off to see another national park - Biscayne National Park.

Only an hour south of crowded, noisy Miami is this underwater park. Biscayne NP is blue - blue water and blue skies. And even in November, it is hot. We arrived at the visitor center just as it opened. We had made reservations weeks ago to take a boat ride to Boca Chica Key but now it seemed like our trip was in jeopardy. The concession that runs the boat trip wants a minimum of eight people and so far only had four. Not a good start.

I stifled a desire to ask "What is there to do around here?". Instead we saw the movie promising us birds, turtles, manatees and more. But it was just a movie; I wanted to see the real thing.

They were able to get eight people so we were off - 15 minutes late. If the National Park Service ran it, things would start on time. But here in tropical Miami, things are casual. Why doesn't the Park Service run these boats? The answer is that private enterprise can run it cheaper but it's not the same experience. The first mate charged with giving us a talk did a superficial job.

Biscayne NP - BoatThe ride to Boca Chica took almost an hour. We saw herons, egrets, cormorants and brown pelicans on the way.

The island is very small. We walked the one 0.5 mile trail through the mangrove and saw plenty of black vultures close up. If we had rented a canoe and paddled ourselves, we could have gone through the mangrove swamp and gotten a more up close and personal look at the vegetation.

We climbed the lighthouse to see blue waters as far as the eye could see. The Miami and Miami Beach skylines were also visible. So were the beginning of the Florida Keys - Boca Chita being one of them.

I realize that without water skills we were at a disadvantage at Biscayne National Park. It's like coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and saying "I don't hike". But I'm glad we came. It certainly was a different park. 

Visiting Cumberland Island

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 08, 2010 08:18 PM
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Cumberland Island - Wild Horses

Cumberland Island National Seashore, in southeast Georgia, is one of many National Park Service units that I've been wanting to see for a long time. And today I finally made it.

Cumberland Island - Lenny on boatYou can't just decide to go to Cumberland on the fly. It's an island so you need reservations on a ferry. The ferry goes out of St. Mary, a small town almost on the Georgia/Florida border.

We took the ferry and were greeted by a ranger, Ginger, who gave a tour of the southern end of the island from Dungeness Dock.

Cumberland Island - Dungeness in ruinsThe island is managed as a wilderness, though there are still 23 families that live on it. On the rest of the island are the remains of a lavish style of the Carnegies during the Guilded Age. Thomas Carnegie, younger brother of the more famous Andrew, and his wife built a "cottage", a large home on the Southern tip of the island. The building burned in 1916 but the ruins remain.

And then there are the horses, also remains of all the inhabitants. The horses are not managed but run free and mostly graze quietly. We also saw an armadillo. I've never seen one except in a zoo.

So what is there to do on Cumberland? You can hike on very flat trails, rent a bike to go to the northern part of the island, beach comb, and camp.

Whatever you do, it will be very different from the mountains.


Save the Headwaters Tract

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 05, 2010 08:35 PM

Headwaters - East Fork Falls

Every once in a while there's an opportunity to save a tract of land. Former Congressman Charles Taylor has agreed to sell 8,000 acres of land on the Headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River. But it's not a done deal.

In June, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and The Conservation Fund announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire 8,000 acres of land in Transylvania County. But now, these conservation groups have to get the money. They felt that the best way is to have the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission administer the land for multiple use - that's hunting, fishing, hiking and even mountain biking.

Headwaters - On an ATVI toured the property on Tuesday with Steve Towe, the real estate broker for the property to write an article for Mountain Xpress.

You can't walk over 8,000 acres so we were on an ATV most of the day. The Headwaters Tract is between Dupont State Forest and Gorges State Park, right on the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

Headwaters - Hidden falls The property has 25 waterfalls. See East Fork Falls above and Hidden Falls to the left. It also has 50 miles of stream with the native brook trout.

The Wildlife Resources Commission met yesterday in Raleigh. Although they endorsed getting the land, they have not yet been convinced  that they have to apply for grants to the Clean Water Trust Fund and the North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund.

This interplay of state agencies is not easy to understand. We should write letters to Gov. Bev Perdue to encourage her to support the Headwaters Project. See the website for specific details.


Oconaluftee Visitor Center - My last day

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 02, 2010 08:15 AM

Great Smoky Mountains NP sign with picture spot

November 1. My last day volunteering at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. And there are still questions I couldn't answer and new things I saw for the first time, like the picture spot at the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I can answer most questions easily - the most common being "We have two hours. What is there to do around here?" and "What is this building that you're building?" See picture below of the new Visitor Center.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center - new buildingSomeone asked me about the fate of the Foothills Parkway. Were they ever going to build a road to connect the two sections of the Parkway. Here's what the website says.

The Foothills Parkway skirts the park's northern side. Only three sections are currently open to vehicle traffic. Due to funding and legislative difficulties, the ultimate status of the parkway remains uncertain.

For the first time, someone asked me about Soco Falls. I see the signs all the time when I take US19 into Cherokee but I haven't been to the falls yet. So I haven't done everything - not that I ever will.

This year, I've been volunteering since March. I've answered a lot of questions from visitors who came on Mondays - some routine, some challenging, others that sent me either researching or going out to find the answer on the trail or road. I used to "charge" this researching to my volunteer hours but I kept forgetting.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center - Lynda and meI've learned a tremendous amount from full-time staff, seasonal rangers and Great Smoky Mountains Association store workers.

I added to my knowledge of flowers, trees and  history of the park.

What fascinates me the most is the administrative stuff that you can't learn from printed material or from going on a course. You have to learn it from employees.  And there were plenty around to learn from. That was the beauty of being at the Visitor Center.

The disappointment is that my volunteer responsibilities never really grew over the months. The seasonal staff were very quick to do everything around the visitor desk. I finally go to answer the phones, if things were really busy but that was it.

I never got to do an interpretive program, despite my best efforts. I went on the training course in May. I wrote up a proposal and handed it in but it was never followed up. I asked about it a couple of times but then I realized that the system didn't need another interpretive program. And volunteering is all about what the organization needs, not what the volunteer needs. So I "got over it", as they say.

Will I volunteer again? Of course. The Park needs volunteers and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is my park.

Stone Mountain State Park - No, no, and no

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 30, 2010 08:00 AM
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When I walked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Stone Mountain State Park, I started to realize how many signs there were that said No, Prohibited and Danger. Maybe it's because Sharon and I had been walking on Blue Ridge Parkway land for so long without any Danger signs.

If you took these signs seriously, you'd never get out of your car - the park sounds so dangerous. How are we going to encourage more families to enjoy the outdoors when there are so many NOs?

These signs are in every state Park in North Carolina, so I don't want to single out Stone Mountain.I'm sure I missed a few and I'm not displaying duplicates.

Here goes:

Stonemountain- no4 Stonemountain-No8



Holmes State Forest

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 27, 2010 08:10 AM
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Holmes SF - climbingThere are still so many places to explore in Western North Carolina. Not all are dramatic or demanding. Some are just pleasant.

On Sunday, I went to Holmes Educational State Forest between Brevard and Hendersonville on a Carolina Mountain Club hike.

An educational forest is just that - a managed forest to show visitors the importance of forestry. This forest has about five miles of trail and one good hill which the signs call "strenuous". It has picnic areas, a building full of exhibits and talking trees.

Holmes SF - Talking treesTalking trees are recordings placed on the trail that you start with a push of a button. Each recording describes a specific tree. See Cameron enjoying pushing button, though he's too young to understand what the "tree" is saying.

Homes SF - Altitude in NCThe educational forest brings in school children. I can imagine the worksheet and notebooks being filled in as the kids explore the forest.

One exhibit caught my fancy. It shows the various altitudes in North Carolina.

  • Mountains - 2000 to 6000 ft. - Asheville, Boone, Mt. Mitchell
  • Foothills - 1000 to 2000 ft. - Lenoir, Mt. Airy
  • Piedmont - 600 to 1000 ft. - Charlotte, Winston-Salem
  • Lowlands - 150 to 600 ft. - Raleigh-Durham
  • Coastal Plains - sea level - Wilmington, Goldsboro

I did take a picture of this display but mostly I'm glad I can just walk.

MST16-Stone Mountain State Park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 24, 2010 08:14 PM
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Starting with 460.2 miles, 75,850 ft. ascent

MST16 - Stone Mountain itself

Devils Garden Overlook MP 235.7 to Stone Mountain State Park

9.9 miles, 1,500 ft. ascent (3,000 ft. descent)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is windy at 7:15 A.M. as Sharon and I get on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for our last day on this stretch.

We're all bundled up though we know we'll take off almost everything soon. This is where the MST leaves the Parkway. We have been following the Parkway since we left the Smokies over 300 MST miles ago, so this spot is a landmark for us. For this occasion, I saved my GPS trace for the day. Usually I only carry a GPS for mileage during the day and altitude gain.

The trail starts up, over a hill and we soon enter Stone Mountain State Park at its northwest corner. A sign warns us that the MST has been rerouted for "your safety" but it doesn't say when.

MST16-Entering Stone Mountain SP Was it this year? A decade ago? We have no idea if Scot's instructions are for the old trail or the current one. We turn left as the sign indicates and follow an old road.

We pass two blazes close together but then nothing. The road goes down, curving around Scott Ridge. I feel uneasy at the lack of blazes but we haven't passed any other trails so we have no other choice. We pass an old cabin in ruins and now we know that we're following current directions. MST16-Stone Mountain Old Cabin

After five miles of down, down, down, down, we reach the backcountry parking and registration area. Two guys are organizing their gear around their truck getting ready to leave. They've been coming here for years and tell us that the reroute was done at least six years ago. Why is the park still talking about a reroute? That's just confusing.

"So what was unsafe about the old route?" I ask the guys.
One man had an old topo map which showed an old aerial tramway

"It was extremely steep," one says, "because the trail was underneath the tramway. A local man came back from World War II, saw aerial tramways in Europe, and thought he could replicate it here."

According to a website on, it was supposed to be “the world’s longest and highest gondola span.” The tram crossed 2,800 feet over the Bullhead Creek chasm- 1,052 feet in the air. People could ride from Mahogany Rock Mountain to Scott ridge for 50 cents. There was a visitor’s center, restrooms, and gift shop on Scott ridge. But that's all gone now except for a confusing sign.

MST16-Staircase to Stone Mountain FallsWe walk on the road to the Hiker Parking area, passing Widow Creek Trail and start on the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, taking it counterclockwise. The MST takes us to the elaborate staircase which leads to Stone Mountain Falls.

Warning signs are everywhere, trashing the beautiful surroundings. MST16-Stone Mountain Waterfall warningPassing a chimney, the trail goes down to a picnic area and back to the visitor center where I had left my car. 

Cumulative after Day 40, 469.1 miles, 77,350 ft. ascent



Mountains-to-Sea Trail - A search?

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 24, 2010 08:13 PM
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The day was not over. When we arrived to my car parked in front of the Stone Mountain Visitor Center, I found a hand-written note from Edward Farr, Superintendent of Stone Mountain State Park on my dashboard. It said:

Overnight parking is prohibited in state parks. Each vehicle must be accounted for each night to prevent leaving a visitor that may be injured or lost on a trail. A search involving on duty and off duty staff had begun for you but was ended when we spoke to a family member. Had we not been able to contact a family member the search would have continued through the night and only ended when we found you.

It was signed Edward Farr Park Superintendent and  accompanied by a warning notice containing my vehicle registration.

I was mortified. A search for me while I was safely tucked up in a Sparta motel? Why? Why would they search for someone who was not declared missing?

I went up to the Visitor Center to look for Ed Farr but he wasn't in his office. I talked to one of his subordinates, also a ranger, who explained that they had to look for people unless they registered their car and parked in the backcountry lot. But we had passed that parking area five miles away. It would have messed up our whole day. 

When I got home, I found out from Lenny that Superintendent Farr had called our home a little after 8 P.M. The park gates close at 8 P.M. so he got concerned about my car on his last sweep of the park.

It just happened that I talked to Lenny a little before 8 P.M. Lenny told Farr that he had just talked to me and that I was hiking to my car tomorrow.

I sent Farr an email explaining that we placed the car after the visitor center closed. I used the word "mortified" again at the thought of anyone searching for me - Sharon and I were experienced hikers.

I told him that "I know that these are North Carolina State Park procedures but I'm truly surprised that you are required to start a search if no one has reported a missing person."

It will be a long time until we reach another state park on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

MST16-Through Doughton Park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 24, 2010 05:47 AM
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Starting with 446.2 miles, 73,050 ft. ascent

MST16-Bluff Mountain meadow

NC 18 to Devil's Garden Overlook, MP 235.7

14 miles, 2800 ft. ascent

Sharon and I spent the night at the Freebourne Motel on the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 248 on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

It's so luxurious to leave the Freebourne at 7:10 and not have to drive anywhere. I eat a homemade granola bar for breakfast in the room along with several old pieces of apples and diluted apple juice.

It's still dark so we walk on Miller Rd. with flashlights in hand. We pass Miller Campground and reach the commuter part of the Parkway. Cars and trucks fly out of side roads without stopping at stop signs. There’s even a small section which is a 4-lane divided road.MST16-BRP 4 lane

We pass small roads and walk on the Parkway until Basin Cove Overlook, MP 244.7. That’s the beginning of Doughton Park (MP 238.5 to MP 244.7), a recreation area managed by the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The reason we're walking this section now is that the Parkway will be closed starting next month. In the worst-case scenario, this section of Parkway will be closed to all traffic from November 1 through April 29, 2011 from Milepost 241 near Doughton Park to Milepost 244.9 at Basin Cove Parking Overlook. The stone guard walls, which have been sinking since they were installed in the 1930s, will be replaced.MST16-BRPlow guardrails

But first they have to install sediment protector, a snake like tube of shavings that they’re putting below the road so that sediments can’t ruin the vegetation.MST16-sediment protector on the BRP

Here, the MST follows Bluff Mountain Trail, a 7.5 mile trail on the ridge. We go through pasture land with cow patties and barbed wire fences, past two overlooks and start the climb to the top of Bluff Mountain (see the top picture).

At the top, visitors stroll through mountain meadows. The view is wonderful. We think we can see Table Rock and Hawksbill in Linville Gorge due south, maybe even Mt. Mitchell. Once on top, we walk on a mowed path through grasses up to a lone tree. It’s windy.

MST16-Bluffs lodgeBluff Lodge is in the distance. We follow the trail down to the coffee shop. I make up for my poor breakfast with a real lunch of four vegetable sides and great cornbread.

We continue down to the campground. While Sharon is behind a bush, I see an old woman coming up the trail. She’s bundled up as if it’s the middle of winter.

“Hi,” I say. “How are you doing?” There are so few hikers that I try to talk to everyone.

“You scared me,” she says, then sits down on the trail. “I didn’t see you and I was deep in thought.” It seems like she might faint. She's wearing a Camelback water system on her back but she has the tube placed across neck in such a way that she looks like she has an oxygen tube.

Surely I don’t seem that scary. At this point, Sharon comes trotting down the trail and I make sure that this woman sees her. “Oh she might scare me too.” 

“No, she’s very friendly,” I tell her.

By now Sharon is concerned as well.

“This is my last hike,” the woman says.

“Until the next time,” Sharon says.

“No, my last hike. I’m going blind.”

“Oh, are you by yourself?”

“Yes,” and she starts climbing up the trail again. We wonder how she got here. Did she drive here herself? I’d rather meet her on the trail than on the highway.

We go through the campground to Brinegar Cabin, a historic cabin on the road. The parking area is full but almost no one is walking down to the cabin. Is it too much for them? One couple finally comes down to take our picture.

When we leave Doughton Park, the trail is now between Parkway land and NC Gamelands.We're on Gamelands property in hunting season? Yikes... I don’t have any orange to wear.

I had forgotten my orange vest and on the way to meet Sharon, I stopped at a Wal-Mart to look for something orange. The smallest orange vests they had were men's large so I bought a shocking pink women's muscle shirt which I tied to my pack as a warning to hunters.

We didn't hear any shots but maybe that's because I was scaring them off with my pink shirt.

Cumulative after Day 39, 460.2 miles, 75,850 ft. ascent


Mountains-to-Sea Trail - Freeborne Motel backpack

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 23, 2010 02:18 PM
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Starting with 430.9 miles, 71,150 ft. ascent

MST16-View from Jumpinrock OV

NC 16 to NC 18 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
15.3 miles, 1,900 ft. ascent

For this section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Sharon and I stayed at the house of a Friends of the MST board member, "B" Townes outside of Wilkesboro. It wasn't really close to the start of our section but you couldn't beat the hospitality.

It's a wet and dark day as we creep out of "B"'s house on Wednesday. Sharon and I drive up NC 16 in the rain to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our packs are heavier than usual since we're going to spend the night on the trail. Well, not really on the trail since you can't camp on the Parkway. Instead we'll be staying at the Freeborne Motel, right on the trail at NC 18 in Laurel Springs.

The trail crisscrosses the Parkway and lots of small roads. This is not the pristine scenic road that we're used to further south. Here small roads feed onto the Parkway and it's obvious that people use the Parkway to commute.
Plenty of tourists drive this section for the colors as well. We feel that we're in the colors.

MSt16-Autumn leaves Red maples, yellowing Frazier magnolias, red oaks, though no sour woods here - and some poison ivy. At one point, rhododendrons take over, as if they were planted.

We have to keep watching Scot Ward's instructions as the MST changes from trail to back roads to Parkway. We're above the Parkway and paralleling it at many points. The trail encircles the Northwest Trading Post, a low quality gift shop and snack bar which sits squarely on the Parkway. No point going in since we wouldn't buy anything now. We'd have to carry it for two days.

MST16-SheetscemeteryWe pass two cemeteries gates, including the Sheets Cemetery. Later we pass Jesse Sheets Cabin, down the hill from the Parkway, built in 1815.MST16-Jessesheetscabin


It took us all day to walk from NC 16 to NC 18 but on the map, it's less than two inches.

MST16-Freeborne motel At 4:30 P.M., we reach downtown Laurel Springs, the motorcycle capital of the Parkway.

The community consists of two motels (only one open), two antique shops (only one open) and a country store.

When we check into the Freeborne Motel doesn't serve breakfast now, though their website said that it did. So I head to the Country Store which has a sad selection of chips, beer, cookies, and snacks. I pick out a package of peanut butter crackers for 49 cents - 240 calories for 49 cents. Those are cheap calories. But the store carries my first book, Hiking the Carolina Mountains. Now that's a surprise. Of course, I sign the only copy they have.

Next, I wander into the cavernous antique shop next to the motel. Blondie, the owner, carries original movie posters including one of Danielle Darrieux, the World War II movie star I was named after. The store also has old country music records, toys, and just old stuff. It's obviously a destination and Blondie seems to be doing quite well.

The Freeborne Motel is also a destination, popular with motorcyclists. I thought that Sharon and I would be the only restaurant patrons but the dining room and bar are busy. A large party sits at a long table and the bar stools are all occupied. A musician sings old country standards and the two waiters are rushed off their feet. Near our table is a framed review of the restaurant that appeared in Our State magazine this past summer. They loved the food and the atmosphere and so did we. I made my first video of the bar at the Freeborne Motel. I was going to load it on Youtube but I lost patience with creating an account.

After dinner, I stay to socialize at the bar and tell folks about the MST which goes right through the community on Miller Road. "Look for the white circles on Miller Rd.," I say. 

Cumulative after Day 38, 446.2 miles, 73,050 ft. ascent

Oconaluftee Visitor Center - Visitors keep pouring in

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 19, 2010 09:48 AM

OVC - Crossing Bradley Fork

The leaf color may have peaked around Oconaluftee Visitor Center but not the visitors. They keep pouring in.

Most visitors have no idea of what to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They've come here and they expect us, the folks at the visitor desk, to plan their vacation for them. And I do!

Questions and answers:

  • What is there to see here? You're in the most visited park in the country and there are 800 miles of trails.
  • Where do I pay my entrance fee? You're in the only major national park with no entrance fee. But if you'd like to contribute, we'd be ever so grateful. I point them to a donation box put up by Friends of the Smokies.
  • Is there any place to do an easy hike? If they want something real easy, it's the Oconaluftee River Trail, just past the Mountain Farm Museum. Otherwise, I suggest Bradley Fork Trail or Kephart Prong.
  • Waterfalls? Now that's not a straight forward question. There are no waterfalls off the road. The easiest waterfall to reach is Mingo Falls, on the Cherokee Reservation. Yes, we suggest things out of the park. Mingo Falls is on Big Cove Road and requires only a 1/4 mile walk.
  • How do I get to Cades Cove? I show them where we are at Oconaluftee and where Cades Cove is, two hours away. As part of our tool kit, we have official mileages and times from OVC and many other places. I don't have to estimate.  But I do question if they really want to do that drive (usually it's already noon, when they get here) and if the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill would not satisfy their hunger for the history of settlers in the area. But they've heard of the Cades Cove loop  and for the most part, they're going.
  • Where can we eat in the park? There's no place to eat, drink or get gas in the park. The gateway towns, Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Townsend provide all those amenities.

I roved Bradley Fork Trail in the afternoon. Plenty of people on the trail with different ambitions. Several backpackers, day hikers doing the Smokemont look, more day hikers just going up to the bridge and back and a few photographers going maybe a quarter mile.OVC - Dan on trail crew

On the way back, I met Dan on the Trail Crew driving a park service vehicle. He and his colleagues are working on the Appalachian Trail up Hughes Ridge and are camping up there. He had to get down and drove on the trail. But the gate was closed and he didn't have a key. I offered to help him by going to the ranger station but he had radioed his supervisor so I left him. I hope he's not still there.

Hunting Season Starts in Western North Carolina

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 18, 2010 07:35 PM
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MST15-Hunting season startsToday, Monday October 18, is the first day of bear hunting season in Western North Carolina.

Western Bear Season
Oct. 18 – Nov. 20
Dec. 13 – Jan. 1

Western Deer Season

Bow-and-arrow: Sept. 13 – Oct. 2 and Oct. 18 – Nov. 20
Muzzleloader: Oct. 4 – Oct. 16
Gun: Nov. 22 to Dec. 11

See all the details at the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.


Most people consider the Bear Hunting season as the hunting season. But really you can hunt something all year round.

You can only hunt in National Forests and never on Sundays. So if you hike in Pisgah or Nantahala, make sure to wear orange and stay on trails.

But there's never any hunting in national parks , like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No hunting either in North Carolina state parks.

It is always important to know where you are in life, but it is particularly important during hunting season.

Cowpens National Battlefield

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 16, 2010 04:23 PM

Cowpens - Pastoral walk

Yesterday Lenny and I visited Cowpens National Battlefield in upstate South Carolina, about 90 minutes from Asheville. This day trip was part of my birthday celebration.

There are at least two reasons to visit battlefield sites. One is to understand the battle details and another is to see a National Park unit. I belong to the second category but that doesn't mean I didn't prepare for it or enjoyed the details.

Cowpens was one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War in the South. We associate South Carolina with the Civil War because the war started there with the blowing up of Fort Sumter. Yet there are more Revolutionary "action sites" in South Carolina than in any other state.

As its name implied, Cowpens was a field used by farmers to graze cows on their way to the Charleston market. But on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan, a Southern revolutionary hero led a group of Continentals (paid army soldiers) and militia (real volunteers) to a victory against a large force of British soldiers.

Cowpens - British soldier count The enemy were not just Loyalists but members of the British army, the best in the world. It was a one hour battle which seemed almost choreographed to me. It was as if the Brits and the Colonial army said "I'll meet you behind the school yard. Bring your friends and be prepared to fight."

Cowpens - Toy soldiersThe visitor center houses an exhibit of soldier uniforms, a movie and toy soldiers. This is a children's dream visitor center. They can play soldier and find other toys. I loved the movie, a recap of the Cowpens battle by a grandfather telling his wide eyed grandson.

After enjoying the visitor center and the staff who were funny and knowledgeable, Lenny and I wandered on the one-mile trail to see the battlefield. What a pastoral setting. See above.

Cowpens - Scruggs HouseThen we drove the three-mile look road. We had lunch in the picnic area and stopped at the Scruggs House. Scruggs bought some of the Cowpens land in 1805. Cowpens became a Battlefield Site in 1929 on just an acre of land. The cabin remained private until the National Park Service bought it from a Scruggs family member and expanded the side to what it is today.

According to National Park statistics, the average length of a visit to Cowpens is 45 minutes. We spent three hours at the site. I may not wait until another birthday to see the other South Carolina park units.


Mountains-to-Sea Trail - Crossing the Linville River

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 14, 2010 08:32 PM
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Starting with 424.1miles, 68,650 ft. ascent


Kistler Highway to Blue Blazed Trail on Wolf Pit Road

6.8 miles (round trip), 2,500 ft. ascent

With all our drama on our last MST trip, Sharon and I had not yet crossed the Linville River. There was a 3.3 mile section from Kistler Highway to the blue blazed trail which starts at Wolf Pit Rd. This small section was gnawing at me. I could see us getting further and further away from the mountains and thinking "I've got to do this small section."

Well, it's not gnawing at me anymore. Today, we met at the Forest Service Office for Pisgah National Forest Grandfather Mountain District to hike this section. In order to leave a car at the Forest Service station, Sharon had to give them a page full of information and impress on the clerks staffing the desk that we were only leaving the car there for the day. Her reply was "it's  going to rain."

When her coworker heard that we were going to walk the MST and cross the Linville River, she wrinkled her nose and said that "we'll be walking on private property". Neither statement was true. The weather was beautiful and the private property signs were on the side of the trail, not the trail itself. The people working for Pisgah Forest seems to discourage use of their resource. Those at the desk know little and they certainly have not explored the section of forest they're supposed to advise visitors on. Today was no exception.

MST15-windypinnacleWe start on Kistler Highway and climb to Pinnacle Overlook, a wooden platform. It offers an exceptional view of Shortoff Mountain, Table Rock, Hawksbill and the Linville River. The river is a long, long way down there. Lake James is spread out below.

We had decided not to shuttle to Wolf Pit Rd. It would have taken at least two extra hours of driving - we wanted to hike instead. We start down the steep trail, knowing that we will have to go back up in a few hours. Acorns act like metal balls and at one point I slip and scrape my elbow. But the colors are outstanding. If this is not the peak of color, it's darn close. The trail alternates between a wide trail and a forest road - down, down, down and a couple of ups to break up the monotony. The trail is well blazed.

Finally we reach the Linville River. I had worried about this crossing and lost sleep over it last night. But the river is shallow; it's a muddy start but the water stays below my knees. Sharon and I trade cameras so we can take pictures of each other crossing the river. I even stand in the middle of the river taking scenery shots.MST15-middleoflinvilleriver

But the river crossing is not the end of the trail going east. We then need to climb up to reach the blue blazed trail. Once across the river, we see signs of the 2007 fire. The trail could use some serious maintenance. We see several blue blazes and declare that we're ready to go back.

MST15-Chair on the banksOn the way back, we notice a large campsite on the river. We're close to a forest road and it's obvious that people drive here. The campsite has two chairs on the banks.


Here the trail skirts the tiny section of private land that we were warned about. Soon we start our serious climb - no diversion, no telling stories or jokes, no singing; we need all our breath for the climb.

MST15-confusing sign A sign on a tree says "Wolf Pit .2 Kistler Hwy 2.5 miles". Another trail leads into the woods and we certainly don't have the energy to chase it down. We keep climbing.


Somewhere on this climb, I realize that it's a good thing that we came out today. Bear hunting season starts on Monday. Unlike popular parts of the Pisgah District, hunters may figure that no one really hikes in this section of the gorge.

Finally we're back at the Pinnacle, a pile of rocks that gives us a 360 degree view. We climb and snap away. Three young people with a beautiful dog follow us and take our pictures.

It feels good to finally put the Linville Gorge map away. Lenny says that finishing Linville Gorge is like finishing the 100 miles of wilderness in Maine on the Appalachian Trail. We now know that we'll finish the trail

Conquering Linville Gorge means that we probably finished the most difficult physical parts of the MST. But I emphasize physical; the logistical challenges are just starting.    

Cumulative after Day 37, 430.9 miles, 71,150 ft. ascent

Ramsey Cascades in the Fall

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 10, 2010 08:24 PM
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Newfound Gap Road in Fall

Today was an outstanding fall day - sunny, crisp, the trees full of colors.

I led a Carolina Mountain Club hike to Ramsey Cascades. Seven of us started on Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One fellow had driven from Atlanta to do this hike.

Ramsey Cascades - HollyHolly Demouth, Director of Friends of the Smokies on the North Carolina side, came as a CMC guest. Friends of the Smokies is a fund raising organization that supports the Park. At one break, she talked a little about the work that the Friends did, especially the Trails Forever program. She is so enthusiastic.

Trails Forever was the main fundraising initiative connected to Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 75th anniversary celebration. The Trails Forever endowment will fund an additional permanent trail maintenance work crew to support trail improvement projects along the 800+ miles of hiking trails inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was particularly apt that we hiked Ramsey Cascade Trail since it had been rehabilitated recently using Trails Forever funds. 

Ramsey Cascades bridgeThe volunteer crew had put in rock steps and built a large bridge.

Of course, all these improvements have attracted many more visitors on this trail. But that's OK. It's there for everyone to enjoy.

The cascades flowed copiously.Ramsey Cascades - 10102010 We reached the top at about one o'clock and had half a lunch there since bees were circling our food. We enjoyed the trip down while meeting many hikers going up in the afternoon.

After I left the group, I drove through the park in a beautiful sea of color. See the photo above.

The Tramp and the Roughrider

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 09, 2010 09:33 AM
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Muir and TR - ACT picJohn Muir wasn't really a tramp and Teddy Roosevelt became President after he charged up San Juan Hill. But in 1903, they went on a four-day camping trip together in Yosemite National Park. Well, it wasn't a national park then and that was the problem.

The two-person play, shown at the Asheville Community Theater last Thursday, was a retelling of that camping trip. No press (for a while), no Secret Service, no hangers-on, they just camped and talked.

Muir tried to impress Roosevelt with the conservation issues of the day while Roosevelt wanted to impress Muir with his scars, broken bones (19 of them in his lifetime) and his physical exploits.

The play was a fundraiser for Western North Carolina Alliance. Sierra Club and Friends of the Smokies were also there to talk up their organizations.

Lee Stetson (John Muir) and Joe Weigand (Pres. Teddy Roosevelt) travel the country doing this play together and also separate monologues. If they come to your neighborhood, don't miss them.


Oconaluftee Visitor Center - Sam Reed with Gee

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 06, 2010 08:43 PM

OVC - Sam Reed and Dan Payne

If you've been following my adventures at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you may remember that two weeks ago, I met Gee Phillips, a volunteer who works at the Mountain Farm Museum in the fall.

I talked to Gee again this Monday as she quilted and told me about making cornbread. But something was bothering me. There's a lot of heavy lifting on a farm, even in the kitchen. How did it get done?

A bucket of water with a ladle laid on a side table. But how did it get there?

She wasn't going to bring it in from the Oconaluftee River close by, the way it was done at the beginning of the 20th century. A barrel hides a pump situated on a sand pipe, a tubular cavity several feet deep filled with gravel and sand. This system prevents the water pipe from freezing in winter. The pipe is hooked up to the water supply at Oconaluftee Visitor Center nearby.

But how did it get there? I certainly would not volunteer to carry such a heavy load. And then I met Sam Reed.

OVC - Sam ReedSam, a local volunteer and retired construction worker, helps Gee.

He now sports a long beard and wears blue overalls and looks the part of a farmer. He's on the farm the same days as Gee and does whatever needs doing. He also is around so she's not by herself on the farm.

Sam brings water to the kitchen and builds a fire. Even in the old days, great-grandmothers, like Gee, depended on others to deal with the heavy lifting. When he's not helping Gee, Sam works on farm chores. Above, he's with Dan, helping to cut the sorghum heads.

Working at Oconaluftee Visitor Center one day a week is like unraveling a large ball of thread or putting together a large, complicated puzzle. I learn something and then have some questions which sometimes get answered the next week.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail Dedication - Oct. 2, 2010

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 04, 2010 05:58 PM
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MST - 25 miles dedication ribbon cutting

25 miles.

It doesn’t seem very much when you’re trying to walk about 1,000 miles through North Carolina from Clingmans Dome to the Atlantic Ocean on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. But when the 25 miles happen to be in Watauga County and South Ashe County and that’s the section you’re hiking next, it’s huge. The section goes from Bamboo Gap to NC 16, generally  north of Blowing Rock and south of Doughton Park.

On Saturday (October 2), over 150 people gathered in E.B. Jeffress Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway to dedicate these new miles and walk on them officially for the first time. Jeffress Park at milepost 272 is a long way from Asheville but I was one of those folks who participated.

MST - Kate Dixon at the 25 miles dedicationKate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST, explained the importance of this dedication.

“Not only is it a beautiful section of trail but it means that the MST is almost done in the mountains.”

The MC of the program was Liz King, Board Secretary of the Friends of the MST.

Monika Mayr, Deputy Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway spoke about the expanding recreational opportunities on the Parkway. It’s fitting that this was done during the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Jim Hallsey and John Lanman, Volunteer Task Force Leader for South Ashe and Watauga respectively, were the stars of the show. They were the guys who led troops of volunteers to dig, saw, and prepare the trail for hikers.

 Jim gave us some “fun facts” that were quite serious.

These 25 miles involved 150 volunteers who worked 6,700 hours in 730 work days. This comes out to a value of $75,000.

The two task force leaders presented the trail to people for generations to come.      

The South Ashe section was declared finished. The Watauga section still has three miles to go which will replace seven miles of road walk on the Parkway.

Carol Tingley, Deputy Director of NC Division of Parks and Recreation, reminded the audience that the MST is a linear state park. “And we’re more than half-way there.”

Then the actual ribbon cutting. They had fashioned a ribbon held by groups of trail tools. Representatives of both task forces, including John and Jim’s grandchildren, did the actual cutting.

We sat down at picnic tables and enjoyed a wonderful buffet of covered dishes brought by the participants. I brought a colorful cole slaw of cabbage, carrots and apples with craisins and sliced almonds.

At 1 P.M., we broke up for hikes. I chose to go with Allen De Hart because his hike started from Jeffress Park and didn’t require a shuttle. We went west on the MST and passed a cabin and church and then climbed a hill.

Diana Dagenhart, a member of the Watauga County task force said “I love hiking. I hiked the MST in the Outer Banks. I participated in the trail building because I wanted to be part of something wonderful.”  

The job's not done until the paperwork is finished.

Well, the 25 miles are not quite finished.

MST - 25 miles info boardThere was no official documentation of these new 25 miles.

How is a hiker supposed to walk them and know where to spot cars? How about intermediate mileage and where does it come back to the Parkway?

John gave me his rough notes which I greatly appreciated while Jim drew a sketch on a white board for the hikes to follow. I photographed this and will use it for planning. Arthur Kelley has posted maps of the MST.

When I hike this section later this fall, I’ll GPS it and post it on my website.   


Mountains-to-Sea Trail - Price Park to Cone Park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 03, 2010 07:54 PM
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Starting with 410.3 miles, 67,050 ft. ascent

MST14-On Rich Mountain Trail

Price Park to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

13.8 miles 1,500 ft. ascent

Since this section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the drive to the start is quick and Sharon and I are on the trail before 8 A.M.

We have a couple of miles on the Tanawha Trail which flows right into Boone Fork Trail. We walk through pastures and see several workmen digging ditches to place drainage pipes - it doesn't go with the farm scene. Of course, this is a pastoral scene on the Parkway.

Once on Boone Fork Trail, the trail goes back into the wMST14-ontheBFTrailoods and crosses the same stream several times on pre-fabricated bridges. We're skirting huge boulders and go up and down stone steps.

Then we cross Boone Fork itself. Sharon had brought her water shoes which she didn't need while I skipped the water shoes that I knew I wouldn't use.MST14-CrossingBooneFork I plunge straight into the water.

The trail climbs as we enter Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in a section of the park not known by most visitors. People gravitate to the manor house which is also a craft center and maybe go down to Bass Lake.

I love Cone Park.

Maybe it's the story behind the self-made man of an Jewish-German immigrant family that only the 19th Century could produce. Maybe it's the house which has been compared to a very modest Biltmore Estate. Or maybe its because the 25 miles of carriage roads are so easy.

We reach Rich Mountain Trail about half-way up to Rich Mountain and go up and down a stile. See the picture above. Then the MST goes down, skirts the manor house and follows Watkin Rd., a trail which takes us out of Cone Park.

The blazes are few in this section and we depend on Scot Ward's book. I later learned that the Parkway is responsible for blazing this section of the MST, not a group of volunteers. We finish on Old Catawba Rd. and have to cross US321/221, a very busy road.

We passed a set of Terabithia - little things, cairns that seem like fairies have placed them. Sharon describes a Girl Scout camp ritual where older girls create a town of little things with rocks, twigs, and twine - chairs, houses, swings with the twine. Then they invite younger girls, first and second graders, to see this. They tell them that the fairies have come here and this is where they lived.

The younger girls are not supposed to talk in case they scare the fairies away. They just point in amazement.

Cumulative after Day 36, 424.1miles, 68,650 ft. ascent