Sunday, November 16, 2008

High and Dry on the West Fork, Part Two

The Trail Gods were smiling on me.

I took off in search of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee without knowing how to get there. Oh, I had a vague idea of where to go, but nothing definite. I drove slowly along a gravel road when a still small voice spoke: "Park here and walk down the hill." So I did. After a fifteen-minute descent, I reached a trail alongside the West Fork of the Tuckasegee. Appraising the terrain in both directions, I decided to turn upstream, and after another fifteen minutes, reached my destination. This wound up being a lot easier than I expected, even without any trail signs or markers.

I was reminded, once again, that November is an ideal time for hiking. After the rainy days, the woods had a pungent oak leaf fragrance unique to this month. With the trees bare, visibility was good. And the newly fallen leaves retained the warm russet tones that contrast so beautifully with the deep greens of the rhododendrons lining the river banks.

But I kept a fast pace, eager to reach the fabled falls. When I arrived, I was surprised at the volume of water still flowing, but I knew I was seeing a ghost of a waterfall, a trace of what it had been before the dam held back the waters that belonged to this river. I felt like I was walking into a huge stone bowl that had broken in half. Looking up, I saw the curving stone cliffs that surrounded and defined this large, open space. I clambered around on the slippery rocks, to view the falls from different vantage points. And I thought about Henry Colton, Margaret Morley, and all the others who had paused here in awe.

It was more than I had time to explore on this day. After a while, I started back down river and soon reached another impressive waterfall on a small branch flowing into the West Fork. A newly-built log stairway extended part of the way up the falls, and a brass plaque identified this as Thurston Hatcher Falls. Although I’ve learned nothing about Thurston Hatcher (1924-1990), I’d like to know how he managed to get a waterfall named after him.

On my way home, I did travel past another piece of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee. I wouldn’t have known it except for this - thirty years ago, some students from Western Carolina University interviewed elderly local residents. One woman, identified only as "Hazel," commented on the university’s buildings:
They all look like institutional buildings anyhow, sort of like a prison. I wish the architects had a little imagination. The prettiest building up there is one my husband built, the Breese Gymnasium. Made out of native stone, and they hewed ‘em out by hand. Brought ‘em from the old High Falls on the Tuckasegee River. They cut ‘em out and brought ‘em down here in the shape they are now.

If Part One of this story on the High Falls was about the past, and Part Two is about the present, then we'll need a Part Three to address the future: Tuckasegee Falls, the High Falls of the Tuckasegee, way up on the West Fork, might soon roar the way it used to roar, if only for brief and fleeting moments.

I’m looking forward to it.
For a slide show of photos from the West Fork:


kanugalihi said...

can't you see the top of these falls from the dam road?

great blogs. such a wonderful part of the world. and you describe it so well.

GULAHIYI said...

The one right below the dam road is Onion Falls. High Falls is downstream a bit further than that, though I wonder if the "canyon rim" around the top of the falls might be visible (a good distance away)from the dam road.

Anonymous said...


This is my favorite time to hike also. I am out among the nubbins of the once-mighty Uwharries, moving along the once gold-laden creeks toward Eldorado, and along the Uwharrie River. Ever notice that most of the stone culture names of the ancient woodland indians bear the names of locations in Stanly County? I have a nephew who has an astonishing ability to find ancient Indian encampments. He doesnt collect, he is satisfied just to find where artifacts are, and reports the site to UNC.

A lot of times I just sit and listen.

Class of '74

GULAHIYI said...

Hey '74,
Thanks. I've heard that Hardaway and the other sites along the Yadkin there are among the most significant archaeological sites in the Southeast.

I used to write bad poetry and wrote the following in November 1977 while hiking along the Yadkin:


November afternoon, what’s left of it.
Upstream the dam is golden,
You can hear the river roar
As it goes over.

Across the river
Small smooth mountains catch the sun.
Shadows are starting to climb
Over dull red and yellow flecks in the pine.

I hear a jet plane, I listen to the river.
Remembering ten centuries ago, people walked here.
The sounds of their footsteps, the undammed river.
What they said, where they slept.
The river trembles with secrets.

I’m falling silent myself,
Tapping the hornbeam and sniffing cedar.
I’ll go away to the road that
Leaves the dreams and shadows
To rest

Anonymous said...

Better than MayaAngelou- "America's most famous Bad Poet".

The technology Cultures of the Woodland Indians of the Southeast bear names like Hardaway, Peedee, Morrow Mountain, Palmer (for Palmer Mountain), Uwharrie, and Badin (I think). It seems that the stone around here is particularly suited to manufacture of stone tools. I took some instruction in striking off cores and flakes, and its pretty interesting. Also, the major Indian trading paths of the region crossed just below Morrow Mountain, so it was like a pre-industrial Pittsburgh.

Class of '74

GULAHIYI said...

Now that you mention it, '74, I remember hearing that Morrow Mountain was an important source of stone for implement-making all through this region. I like that "pre-industrial Pittsburgh" analogy. Last time I was on top of Morrow Mountain, I noticed lots of stone that looked suitable for shaping into spearpoints, etc.

That must have been interesting learning how to shape the tools, but the question is: Did you ever catch supper with them?

I think I would have fared much better as a farmer than as a hunter-gatherer!

I read something the other day about how Joffre Coe was a bit hamstrung getting archaeological work underway at Town Creek Mound, because the University of NC was worried about bad publicity that could result from funding such "frivolity" in the midst of the Depression. Coe pieced together enough support to keep the dig going. My parents were among the volunteers that worked on the site, so I've always had a warm place in my heart for it and was there for the official dedication. I'm sure you know it well, but anyone else reading this should check out Town Creek Historic Site - the next time they're visiting the busy metropolis of Mount Gilead (Montgomery County, NC). There's nothing else like it in North Carolina.