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: