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Friday, January 14, 2022

A Walk on the Tar River Trail, and a Taste of Rocky Mount

 We had planned a week's stay here in Enfield, near Rocky Mount, but because a heavy snow and loss of campground power made us refugees from Fredericksburg, Virginia, we got to this campground early, and we have 13 days here.  After over a week, we've found an opportunity to explore nearby Rocky Mount, which boasts two very interesting tourist attractions:  the Tar River Trail and Rocky Mount Mills.  We challenged them both this afternoon!

As it happens, the two are adjacent.  We decided to park in the central parking lot of Rocky Mount Mills, a redevelopment marvel in downtown Rocky Mount:

Rocky Mount Mills, located on the Tar River in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, was originally the second cotton mill constructed in the State of North Carolina, dating back to 1816.  It was also the first cotton mill in the United States to employ slaves in its operations.  In the 1850s, most of the coarse yarns produced at the mill were sold in small bundles for local weaving.  The mill's surplus yarns were sold for coarse filling for the Philadelphia market.  During the last months of the Civil War, the Confederacy drew its entire supply of textile goods from North Carolina mills. Northern troops recognized the significance of the textile industry's contribution to the war effort. In raids led by General William T. Sherman, Union troops laid waste to most of Eastern North Carolina's manufacturing base by burning the Rocky Mount Mill on the Tar River, the Great Falls Mill in Rockingham, NC, and five of the six mills in the Fayetteville vicinity.  As the southern cotton industry expanded after the Civil War, the cotton mill experienced rapid growth. The company also supported a residential village for employees, which was eventually incorporated into the City of Rocky Mount in the 1920s. The mill was a major supplier of cotton yarn to the United States Army during World War II. 

The mills and surrounding mill village are included in the Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District.  The buildings primarily date between about 1835 and 1948, and include notable examples of Greek Revival and Bungalow/American Craftsman style residential architecture. The district includes the Rocky Mount Mills buildings, the mill village community house (1918) and a variety of one- and two-story frame mill worker houses.

Capitol Broadcasting Company bought the 150-acre mills in 2007 and has redeveloped it into a mixed-use campus of breweries, restaurants, lofts, office, and event space.  Its main attraction is as an incubator for craft breweries, as well as being home to a number of restaurants. 

The mill itself has been turned into lofts, office, and event space. The approximately 100 historical homes in the mills village have been updated and are available to rent.  In 2019, the River and Twine hotel opened on the campus, a collection of 20 boutique tiny house cottages. The next phase of development is Goat Island on the Tar River, which will offer public access to hiking trails, sandy beaches, and paddling sports.

Rocky Mount Mills used the power of the Tar River falls at Rocky Mount by building a dam that created a retention pond and provided water power.  The dam and retention pond still exist behind the original mill buildings:

We crossed the retention pond from Rocky Mount Mills and enjoyed views of the dam, with Rocky Mount Mills in the background:

Below the dam, water spills into the original river bed to continue its way downstream.  The Tar River is approximately 215 miles long and flows generally southeast to an estuary of Pamlico Sound on the Atlantic Ocean.

Below the dam, we spotted this great blue heron fishing for dinner.  As we watched, we were surprised to see FIVE MORE herons, for a total of six great blue heron fishing the same rocky section of the river.  Must have been good fishing, we think!

Cypress are everywhere here, especially along the river, where their famous knees grace every view of the river:

The Tar River is muddy and not particularly photogenic, but its earthly browns mingle with the browns of soil and trees in winter, making for a sepia landscape worth of any 19th Century photographer:

Continuing past the dam, we followed the Tar River Trail along the north bank of the Tar River, crossing occasional tributaries as they spilled runoff into the river:

We worked our way east and reached the eastern end of Goat Island, where we spotted this structure, which might have been a fishing dock or hunting blind:

The Tar River was placid, even on a windy day, and we could imagine ourselves carelessly paddling up and down it:

On the north bank of the river, opposite Rocky Mount Mills, perches an observatory and platform, from which we could see the mills and the town water tower:

After a walk of 1 or 1.5 hours, we returned to Rocky Mount Mills and strolled over to Goat Island Bottle Shop, where we tasted some beer while waiting for our target brewery tasting room to open.  We picked two beers to taste and retired to the outdoor patio to avoid infectious air.  

Here, David enjoys a Rum Barrel pumpkin ale --

-- and Kathy hoists a Stone stout:

Four o'clock arrived, and we walked over to Koi Pond Brewing Company, which is located in this historic house now affectionately named, "The Pond":

Our server was a genial guy who offered us everything on tap, plus some beers in cans in the fridge.  We tried a flight of their beers on tap, including what became our favorite -- the 10 Coin Day 10% Belgian Golden Ale, as well as a stout, a wit beer and a Marzen ale:

All were good, and we stocked up with many of them, plus some others, and headed home (with a stop for groceries and an Amazon pick-up) for a dinner of beer and Chinese dumplings.  Yum!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Revisiting the Neuse River Trail

 Thursday, January 13, 2022

Hi Blog!

Back in 2018, we passed through North Carolina on our way to Pennsylvania. We stopped for a few days to explore the Raleigh area. We discovered the Neuse River Trail, a 33-mile paved greenway running along the banks of the Neuse River from Falls Lake Dam, north of Raleigh, to the town of Clayton, south of Raleigh. On March 5, 2018, we explored the southern portion of the trail starting in Clayton. If you are curious, you can click the link to our previous blog.

Today we started our adventure at the northern end of the trail at the base of the Falls Lake Dam.

The Neuse River has one of the oldest surviving English-applied place-names in the U.S. Explorers named the Neuse River after the American Indian tribe known as Neusiok, with whom the early Raleigh expeditions made contact.

We passed a number of neighborhoods with easy access to the trail. There were a few remnants of prior industrial uses. Because of frequent flood, all of the new developments were set back from the banks of the river creating a green landscape along the banks.

Unlike most rail trails which can be extremely flat and straight, the Neuse Trail follows along the twisting turning river, up and down rolling hills and across bridges and boardwalks. Some turns were so tight they installed mirrors so you could see folks coming around the bend. This mirror (or lack thereof) made us smile.

At the five mile mark, we stopped at a picnic area with river access. With temperatures in the low 50s, we were happy we packed our thermoses with hot tea. After a short break, it was back in the saddle.

There are a number of other greenways in Raleigh which follow the various creeks that empty into the Neuse River. This bridge over the Neuse River connects with the Walnut Creek Greenway.

We passed several concrete utility stations with local birds painted by Nora Reston. These public art installations are sponsored by Raleigh Arts, the City's hub for public art and community arts programming. 

We stopped to admire some of the historic structures along the trail.

The river narrowed in this section and the trail had to climb up this long bridge. Just to the right, we passed a large flock of vultures feasting on a deer. We decided not to include that photo. 

At the 10 mile mark, we decided to take a lunch break and make this our turnaround. Our daughter had given us these cute little soup thermoses. We used them all last winter during out ski outings. The warm lentil soup was perfect on such a chilly day.

We rested and hydrated while watching the road bikers zip past.

Just passed our lunch spot, we noticed this male duck courting a couple of ladies.

The Neuse River Greenway trail is part of the Capital Area Greenway trail system as well as the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that crosses North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Open to both cyclists and pedestrians, the Neuse River Trail is the longest greenway trail in North Carolina and the longest paved trail between northern Virginia and western Georgia. 

After returning to the trailhead, we loaded the bikes on the Jeep and walked up to the top of the Falls Lake Dam so we could take in the view. The lake is named for the Falls of Neuse, a once whitewater section of the river that fell from the Piedmont into the lower Coastal Plain. The falls were submerged during construction of the lake.

We noticed a Blue Heron on the shore of the lake. At first, he was too far away for a photo. As we walked closer he took flight. We were surprised he actually flew toward us. He stopped right below us and posed for this photo.

Falls Lake is a 12,410 acre reservoir which extends 28 miles up the Neuse River to its source at the confluence of the Eno, Little, and Flat rivers. Falls Dam is an earthen structure having a top elevation of 291.5 feet and an overall length of 1,915 feet. The height above the streambed is 92.5 feet. That's a long way down!

The ride back to camp was uneventful. We hope to get out tomorrow and explore Rocky Mount. Stay turned.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Walking the Greenville Greenway

We thought this was Kathy's blog entry to draft, but it turned out to be mine.  So there you go.

We had a gorgeous but chilly day to find an outdoor activity today.  We've conquered our water pump challenge, we've cleaned, we've grocery shopped.  We aren't scheduled to visit the Arlingtonians until Saturday.  So we researched our options.  We found a bicycle ride, but opted to do that tomorrow, when it will be warmer.  Today, it was to be a hike.

Greenville, North Carolina has a 7 mile multi-use trail that follows the Tar River.  While it would be suitable to bicycles, we thought it would be more fun to walk it.  Furthermore, Greenville had a brewpub we wanted to visit, and we thought that would fit with a walking afternoon.

So we arrived in downtown Greenville around 11:30 am.  We discovered that it is the county seat of Pitt County, and the home of East Carolina University, a public research university.  Greenville also is the health, entertainment, and educational hub of North Carolina's Tidewater and Coastal Plain.  We found it an attractive town.  In January 2008 and January 2010, Greenville was named one of the nation's "100 Best Communities for Young People" by the America's Promise Alliance. In June 2012, Greenville was ranked in the top ten of the nation's "Best Small Places For Business And Careers" by Forbes magazine. In 2010, Greenville was ranked twenty-fourth in mid-city business growth and development by Forbes Magazine.

As we walked down to the Tar River, we passed the County Courthouse, which is an impressive edifice:

Reaching the river, we found the Town Commons, which had been created in an urban renewal project in the late 1960's.  Unfortunately, it was formed by clearing a thriving African-American community under the guise of "clearing slums."

An entrance gate and flags greet the visitor in the Town Commons: 

We spotted an interesting structure to the west, which we went to investigate.  We found that it is a memorial to the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church, which was a center of the Black community here and was demolished in connection with the "urban redevelopment" of the community:

Leaving aside its questionable history, the Commons has a beautiful walk along the Tar River, which we enjoyed as we continued our walk:

It wasn't long before we reached a fishing pier located strategically near a boat ramp and paddling put-in where the actual Greenway Trail begins.  Below, David stands at the fishing pier, wishing he had a rod and reel to try it out:

The fishing pier gave a pretty view of the Tar River:

The actual beginning of the Greenway Trail was at this pedestrian bridge: 

Constructed in 1927, the 200 ft. span bridge once served as a crossing over the Tar river and was located on Greene Street. In 2002, it was disassembled into three sections and moved to the Town Commons Park. Re-assembly of the bridge was completed in 2005. It is a Parker Truss Bridge. Only a few existed in North Carolina when it was re-assembled. 

The bridge now serves as an entranceway to the South Tar River Greenway, and we took the opportunity for a selfy at the trailhead:

The Greenway boasts a large number of public sculptures, generally built from cast-off or industrial artifacts.  Here, Kathy mistakes a sculpture for a real bovine and tries, unsuccessfully, to feed it some grass.  A local dog was confused and dismayed at the sight and started barking, then couldn't keep its eyes off of us as we followed it and its master down the trail.

The Greenway trail boasts numerous benches for people to rest and contemplate this naturally muddy river:

Surprisingly enough, we spotted this Knockout Rose blooming along the path!

Local fishermen clearly favor this trail for access to the Tar River.  When we spotted this unique fishing dock, we also spotted a local fisherman casting for who-knows-what-kind-of-fish.  We didn't want to bother him, so this is as close as we got to the dock:

Eventually, we reached our turnaround point -- Mile 1.5 of the 7-mile trail and 2.5 miles into our walk:

While we spent the entire walk out the trail observing and appreciating nature and history, we used the return walk to noodle how best to solve that very-popular word game, Wordle, a simple, web-based game based in the United Kingdom.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves at our ultimate destination, Uptown Brewing Company, one of a couple of breweries in Greenville (what self-respecting college town doesn't have at least one?):

We conducted a scientific tasting of the beers of Uptown that seemed most appealing to us, and finally settled on three of them to take home in Crowlers, along with a sour cranberry beer for our son Matt.  When we tasted, the server offered us a few handfuls of Aunt Ruby's Peanuts, which were so tasty that we decided to pick up a container for our daughter-in-law Weina.  Conveniently, Aunt Ruby's is situated just down the road from our campground, so we'll be able to hop over and pick from a wide selection of local peanuts.

When we got home, our thoughts turned from Aunt Ruby to Kitten Ruby, who was eager for her afternoon walk.  Kathy volunteered to walk Ruby while David conducted our customary weekly dump-and-fill, our first fill of fresh water to use with our newly installed water pump!

Life is good, especially with peanuts and beer.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Medoc Mountain Summit Loop

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Hi Blog!

It's hard to believe almost a week has gone by since Snowmaggedon 2022. Without campground power, we boondocked in the Fredericksburg KOA for three days before the camp workers were able to clear all the downed trees from the campground roads. After learning it could be more than a week before power would be restored, we decided to contact our next campground and see if they could take us a few days early. On Thursday, January 6, 2022, we drove south from Fredericksburg to Enfield, North Carolina. By the time we passed Richmond, there was no evidence of snow.

It took us a couple days to recover from our unexpected boondocking. By Sunday, we were ready to explore our new neighborhood. Just a few miles from camp was Medoc Mountain State Park. Some of the park’s ten miles of hiking trails wander along the Fishing Creek; others climb several hundred feet to the upper reaches of Medoc Mountain. We decided to explore a little of both.


We were curious about the name Medoc. The mountain and surrounding land have long been used for agriculture. Once the property of Sidney Weller, a noted farmer and educator, the area was used for the cultivation of grapes in the 19th century. Weller produced a highly acclaimed wine known as Weller's Halifax and is credited with developing the American system of grape culture and winemaking. It was Weller who named the mountain "Medoc," after a province in the Bordeaux region of France famous for its vineyards. The vineyards here in North Carolina disappeared, and little trace of them remains. 

This restored barn sits near the trailhead.  We wondered it if might have played a role in winemaking, but we'll never know.

The wilderness character of Medoc Mountain is being restored through reforestation. Much of the land is in various stages of regrowth, and the forests offer a sense of renewal. Old fields, once used for farming, are being reforested with herbaceous plants and young pines. In time, mature loblolly pine forests and then hardwood forests will reign.

When we reached Fishing Creek, we took a moment to enjoy the warmth of the day. Fishing Creek is considered to be one of the cleanest streams in North Carolina. Several species of game fish, including redbreast sunfish, bluegill, warmouth, largemouth bass and chain pickerel make fishing a popular pastime in the park.

While most of the creek flowed placidly by, we did find a few riffles.

Much of the Fishing Creek Loop follows along the main creek bank. However, there were several steep drainage runs we had to cross by hiking up the drainage and crossing a small footbridge.

In order to reach the Medoc Summit Loop, we had to cross over Fishing Creek.

As we worked our way down the far side of the creek, we found a fallen log which made a great lunch spot.

After lunch, we had to cross a number of draining runs. This particular crossing had a brand new bridge. The dappled sunlight made for an interesting photo with me and my shadow friend!

Even with temperatures near an unseasonable 65 degrees, we only encountered a few hikers on the trail. For most of the day, we had the park to ourselves.

Our grandson would be disappointed if we didn't include at least one "fun guy" in our blog. Here is the best of our fun guy photos.

As we neared the summit of Medoc Mountain, we notice evidence of a forest fire. As it turned out, this area was part of a prescribed burn back in 2018 to help make the forest healthier.

Considering this area was primarily used for agriculture since the early-1800s, it was not surprising to find a cemetery. What was unusual, however, was how well the plots were maintained. There was no mention of the Vinson family in the park literature. We did uncover some ancestry websites that mentioned the Vinson family had a plantation in the area.  But we never found information about this family, whose mother outlived her husband, four sons and a grandson.

We followed an old farm road toward the summit of Medoc Mountain. Someone decided to create an art installation along the side of the road.

We also learned that Medoc Mountain is not really a mountain at all. Its highest point reaches an elevation of only 325 feet above sea level. It is, rather, the core of what was once a mighty range of mountains. Medoc Mountain is what remains after millions of years of erosion. The eroded peaks were formed by volcanic action during the Paleozoic Age, about 350 million years ago. Medoc Mountain is cloaked in a forest of green, its trees masking the peak. There are no scenic panoramas, no distant views of a majestic pinnacle rising to the sky. We tried to find the US Geological Survey Marker at the summit, but the fallen leaves made it impossible to find. However, we did find some really interesting educational markers.

The granite core of  Medoc Mountain has effectively routed the streams of the area around itself and has resisted the erosion typical of the surrounding lowlands. The park sits near the fall line, an area where the hard, resistant rocks of the foothills give way to the softer rocks and sediments of the coastal plain. The northern and western faces of Medoc Mountain have very steep slopes, dropping 160 feet over a distance of less than a quarter mile. We followed a long set of stairs back down to the banks of Fishing Creek. once we reached the bottom and returned to Fishing Creek, Kathy took a moment to rest and listen to the creek burble by.

After completing the Summit Loop, we had about a mile and a quarter to return to the trailhead. We both agreed it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs. The 65 degree temperature was a bonus. However, the good weather isn't going to last long. By Tuesday, we will be back in the teens. 

Hopefully, we'll be able to get out and about again. Stay tuned.