In my house there’s a joke about me getting distracted by “shiny things”. It’s not necessarily about glitz and glam, although shiny baubles have been known to distract me from time to time. It’s more about something being so awesome that it captivates my attention completely therefore making me forget entirely what I was doing – “Aaa – where was I? Oh, sorry, something shiny caught my attention” … you get the idea.
These “shiny” things could be birds, sunsets, flowers, clouds, the foam on my latte…really anything that pulls me into the moment so completely that i forget everything else around me. So naturally when I heard there was a place called “Shining Rock”, that was a place I wanted to see…even if it meant hiking many miles into the wilderness of the Pisgah National Forest.
The drive was about an hour from Asheville, but the drive was on the Blue Ridge Parkway for over 20 miles so I think that actually counts as part of the experience. I got on the parkway at milepost marker 200 heading past the Pisgah Inn and views of Looking Glass Rock, Cherry Cove, Cold Mountain and Pounding Mill Overlook. All great opportunities to stop and snap a few photos – truly a whole day could be made out of just driving on the parkway. The elevation is well over 4500 feet and was very breezy – a skull cap would have been a nice addition to my attire but I simple didn’t think of it on that June day. I’ll try and remember next time that it is always at least 10 degrees cooler than Asheville.
At milepost 420, I turned on Black Balsam Road and this dead ended into a parking lot. A couple of notes about this parking lot. First, there are two uninviting, primitive bathrooms – don’t be a snob because these are the only ones you will be seeing until you return from your hike. There are no trash cans, so take your trash with you back to town – let’s keep the wilderness clean and shiny for generations to come and leave no trace. Lastly, many trails begin from this parking lot – invest in a good map because this is serious wilderness and there aren’t many signs!
I headed from the paved parking, through the gravel parking, through a gate and down a rocky road. Off to my right was a sign for the Art Loeb Trail marked “difficult” – if that’s your thing then take that trail to the shining rock – but I stayed on the mostly level road named(but unmarked) Ivestor Gap Trail. This trail reminded me of a nearly dry creek bed. It is VERY rocky with small streams flowing across it in spots. I would learn later that this was actually an old logging road in the early 1900s. The first mile of this trail was all about finding my footing, navigating the rocks of all shapes and sizes across the muddy parts and trying to avoid tripping and falling flat on my face. It was definitely rough for me in the beginning and my attitude was not exuding the cheerfulness of REMs “Happy Shiny People”.
There are several spots along this hike where multiple trails come together and a choice needs to be made on which way to go. Luckily I had not only a map, but an expert map reader (aka my husband) along with me to lead the way. For detailed hiking instructions, I would recommend the blog Meanderthals. I will stick with my area of expertise and tell you about several shiny things that captivated me that day.
Sometimes shiny things literally shine. After about 2 miles, the rocky trail suddenly became shimmering sand. I imagine early settlers might have had thoughts of gold or silver when they saw this brilliantly shining sand, but I suspect that it was only mica that made the sand sparkle. This unexpected finding gave my morale a little boost and my feet a little rest from the constant pounding of the rocks beneath them.
As I neared the 4 mile mark into the hike, suddenly the path which had narrowed considerably was surrounded by wood ferns. The vegetation became denser around my feet and it gave the whole area a softer feel to my eyes. Don’t be fooled, there were still lots of rocks under foot, but the change of scenery was magnificent as I entered a more densely forested area. The lushness of this area made everything come to life. More bees buzzed; more birds sang; the breeze gently blew through my hair. It was pure magic in that moment. Taking a few deep breaths and soaking this in for a moment was refreshing and seemed to spark all of my senses.
Several times on this hike, I found myself inside a tunnel of Rhododendrons. This is hard to describe, but basically I was completely surrounded by the trunks and lower branches of these flowering bushes that blanket the hillsides. In this case, the bushes had grown so large and dense that I was actually walking under them where no leaves or flowers were present. All the sky was blotted out above as well. Okay, so it was a little spooky, but mostly fantastic and definitely a shiny, distracting moment to get lost in.
Of course, Shining Rock itself is a spectacular white, quartz rock outcropping in the middle of the forest. For most of the hike, I was diligently looking at my feet and approximately 4 feet in front of my feet so that I could be prepared for the next rock, root or ledge that I needed to navigate. Quite suddenly, the ground became littered with white stones, which upon closer inspection were actually quartzite. As the stones became boulders and then gave way to the massive outcropping known as Shining Rock, the forest floor gave the appearance of being covered in snow. I did several double takes to be sure what it was that I was actually looking at… not a field of snow, but of quartzite. At this point, I ventured off the trail to shimmy up this gigantic rock to get a spectacular view of the mountain wilderness. Breathtaking!
Feeling so invigorated by the Shining Rock experience, I decided to attempt looping back on the Art Loeb trail for a few miles – let’s just say it was indeed “difficult” for this newbie hiker. Luckily, the trails came together one last time and for the final part of the hike I was able to get back onto the old logging road to avoid going through anymore wilderness trails over any more mountain tops. I’d been hiking for 9 miles and I was tired!
Often in life, perspective sneaks up on me and flips the whole scene when I least expect it. This is just what happened on my final shiny moment of the afternoon. The exact same mile of road that I found so difficult a few short hours earlier, now seemed mundane. Why had I put so much effort into hopping from rock to rock to stay dry? It was much easier to walk straight across the little streams that were no deeper than an inch or two. Why had each step in the beginning seemed so treacherous? Realizing how quickly my perspective could change left me reeling. I spent the conclusion of my trek contemplating why I make things more difficult than they need to be and what other areas of my life this might effect. This was definitely the most illuminating moment along the journey that day. Let your light shine!