With Betsy’s annual check-up completed and her new “shoes” installed, we were excited to end our “parking lot camping” and get back on the road. Our destination this time was Pilot Mountain, near Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Pilot Mountain is capped by a prominent pinnacle called the Big Nipple, or Big Pinnacle. That’s the knob of rock on the left in the image above. The curved depression between the ridge sloping to Little Pinnacle to the right gives the entire mountain a distinctive shape from a distance, especially from highway 52.
The close-up shot above of Big Pinnacle shows that it has walls of bare rock and a rounded top covered by trees. Those walls rise 200 feet, and below is a shot I took of them on the day we hiked up there.
Naturally, we were inspired to hike up to the base of the Big Pinnacle. That’s as high as we could go, since the sheer rock walls of the pinnacle are impassable. As usual, we stopped by the Pilot Mountain State Park office to learn how this mountain got its name.
We learned that the mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.” It guided both Native Americans and early European hunters along a north-south path through the area. Rising to an elevation of 2421 feet, this solitary quartzite mountain, part of the ancient Sauratown Mountain range, has been dedicated as a National Natural Landmark and was now our beacon to hike and explore.
There’s an easy way to get to the top, and that is to drive all the way up and park your car, then take a short walk to enjoy the vistas from Little Pinnacle Overlook. From there, another short walk will get you to the base of the Big Pinnacle. But you don’t think we did it the easy way, do you? Of course not!
Instead, we combined three of the park’s trails on our first hike. We started on the Grindstone Trail, which we followed for three miles from the entrance parking lot to the top of Little Pinnacle. Then we picked up the Jameokee Trail, a .8 mile loop around the shoulder of Big Pinnacle. Finally, on our way back down we followed the Ledge Spring Trail, a long, steep rocky descent.
We stopped at a cliff along the trail to enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside, as we searched for Betsy from Big Pinnacle. The other rig you see below wasn’t there when we left home, and it was gone when we got back from our 7-mile hike. Strange…
On another day we tackled the southern leg of the mountain, this time combining the Grindstone Trail, Mountain Trail and Grassy Ridge Trail, for a total of 8 miles. Although the Mountain Trail is rated strenuous, it was really a piece of cake after our previous hike, as there was very little elevation change and we were basically just walking around the mountain. There were no boulders or rocks to scramble over, which is what we usually consider strenuous.
Admission to this state park was free, and we hiked all of its trails during our stay. Now that’s what we call a good stop!
Next, we decided to head up to Mount Airy, NC to look around, since it was less than 20 miles away. Some of you may know that Mount Airy is also known as Mayberry, RFD, since Andy Griffith was born and raised there. Although there is no real place called Mayberry, Mount Airy has definitely capitalized on the TV show’s popularity, turning the town into quite the tourist area for Andy Griffith fans. Besides the Andy Griffith Museum, there are several businesses named after locations on the show – like Floyd’s Barber Shop. Everything here is Mayberry this and Mayberry that.
Our lunch at Snappy Lunch was a pleasant surprise – look at those prices! I had the Famous Pork Chop Sandwich and Steve had the BLT. Both were good and well worth the money.
Steve has always been interested in planes, trains and automobiles, and if you’ve been following us you know we try to hit those kinds of museums whenever we get a chance. So when Steve heard about the NC Transportation Museum we decided to drive down to Spencer and check it out.
The NC Transportation Museum is located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive servicing facility, Spencer Shops. The site was chosen in 1896 because of its midpoint location between the railroad’s major terminal points in Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA. During its heyday, Spencer Shops employed 3,000 people, providing most of the jobs for the town of Spencer and its neighboring communities.
The museum is largely devoted to the state’s railroad history; however, its collection also includes exhibits of automobiles and aircraft. It is the largest repository of rail relics in North and South Carolina.
The highlights of our visit here were the Back Shop and the Roundhouse. The Back Shop is a massive building that served as the major overhaul facility for steam locomotives. When we stepped inside we were blown away by the size of the huge structure. Back in the day, two to three locomotives were repaired here each week. It was literally too big to capture in a single photo!
A roundhouse serves as a garage where locomotives receive regular maintenance. This 37-stall roundhouse is one of the few survivors of a distinctive type of locomotive repair facility that was once common in North America.
The radial track and turntable arrangement was based on the operational and maintenance needs of steam locomotives. This particular roundhouse is considered among the best preserved examples of a large modern roundhouse that continues to function as a railroad repair facility today.
Back at our campground, there weren’t many birds around to entertain us. Instead, the afternoon thunderstorms never failed to create excitement, pounding us with rain/wind/lightning, and more than a little apprehension. Steve and I would sit by the windows, watching as it raged for a few minutes, then we could relax again when it was over. The good news is they usually passed quickly and brought the stifling temperature down a bit. Whew! Ever since our scary experience at Gulf Shores, AL we still get a bit nervous when thunderstorms approach our site. We definitely won’t miss this weather when we get back to the western states!
But the best part was that our home base for the week was at Greystone RV Park, where all 10 sites face Pilot Mountain. We had the whole park to ourselves for several days and loved it!
As the afternoon skies began to clear, I would grab my camera and take solitary walks around the park. It was relaxing as I strolled along with the birds as my singing companions, discovering many new wildflowers. Unwinding each afternoon like this after a long hike or sightseeing journey was the best nourishment for my body and soul.
Finally, have you ever tasted spring green onions? There was a farmer’s market near our campground, and we decided to give these sweet onions a try. They were great chopped up and mixed into our salads, and also excellent when we grilled them whole on the BBQ. Yum!
And that wraps up our week at Pilot Mountain, and our month-plus in North Carolina. West Virginia, here we come!
Next up: Wild and Wonderful West Virginia!