Stone Mountain: A Day on the Defiant Dome

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Stone Mountain might be the most accurately named peak of them all: it is a white stone the size of a mountain. And it makes for a great day hike.

Emily and I (Winston Staff) are halfway to the summit of North Carolina’s premier dome, a granite structure popular for its breathtaking views, cascading waterfalls, and challenging “friction climbing.” We reach the first overlook, prefaced by a winding “stairway to heaven,” guardrails included, that almost seems to take something from this pure landform, but is surely in place for our safety. From our perch, we gaze west towards Wolf and Cedar Rocks, other notable landmarks in Stone Mountain State Park. Located in Elkin County, just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the park is host to several hiking trails, three major waterfalls, and trout streams for those who hike with a fly rod. With opportunities for backpacking, as well, it is a prime mountain getaway.

After a bite to eat, we continue up the aptly named, Stone Mountain Trail, and soon reach the summit. At 2,297 feet, this exposed slope offers quite a view of the surrounding landscape. Shallow indentions follow the gradual and seemingly smooth curvature of the mountain, undoubtedly left behind by countless rain slides. While it may appear, at a distance, smooth like a marble, Stone Mountain is scarred by fissures, grooves, and protrusions. Yet, for all erosion has done to this mountain, it has also made it the natural marvel it is today.

Emily, a trained photographer, captures some shots of roaming hawks and “the Hero Tree,” a lone, wind-swept piece of bark jutting out of the rock face, before we head down the other side of the mountain.

After a steep descent we come across a sign warning of death near the 200 foot “Upper Falls,” and we can hear rushing water plummeting over the mountainside. Like backyard explorers, we exchange excited glances and rush towards the source. An impressive, labyrinthine staircase zigzags down the peak, taking hikers to the collecting pool at the bottom of the falls.

Emily and I stand within two yards of the pounding, frothy drink. A light spray tickles my face. If only it was summer… I would be swimming!

Later, we hike past the Hutchinson Homestead – a plot of land straight out of history – not to mention a spectacular view of Stone Mountain in its entirety. In the far distance, we see a rock climber ascending the Great Arch, a long, serpentine crack up the side of the dome, and testament to nature’s eroding effects on the mountain.

As we return to the “lower” parking area and complete the Stone Mountain Loop, we are both impressed by what we’ve encountered and eager to come back, since we’ve really only scratched the surface. But something tells us we won’t have to rush back. Like the Hero Tree, this mountain knows how to endure.

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