It almost goes without saying how much we take things for granted, especially those with which we are familiar. With enough exposure, even the most awe-inspiring view can become just another part of the landscape.
That thrilling first day on the new job gives way to monotonous hours glued to a desk. Those who go out of their way to help us become expected to do so. Others who we write off as annoyances become tear gaping holes in our hearts when they’re no longer in our lives and we realize for the first time that we actually miss them.
Occasionally, we find ourselves guilty of doing this in regards to the area in which we live. Who doesn’t dream of daily trips to Disney World, climbing the highest peaks of the Rockies, or sitting surfside on the California coast? The landscapes and destinations of America are some of the most amazing in the world, but it’s easy to forget what a beautiful area we have for ourselves here as well. Sure, we may take an occasional walk to Roan Mountain, but those forested hills simply fade into the haze on many a day commuting down I-26. Millions of visitors from around the world visit the Southern Appalachians each year, so maybe they see something we don’t?
Last weekend we drove down to Erwin while visiting our amazing friend and fellow Loafer contributor Ken Silvers (Go check out his awesome Pop Life life column!). We took a brief break from our weekly comic book shop quest to explore the Rock Creek Recreation Area, a wonderful jewel located just a couple of miles outside of downtown Erwin. Easy to miss due to a broken sign, the entrance is located on TN-395 just before it begins the climb up to Indian Grave Gap at the North Carolina line. While we have been to Erwin dozens of times and even driven past the entrance before, we failed to notice it. We’re so thankful Ken pointed it out to us and wish we had visited sooner.
The Rock Creek Recreation Facility was originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps all the way back in the 1930’s. Expanded in later years, the park includes a picnic area, playground, campground, hiking and biking trails, an amphitheater, and a natural stream-fed pool.
Towards the front of the park lies the picnic area, along with the playground. It features plenty of tables and grills, enough for an entire family get-together or just a quick lunch before setting off on a hike. Over thirty camping sites are available, many with full electric hookups for RV’s and tents alike. These are located under a tall tree canopy alongside gently-flowing Rock Creek. Great prices on sites ($15 max per night) make it easy for visitors to stay a full week or more.
The pool area seems to be a favorite with most visitors. More aptly described as a pond, the large body of water is continually filled with fresh water from a small stream which cascades over a small waterfall. The average depth is about six feet, but on our trip, the water levels had been lowered down to three. A grassy slope on one side and a sandy beach on the other offer tempting areas to sunbathe or picnic in between dips.
Rock Creek flows down from the heights of Unaka Mountain, one of the area’s highest peaks at 4,957 feet. Much of the mountainside above this area is protected within the Unaka Mountain Wilderness Area, and several trails depart from the campground to climb the slopes and stream valleys. The real jewel of the recreation area is a footpath called Rock Creek Falls Trail. It parallels the stream as it climbs 1.75 miles into the wilderness area before terminating at its namesake falls. Crashing over fifty feet down two separate ledges, the waterfall is a sight best appreciated in person instead of through photographs, as they don’t do it justice.
If you’re in the mood for a more relaxing walk, there are two nature trails which wander through the surrounding woods. The Hemlock Forest Trail is 0.37 mile, while the Trail of the Hardwoods is even shorter at 0.20 mile. Rock Creek Bicycle trail follows the stream for 0.8 of a mile along a smooth bed of gravel. Whether you bike or walk it, you’ll want to take your time and enjoy the many scenic cascades along the creek and higher up in the forest. A longer hike is available if you turn right at the trail’s end onto Rattlesnake Ridge Trail. This also ascends into the Unaka Mountain Wilderness and ends in the spruce forests along the Unaka Mountain Wildlife Viewing Loop, a scenic drive we covered in a past issue.
The Unaka Mountains, as well as the rest of the Appalachians, are a national treasure. We are so extremely fortunate to call this place our home. As you drive to work each day or run out to do errands, keep your eyes open for the little things that would otherwise pass unnoticed. Take a detour down that road you’ve never driven, or stop by that stream that flows behind your job. Climb the fire tower, watch the sunrise, and check out that restaurant that has always sat on the corner. Sometimes the most beautiful things can be hiding in plain sight.