A couple days ago, I went hiking on the Laurel Bluffs Trail at Eno River State Park. As you may remember, I wrote about my experience on one portion of it a couple years ago. But I never wrote about the rest of the trail due to health issues and the trickiness of the landscape, which doesn’t always lend itself to good lighting.
Finally, on November 15th, 2019, I fixed that.
After arriving at the Cabe Lands Access (4950 Howe St., Durham, NC 27705) in the late afternoon of the 15th, I parked my car, got out, and headed down Cabe Lands Trail. The weather was cloudy, cool, and rainy, and I worried at first that I might have to turn around. But fortunately the rain was very light and eventually dissipated.
After reaching the junction with Laurel Bluffs Trail, I took a right and kept hiking. Passing through a grove of oak trees, I reached a hill where the trail descends sharply, and I followed it down.
Then I came to one of the most beautiful streams in all of Eno River State Park — though it is something of an unnatural turquoise color, probably the result of groundwater contamination from a service area to the south.
After stooping down and teasing out all the best possible angles, I took several photos.
The first photo is of the view to the south, in the direction of the service area where there are numerous large unsightly pipes protruding above ground in a small fenced-in compound. It’s not visible in this photo, but it’s about a tenth of a mile upstream.
The second photo is of the view to the east, where a tributary stream approaches and merges with the original stream before meandering slowly down and merging with the Eno River. Due to the proximity to water, there are numerous American sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) in the area, the leaves of which have fallen all around.
After spending a solid forty minutes stooping uncomfortably in an unstable streambed, trying to get the best possible angle and lighting, I decided to get up and get moving. So I headed to the north, just shy of the Eno River and came to this old filled-in canal, where one of many mills used to be situated. With the perfect framing of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) on the left and a sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) on the right, I couldn’t resist taking another photo.
After returning to Laurel Bluffs Trail, I crossed a small footbridge over the original stream and started hiking uphill, past a moss-covered rock formation and through a grove of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), which you can see faintly in the distance.
At the far end of the laurel grove, I looked to my left and noticed the Eno River bending sharply to the north. The exact point where it bends is called Drowning Horse Pond, one of the more grisly yet evocative titles I’ve heard for a body of water.
Yet, despite the name, it’s by far one of the most scenic locations along the Eno River, where — if you venture slightly off trail, to the edge of a twenty-foot drop-off — you get an incredible panoramic view of the Eno. After teetering at the edge of the drop-off for a solid fifteen minutes, I decided to head back to the trail and resume my hike.
Descending another hill, I caught sight of one of the few stretches of level ground in the area. And it’s not for nothing that it’s so comparatively level.
As it turns out, this was the site of the old Alpha Woolen Mill, run by Charles Shields and Lorenzo Bennett in the decade prior to the Civil War. It wasn’t a very large mill, employing a meager eight workers at the time. But it must have been well spread-out, judging from the extent of canals, which are now overgrown with trees, including this shapely American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) with characteristic hollowed-out trunk.
At the edge of the Alpha Woolen Mill site, there’s a rocky promontory that juts into the Eno River, just next to a small fishing hole. Stooping down next to it with my feet nearly submerged in the cold water, I took this photo of the Eno River, facing south.
After getting up from edge of the river, I hiked away from Laurel Bluffs Trail and followed the edge of the river until I came to another bend, where I stumbled upon this view, which I had never encountered before. In the distance, you can catch the first glimpse of Bobbitt Hole, one of the deepest points in the Eno River.
Returning to Laurel Bluffs Trail, I increased my pace. It was already 5:00, and the light was fading, limiting my ability to take photos. After scaling another steep hill lined with mountain laurel and oak trees, I made a quick descent to the river bank again. (Laurel Bluffs Trail is somewhat chaotic at this point.)
When I reached the edge of the Eno, I looked out and found Bobbitt Hole, which — as you may remember from the post I did on it a while back — looks completely different from the opposite direction, on the Cole Mill Trail.
After climbing back up the hill, I took a slight detour to check out one of the distinctive rock formations, which you might have noticed on the far right of the above photo. As far as I can tell, it’s an outcropping of green shale that resulted from volcanic activity in the area roughly two hundred million years ago, overgrown with moss but still lofty and inspiring.
It’s a monument to the resilience of nature. But nature can only exist when human culture leaves room for it. And that’s why it’s so important to conserve places like these for the future.
After all, if we don’t, no one will.