Although I’ve been curtailing my outings lately due to quarantine measures in the state of North Carolina, I did manage to go hiking a few weeks ago, on March 15th, 2020. My plan was to hike Shakori Trail to the northernmost extremity of Eno River State Park, visiting one of the most distinctive historic sites at the park and covering 3.9 miles in the process.
What I didn’t fully realize, however, was that I would be perfectly timed to see one of the most memorable displays of spring wildflowers I’ve ever witnessed, at this park or any other.
After leaving my house around 1:30 PM, I arrived at the Fews Ford Access at Eno River State Park (6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27705) around 2:00. Due to the nice weather and numerous nearby event cancellations, the central parking lot was bursting with people. Finding no spaces in the parking lot itself, I parked on the side of the road instead. Then I got out and headed for the trail.
To reach my destination at the northernmost extent of the park, I first had to take the eastern leg of Buckquarter Creek Trail from the parking lot up to an old home site. So I headed north, ascending a steep hill with deeply rutted red clay soil.
After a half mile of hiking up and down hills of a similar sort, I made it to the first trail junction, where Buckquarter Creek Trail meets Ridge Trail. To the north, I could see the outline of the Anthony Cole House, barely visible through the encroaching branches of nearby red cedars. Recognizing the location from prior hikes, I turned right and started up Ridge Trail, headed for Buckquarter Creek.
Along the way, I made my way through hilly terrain until, after a quarter mile, I passed Sister’s House, a cabin in the woods surrounded by bright yellow narcissus flowers. Passing by, I continued north for another tenth of a mile before I finally noticed the sound of rushing water ahead.
At last I had reached Buckquarter Creek.
Before crossing, however, I looked to my right and noticed a profusion of wildflowers on the ground near my feet. There were so many, it was almost like a garden in the woods.
Bending down, I noticed the delicate white flowers of false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum), each with five sepals (essentially modified petals) pointing outward like the arms of a star.
Then I looked around and noticed the pendulous white flowers of cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), each with four oval petals at various stages of openness.
Then I looked around and noticed the spiky white flowers of star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), each with five petals — which look like ten because of their deep indentation — sticking out like the spokes of a bicycle.
After several minutes admiring these native spring wildflowers — which are called ephemerals due to the short time in which they bloom, after which they die back and return to a dormant state — I turned west and crossed Buckquarter Creek by a ford of stepping stones.
Once I made my way to the opposite side, I took a few steps and turned right, admiring the northward view of Buckquarter Creek.
Then I turned back to Ridge Trail and continued hiking.
Within a few hundred feet, I reached the junction where Ridge Trail meets Shakori Trail.
Following Shakori Trail through the woods, I noticed a horseshoe sign on one of the adjacent trees, indicating accessibility for horses and their riders. Fortunately, though, I didn’t see any riders in the area, so my chances of being trampled were substantially lessened.
All along this stretch of trail, with Buckquarter Creek not far to the east, I noticed a wealth of wild plants taking advantage of the water provided by the creek. Before long, I noticed one in particular, standing about three feet tall with unfurling reddish-green leaves and bright red markings on the stem.
The coloration of this yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), a relative of the horsechestnut and native to the Appalachians, was striking.
Walking further down Shakori Trail, I came to another patch of spring ephemerals. Stooping down, I noticed the radiant white flowers of rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), in this case with eight white sepals, each suspended like gravity-defying eggs on the edge of a saucer.
Moving along, I soon came to one of the most distinctive sights on Shakori Trail, namely Double Chimneys.
Though I’ve done as much research on this location as I can, I have yet to come up with a definitive answer as to what the original building — which these chimneys were attached to — was. Most likely it was a residence, perhaps a farm, with links to local mills, one of which was just down the road.
About a quarter of a mile further down Shakori Trail, I came to another of its most distinctive sights, a fallen oak tree. Approaching the trunk of the fallen tree and noticing its rootball, I was immediately struck by the startling crimson of the red clay soil, like a massive blood clot sticking out of the Earth.
After climbing over and exploring the tree — which you can view in greater detail in the video below — I returned to Shakori Trail. Within a few hundred feet, the trail started to descend rapidly. Following suit, I soon entered a floodplain where a small unnamed creek passed nearby. Continuing down the trail, I soon started hiking upward again.
As if to herald my departure from the riparian zone around Buckquarter Creek, I was greeted by an immature mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), standing precariously near the edge of the trail and looking like a miniature green parasol. Confirming the precariousness of the little plant’s position, a fellow hiker suddenly appeared and passed by, incognizant of surrounding wildlife.
Resuming my hike, I soon noticed the incline of Shakori Trail increasing dramatically. As I started up the ridge, I passed through a seemingly endless forest on either side, unperturbed by my passage.
A quarter of a mile past the floodplain, I passed another fallen tree, this time a pine, which had already been sawed into pieces.
In the nearby vicinity, I found a small bluet (Houstonia spp.) with four delicate lavender sepals in a Spanish cross formation, standing in the middle of the trail in an even more precarious position than the previous mayapple.
After hiking another quarter mile up the steep ridge that borders Buckquarter Creek, I reached the end of Shakori Trail, marked by a yellow metal gate.
Joining Ridge Trail — which forms a loop in combination with Shakori Trail — I continued my counterclockwise progress, passing through a forest of oak, hickory, and pine which seemed almost interminable. A few rock formations livened up the landscape at occasional intervals, but there wasn’t much to photograph for about a half mile as I descended Ridge Trail on the return leg of my hike.
Finally, however, I reached the junction with Fieldstone Trail, a recently opened trail which provides a nice alternate route for a return hike from Shakori Trail. Turning right, I joined it and kept hiking. Within a tenth of a mile down the trail, I came to a small unnamed creek, providing a beautiful set piece in the middle of the forest.
As I continued hiking, I passed over hilly terrain, through bare forest, and past a large boulder that presumably gave its name to Fieldstone Trail.
After a half mile, I made it Holden Mill Trail and turned left, heading southeast. Descending another hill, I quickly came to the Eno floodplain, where the vegetation was so thick and verdant, it almost looked like a field of emerald.
Passing through the floodplain, I crossed the bridge over Buckquarter Creek and skirted the edge of the Eno River for a half mile before returning to the trailhead for Buckquarter Creek Trail, where I originally started.
Making my way to my car, I passed a final patch of ephemeral wildflowers off to my left, hugging the ground and glowing with pink and white radiance.
Recognizing them as spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), it occurred to me that their name was a good descriptor — not only for an ephemeral wildflower — but for every corner of wilderness on our planet at this time of year.