The Eno River is truly a gem of central North Carolina. With a buffer of conserved lands along much of its course, it has far more opportunity to flourish than many other rivers. And never does it flourish more so than in summer, when the forests bordering the Eno River burst into life with plants, fungi, and arthropods of many shapes, sizes, and colors.
This fact was brought to my attention once again on a recent hike to Bobbitt Hole, which led me to a beautiful waterfall, several scenic creeks, an old hunting lodge, and a host of wildlife.
After checking the Eno River State Park website on June 21st, 2020, I was relieved to find that the Pump Station Access (4023 Rivermont Road, Durham, NC 27712) was open. Packing a few essentials, I headed out and made it to the park in good time.
Getting out of my car, I quickly joined Pump Station Trail for the first leg of my 4.4 mile out-and back hike. Heading northwest, I passed through a fairly unremarkable forest of beech and pine. Then, after a quarter mile, I reached my first sight of the Eno River, which was brownish-tan due to run-off from recent storms.
Veering off trail, I headed north for a closer view.
Catching a glimpse of Coon Foot Island, I noticed several people were already there, lounging around in hammocks and bathing suits and enjoying the cool water.
Returning to the trail, I headed west and soon reached a trail junction.
Continuing straight, I joined Laurel Bluffs Trail and started down a 1.8 mile corkscrew path to Bobbitt Hole.
After a quarter mile of hiking along a ridge bordering the river, I came to a clearcut. As I stepped into it, I happened to look down and noticed something.
Bending down to the ground, I took a closer look and found several hickory nuts — each one about an inch wide, pale green, and roughly spherical. Since they were all over the ground, I knew there had to be a hickory tree somewhere in the area. But I couldn’t see one in the clearcut.
Backtracking to the forest, I looked around and found the tree in question.
Rising about sixty feet above my head was a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) with distinctive brownish-gray bark in long, thin strips curled up slightly at the ends.
Heading back to the trail, I came to the clearcut for a second time and looked up to my left.
Towering about eighty feet above my head was a power line, framed by dark green trees on either side and a cobalt blue sky overhead.
After passing through the clearcut, I returned to the forest and quickly reached a grove of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) whose gnarly, twisting stems intertwined over my head and formed a kind of covered walkway through the forest.
Soon passing the grove of mountain laurel, I descended a hill and came to a creek with a footbridge over it. Crossing the footbridge, I then veered off trail and descended a steep riverbank. As I traipsed over stones in the water, I kept looking for the perfect view. Then finally I found it.
With green and yellow sunlight above and a peaceful creek below, the footbridge looked like something out of a fairy tale.
Returning to Laurel Bluffs Trail, I hiked west through a floodplain for a few hundred feet before noticing movement on the ground ahead of me. As I approached, I bent down and looked closer.
Crossing the trail in front of me was a horned passalus beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus) — jet black, two inches long, and oval-shaped with tan hairs bristling from antennae and legs. As he plodded along, I watched attentively and made sure he got to the other side safely before returning to my hike.
Within a few hundred feet, I could hear the roar of traffic. Soon there was a clearing ahead of me, and a concrete bridge came into view.
Quickly passing under Cole Mill Road, I followed Laurel Bluffs Trail as it turned south through towering trees and thick vegetation.
Along the way, I glanced to the side and noticed fruits hanging from the branches of low-lying trees. Stopping in my tracks, I took a closer look.
These fruits of the yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) were about two inches long, greenish-tan, and oblong, looking almost like unripe walnuts.
Hiking south, I soon passed the ruins of Cole Mill and came to a clearing on my right.
Across the water was a downed tree that had been uprooted and washed into the river by recent storms, which people were using as a backdrop for selfies. Going in for a closer look, I clambered over several boulders on the riverbank and looked south.
With a bright blue sky overhead and lush forest on either side, the Eno River ambled past boulders and splashed at my feet.
Returning to Laurel Bluffs Trail, I headed south and soon found the trail turning west. Within a tenth of a mile, I came to a wooden footbridge crossing a small unnamed creek.
Looking to either side, I noticed numerous small waterfalls along its length and realized I needed to make a small detour.
Heading south along the banks of the unnamed creek — which I will call Cascade Creek for the sake of clarity — I soon came to a pleasant little waterfall, about two feet high, surrounded by much larger moss-laden boulders.
Continuing down Cascade Creek, I came to a point where the creek divided and a small island rose up in the middle. Crossing the island, I came to the north side and stepped gingerly over a bed of stones before reaching a fallen tree that blocked my passage.
Illuminated by emerald green foliage overhead and dusky brown soil beneath, Cascade Creek flowed north and joined the Eno River.
Returning to Laurel Bluffs Trail, I headed west, then north, then west, then south again over steep and rocky ridges that seemed never-ending. After covering a half mile on this tortuous corkscrew, I was only too happy to see the trail straighten and flatten out as I hiked the last half mile toward my destination.
Then, in far less time than expected, I saw one of the most distinctive landmarks of Eno River State Park coming up in front of me.
Standing in the middle of the forest like a monument to man’s folly, the chimney of an old hunting lodge caught the rays of the late afternoon sun amid a canopy of beech, oak, and maple trees.
Stepping to the north side, I took a wide shot of the area.
With stonework strewn across the forest floor, it looked a bit like a set of oversized dominoes allowed to fall at random over the course of decades.
Leaving the hunting lodge, I quickly made my way down a steep hill to the banks of the Eno River and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of my long-awaited destination.
Stretching placidly south, Bobbitt Hole lived up to its reputation as a local swimming hole, with people jumping in the water and lounging on the opposite riverbank. Meanwhile the late afternoon sun bathed the area in a golden radiance that reflected sharply off water and stone.
After enjoying the ambiance of Bobbitt Hole for ten minutes or so, I got up and started to hike up the hill toward the hunting lodge. Before I made it fifty feet, however, I noticed a shock of color in the ground at my feet. Bending down, I looked closer.
There among moss and stones was a tiny mushroom — no more than an eighth of an inch tall and sixteenth of an inch wide — with the most brilliant reddish-orange coloration I’ve ever seen. And though new to me, I was later able to identify it as an immature cinnabar-red chanterelle (Cantarellus cinnabarinus), reputedly one of the most delicious and sought-after edible mushrooms in central North Carolina.
Getting back to my feet, I stretched and shook out the stiffness in my joints. Then, amazed and grateful for such a wealth of wildlife, I turned around and started the return leg of my hike. And as I did, I wished silently that the rest of our world were allowed to be as wild and beautiful as Eno River State Park.