Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Day Trip to South Mountain

We are always on the lookout for a place we can go visit that is close enough to do in a day, but hopefully without crowds due to pandemic concerns. On July 31st we picked South Mountain State Park. Located near Connelly Springs, NC (about an hour and a half away from us) it features 40 miles of trails and an 80' waterfall. It seemed like we could keep our distance in the park.

On the drive there I spied a field of sunflowers outside of Lincolnton. In keeping with our retirement mantra "Make the U-turn", I quickly turned around so we could go back and photograph the flowers. A side road provided a perfect place to park, and we had the area to ourselves. It was beautiful and peaceful, and made me miss the sunflower fields we used to visit outside of St. Louis.

We arrived at the park visitor center in late morning. It was open with masks required and a limited number of people allowed inside. No one else was in the building as we requested information on the best trail for viewing the waterfall. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the strange look the woman gave us as we told her what we wanted to see. After all, the hike was listed as "moderate" on the local hiking website. She advised us to keep an eye on the weather as "you don't want to get caught on that trail in the rain." She said it has 350 steps along the route. As it turns out, the state park system lists the trail as strenuous, and that was not an exaggeration.

It starts off wide, paved and flat, luring you into a false sense of security. It gets progressively steep, often with tree roots and rocks as the "steps". The path narrows a lot, and as this is the most popular hike in the park it was crowded. We saw very few people wearing mask, though we covered our faces each time we had to pass near anyone. We had hoped by going on a weekday that would not be an issue, but no such luck. By the time we reached the falls, I was exhausted. The view, however, more than made up for hassle getting to the falls.

When we left the park we searched for a place to have a late lunch. The park ranger had suggested Mitchem's Kitchen, which was on our way back home. Even though it was after 1:00, the parking lot was packed which did not bode well for COVID safe dining. There was no outside dining, and when we stuck our heads inside the door absolutely no one was wearing a mask. Including the waitress. That sealed our decision, and we went back to the car. We had passed Chuckwagon Grill Restaurant several times in the past, and decided to give them a try. A server comes to the car to take your order, and then it is brought out to you. You can take it to go, sit at one of the picnic tables, or eat in your car. Because we did not see anyone sanitizing the tables, we ate in the car. The food was mediocre at best, and we will not go back.

Despite that lackluster ending to the adventure, we had a really good time. It is always nice to get away, even if just for a half a day. It's looking like these will be the only "vacation" days we will have in the foreseeable future. 

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