After the Blue Ridge Parkway, Durham seemed...flat. Geographically flat, emotionally flat: just flat. It was an opened can of sweet Dr. Pepper left out while I was away. The nectar was the same, but the appeal had waned.
I needed to add a little fizz to my life. I needed a boulder to scramble over, a hidden mountain stream, a view from great heights, or just something a little bit new and different to tickle my senses.
Fortunately for me the area around Durham is eager to oblige. Modern humans may carve out flat roads and bulldoze rolling hillocks into symmetrical subdivisions, but just past the city line the land unfolds into a diverse rolling expanse. It was an inviting day and I already had cabin fever after just a week in the office so we took a “Sunday stroll” to Occoneechee Mountain to discover an 867 foot tall (350 foot above the Eno River) rock formation named after the Occaneechi Native American tribe indigenous to the area. Okay, so it wasn’t thousands of feet of granite and fir balds reaching to a smoky sky, but you have to keep an open mind when you’re looking for someplace within a 20 minute drive in the middle of the piedmont.
Occoneechee Mountain is a fun romp. It’s a meandering climb full of springy saplings and exposed rock. It’s a secluded bench by the river in the shadow of a tree carved with lovers’ initials. It is lush greens encroaching on your booted feet. It is a rushing stream and a geologist’s dream. It is an Eagle Scout project and a long, perilous drop to the gutted belly of a quarry. It’s surely a fantastic view in the fall.
It was short, sweet, and just shy of satisfying my mountain needs.
Then again, I didn’t notice any of the brown elfin butterflies for which Occoneechee Mountain is famous. I didn’t recognize the metamorphic rock that seeped out from the ground and creeped up a ninety-degree face, offering up a welcoming natural rock wall. I didn’t register the names of the Eagle scout project plaques or pay much attention to trail names posted along the way, although I did get a good laugh at the sign warning against the dangers of falling from a great height onto a mound of rocks. I missed a lot, but I simply enjoyed being out and exploring something I’d never seen before.
“I wonder what it would be like to live here,” I mused as we hiked past the ranger’s house back to the parking lot. “I wonder how you get to be a state park ranger right outside quaint Hillsborough, North Carolina.”
I’m not sure how you get that job, but from the looks of it, it would be an enjoyable job, notwithstanding the outhouse maintenance and dealing with the vandalism and theft in the parking lot that a few homemade signs suggested were prevalent. But still, all the perks of elevation and mountain air and all the convenience of a historic town? Yes, please.