Tales from the Field: A Mayberry State of Mind

September 16, 2015

Life in the Triangle seems to move so fast, everyone rushing to get from place A to place B so they can cross some random task off their mile-long to-do list. I frequently, and happily, find myself stuck at the railroad crossings in downtown Cary going to and from home. Looking around at the other cars, you see faces of anger and disappointment because they are stuck for a few minutes and there’s nothing they can do about it. Very rarely do I see a hand, other than my own, going out the window to wave at the engineer or passengers making their way through town.

It’s in a moment like this that I find myself in a “Mayberry State of Mind.” I’m too young to tell stories involving Cokes costing a quarter, but I did watch my fair share of Andy Griffith growing up. As my life has transitioned from recent college grad to fully employed and soon-to-be-married (editor’s note: congrats Kyle!), I’ve often wished to step back into a simpler time, where life moves a little slower. For me, there’s no better place to be than out in nature when I need to relax from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life.

Since 1983, TLC has protected over 17,000 acres of land in the Triangle region. From the small oasis of Swift Creek Bluffs in suburbia Cary, to the hundreds of protected acres down at White Pines Nature Preserve, a place where 3G and 4G coverage has no reach, there are many opportunities to find relaxation in nature. It’s not just a theory that time outside in nature is good for you, it’s a scientific FACT! In order to avoid making this into an episode of the John Tesh radio show, that’s all I’ll say.

If you haven’t heard of the TLC Hiking Challenge, I invite you to check it out. I highly recommend it because it gives you another reason to go out and enjoy the land we protect (and you can earn a nifty badge). As you complete the challenge, or just go out and hike on your own, I encourage you to stop frequently and enjoy the natural beauty of our properties. I’d like to share with y’all my favorite places on each of our public properties for you to explore.

Swift Creek Bluffs Stairway to Heaven, photo courtesy of Sam Upchurch.

Swift Creek Bluffs Stairway to Heaven, photo courtesy of Sam Upchurch.

I’ll start with Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve, my home preserve. At 23 acres it’s hard to get away from signs of suburbia, but it sure is a wonderful hike that’s right in many folks’ backyards. My favorite place is at the top of the Stairway to Heaven. The small benches at the top of the steep section of stairs are shaded by huge oaks towering over big-leaf Magnolia, overlooking huge beech trees. Not only is this a beautiful spot for people to relax, it’s where my dog usually gives up and sits down for a while before I drag her onward.

Gilbert Yager Trail

The newly rerouted Gilbert Yager Trail at White Pines Nature Preserve.

Next up on my list is White Pines Nature Preserve. My new favorite spot is on the freshly re-routed Gilbert Yager trail. It’s at the base of a steep section of switchbacks where a small creek flows down a neat rock feature underneath the newly constructed bridge. On the way down there are a few Longleaf pines, large White Pines, Mountain Laurel, and Catawba Rhododendron to confuse your senses about whether you’re in the mountains or the Piedmont!

New Hope Creek at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

After White Pines Nature Preserve, I enjoy relaxing at our most popular preserve, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. Just off the Mt. Sinai road parking entrance, follow a short spur to the left at the bottom of the hill for a nice bench to relax near a bend in the creek. The creek sounds will put you peacefully to sleep. On two occasions, I’ve also been greeted by a Barred Owl watching me from across the creek.

Horton Grove Nature Preserve bridge

One of the new bridges at Horton Grove Nature Preserve.

Since we’re in the area, why not head up to Horton Grove Nature Preserve. My favorite place here is right near the road, but takes a while to reach by hiking. Even though the four days of construction were difficult and seemed impossible at times, the Jordan trail bridge over the large creek is a great place to relax. The towering hardwoods on either side of the bridge are spectacular, and the trail is picturesque in the way it winds along the sideslope down to the creek.


Catawba Rhododendron blossom at Flower Hill Nature Preserve.

Last, but certainly not least, our final public nature preserve with hiking trails is Flower Hill Nature Preserve. There’s not much in the vicinity of Flower Hill, but if you’re ever in the area it’s worth a trip. If during baseball season you find yourself at Five County Stadium cheering on the Carolina Mudcats, leave an hour early and travel out to Flower Hill towards the end of April and beginning of May to view the Rhododendrons blooming. It’s a sight I’m familiar with from the mountains, but not one very common around here. The blooms are beautiful, and again, the only things reminding you of your are the Longleaf pines scattered throughout the property.

So next time somebody tells you to go take a hike, create your own list of peaceful places that help you relax, lower your stress, and return to a happier state of mind. Share your favorite places with us on Facebook, and invite others to do the same. This is The Dirt- Tales from the Field. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or stories, at [email protected].

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