Twelve Mile Circle faced a bit of a geographic dilemma in western North Carolina towards the end of the week. I began to notice that I might risk a doughnut hole county if I wasn’t careful. That condition would occur if I counted a bunch of contiguous counties and then left one in the middle uncovered. I’d hate to do that. I’m not getting any younger and I may not have an opportunity to come back again and clean it up.
That’s when I decided that I couldn’t leave Rutherford County unvisited even if its local seat of government had the unwieldy name of Rutherfordton. I understood the need to honor Griffith Rutherford, brigadier general in the American Revolutionary War, but couldn’t they have at least named to town simply Rutherford or even Griffith? Nonetheless I now needed to contrive a reason to stray into Rutherford with the family and avoid an unsightly doughnut hole on my county counting map. There appeared to be a nice park and a lake about 25 miles (40 kilometres) southeast of Asheville that would do the trick. It actually worked out quite nicely, both because it satisfied my ulterior motive and because it was a genuinely enjoyable spot.
The body of water turned out to be Lake Lure (map). A town of the same name hugged its shores. Lake Lure was an artificial creation of the Morse family. They dammed the Broad River within a particularly scenic Blue Ridge valley in the 1920’s, creating a roadside tourist attraction that still remains popular. The Town of Lake Lure purchased the lake in the 1960’s and turned it into a public park, including the attractive man-made beach. It was a great spot for the kids. They enjoyed the beach and playing at the adjacent water park. Later that morning we rented paddle boats and circled the lake a couple of times until the sun and humidity drove me back to a shaded shoreline. We finished the morning with lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake.
We devoted the afternoon to Chimney Rock (map), another attraction on the northwestern nub of Rutherford County. The Morse family must have had an entrepreneurial streak because they also turned Chimney Rock into a tourist destination at the turn of the last century. Otherwise the outcrop probably would have been just another granite pinnacle. They saw its appeal and went so far as to bore an elevator shaft through the cliff nearby so visitors could reach the promontory almost effortlessly. The state of North Carolina purchased the property in 2007 and Chimney Rock State Park became one of the state’s newest additions. Along with the 315 foot (96 metre) spire itself, the park offered miles of hiking trails and a magnificent waterfall.
The elevator was closed for repairs during our visit so we had to climb the switchback stairways up to Chimney Rock. That wasn’t as bad as it sounded. There were plenty of intermediary ledges that offered increasingly better views of the valley far below so it broke-up the climb into manageable chunks. My younger son and I decided to climb even higher while the rest of the family stopped at the snack bar for ice cream. I’d noticed a wonderfully-named promontory mentioned on the trail guide and I was drawn to it — Exclamation Point!
I was in pretty good shape, having completed the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle trail recently. I had no problem climbing several hundred steps. My son had abundant childhood energy so we practically flew up the mountain, leaving most of the other visitors in the dust as we climbed up to Exclamation Point at 2,480 ft. (756 m.). We overheard two sweaty and exhausted teenagers commiserating with their friend on the summit. They’d been passed by "an old man and a kid." That was us! Maybe their embarrassment will encourage them to put down the Cheetos and get off the couch every once and awhile. Yes, I felt smug. I admit it.
Another Exclamation Point
Exclamation Point was such an awesome name that I had to see if it had ever been used elsewhere. Actually, the U.S. Geological Survey listed only one Explanation Point in its Geographic Names Information System, and it wasn’t even the one in North Carolina. Apparently the Explanation Point near Chimney Rock was an unofficial designation. The only Explanation Point recognized by the USGS could be found in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose County, Colorado. Hikers can experience this outcrop by taking a moderate route on the North Rim of the park, three miles round trip on the North Vista Trail.
It looks like I found another spot to place on my list of things to visit someday.
Western North Carolina articles:
- Part 1 (Asheville)
- Part 2 (Blue Ridge Parkway Loop)
- Part 3 (Cherokee Loop)
- Part 4 (Beer Tourism)
- Part 5 (Exclamation Point)
- Part 6 (County Counting Adventures)