Mysteries of the Temple Mount at Chimney Rock State Park

Mysteries of the Temple Mount at Chimney Rock

Mrs. Highlander and I have made many journeys together to Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park and have found each visit to be exciting, informative and enlightening. The unusualness and geological wonders located at Chimney Rock State Park can set the imagination into pondering the physical shaping of our world. To stand in full view of this uniquely formed mountain site is like witnessing the remains of great structure of unknown origins, worn and deteriorated by the expanse of time yet strong and resilient like the ancient temples of old.

Unlike Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, Chimney Rock is a reminder of not what man has built, but what nature has shaped with its firm and patient hand, both smoothing and sharply cutting its surface for nearly 535-million years.  This mountain sized temple constructed under the direction of natural order stands as a guarding sentry along the outer eastern wall of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. A great natural gather site for the masses formed of solid stone with its own distinctive chimney column rising from its base like a blazing touch alongside its domed, smoothed shaped upper reaches and forested tabletop summit.

All of its elements of greatness can be seen reaching upward and outward across the horizon, beckoning the likes of those longing for a natural experience within the Creator’s own organic world. A natural wilderness monument, possessing a forum within the natural world for the gathering of nature’s own pilgrims from all over the world, those inspired ones who have personally journeyed to this sacred site of Mother Nature’s wonders to witness and contemplate the profound secrets of the Creator’s hand. Located along the outer walls of its mysterious watershed and within the hollowed chambers of this mighty mountain, many of the hidden secret mysteries of nature’s master plan are revealed to the eye.

Hickory Nut Falls

At the western end of this enormous mountain structure, accessible from the Hickory Nut Falls Trail is a great waterfall that appears to be spilling from the heavens above, caressing the smooth vertical surface of the temple mount as it works its way down from the upper some 404-feet above.  The showering waters of the falls often create a mysterious mist, while standing in the right position visitors might witness a stunning rainbow dancing over its gathering pool before the waters of the falls cascade further down the mountain slope through a series of cataracts before uniting with the rushing white waters of the Broad River below.

French Broad RiverDown below and throughout the boulder laden rushing waters of the Broad River, pilgrims visiting the many forest wonders of Hickory Nut Gorge can be found lounging and sunbathing amongst its giant stones, occasionally dipping themselves in the rejuvenating and refreshing cool waters of the ancient river way.

At the trail’s end, at the base of Hickory Nut Falls, the refreshing mist of its sacred falling water anoints each congregational member that has gathered along its catching pool, often rejuvenating the spirit of those inspired nature lovers that have set along the easy to moderate Hickory Nut Falls Trails in search of this legendary natural wonder.

Reflected within the faces of each visitor to the falls is a sense of astonishment as they are caught within the presence, life force and wonderment of it all. A stirring journey of the mental, physical and spiritual into the natural world where each may individually partake in the beauty and mystery of its falling waters. 

The appearance of a vertical landscape along the northern face of Chimney Rock State Park offers a classic view of what geologist refer to as a “hanging valley,” a tributary valley that drops off abruptly into its main valley below. Its expression is dramatic and captivating to say the least.

Leaving the falls behind along the Hickory Nut Falls Trail while traveling back to the towering monolith called Chimney Rock, one might feel as though they are being watch by the forest. Here, as well as along other trails at Chimney Rock State, and throughout Hickory Nut Gorge, there is a mysterious geological phenomenon that’s found scattered across the ancient bare rock face of the park’s deep dark forest. Many of these rock faces have what appears to be an abundance of white oval shaped eyes embedded in the rock surface. These naturally formed concaved shaped ovals have also been referred to as looking like hickory nuts, possibly giving rise to the name to the area as Hickory Nut Gorge.  This natural occurrence in the rock along and throughout the gorge may also answer the question, “does the forest really have eyes?  Here they do.

The Outcropping

Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State ParkThe areas around and along the towering Chimney Rock are known as the “Outcroppings,” displaying natural geological examples of how the ancient chimney came to be what we see today. Water erosion along the joints of the mountain face combined with the stress of freezing ice and the thawing rays of the fiery sun, have created a near complete separation of the chimney column from the mountain itself.  The outcroppings have splits, cracks and crevasses along with tunnels, overhangs and strange rock formations, all visible along the staircases and boardwalks, a jungle gym of natural wonders to be explored.

At the very base of the chimney column located next to the main stairway leading up through the outcropping to the chimney top, is a special and unusual feature at Chimney Rock State Park. Here visitors can access the confines of a secluded deep dark chamber naturally formed by the mountain’s water erosion and a great slab of fallen rock. The chamber, or cave if you prefer, was possibly used as a sanctuary escape, a hideaway that may have once provided cover for the distilling of illegal spirits over 100-years ago. This possible treasure chamber for ill-gotten gain would have been a perfect hideaway from the view of those pesky revenuers, those government agents that had a different perspective on the idea of separation of personal freedoms and the right to personal illegal consumption. Stone cut stairs down into the cave and dim lighting within the old moon-shiners’ cave offers a view of a natural hidden pool of water and an actual processing still consisting of a cooper pot and tubing, a type of still that was popular during the frontier days. This actual still could possibly represent a shrine to the distilled spirits of its former residents. 

Tunnel to the ElevatorFor those pilgrims of the wilderness lands who enjoy the trails yet are less enthusiastic about climbing the staircases along the towering Chimney Rock, there’s a 258-foot elevator shaft bored through solid rock next to the Cliff Dweller’s Gift Shop at the base of the Chimney Rock. Access to the elevator is through a spacious long cool tunnel with an archive of historic photos and tales of the history of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park.  This tunnel takes you to a magical doorway that leads up to the Sky Lounge Gift Shop and Deli for those who wish to access the Chimney Rock summit more easily.

From the viewing deck next to the Sky Lounge one can witness the upper reaches of the Chimney Rock and its summit adorned with an enormous American flag sailing upon the wind. To access the summit itself from the Sky Lounge observation deck requires one set of stairs to its peak, the view is well worth the climb.

A side note for modern convenience travelers. Though the trip up the stairs from the parking area below may be difficult for some, I suggest to those who are capable, to at least try taking the stairway back down. Gravity will be on your side and you’ll get the opportunity to see the unique natural formations of the Outcroppings on the way down.

If you’re an enthusiastic die-hard that prefers the challenge of numerous staircases, there’s a world of small caves, outcropping, crevasses and rock formation to entertain you along the way up to the chimney summit with unique natural structures to explore as you make your ascent. There are many sights and places along the way with names like the Subway, Grotto, the Birdhouse, Pulpit Rock and the Rock Pile. Some stone formation are so sacred to the naturalness of the park that pilgrims climbing along the chimney summit trail will have to watch their footing along the upper boardwalks as to not trip over some of the ancient mountain’s stony capstones. Park friendly K9 pilgrims enjoy the great outdoors of the parklands as they take hold of their master's lead, guiding them safely through the maze of outcroppings, stopping along the way to share fellowship with members of their own kind.

The most inspiring experience along this outcrop trail is seeing the vistas as they suddenly appear through the clearings of trees, shrubs and rock. Views of the deep gorge and valley below, along with the broad horizon to the east and the mountain vistas to the north and west make the climb more exciting as you begin to anticipate the greater views from above. 

Chimney Rock Summit

Reaching the top of the chimney summit you will find yourself high upon the centerpiece of the great temple mount at Chimney Rock State Park.  This towering natural pillar formation of igneous rock protrudes out of the stone foundation of the temple mount rising like an obelisk to a peak of 2,280-feet above sea level. The actual height of the towering chimney is roughly 315-feet tall as it rises to the upper reaches of the mountain. Standing erect like an immense alter-stone, the towering Chimney Rock appears as if it were a monolithic pulpit sculpted by natural order reaching into the sky. Standing on its summit you may achieve exaltation in both spirit and body, united in an awe-inspiring moment, a place where time itself seems lost to the natural senses of our every day lives.

On a clear day the eastern view from the summit can be 75-miles deep. Here within the embrace of the chimney summit you should take time to reflect on the beauty and wonderment of it all, from the foothills and valley below to the heights of the Blue Ridge Mountains both here and beyond, to the small town of Chimney Rock stretched along the banks of the Broad River and the narrow gorge below.

From the great platform summit of the towering Chimney Rock, the crystal blue waters of Lake Lure below gives witness to an accomplishment that was drawn directly from the human spirit.

Dr. Lucius B. Morse first stood upon this natural Chimney Rock in the Beginningstone alter in 1900 and envisioned a wilderness retreat for those seeking escape from the pressures of their daily lives. What lay before Dr. Morse’s imagination was a wondrous wilderness site readily available for the establishment of a sacred place where others like himself, could find peace within the surroundings as they reflect on the magnitude of what is and the grandeur of what could be when driven by inspiration.

Generations of visitors have journeyed to this astounding geological site year after year. For over 100-years it was Dr. Morse, four generations of his family and the extended staff that have made available to the public this unique geological wonder and outdoor playground for the enjoyment of others.

In 2007, North Carolina State Park Service became the owners and guardians of this unique site, chosen by the park service due to its natural resource significance and recreational potential. This site is one of the most significant centers of bio-diversity in the state of North Carolina, due to the parks 36 rare plant species, 14 rare animal species, “old-growth” forest, unique rock formations and 1,000-acres.

Today, for the greater Chimney Rock State Park the North Carolina State Park Service has acquired over 4,000 additional acres of the Hickory Nut Gorge region pressing beyond its present parkland boundaries for future public recreation, conservation and preservation. The North Carolina State Park Service is presently in the process of developing a “Master Plan” for the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure region, bringing more accessibility to the local landscape’s natural wonders.

Hickory Nut Gorge Master Plan

Though the geographical site of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is believed to be as old as 535-million years old, it is Dr. Morse who can rightfully be considered the founding father of this grand natural temple mount called Chimney Rock due to his lifelong vision and devotion.  Seeing through his eyes we can still enjoy and partake in the inspirational scripture that he wove into the very fabric of this natural wonderment. Thanks to the North Carolina State Park Service, and all those that work hard providing service every day at the park, the wonders of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park will continue to be available for the enjoyment of all those who come to experience it majesty and posterity.

Exclamation Point

Adjacent to the summit of Chimney Rock there’s a stairway to the heavens of the great temple mount’s summit, with staircases and trails leading upward from the towering chimney pillar to Skyline Trail’s Exclamation Point. Along the lower end of the Skyline Trail ascent you will come upon a small natural vertical break in the mountainside, a unique natural formation called the Opera Box. The Opera Box was created when a large block of stone separated along its horizontal foliation plane and fell, creating a private viewing site that offers a downward view of the Chimney Rock, Lake Lure and a vast horizon when seen on a clear day.

Along a narrow ledge to the west of the Opera Box rests a head like rock formation called the Devil’s Head, an eerie looking specimen, whose eyes seem to be watching the horizon, an ancient lookout for those that may be friend or foe to the temple mount of Chimney Rock. Morning light striking the head is an awesome view against the backdrop of the Hickory Nut Gorge and the mountains beyond.

Devil's Head at Chimney Rock State Park

The head was created ages ago when a large slab of rock fell from above leaving a chunk of rock stranded along the edge. Over time softer stone eroded away leaving behind an image of a head like being. I prefer to think of this head shaped stone more as a gargoyle than devil. Gargoyles often served sacred sites such as cathedrals during the Dark Ages. Warding off evil with evil seems to be the gargoyle’s symbolic greater purpose, yet who am I to change the name of an eerie rock formation.

The Devil’s Head isn’t the only rock formation at the park that resembles a strange head. There are other boulders in the park that also appear as heads of some type, mysteries without explanation. Here at Chimney Rock, the eyes of the mountain seem to be everywhere, watching and waiting.

From certain positions the towering Chimney Rock looks like one of the giant heads of Easter Island, stone cap and all. Along the presently closed Cliff Trail, there is an enormous mountain size head shaped stone.  This head is most notably seen in the climatic battle scene in the 1995 film Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel-Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. The profile of this stone seen only from eye level has all the strong sharp features of a full-blooded southeastern Native American. 

Our good friends at Chimney Rock loaned the Blue Ridge Highlander a scene photo from the film for all of us fans of the romantic adventure film to enjoy. The scene depicts a line of warriors, as they are about to pass under the nose of the incredible stone profile. From eye level the natural stone sculture appears as a type of Mount Rushmore, only here it is the Native Americans that are featured, another mystery of the temple mount at Chimney Rock State Park.

From the Opera Box the trail to Exclamation Point continues up a three-story tower of stairs before accessing the remainder of the trail to the mountain’s summit. Views along this trail are well worth the journey.

High upon the mountain’s crown you will experience “awe-inspiring” vistas and an opportunity to commune with your own inner being, while taking in the majesty of the surrounding beauty. The crystal blue waters of the lake below stretch outward from near the base of the temple mount and into the distant Blue Ridge Foothills as they roll across an open view to the east, with a tall wall of rugged mountains climbing to the north and west.

From this advantage at Exclamation Point there is a nearly unobstructed view of Hickory Nut Gorge and the Broad River below. The rushing white water of the Broad River cuts a path thru the mountain gorge flowing eastward into the lands beyond the horizon as it makes its journey to the Atlantic Ocean.

Near the peak of this tabletop-mountain rising some 2,480-feet from the valley below, there sits a small crudely shaped natural capstone formation possibly marking the climatic spot at Exclamation Point. Upon the rooftop of this grand temple mount, rays of sunlight and gentle flowing breezes can embrace the body as well as the soul, often lifting one’s spirit upwardly spiraling toward the heavens above, uniting within oneself the magnificence and mystery of these miraculous surroundings. To others it might just be a good trail climb and a great view.

Atop this natural flattop domed-edge mountain live dwarfed table-mountain pine trees estimated to be up to 100-years old. These dwarfish tabletop pines trees are not a species but the result of harsh growing conditions of their exposure to the elements along the summit of the mountaintop. Residing alongside this stunted forest are various other plants that bloom throughout spring, summer and fall with the rich colors of Goldenrod, Carolina Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel, Shooting Star, Service Berry, Purple Phacelia along with many other native plants. 

Descending back down Skyline Trail Mrs. Highlander and I encouraged other pilgrims seeking the summit that is its just a little further up the trail. Descending along the trail, I’m reminded of the many sights and natural wonders of Chimney Rock State Park, secluded spots and destinations where one can often reach a sense of new enlightenment while enjoying the benefits of the laws of nature. It’s as though nature were our own personal guide, revealing the secrets of its interior domain to the eyes that are open. Within this wilderness retreat one may exceed expectation, experiencing thrills to the senses at every turn, renewing a personal declaration of ones own reality. The parklands’ ever-growing congregation of new and old believers, cling to the rock’s inviting nature as though it were a mighty force, solid and unyielding yet accessible and delicate within its own personal attributes.

Chimney Rock State Park

Not only are the towering rock formations and giant trees of Chimney Rock bigger than life, it is the spirit of Chimney Rock that draws the masses to this outdoor wonderland filled with mysteries and natural beauty. Visiting Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park along the western shores of Lake Lure in Rutherford County, North Carolina is an adventurous experience that will live with you forever.

The Highlander

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