Mack Williams: A visit to Dunn's Mountain

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 17, 2012

By Mack Williams
My former sixth-grade teacher of Granite Quarry School, Mrs. Roselyn Misenheimer, and I recently made a visit to Dunn’s Mountain Park on a bright and sunny pre-fall day, the sort of day whose slight crispness says that fall is not far in the distance. She had taken our class to the quarry in 1963, so on that recent bright, clear day, I returned the favor.
On our way to Dunn’s Mountain, we, of course, passed large granitic boulders, then saw a faux boulder in someone’s yard. I told Mrs. Misenheimer that I felt like turning around, pulling into that family’s driveway, knocking on the door and giving them a verbal reprimand for putting such a disgraceful thing in their yard, in of all places, Granite Quarry, where if they had bothered to check with the real estate agent, they could have found a house and lot naturally “embouldered.” Mrs. Misenheimer restrained me from doing this by telling me that such artificial boulders are often used to cover up wells. After thinking about it, I realized that if one of nature’s boulders had naturally occurred on that spot, a well could never have been drilled there in the first place.
When we arrived at the Dunn’s Mountain parking lot, a gentleman sitting in a small bus hailed us and asked if we wanted a ride to the top. This was Mr. Bob Peeler, a man of hearty good nature and hearty speaking voice. On the way up the side of the mountain, he pointed out the “plutonic” nature of the boulders we were passing, explaining that such rocks were formed when molten lava pushed upward but halted and cooled below the earth’s surface, to be exposed millions of years later by erosion. I imagined such stones as massive “magma drops,” long cooled. At one point, Mr. Peeler stopped the bus and pointed out a small shed-size building to our right that had been used for the storage of dynamite and other blasting supplies. It had been wisely constructed of granite blocks, although the decorative pale pink color of those blocks seemed to make the whole seem slightly “overdressed” for its function.
When we reached the top, we were graciously greeted by Mr. Bill Gilland. Before his departure back down the mountain, Mr. Peeler pointed out the Uwharrie Mountains in the distance, mentioning that President Kennedy had made the area the Uwharrie National Forest in 1960. Mr. Gilland then proceeded to take us to the viewing deck and pointed out the distant objects viewable along the horizon. (The viewing place at Dunn’s Mountain is less dizzying and more “vertigo friendly” than the one atop Mount Mitchell.) I remarked upon the nice, seemingly constant breeze that blew past us, and Mr. Gilland said that it truly is a constant feature of that mountain’s peak.
Following this, he showed us the interior of the little museum, pointing out a newspaper photo and article about a small abandoned fox pup hey had found and given to an animal rescue group. (The men’s hospitality is evidently extended to the four-legged members of the public as well.) He also drew our attention to a display cabinet containing old mining chisels, along with a collection of old soda bottles found on the site. Sitting in a deserved place of prominence were a couple of very fine native-American projectile points that had been found on the mountain. Atop the cabinet and sitting close by on the floor was an assortment of granite samples. Mr. Gilland picked up one, noting that its type was used for the curbing of the Autobahn. Sitting on the floor was a nice specimen of that type of granite known as “Balfour Pink.” It is, of course, a companion specimen (as are all chunks of granite from there) to the one in the natural history museum of the Danville Science Center, where I work. Next to our museum’s rock, a label reads: “Granite (Balfour Pink), collected in Rowan County, near Granite Quarry, North Carolina.”
At such public natural attractions, the personalities of those who greet and guide the visiting public are crucial to that public’s positive word-of-mouth advertisement afterward. Dunn’s Mountain can’t speak for itself, but Gilland and Peeler articulate its attractions most eloquently and hospitably. I don’t know if being around my former sixth-grade teacher made me become a 12-year-old boy again, but perhaps it did, because even at 61 years of age, I felt myself looking up to Mr. Peeler and Mr. Gilland as true quarrymen. Mr. Gilland said: “People don’t appreciate what we have here in Rowan County!” That statement could possibly be interpreted as a lament, but it can equally be seen as an invitation.
We then walked back to the observation area and beheld some of the following sights, some of them more distant than the rest: Pilot Mountain (reversed, of course, by Andy Griffith to become the equally famed “Mt. Pilot”), Hanging Rock State Park, Grandfather Mountain, some Virginia mountains, the taller buildings of Charlotte, Salisbury, a ride tower at Carowinds and the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer.
These distant scenes were not only entertaining sights on that bright, crisp day, but held meaning for certain times in my life as well. Salisbury is my hometown, of course. My father worked for Southern Railway at the Spencer yard. Mrs. Misenheimer took our sixth-grade class to the Cinerama Theater in Charlotte (where we saw “How the West Was Won”), as well as to the Charlotte Nature Museum, where, in the gift shop, I purchased some fossils that I still have in my fossil and rock collection today (namely: a sea urchin, horn coral, ferns, crinoid stem, trilobite, dinosaur bone and a shark tooth).
On my way to and from Boone in my college days, I could see Pilot Mountain in the distance from a certain section of Highway 421 if the day was clear. I also saw it when my children Rachel and Jeremy were in school at Appalachian. My late wife Diane and I took Rachel and Jeremy to Carowinds, where among the rides we rode was the Eastern Airlines Skytower.
In Jeremy’s sophomore year at Bartlett Yancey High School, I helped chaperone his biology class’ camping trip to Hanging Rock State Park. While seated on a rocky overlook there, we saw the buildings of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Charlotte in the distance. Later that night, we had an encounter (of sorts) with a bobcat, but he only made his presence known aurally, being somewhere above us in a tree, while we listened nervously below him, secure in our tents.
When I was a child, our family went to the Scottish Highland Games at MacRae Meadows, beneath the summit of Grandfather Mountain. We walked its “Mile High” Swinging Bridge, as did my wife, the children and I years later.
Not far away from Grandfather, my late wife and I took our children to an attraction which is most definitely beneath the horizon (in more ways than one) in that gaze from Dunn’s Mountain: Linville Caverns. Those distant Virginia mountains pointed out by Mr. Gilland brought to my mind the place in whose southernmost region I now reside: Danville, Va. My travel has been limited; and these sights from Dunn’s Mountain comprise the vast quantity of my life’s venturings, except for brief trips to Orlando, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and the World’s Fair in Knoxville.
When I looked out from Dunn’s Mountain’s observation post, I didn’t exactly see my life pass before me, but I did behold a good many of my life’s place markers, some relatively close by, and others visible on that distant horizon.
I asked Mrs. Misenheimer if she minded waiting a few minutes while I walked down the Dunn’s Mountain walking trail. She said that would be fine, so the gray-haired former sixth-grader walked until he found a couple of pocket-size specimens of pale pink granite, one for himself and one for his former sixth-grade teacher.
Definitions of things grow throughout our lives in a somewhat cumulative fashion. Each person’s current mental picture when the word “thunderstorm” is mentioned consists of all those past storms they have experienced, with the last few storms probably holding sway in their consciousness over those long stored (unless one of those was particularly horrific), which provide the definition’s base.
That recent day at Dunn’s Mountain made a lasting impression on my mind as to what I consider to be the definition of a “beautiful, bright, crisp, clear day.” I am sure that for a good number of years into the future, whenever I hear someone speak of a beautiful day, or whenever I re-encounter such a day personally, in whatever place I may be, I will say to myself: “It’s just like that beautiful, bright, crisp, clear day atop Dunn’s Mountain.”