It’s been quite a month. If you have been following along, you’ll know that I’ve ventured to the northeastern US, and to various places I hadn’t seen in my home state of North Carolina.
I went on a personal retreat. And, I’ve taken several day trips.
Each place has been sacred – if because I felt a special energy there, or because it was a place that really resonated with me: a place that felt natural, powerful, or tranquil.
The last two places I visited were Mt. Richland-Balsam and Judaculla Rock.
I was slated to visit Pilot Mountain, but I realized it is quite far, that we’d have to camp and temps can soar to 100 degrees F this time of year.
I decided it would be prudent to hold off on that for a bit and relish in the areas local to me that are special and share them.
This is an area near where I live that is the tallest mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway, standing at 6,410 feet. It’s located at mile marker 431.
(This is not to be confused with Mt. Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River, standing at 6,683 feet. It’s about an hour and a half away from where I live.
Many people are surprised to learn that western North Carolina is not only mountainous, but has the tallest mountains in the Appalachian range. The skiing isn’t bad, either, and I’m a Colorado native, so that’s saying something.)
Before beginning my ascent to the summit, I let myself get still, taking deep breaths and enjoying the spectacular scenery.
I know to those folks who live in the Rocky Mountains, or other higher mountain ranges, 6,410 feet doesn’t sound like it’s very high at all.
Suffice it to say that when everything else is lower in elevation relative to where you are, it creates stunning views of lush mountains, and the vast distances with panoramic vistas make you feel so very small – a tiny organism in the grand array of nature’s majesty.
I don’t even know if I can make my words adequately describe just what it’s like. But if you’ve ever summited a mountain or two, you’ll know what I mean.
Mt. Richland-Balsam had been listed as a sacred site on a number of websites, but none really described why. Just as well, though. I like discovering a place without knowing too much about it beforehand.
I find that sometimes information can inhibit your experience of a place: you’re too busy trying to verify and discover what you’ve read instead of taking it all in just as it is – if that makes sense.
I decided to hike the 1.5 mile trail at the foot of the mountain and just see what I felt. I wanted to see if I could intuit the reason people called this a sacred place.
As I hiked, I paid attention to my thoughts.
I noted that the Blue Ridge Parkway is quite busy during the summer. But, even so, there were few people on this trail – just a couple of other cars and even those folks left shortly after we began hiking.
It was quiet. Except for hearing the occasional car go by on the Parkway as we hiked up, the trail got quite woodsy and wild quickly. It was a steep ascent.
I noticed ferns and other plants that depended on steady, heavy moisture to survive. They were marvels: was the weather so different here from the lower elevations where I lived that the environment could be so lush?
I imagined that being that high in elevation subjected the mountain to its own weather patterns. I’m sure it saw more storms and moisture than I had any idea about – leading to one reason this place was sacred.
A place that commands its own weather is rather remarkable.
The silence was only interrupted by birds occasionally chatting with each other in the afternoon sun. Their sounds were happy, as if they had no care in the world.
They sat upon several treetops and talked with each other as we walked far below. They’d get quiet for a few minutes, and then start up again.
I hadn’t heard these types of birds before, or if I did, I could not identify them. But I was immediately aware of another reason this place was special: the wildlife felt happy and carefree. Protected.
They knew that we were no threat to them.
I arrived at the summit of the mountain, after hundreds of steps up over tree roots, granitic gneiss bedrock, and piles of compost naturally deposited by mountain trees and winds.
I was aware of a certain kind of “zing” – a familiar feeling of positive energy that I feel when I know I am in a sacred space.
I don’t know what it is that makes a place feel that way, but I know it when I feel it.
I naturally slow down. I naturally feel my lungs expanding and contracting, as if on cue from nature’s orchestral rhythms. I feel a sort of “live connection” to spirit, as if at any moment, I might hear the whispers of wisdom from Source.
Even if those websites don’t really list the reason Richland-Balsam as a sacred place, you feel its power and energy if you let yourself become still enough to notice.
I would learn a few days later, just why I felt this….
After a particularly strenuous mountain bike ride this last Saturday in July, we headed into the heart of Jackson County, NC to find Judaculla Rock. It’s located near a small town called Caney Fork.
I didn’t know a lot about Judaculla before heading there yesterday.
In fact, we passed by the turnoff for it three times before finding it on the fourth try – the sign had been stolen, so we didn’t know where to turn.
But as we arrived, I knew this place was special: it had an electric feel.
Seeing the rock…and all the ancient petroglyphs stirred my imagination. It’s covered with more than 1500 etchings.
Scientists have also confirmed that the Cherokee did make carvings out of the rock – in its lower right corner from the front view – to make bowls.
Judaculla Rock is a marvel of the ancient Cherokee.
Scientists estimate that the glyphs are anywhere from 300 to 1500 years old, using estimations from carbon dating techniques.
But what no one really knows is what the glyphs mean or who exactly did them and when – even the Cherokee say that this place was ancient before they established themselves in the mountain areas nearby.
Theories abound: they were ancient stories meant to be passed down, they’re an undiscovered language, an unknown advanced culture engraved them as a message to be deciphered when humans evolved enough to actually understand, that aliens made them, that the Cherokee used the rock to illustrate a battle, that perhaps they are an ancient map….
When I was studying it, I couldn’t help but think they were stories, told by ancients to subsequent generations to heed their lessons….
But my favorite story about the rock is what I learned while there: the Legend of Judaculla.
According to the sign, it explained how Judaculla was a “slant-eyed giant.” He normally stayed at “The Devil’s Courthouse” – incidentally another sacred place I visited last fall, not far from Mt. Richland Balsam and Judaculla itself.
The Devil’s Courthouse is located off of mile marker 422 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In fact, the Devil’s Courthouse is on the other side of Mt. Richland-Balsam!
Incredibly, (and this is my own extrapolation here), it forms a triangle between the three locations, with Richland-Balsam at the northernmost tip; it’s not far from the Devil’s Courthouse.
The whole area here was Cherokee land and I can see now the significance of all three. I don’t think the triangular configuration is a coincidence.
Judaculla bore down on disrespectful hunters, leaping from his Judgement Seat, and landed on the rock, leaving his handprint. Can you see it in the photo of the front-view of the rock?
And…the anthropologist in me (yes, one of my undergrad degrees) wonders if the long line on the rock points toward the Devil’s Courthouse to delineate where Judaculla came from.
A quick look at the satellite version of Google Maps suggests that the longest line on the rock points toward the northeast. Not quite toward the Devil’s Courthouse, but toward Mt. Richland-Balsam!
Interesting. Very interesting indeed. The Bermuda Triangle of the Blue Ridge Mountains? That is all national forest between those three points, pretty much. It is virtually undeveloped.
Another interesting thing about Judacullah is how students from nearby Western Carolina University have gone there to do various things that students will do when off by themselves at night…
They have reported hearing mysterious sounds and seeing inexplicable lights.
Interesting that there’s a graveyard nearby, but that’s just the part of me that loves ghost stories and mysteries.
Still, there supposedly are or were two other stones like it in the area, but were buried or destroyed at some point. No one really knows.
A private family owns the land surrounding Judaculla, so unless the they permitted extensive study and excavation, this will remain a mystery.
This post concludes my sacred travels in July. Next week, I will share about the intentions and activities I will tackle in August.