My first experiences on the North Country National Scenic Trail were at nearby state parks in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Little did I know, two hikes would awaken a curiosity and evoke a quest to hike 100 miles in 2021.
Like a spike of dopamine in my brain after a morning cup of coffee, I was awakened to the idea of seeing many more mountaintop vistas and quiet creek beds along the trail throughout the year.
With 4,600 miles spread across eight states, the North Country offers a variety of scenery and terrain. The North Country Trail Association started the now annual Hike 100 Challenge in 2016. Participants choose their route and can even repeat favorite sections.
I enticed my kids into joining me on my first recorded miles of the challenge by mentioning a mystery. Local lore tells of a rock situated on a high cliff that was carved by Native Americans. However, many researchers are uncertain if Native Americans or early pioneers created the manmade indentations.
Inquisitive minds wonder who carved the rock and why did they complete the arduous task. I was very interested in seeing “The Rock” of South Beaver Township to surmise the answers myself. After showing my kids a trail map and a few pictures, they were curious as well.
Our hike began on Hodgson Road near Darlington, Pennsylvania. There is a small parking lot across the road from the North Country Trail marker. Our destination was identified on trail markers as Indian Rock.
As we entered the forest, we could still see buildings and Route 51 to our right, but we looked ahead and the hustle and bustle faded in the background. We followed blue blazes while weaving through hemlock and pine trees, over moss-covered rocks, and around low lying grapevines.
The mileage was short but the trail’s true difficulty was found in the change of elevation. First, we climbed up and then after about .6 of a mile, we slowly descended by way of switchbacks to finally reach the creek. The bridge was both an inspiration and a geography lesson for us. The opposing sides were carved with the following notations: Maine Junction, Vermont, 1,051 miles; Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota, 3,655 miles. The locations are the beginning and end of the trail, the longest trail in the National Trails System.
After crossing the bridge, we started the back and forth process of switchbacks again, ascending out of the valley. The forest path led us to impressive sandstone cliffs. It was an unusually clear January afternoon and the tan hues of the sandstone were in stark contrast to the gorgeous blue sky.
Race to the rock
A trail marker for Indian Rock led us to the right and then we followed the trail blazes up a very steep incline. Of course, my boys started to run like mountain goats, realizing we had almost reached the end of the trail. My hiking boots peeled out on the layer of small pebbles as I struggled to keep up.
They were racing ahead to see who could find the rock first. Its location was random, more likely placed there by forces of nature and not moved by humans. It was a sizable boulder, approximately 5 feet by 3 feet. It was neither right on the edge of the cliff nor centered on the mountain top. There were four distinct shapes carved into the rock: two circles, a square, and then another circle.
My daughter thought it looked like a face, while the boys argued that the indentations were used for grinding grain. That is the mystery surrounding the rock. It could have been carved by a Native American passing through the area with better tools for working with stone.
The family that owned the land adjacent to where the rock is located has claimed, however, that an early pioneer carved the rock to be used to feed and water animals. Their family legend is that a mentally disabled stone mason liked to climb the mountain and use the rock he carved to feed the birds.
I am drawn to this story because of the incredible mark an unassuming man left on his family farm. For over a century, people are still talking about his rock and climbing mountains to see it. If it’s true, he created the crown jewel of the township.
In the same way that he assumedly escaped the pressures of life by drifting into nature, thousands of hikers can do the same along the North Country Trail.
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