I noticed the photos on Facebook over the weekend. And like most things I see on social media, I refused to believe it. Then again, one of the photo sources is among the most trustworthy people I know — my longtime friend from high school and college, Tip Wood. Tip wouldn’t lead me astray, would he?
Still, it made me wonder. Had to be a hoax. I was raised in Stokes County. My mom still lives there. It’s been home to my family since before the Civil War. And I had never, ever heard of the waterfalls at Hanging Rock State Park freezing over. I never recall it mentioned even once. My dad often spoke of the Dan River freezing over when he was kid growing up in Danbury, but Cascades, Hidden or Window Falls at Hanging Rock? Never. Even in the pre-social media age it seems likely that I would have heard of waterfalls encased in ice at Hanging Rock had it happened before. After seeing the photos on Saturday I called my 86-year-old mother and asked if she could remember any time when such a thing occurred. Nope, she agreed with me.
So I thought again, it’s simply not possible.
Yet there it was a few days later, reported by the Winston-Salem Journal on Wednesday in a story by reporter Lisa O’Donnell. Nearly a week of below freezing temperatures — and a lot of days when the high barely nudged into the 20s, stopped the waterfalls at Lower and Upper Cascades as well as Hidden and Window Falls. They were beautifully encased, like something in a movie. It created another spectacular but unprecedented sight at what I always say is the best state park in North Carolina.
According to the Journal:
The 35-foot Lower Cascades, one of the gems in the park, turned into a craggy ice sculpture late last week, its sprays and drips frozen in mid-stream, creating a sight to behold.
While the same conditions held true at other Hanging Rock waterfalls, Lower Cascades got most of the notice because it’s among the easiest hiking trials on the mountain. Stokes County Tourism posted a few stellar images from around the park. People looking for more photos can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #frozenstokes
People in the area took full advantage of what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to view a natural wonder so close to home. Over the weekend, park officials told the Journal the site was overrun with visitors, especially for a January day still in the 20s. According to traffic counts from the state park, 121 cars parked at the lot on Friday, 709 on Saturday and 734 on Sunday, about 500 to 600 more than usual. More people simply pulled off on the side of the road, and were not part of the parking lot count, according to the Journal. I’ve only heard of that much traffic in the fall when people come up to hike Hanging Rock or view the fall foliage. Sometimes it gets that jammed around July 4 when the lake is full of swimmers — but that only used to happen in the 1960s and ’70s.
I’m not saying definitively that this kind of thing never occurred before. Like the old Buddhist question about a tree falling in the woods, if no one was there to see a frozen waterfall in Stokes County’s recorded history, did it actually happen?
By the end of this week, this piece of winter sorcery was largely gone, removed by warmer temperatures. By Friday it was balmy with springlike temperatures and the frozen waterfalls shifted into history.
But much like the fictional “Road Warrior,” it lives in our memories.