The Mountains Away from the Mountains


You won’t have trouble finding the start of this route. From every direction, Pilot Mountain commands attention, rising abruptly some 1,400 feet above the surrounding plains. The early Saura Indians named the mountain Jomeokee, which means great guide. The Moravian name Pilot has been used since the mid-eighteenth century. Two peaks make up Pilot Mountain: Big Pinnacle and Little Pinnacle. Big Pinnacle is the one you can’t miss, with its two-hundred-foot sheer rock walls and flat top.

Geologists call Pilot Mountain a monadnock, meaning an isolated knob that rises abruptly above the surrounding land. But like all the other prominent peaks in North Carolina, Pilot Mountain is as much a product of erosion as it is uplift. The peak is made of quartzite, an extremely erosion-resistant type of rock. Over the eons, erosion cut into the less-resistant surrounding rock, and streams washed the sediment away.

Pilot Mountain commands attention from all directions.

The jagged quartzite of Hanging Rock in Hanging Rock State Park contrasts with the surrounding rolling countryside.

Start out at the entrance to Pilot Mountain State Park on U.S. 52, north of Winston-Salem. Visit the park, then head east on Pilot Knob Park Road. Drive 1 mile, then turn right onto Old Winston Road. Drive half a mile, then turn right onto Old U.S. 52. Go a quarter mile, then turn left onto High Bridge Road. Drive 3 miles, then turn right onto Brims Grove Road. Drive 1 mile, then turn right onto Oscar Frye Road. Drive half a mile, then turn right onto Flat Rock Road. Drive 1 mile, then turn left to remain on Flat Rock Road. Drive 3 miles, then turn right onto Rock House Road. Drive 2 miles, then turn left on Taylor Road. Go a quarter mile, then turn right onto NC 66. Drive 2 miles, then turn left onto Moores Springs Road. Drive 5 miles, then turn right to visit Hanging Rock State Park. Backtrack to Moores Springs Road, then continue on the park road to NC 8/89 and turn right. Drive 2 miles, then turn left onto Sheppard Mill Road. Drive 2 miles to Priddy General Store. (25 miles)

Because monadnocks are isolated from their surroundings and are usually quite a bit higher, they often harbor uncommon species of flora and fauna. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) plants more typical of the higher mountains farther west thrive here. The common raven, once a rare Piedmont nester but now more common, has been an inhabitant of Pilot Mountain as long as anyone can remember. In fact, the bird’s presence contributed greatly to the mountain being designated a National Natural Landmark. As a state park, Pilot Mountain is user-friendly, with the usual complement of trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, and interpretive displays.

Near the other end of our route is another state park, Hanging Rock. It harbors striking geologic features, including Moores Knob, Cooks Wall, Wolf Rock, and the park’s namesake Hanging Rock. Like Pilot Mountain, the peaks and rock walls within Hanging Rock State Park owe their existence to hard quartzite. Both parks are remnants of an ancient range called the Sauratown Mountains. Their isolation from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and north has given them the nickname the mountains away from the mountains.

Facilities at Hanging Rock State Park include the usual amenities, as well as a small lake and swimming area, which can be crowded in the summer. An extensive trail system leads hikers to mountain peaks with expansive views, cascading waterfalls, and even to a small grotto said to be a hideout for loyalists during the Revolution. Hikers who want a little more of a challenge can tackle the twenty-two-mile Sauratown Trail, which connects Hanging Rock to Pilot Mountain.

The gateway to Hanging Rock is the small town of Danbury, seat of Stokes County. To complete the route, you’ll pass through the heart of the village and alongside the historic 1904 courthouse. Just outside of town are Moratock Park and the Moratock Iron Furnace. One of only a handful of nineteenth-century iron furnaces remaining in the state, Moratock supplied the Confederacy with much-needed iron during the Civil War.

Our route ends a couple of miles from Moratock Park at Priddy General Store. Built around 1888 and serving as a post office and bank, the two-story frame building was purchased in 1929 by N. D. Priddy, who opened it as a store. Priddy descendants continue to operate the store today, selling just about everything you can imagine, including the requisite hoop cheese and thick-sliced bologna sandwiches. At various times throughout the year and every Saturday in October, visitors enjoy Pickin’ at Priddy’s live bluegrass music.

The former Stokes County Courthouse in Danbury features a mansard-style cupola.

Priddy General Store is the quintessential old-timey mercantile, drawing visitors from all over.

The Mountains Away from the Mountains Photo Gallery

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