Directions: The park is divided into five access points. The Cox Mountain Trail is found at the Few's Ford access, located just at the northern end of Cole Mill Road (maps & directions here).
Observations & Ponderings: Walking along the Cox Mountain trail in early March offers even the casual observer an addictive taste of the wonders of the natural world. In early spring, some of the most beautiful flowers of the year burst forth from the cold earth, bedecking the brown leaf litter with snowy white, gold and amethystine accents. These spring ephemerals, which seem to disappear before the heat of summer arrives, include trout lilies (Erythronium americanum), spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) and round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana).
Round lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana) at Eno River State Park, Cox Mountain trail, 8 Mar 2009 (© Nicolette L. Cagle)
After crossing the suspension bridge that spans the Eno River, and walking along a well-worn path, a brown sign indicates the turn-off for the Cox Mountain trail. Here begins the steep climb to the top of the mountain. The ground is noticably rockier and drier, and fallen trees are strewn across the ridge, toppled by hurricane winds. Even the fauna changes: instead of ground skinks, one might see an eastern fence lizard (Scleroporus undulatus) basking in the harsh sun on this hilltop.
Cox Mountain trail at Eno River State Park, 8 Mar 2009 (© Nicolette L. Cagle)
Eastern fence lizard (Scleroporus undulatus) at Eno River State Park, Cox Mountain trail, 8 Mar 2009 (© Nicolette L. Cagle)
Here, I take a moment to enjoy the stunning views of rolling hills that remind us that we are truly in the Piedmont, the foothills of Appalachia. My mind wanders. What intrepid travelers first saw these same views? Had the Eno indians climbed this same mountain? Did the explorer-naturalist Bartram pass this way? Maybe the Cox family was the first to explore the great hill. Or, perhaps, I am the first to ever see these sights. I would love to re-live that moment, when the first man or woman stood on this ridge. What did they see? How have things changed? Were there more northern red oaks then? Was the soil richer? How many lizards were startled by their arrival? Did they see elk browsing in the distance or maybe a bear snacking on sun-ripened berries?
A snapping twig break the reverie, and I continue down the trail. Here, the trail runs first along a small creek that was recently bifurcated by a fallen tree limb and now trickles down the trail as well. The creek runs into the rocky Eno River and suddenly, the din of calling chorus frogs fills the air.
View of the Eno River along the Cox Mountain trail at Eno River State Park, 8 Mar 2009 (© Nicolette L. Cagle).
Three shallow, ephemeral pools line the trail here, providing breeding habitat for frogs and toads. The evidence of these midnight rendezvous is apparent: gelatinous green frog (Rana clamitans) eggs stuck to twigs beneath the water's surface.
Green frog (Rana clamitans) eggs at Eno River State Park, Cox Mountain trail, 8 Mar 2009 (© Nicolette L. Cagle)
The trail continues, looping around the base of the mountain, marching pass enchanting painted buckeyes (Aesculus sylvatica), about to burst open, until finally bringing you back to the suspension bridge, back to the lovely spring ephemerals and then back to the concrete world.
Painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) at Eno River State Park, Cox Mountain trail, 8 Mar 2009 (© Nicolette L. Cagle)