I don’t really want to tell you where Mayo River State Park is, but that’s all right. The State of North Carolina seemingly doesn’t want to tell you, either —
I don’t really want to tell you where Mayo River State Park is, but that’s all right. The State of North Carolina seemingly doesn’t want to tell you, either — not where the best parts are, anyhow. So go ahead and hop off U.S. Highway 220 up near Stoneville, where there is, in fact, a park sign, and make your way about a mile and a half to Mayo River State Park’s fairly underwhelming (sorry, park staff) Mayo Mountain Access. Take in the ponds, maybe do a little licensed fishing, maybe even hike the trails at the main site. There is a lot to see in the forest, park literature tells you, cheerily. And there is. And I love forests. And I hope you have a terrific afternoon.
I learned about the rest of the park, the other pieces of it, in a trade: one secret swimming hole for another. Problem is, I don’t know how that trade works in a space like this. I can’t reach up off the page and take the crumpled note from your hand, the one that tells me how to get to the pretty little bend in the pretty little creek down near Asheboro, the one you’re not sure you want to tell me about because you don’t want your special place getting crowded.
So maybe let’s do this: I’ll tell you — but don’t go on a weekend, because it’s already plenty crowded, and don’t bust your kids out of school on the second Tuesday afternoon after it turns hot enough to swim, because that’s when I’m going. Find some way to tell me about your spot, care of this magazine, and I promise I won’t go when you do. Deal?
You have to believe you’re going to find it. There are no park signs at the Smith Road exit off 220, two exits north of the Mayo River State Park exit. There might be a sign at the intersection of Smith and Anglin Mill Road, but in my memory, the arrow’s pointing the wrong way. There’s no sign that says FEAR NOT THIS IS RIGHT WE PROMISE when Deshazo Road goes from paved to, well, not. There’s kind of half a sign at the parking lot (OK, it’s a whole sign, and it’s in the good state park font, so you know that you did, in fact, find it). If there are blazes on the trail, they’re not great. Fall Creek Falls, though, 20 or 30 feet high, is just down the trail there. You can hear it almost right away, and it’s an easy walk even if you’re only flip-flopped. But don’t be flip-flopped. Wear proper river shoes, because while you’re going to want to hang out at the falls, and in the little swimming hole at the base of the falls, you’re also going to want to hike along Fall Creek to the Mayo afterward.
That trail — the one beyond the falls — also has a lot to see in the forest, with the added bonus that it eventually tracks the Mayo to its northern fork, to some terrific boulders if you’re, say, a child with all the energy in North Carolina, and to the (surprise) fairly poorly marked North Carolina/Virginia state line. There’s a series of rocks that jut into the river, and I like to sit out there in the sunshine and hope that my kids aren’t falling off the boulders back up the trail.
But that’s not even the best spot. The beach at the Anglin Mill access, located down Old Anglin Loop and Mayo Beach roads (few signs, little pavement, easy to miss — I’m lost just thinking about it), has a trash can that’s full enough to suggest that plenty of folks go on weekends. But it’s been delightfully deserted on the weekday afternoons when I’ve snuck my boys up there, life jackets in hand. It’s plenty deep enough to swim and calm enough to float, and there are gorgeous rapids just upstream that roar when the water’s high. That roar is loud enough to drown out any worries beyond the present, beyond making sure you stay downriver of anybody you’re trying to keep track of. It’s my special spot. When I’m back home in Greensboro, standing in line at the post office or doing my taxes, that’s the place I dream of. Part of me is maybe always ankle-deep in the Mayo.
There’s a master plan that suggests future improvements to these two spots and a handful more, but I’ll be sad when it gets any more improved than it is. There’s something secret about this park, even when it’s crowded. There’s something beautiful about the park being in more than one place. I love that the parking is difficult, more a haphazard suggestion than any proper lot. I love the looks you get from the people — if there are any — who are there. Don’t tell anybody else, those faces say. Or maybe it’s a little friendlier than that. Maybe they say: If you tell somebody, just make sure they’re good people. You’re good people, dear reader, aren’t you? Where’s your spot again?