The mountains hold so much wonder. I feel a billowing sense of wonder whenever I stand on a giant rock which was forced up by energy deep within the Earth to soar above the crust many millennia ago. A mountain top is a place to look around and gain a deeper understanding of the fascinating geology we inhabit and, often, to learn more about the histories and mythologies of the people who have been there longer than anyone else. Locals always have the best information.
Standing Indian Mountain, in Macon County, North Carolina, is a mountain with a climb to make your legs burn and a view to make your throat catch. Furthermore, the story behind its spooky woods and stony summit is a particularly entertaining one. And it starts with the Cherokee people, who call the mountain Yunwitsule-nunyi, which translates as “Where the Man Stood.”
According to Cherokee mythology, there was once a beady-eyed monster terrorizing the people of the village below. It lived somewhere on the mountain, the villagers believed, and every so often, would stretch its great wings, swoop down, and snatch a child. The people endeavored to find the monster and get rid of it for good, so they sent one of their warriors up the mountain. Meanwhile, the villagers, feeling angry and terrorized, prayed to the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit responded to their prayers by destroying the monster’s mountain lair with thunder and lightning. This decimated the trees, leaving the mountain bald to this day. When the thunder and lightning came, the warrior, stationed atop the mountain on the lookout for the monster, became frightened and ran away from his post. As reprisal for the warrior’s cowardice, the Great Spirit turned him to stone. Not an ideal outcome when you find yourself on a mountain in a thunderstorm.
Luckily, this is the only recorded incident of human petrification on Standing Indian Mountain. The mountain makes for a good day-trip, and for those through hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is one of the highlights of the South. It’s a 5-mile hike up the Southernmost mile-high mountain on the Appalachian Trail, which has been called “the grandstand of the southern Appalachians.” The trail takes you through rhododendrons and yellow birches on dizzying switchbacks. After hiking about 2.4 miles, a right turn will put you on the trail leading to the grassy summit. The peak soars above Deep Gap and the surrounding Nantahala Wilderness at 5,500 feet (1,676 m), with great views of the Tallulah River Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The standing man in the Yunwitsule-nunyi name refers to a rock that years ago, jutted out from the mountain, but has since broken off. However, especially when the clouds roll in, it is not hard to imagine an oversized flying monster living somewhere in the mountainside. Luckily, it was taken care of a long time ago.