Merchants Mill Pond Park
Merchants Mill Pond

Crouching Gator, Hidden Driveway

American AlligatorHere's a question that I don't think many of you will be able to answer: where is the closest place you can go to see live alligators living in a natural habitat?

Most of you are thinking Florida, I would have thought that, too; if it wasn't for a chance visit to Merchants Mill Pond.

I love to visit parks and recreational areas. Parks are interesting places to visit at anytime, but if they have a pond or a lake I take a particular interest in them.

Phil with fly rod and Largemouth BassThis year, now that I'm fully retired, I ended my 20 year absence from the piscatorial pursuits and once again picked up my rod a reel in search of the really big one. I have with a renewed vigor begun fishing once again. And now, after introducing my wife Flo to the fun of fly fishing, we are like two kids enjoying our time on the water. So it's no wonder that we both love to visit parks with lakes and ponds.

Now Fly fishing has nothing to do with trying to fish for flies. It's a technique used to deliver a lure which is made from natural materials to resemble insects in both color and size that live on or near water. These lures don't weigh enough to be cast by conventional methods like spinning or casting rods and reels. They have to be delivered delicately enough so they light on the water and appear natural. The equipment; fly rod and fly line are specialized to present the lure in a very realistic way; of course casting with a fly rod does require some specially developed skills.

Ok so now that you know we aren't interested in catching flies, and its fish that we're really after. By the way although fly tackle appears delicate; they regularly catch every kind of fish, both in fresh and salt water with fly tackle. Largemouth bass are the big fish we look for when we're fishing. So visiting parks with ponds and lakes only helps us find new places for our outdoor adventures. I can't think of a better way to find and investigate these parks and out of the way places than by traveling to them by motorcycle.

PC Taking a break...
PC turned over 35,000 miles on this outing.
PC's odemeter at 35000 miles
Flo dancing at the border
Flo was doing a little dance in North Carolina...

On Thursday (25 October) Flo and I rode to Merchants Mill Pond in North Carolina. We rode about 160 miles round trip. What made this ride special was the route we took. After riding our usual back roads to get from the James River Bridge to Winsor's intersection of 460 and 258, we headed to Franklin on 258.

Where 258 crosses over 58, it then becomes 189 or S Quay Rd. We turned off of S Quay Rd onto Gates Rd (666): Gates turns into Camp Pond Rd. (745) and at the North Carolina border the name changes once more into Sandbanks Rd. (1200).

For those who don't recognize the name Sandbanks Rd. or NC1200; it's better known to us as the fabled "Tail of the Lizard". I know I have talked about this particular stretch of road a lot. Some of you may know it by other names like the Motorcycle Highway, or the Superbike road and other names. But as the names imply it's one of the very best roads in the area to ride; no matter what kind of motorcycle you're on. It made our day's motorcycling adventure even better by including the Lizard as well as a few more roads we discovered on our way to Merchants Mill Pond Park.

In all of my many trips to the "Tail of the Lizard" I never ventured beyond the stop sign at the intersection with 13. On this trip, we crossed 13 and followed county road 1343 to the little town of Gatesville. Where we made a right turn at the intersection and followed 37 to Mill Pond Road. Mill Pond Road took us to the Merchants Mill Pond Park entrance road.

Merchants Mill Pond The mill pond is one of those ponds studded with cypress trees, Spanish moss, Pine and Oak trees. The water is covered with so much green pollen; it looks like a lawn more than the surface of a lake or pond. It's a place where you really want to fish. It looks like it hasn't changed since dinosaurs were roaming North America.

I was reading one of the bulletin boards, when I couldn't believe the large warning sign telling the visitors to give the alligators plenty of room…Gators? Yes right here in Gates County, not more than twenty miles or so from the Virginia border are living in the wild; alligators. No they aren't fenced in or in a display they are living and breeding in the wilds of the park.

So now you know you don't have to travel to Florida to see gators… Next summer we are planning to return to Merchants Mill Pond and rent a boat or canoe and try to photograph a North Carolina Blue Alligator… On this visit we didn't see anything more than the posted signs and a turtle, not one gator showed up to greet us.

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