The beautiful outline of Table Rock Mountain is a familiar local landmark, and one of the key features of the Upstate. Lying about 15 miles east of Lake Keowee, just north of Scenic Highway 11, the mountain is remarkable for its graceful shape, pretty setting and the astonishing, sheer granite face on its southern slope. A similar local rocky protrusion is Glassy Mountain, situated on the eastern outskirts of the town of Pickens (and not to be confused with the larger mountain upon which The Cliffs at Glassy is perched). This landform is intriguing and rare, and is called a “granite dome monadnock”.
A monadnock, or inselberg (“island mountain”), is an isolated hill or small mountain which rises abruptly from its surroundings, and is a residual feature, having been formed when time and the elements erode softer surrounding stone, leaving harder elements (usually granite) to stand alone. Where detritus has been allowed to settle, trees and often rare granitic dome plant communities exist (including the regionally threatened Thousand Leaf Groundsel, which can be found growing atop Glassy Mountain). Meanwhile, exposed surfaces are subjected to further erosive sculpting, resulting in the curvilinear shapes so pleasing to the eye. The monadnocks in our area have thus been some 480 million years in the making, slowly whittled by wind, rain, and gravity, yet appearing strangely new in their stark nakedness.
The word “monadnock” comes from the Native American name for one such feature in New Hampshire, now known as Mount Monadnock (and memorialized in a poem by Emerson and in the writings of Thoreau). Other North American monadnocks include King’s Mountain near Charlotte, Stone Mountain just outside Atlanta, Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland, Mount Ascutney in Vermont, Katahdin in Maine, and Enchanted Rock in Texas. Famous monadnocks in other parts of the world include Ayers Rock (Uluru) in Australia, Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro and Suilven in Scotland.
Because these features are so remarkable in their starkness and majesty, they have long been associated with divine power. Uluru (Ayers Rock) is revered by the Aboriginal people of Australia as a scared site, and Table Rock was considered by the local Cherokee to be the table of God. Many have noticed a triangular shape which appears to be carved into the center of the granite face, and is visible from Highway 11. Thought by some to be a depiction of a teepee, this explanation seems highly unlikely, given that local indigenous people did not use the teepees associated with the nomadic tribes of the western plains. If the carving is indeed manmade, it may be a religious depiction of the sacred triangle associated with fertility.
Monadnocks command reverence as a result of the beauty of their form and the majesty of their sheer rock faces. Echoing Emerson’s sentiments, man attempts to stamp his “shifting form”, “For which we all our lifetime grope” upon the “stable Good” these magnificent rocks symbolize. Thus, the triangle may have been etched upon the side of Table Rock, the figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis are carved into Stone Mountain, and the graduating class of Pickens High School has painted its year onto the side of Glassy Mountain since ’53.
Fortunately, there are less invasive ways of enjoying the majesty and of communing with the immortality of these majestic landforms. Hiking trails ascend to the very top of Table Rock Mountain (accessed through the State Park), and the summit of Glassy Mountain can be reached via South Glassy Mountain Road, just off Hwy. 183. A short trail descends to a wooden platform from which breath-taking views of Pickens County are easily enjoyed.