Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions by Vann Helms
Approaching the Blue Ridge Mountains from the South Carolina “Upstate” region is always a memorable sight. That’s Interstate 26 in the foreground. Storms were moving over the ridges.
Even the weeds are more vibrant as you get closer to the mountains.
This is the wettest part of the mountains, with Gulf moisture from the south condensing into rain as it hits the upslope of the escarpment.
The view of Tryon Mountain from US Highway 74 in North Carolina takes me back to the first time I saw the mountains from the Piedmont Plateau. Amazingly, I saw NO billboards anywhere along this stretch of US 74. Europe forbids billboards along most roadways. America should take a lesson about an unspoiled panorama.
Below is a one minute video made from the same Pea Ridge Road overpass that can really give you a sense of grandeur as you transition from the rolling hills into the land of giants. Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are just a few miles north of this view.
By the 1870′s, tourists had already discovered the awesome natural beauty of the Hickorynut Gorge and the mountain that came to be known as Chimney Rock. The stagecoach route between eastern towns and the small village of Asheville used a route that ran along the Broad River and through the steep cliffs of the ancient gorge. Road houses were built in the gorge so that travelers could overnight during the long, arduous trip. A tourist industry was born in the Carolina mountains, long before the first railroad was opened over the Eastern Continental Divide, and America began to appreciate the cool summers and clean air of these lofty peaks.
In 1902, the chimney tower and the cliffs around it were purchased by Lucious Morse, and a road was built to the base of the chimney. Stairs were improved to allow better access to the summit. A climb to the top of the tower became an item on every traveler’s “Bucket List”. Morse and his descendants would own and manage the mountain for the next 105 years. In 2007, the family sold the entire operation to the state of North Carolina, and Chimney Rock State Park was created.
By the 1920′s, there was a boom in visitors to Chimney Rock, and the Morse family, who owned the mountain, saw the potential of creating a large lake where the Rocky Broad River drained in to an expansive area of bottomland farms. The North Carolina Mountains had no natural lakes, and the idea of a European type lake resort appealed to the entrepreneurial instincts of the Morse family, shown below. The family expanded their empire to include all of the land where the lake would be filled. A large dam was built at the Hickorynut Gap, and Lake Lure was born in 1926. It was actually named by Morse’s wife, who believed that potential land buyers would be “lured” by the name. A large hotel was constructed, along with shops and restaurants, and the rest, as they say, is history.
From those early days, photographers and artists made cards featuring the scenic wonder of the gorge, and the practice continues today. Below are but a few of the postcards that were printed in those early days, capturing the beauty that could be found along the Blue Ridge southeast of Asheville. Although most of these cards are in color, they were actually hand colored using black and white photographs. You’ll notice a painterly quality in most of them.
Posters for the Southern Railway, below, appeared in the 1890′s.
In 1949 a 26 story elevator shaft was blasted through solid granite, and a 200 foot tunnel was carved into the mountain to access the elevator. Suddenly, Chimney Rock became accessible to everyone, and the number of visitors soared.
All across America, small 19th century churches commissioned stained glass windows from Tiffany and Company in New York. One of those fortunate sanctuaries just happens to be near the center of the small village of Rutherfordton, North Carolina, barely twenty miles east of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock in the Blue Ridge foothills. St. Francis Episcopal Church installed two Tiffanys, along with a first rate collection of windows from other noted studios, after it was constructed in the 1880′s.
The largest Tiffany is on the rear wall of the church. The right window features the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, surrounded by white lilies, and the left window’s image is not identified yet.
I’ve been told that this window from the north wall is the other Tiffany. Judging from the intricate workmanship, it certainly appears to be a Tiffany.
It’s possible that this window of Christ is also a Tiffany. The style matches the other windows, and has an opalescent radiance like many other Tiffany creations.
This St. Elizabeth window, above, is truly a masterpiece of stained glass design.
This stone archway leading to a bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi captures the solemnity of the gardens around the chapel.
St. Francis Episcopal Church is truly an oasis in this otherwise under publicized Piedmont town. Who would have thought that such masterpieces would be so accessible in such an out-of-the-way place. It’s well worth a visit, and the church is always open during the day.
At 4,232 ft. above sea level, Bearwallow Mountain stands as the highest peak in the widely-visible Bearwallow Highlands range. Straddling the Eastern Continental Divide, it makes up part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment as well as the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Crowned with a grassy meadow at its summit, the mountain features a nearly 360 degree view that encompasses some of the southern Appalachian’s highest peaks including Mt. Mitchell in the Black Mountains and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams range. Its breathtaking vista also includes a bird’s-eye view of Hickory Nut Gorge, downtown Hendersonville, and the upstate rolling hills of South Carolina. A historic fire lookout tower occupies the summit, as do grazing cattle who call the mountaintop home.
Last evening, I was part of a Sunset-Moonrise hike to the summit of Bearwallow that was organized by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy out of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Our rendezvous point was at Bearwallow Gap, just up the road from Grand Highlands, a mountaintop development between Chimney Rock and Hendersonville.
The view from above Grand Highlands is always spectacular.
No wonder so many weddings are held in this lodge.
The view toward Apple Valley is awe-inspiring, no matter the season.
At the summit, the view to the southwest is made all the more dramatic by a cloud bank, and by fog that has settled in the valley.
The view toward the northwest shows the many ridges between Bearwallow and Mount Mitchell.
Back toward the southwest, Hendersonville is nestled in the distant valley.
To the north, US 74A/NC 9 is clearly visible as it crosses the gap at Fairview on its way to Asheville.
Maria, one of the Conservancy’s guides, has a lively conversation as the sun begins its on-time display. The clouds couldn’t have been more cooperative.
It was the perfect evening to enjoy one of nature’s greatest shows.
And Nature didn’t disappoint…
Here, the sun was just touching the farthest mountain ridge west of Hendersonville.
The masses were not disappointed. The simultaneous rising of the “Super Moon” was obscured by clouds, but the one mile climb to the top was well worth the ultimate reward. Perhaps the same journey for the August full moon will be a different story. Stay tuned.
Over the past two years, I have chronicled the decay of the historic 1835 Cleghorn Plantation house, and the outcry from my readers has been universal. “How can this kind of thing happen to a piece of Western North Carolina history?” Although the bankrupt development containing the house was sold to The Challenge Golf Group, Ltd., a Texas based corporation, in 2010, legal roadblocks and lawsuits prevented any work to be done on the site, and the golf course closed in October, 2012. The future of the house looked bleak. Last winter, the legal cases were finally settled, and the development was reacquired by its former owner, Ken Bortner, who immediatly began rehabilitating the course, the swimming pool, and all public areas. The course opened for business on March 1, and, best of all, Ken Bortner began to repair and restore the long suffering plantation house.
At sunset, the newly repaired exterior glows in a way not seen in years. The land where the house and golf course sits was given to William Cleghorn by King George II in 1752.
The house has been made water tight, and rotting wood has been replaced. A new coat of paint gives the dowager a new lease on life. These double deck porches are relatively recent to the house, but the added square footage will contribute to the financial viability of the house when it once again opens to the public.
The floor of the front porch is weather resistant teak. Very beautiful!
The western view toward the Blue Ridge Mountains is as breathtaking as ever.
The interior has been cleaned and decluttered in preparation for remodeling. Although it would be nice to think that it will be restored to its antebellum glory with antiques and artwork from the period, most likely it will be reoutfitted for receptions and meetings. These rooms were originally bed chambers because they were cooler in the summer than the second floor. The main entrance was at the top of a sweeping outdoor staircase on the upper floor. At least it is being preserved, and those 18″ thick brick walls aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The golf course has been brought back to its original 1972 glory, when it was voted as one of the top 100 golf courses in America. The stone work around the tees, above, was done by local stone mason Mike Connor. The course was designed by George Cobb, who also designed the Par 3 course at Augusta National, and Quail Hollow in Charlotte.
The view from the top of the sixth hole rivals any mountain course anywhere in North Carolina. Ken Bortner, working with his new General manger and Director of Golf, Dave Long, has made a major financial commitment into the property, and Cleghorn Plantation has risen from the ashes. Make sure you look at past postings about this iconic piece of history.
The video below was made at the top of hole 6. It really shows the elevation change from tee to fairway. That’s me on the tee, by the way. It’s a minute long.
It was 49 degrees this morning here in Otter Creek Valley, and along with the cooler temps comes the low humidity, and very clear air. The views along the escarpment yesterday were more like April than July. The woods in the foothills under Mount Shumont at Lake Lure seemed to sparkle in the afternoon sun.
A little further north, and the view of Stone Mountain was just as breathtaking…
Yesterday at sunrise, Otter Creek Valley, just north of Lake Lure, was shimmering as the sun caught the lower slopes of Bear Gap Mountain. Fibber Magee Drive winds its way through the forest of Loblolly Pine as it descends into the lower western portion of the valley.
The video below was made just after the sun rose from behind Oak and Brushy Top Mountains. If you’re viewing this as part of your e-mail, click on the main headline above to go directly to the full blog to view the video. The music is Virgil Fox playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Only by watching the video can you experience the three dimensionality of these mountains and trees.
Traveling into the piedmont foothills of northern Georgia, I encountered this magical Italian style village nestled among vine covered slopes.
The vineyard is called Montaluce, and a large winery is florishing there, surrounded by villas and gardens that remind you of Tuscany.
Flower covered meadows and vegetable gardens are scattered over the verdant slopes.
Villas are built along the rows of vines and must follow the Italian style…
Montaluce is located about five miles northwest of Dahlonega, which was the site of the Georgia gold rush of the early 19th century. Today, the gold comes from a different source, the thousands of tourist who flock there every summer and fall to enjoy the history and small town charm of this college town that is the home of the University of North Georgia.
The Dahlonega Town Hall was built in 1836. Today it contains the Gold Museum…
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