Autumn Colors Sweep across Otter Creek Valley

Otter Creek Valley autumn trees

With the peak of color still a week away, Mother Nature isn’t waiting around to the last minute to show the magic she has in store for this valley along the Eastern Blue Ridge escarpment.

Otter Pond at autumn sunrise
Otter Pond reflects the colors of sunrise.

High Lodges at Otter Creek fall sunset
Sunset over Horsetop Mountain frames a winding Fibber Magee Drive as it descends into the western part of the valley.

Brushy Top Fog in fall
Brushy Top Mountain with a layer of mist at sunrise accentuates the arriving color.

Broomsedge Grass of Fall
Broomsedge Grass always turns a golden orange in early October. It gets to be four feet tall in a final growth spurt in September. It has no commercial value, but helps to hold the clay filled soil in place all year long.

Otter Pond and Brushy Top in fall
Brushy Top dominates the mid-October horizon as Tulip Poplar, Dogwood, and Oak preceeds the most colorful Maples around Otter Pond.

Otter Creek Valley Fall Pumpkins
There’s no mistaking what popular holiday is just around the corner.

Roan Horsetop over Otter Pond in Fall
On a freezing morning, Horsetop Mountain is shrouded in mist as the Sun rises toward Otter Pond.

Beech and Hickory and Pine
Deep in the woods, American Beech and Hickory surround a very old Short Leaf Pine, with touches of Maple flaring up early in the morning.

Otter Pond autumn Mist
Another icy morning causes clouds of fog to rise from the relatively warmer water of Otter Pond.

Brushy Top Panoramic fall
A panoramic of the northern line of mountains with an early morning mist shows the wilderness nature of Otter Creek Valley.

Otter Pond Panoramic in Fall
A similar view of Otter Pond has everything except the Canadian Geese who arrive this time every Fall. Make sure to download both of these wide views so you can enlarge them to get the full effect.

Canadian Geese on Otter Pond
But worry not, they arrived right on time this year, with two more birds than last year.

Autumn Arrives Late near Mt. Mitchell

With only one mild freeze so far this season in all the mountains, autumn is taking her sweet time to descend down the slopes. Last year, the peak color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell was October 13th. I was up there today, October 18th, and the peak is sill four or five days away. Driving from Marion to the Parkway on NC 80, a climb of 2,100 feet in elevation, the colors have yet to happen, and driving south on the Parkway toward Mt. Mitchell, the first intense trees didn’t appear until the 4,000 foot level.

Blue Ridge Parkway Northeast View
Looking northeast toward Linville Gorge.

Blue Ridge Parkway East View
Another northeast view. No reds at all.
Blue Ridge Parkway Southeast view
This view is toward the south from the Parkway.

Blue Ridge Parkway South view
Looking to the southeast, there is still alot of green in the forest.

Blue Ridge Parkway at Mt. Mitchell
Stopping at an overlook east of Mt. Mitchell, the colors are not nearly at their peak. Mt. Mitchell, the highest place east of the Mississippi, is to the far left in the Black Mountain range.

Mt. Mitchell Golf Course
Leaving the Parkway and heading west on NC 80, the Mt. Mitchell Golf Club sits directly under towering Mt. Mitchell. No sign of peak color here either, but the green of the course reminds you that Jack Frost has stayed away.

Discovering an almost Extinct American Chestnut Tree

In the early part of the Twentieth Century, over three billion American Chestnut trees covered the forests from Georgia to Maine. These trees were so large that they were called the Redwoods of the East. Some trunks were measured at over 18 feet in diameter.

American Chestnut giants
This photo is from 1907 in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.

And then, the infamous Chestnut blight struck down almost every one of those three billion trees, and within fifty years, the American Chestnut was almost eliminated.

Shelton-Family-Chestnut Tree
This 1920 photograph of the Shelton family in Western North Carolina shows a bohemoth that had already died. A tree that had helped to build America and was part of our folklore had disappeared from the forest in the blink of an eye.

american-chestnut botanical

This morning during my daily walk, I came upon hundreds of “sea urchin” looking pods covering a large portion of ground. All of them had sharp spines, but some were green, and had opened to reveal small nut like kernels. Others were still closed and had turned a dark brownish purple. In the five years I have lived in this remote area between Lake Lure and Asheville, I had never seen anything like them. I carried a number of them back home to photograph, and to search for on the internet.

American Chestnut Pods

American Chestnut pod nuts
This is a detailed view of the nuts inside the burr.

To my complete surprise, I discovered that they were American Chestnuts, and they fell from a tree that survived the blight.

American Chestnuts
These are nuts that I removed from a few of the hundreds of burrs lying on the ground. As you can see, they are not very developed, and you would be hard pressed to extract any pulp from them.

I have contacted the American Chestnut Foundation in Asheville, and they have confirmed that the burrs and nuts are American Chestnut, but the nuts appear to be non-viable. That would mean that a male tree is not present that could pollinate the female tree that produced these burrs and nuts.

chestnut nuts in burr
This is how the nuts should appear inside the burr.

chestnut another handful (1)
The nuts should have this robust appearance if they are viable, or, capable of producing a tree.

They plan to examine the tree, and possibly use pollen from the spring flowers to cross pollinate fungus resistant varieties from the Far East, eventually giving them a fungus resistant tree that is 94% American Chestnut. Stay tuned…..

About 2,500 chestnut trees are growing on 60 acres near West Salem, Wisconsin, which is the world’s largest remaining stand of American chestnut. These trees are the descendants of those planted by Martin Hicks, an early settler in the area. In the late 1800s, Hicks planted less than a dozen chestnuts. Planted outside the natural range of chestnut, these trees escaped the initial onslaught of chestnut blight, but in 1987, scientists found blight in the stand. Scientists are working to try to save the trees.

Two of the largest surviving American chestnut trees are in Jackson County, Tennessee. One, the state champion, has a diameter of 24 inches and a height of 75 feet, and the other tree is nearly as large. One of them has been pollinated with hybrid pollen by members of The American Chestnut Foundation; the progeny will have mostly American chestnut genes and some will be blight resistant.

On May 18, 2006, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources spotted a stand of several trees near Warm Springs, Georgia. One of the trees is approximately 20–30 years old and 43 feet tall and is the southernmost American chestnut tree known to be flowering and producing nuts.

As you can see, these relics of a time past are very rare, and it’s possible that the tree I discovered might contribute to a small gene pool of resistant trees.

Finding a Vineyard near Lake Lure

Young's Mountain Eastern Slope

While exploring backroads along the eastern slopes of 2,600 foot Young’s Mountain, northeast of Lake Lure, above, I happened upon a gravel road called, Vineyard Way, and my curiosity got the better of me. Just a short distance ahead, I came upon this site.

Cole Brooke Vineyard Lake Lure 1

Setting out on foot, I discovered a small, well cared for vineyard along Bill’s Creek, in a valley adjacent to the Apple Valley Golf Course, just two miles from Lake Lure.

Cole Brooke Vineyard Lake Lure 2
The grapes from these vines had recently been harvested.

Cole Brooke Vineyard Lake Lure 3
Adjacent to the maturing vines were newer trellises with new vines.

Broomsedge Grass Lake Lure
A field of Broomsedge tall prairie grass helps to protect the new vines.

Cole Brooke Vineyard sign Lake Lure
These old signs let me know that the vineyard was called Cole Brooke, and the associated development was called The Vineyards at Lake Lure. Further research told me that the vineyard was made up of eleven acres, and had been planted in 2008 by Cathy and Wes Cleary from Florida. They called it Cole Brooke after their son and daughter. The grapes were described as French varietals, but I found no information about whether any wines had been bottled under that label.

Young's Mountain Lake Lure autumn
The development, along with many others in this area, suffered from the Great Recession of 2008, and although roads and utilities had been installed, nothing has been built as of today. An offering on the web site lists all one to two acre lots for sale at $6,500 each.

Mt. Shumont at sunset
Just northeast of the valley from an elevated road, the mountains west of Lake Lure were almost hidden in a late afternoon haze.

The vineyard is a very beautiful and tranquil place, and perhaps one day its fortunes will change.

Driving to Grandfather Mountain in Early October

A drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway is always a treat, but to drive to Grandfather Mountain when the colors are near peak is something special indeed. Yesterday, October 9th, found a profusion of yellows and oranges, and most of the slopes above 4,000 feet are already nearing peak color.

Blue Ridge Parkway East View
Looking east, the colors have a few more days to brighten…

Grandfather Mountain Cadillac
The first view of Grandfather Mountain in autumn is always memorable.

Grandfather Mountain October
The peak is almost 6,000 feet, but in the early days, this was believed to be the tallest mountain because of its exposed granite and impressive profile.

Boulder Field at Linn Cove
A large boulder field is suspended high above the Linn Cove Viaduct as evergreens mix with hardwoods to provide a full autumn palette.

Linn Cove Viaduct Autumn
Linn Cove Viaduct seems to float around the mountain. It was built this way so as not to disturb the natural rock formations that cover the steep slope. On the horizon is Table and Hawksbill Mountains along the eastern rim of Linville Gorge.

Below is a short video that will give you the three dimensional effect that makes driving the Parkway so exciting. The piano is Chad Lawson playing “”As Only Yesterday”.

Black Mountain Range at Sunset

From atop the overpass on I-40 at Dysartsville Road, the impressive Black Mountain Range to the west dominates the horizon at sunset.

Black Mountains from I=40
This is the tallest range east of the Mississippi River, with multiple peaks over 6,000 feet above sea level. Asheville is ten miles on the other side of those blue ridges.

Lake Lure in Early Autumn

Lake Lure South

On the first day of Autumn that saw ice and frost, a deep blue sky combined with very low humidity allowed Lake Lure to be seen in all its crisp glory. The above view is looking due south from the northernmost point of the lake.

Sugarloaf Mountain over Lake Lure 1\
At 3,900 feet. Sugarloaf Mountain towers over Chimney Rock Mountain. This view is from the highest vantage point on the eastern side of the lake, looking to the southwest.

Hickory Nut Gorge
Hickory Nut Gorge and the Rocky Broad River enter Lake Lure from the west. In the distance at the west end of the gorge, you can see 4,400 foot Bearwallow Mountain.

Mount Shumont over Lake Lure
At 4,000 feet, Mt. Shumont is the tallest peak in Rutherford County. This view is from Buffalo Shoals Road on the eastern side of the lake. The exposed granite of Rumbling Bald Mountain is barely visible to the left.

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