Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions by Vann Helms
After a night of steady rain at my house, and a temperature of 33 degrees, I drove west looking for the snow. Just six miles away, and just over the Buncombe County (Asheville) line, there it was. Cedar Creek Road, above, had over three inches.
I would drive up Cedar Creek Road to Old Fort Road, then south about a mile, where I turned around and headed back.
Along Old Fort Road, about 4″ had fallen, but with a temperature still at 33 degrees, the rain was beginning to fall.
This old garage had a great collection of vintage license plates.
Take a look at this six minute video that will take you on a tour of Old Fort Road.
The music is the Agnus Dei from a mass by Samuel Barber.
Snow fell above 2,500 feet Monday night, and a twenty minute drive up the Blue Ridge Escarpment west of my house found a surprisingly beautiful scene with less than a inch of snow.
Along the ridges of 3,000 foot Stone Mountain north of Lake Lure, an ice storm, combined with the snow, coated the trees with white magic.
Light snow was still falling as the sun illuminated the northwest ridge of the mountain.
Little Pisgah Mountain to the west, with an elevation of 4,200 feet, was still shrouded in snow clouds, while a snowless valley lay below.
If you’ve ever wondered how less than an inch of snow could change the scenery, one look at Little Pisgah through the trees will satisfy your curiosity. The spot where this image was made is only twenty miles east of Asheville. The temperature was 23 degrees.
Just five miles north of scenic Lake Lure, North Carolina, Otter Creek flows from the slopes of Wolf Pen and Roan Horsetop Mountains eastward to join with Cove Creek. The #1 above shows the location of my house in relation to the creek. Since moving here almost five years ago, I had only hiked about a quarter mile past my property, as far as a historic cabin, indicated by #2 above. Now that the cabin has become unoccupied, it was time to go higher up the creek, searching for the headwaters of the stream.
Above, the old homestead, as seen last fall, sits at the base of Dick’s Mountain, and Otter Creek flows right to left on the other side of the house, past the pasture.
Adjacent to the house and pasture, I found this rotting walk bridge over the creek. Walking west along the water, I could hear the sound of water up ahead. Rounding a bend, I saw this waterfall on Otter Creek.
Sliding down a rock over six feet high, the water splashed into a deep pool. I can’t wait to come back after a heavy storm. The torrent will be amazing. Moving higher up along the creek, I found moss covered rocks, waiting for that next rain.
I walked another half mile up the valley, finding more green rocks, and a steep slope covered with forest moss and rhododendron. This was one of the most peaceful spots I have found in the entire valley.
At that point I decided to follow the creek back down, past the falls and the old farmhouse. On a high bluff over the creek, there was Sal and Donna’s house. From there they have a wonderful view of the entire valley.
Another 300 yards down was a sharp bend in the creek with a steep rock wall, directing the water under Otter Creek Road.
Just short of that bend is a small falls where one of many small branches drains into the main creek.
Just over Otter Creek Road, the course straightens out as it moves toward the bottom land where farm fields spread out north of the creek. Buddy found the perfect spot to look for anything that might have been swimming in the icy water.
Another 200 yards, and the creek levels out as it parallels Otter Creek Road.
Getting closer to the spot where Otter Creek exits the valley, the sun reflected off of the widening creek.
We walked back home after that, but my curiosity about what was higher up Otter Creek Road caused me to crank up the old Buick, and head west. The road was almost impassible, but moving very carefully, the car made its way higher up the rutted narrow dirt road. Four times I had to drive over small feeder creeks, but I could see Otter Creek off to the south, so I kept going. I came upon a stand of tall Virginia Pines. Their trunks were seven feet around.
Another few hundred yards revealed a large stand of White Pine. From the straight rows, it was obvious that they had been planted, most likely over fifty years ago.
Another quarter mile up the road, and I came upon a large freshly plowed field. Someone was farming along the creek, and they had been there in the past few days.
Adjacent to that field, I found the remnants of an old storage cabin. It must have held corn for the mules who plowed this field generations ago.
Working my way west another half mile, and crossing two more streams, I came upon an even larger field, with an abandoned cabin at the far western end. Just past the cabin, the road ended, so I turned around, and parked the Buick along the road. I walked across the field, accidentally chasing away a flock of Wild Turkeys. Dead corn stalks everywhere indicated that corn had grown there last summer.
The image above was made from the edge of Otter Creek, below, which flowed around the field, providing steady water for the crop. You can see my Buick in the distance.
From this point I felt it best to return to the car, and work my way back down Otter Creek Road. I had heard stories about Black Bears destroying a large corn field up the mountain, and I had a strong feeling that this was the field. Checking Google maps back at home, I found that the spring head for the creek was another quarter mile, and 250 feet higher in elevation from where I was standing. The map below shows the cornfield directly above the word “Otter” in blue, just right of the “McDowell Co.” label on the far left side.
Click on the above map to see detail of the entire valley and the mountain peaks that surround it. On the far left you can see Otter Creek where it originates on the mountain slope.
Slowing driving down the mile and a half road, I finally came to this large hillside farm field, just above the old homestead cabin I had walked past in the morning. The sun was setting, and I was thankful that the Buick survived the rough trip to Upper Otter Creek.
This short video will give you a better feeling for the waterfall, and for Otter Creek in general. If you’re wondering if there are otters in the creek, yes there are, but I’m yet to capture them with my camera. There are also beavers in the valley.
When picturesque Lake Lure was created in 1927, the major stream feeding into the lake was the Rocky Broad River. The Hickory Nut Gorge was created by this river which flows out of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Blue Ridge Escarpment west of present day Bat Cave and Chimney Rock, North Carolina. The river exits the eastern side of Lake Lure, where its name changes to the Broad River, without the “Rocky” label, and flows rapidly through the Hickory Nut Gap as it heads southeast toward South Carolina, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.
Most of the time the river is a relatively quiet stream, flowing over shallow shoals, and meandering through dense hardwood forest. However, after heavy rains, or when the hydroelectric station at the dam needs to produce power, the release of water through the dam transforms the river into a raging torrent, with dangerous currents and miles of whitewater rapids. In the past year, outfitters have begun to offer weekend kayak tours on the river from Spring until Autumn, coordinated with water releases from the Lake Lure dam.
Last Sunday near sunset, the river was at its whitewater stage, and I made this video in hopes of capturing the beauty of the increased flow. Because it is the dead of winter, the river is very visible from Memorial Highway (U.S. 64) with all the trees bare of leaves. I live just fifteen minutes north of this area, and I can’t wait until the kayak tours begin in April.
On the distant horizon above is a view of 3,100 foot Hickory Nut Mountain and valley. The white dot on the far left marks the next valley to the south, Otter Creek Valley. Although the colors of autumn are always spectacular, and the flowers of spring bring forth beautiful colors, for sheer consistency, the evergreens, especially in the winter, top the list.
The Loblolly Pine grows all over the South, but once the elevation exceeds 1,200 feet, you rarely find more than a few stragglers. Fortunately, Otter Creek Valley is below 1,300 feet, and large stands of Loblolly thrive in the clay soil found here.
In the western part of the valley, Loblolly, above, is the dominate evergreen. When the autumn leaves turn to orange and red, the bright green of the Loblolly forest is very visible from a high ridge, below.
In summer, the dark green needles are especially lush as the trees cover a ridge above a field of Goldenrod. Below, the large cones are visible among the long needles.
The needles on the Virginia Pine, above right, are the shortest of all southern pines. Also, the cones of the Virginia pine are the smallest of all pines. In Otter Creek Valley, the Virginia Pine, seen below, is the most prolific, with seeds spread everywhere by birds and deer. The tree is not useful as a source of lumber, and is used mostly for paper pulp. The tall narrow trunk makes it fire resistant.
A stand of Virginia Pine above Otter Pond.
A fallen Virginia Pine shows how the tree can release millions of seeds, even as it dies.
In the early days it was a popular Christmas tree, but the Fraser and Colorado Blue Spruce replaced it in the 1970′s. All of the Virginia Pines below grew from seed.
The next most plentiful pine is the Short Leaf, which refers to the needles. It can grow to heights over 100 feet, and is also fire resistant.
Unlike the Virginia Pine, the Short Leaf produces fine lumber. The uniformity of the needle growth, as shown below, makes it a very attractive member of the forest.
In my opinion, the most dramatic of all evergreens in the valley is the Carolina Hemlock. Not only is it the tallest, but its uniform shape and soft leaves give it the traditional mountain appearance that causes it to stand out from all others.
Although the White Pine is one of the most common trees throughout the Eastern Mountains, it is quite rare in this valley. Its needles have a blueish tint, and are much softer that those of other pines. The small stand shown below was found in the center of a Loblolly forest.
Underneath all of those tall trees, you’ll find the deep green waxy leaves of the Carolina Rhododendron. Alongside their cousin, the Mountain Laurel, these flowering bushes can grow so thickly that they create a wall along the mountainside.
Below are other native evergreens that can be found throughout the valley.
Four years ago I began to create an Evergreen Rock Garden. I transplanted Loblolly, Short Leaf, Red Cedar, and Virginia Pine from the forest. I purchased ornamental evergreens that would fit with my all green concept. I included Sedum, Carolina Blue Cypress, Parson’s Juniper, Japanese Ground Juniper, Pacific Blue Juniper, Arbor Vitae, Rheingold Arbor Vitae, Bird’s Nest Spruce, Angel Blue Cypress, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, and Dwarf Cypress. The garden has matured into my original vision, and adds a green oasis to a formerly dead meadow landscape in winter.
Years have passed since this post, but I think it is worthwhile to post it again, especially in the dead of winter.
Originally posted on Living in The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina- A Blog:
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Find a dead tree on the forest floor, and chances are you’ll also find the most beautiful of all the mushrooms. Called the Turkey Tail because of the color and layering of the “conk”, or fan like body of the fungus, the actual name is Coriolus. These showy parasites find rotting wood, especially oak and birch, and slowly break down the cellulose in the body of the dead tree.
They are commonly called “turkey tail” because their various colors: brown, orange, maroon, blue and green — reminiscent of the plume of feathers in turkeys. In China, their common name is yun zhi. In Japan, this mushroom is known as kawaritake or “cloud mushrooms,” invoking an image of swirling clouds overhead. In many Asian cultures, turkey tails’ incurving cloud forms symbolize longevity and health, spiritual attunement and infinity.
These fungii, also referred to as brackett or shelf varieties, live for one or two years, unlike most mushrooms that are here today and gone tomorrow. Even after they die, their skeletons remain as part of the colony, attracting beneficial algae and insects. When algae lives on the old conks, green can become a dominate color. (below)
Turkey tail mushrooms have been used to treat various maladies for hundreds of years in Asia, Europe, and by indigenous peoples in North America. Records of turkey tail brewed as medicinal tea date from the early 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty in China. Our ancestors certainly encountered them and most likely explored their uses long before written history. Since the late 1960s, researchers in Japan have focused on how turkey tail benefits human health and how extracts of turkey tail can boost the immune system.
This super-abundant colorful mushroom is called bracket fungi, meaning that they form thin, leather-like and leaf-like structures in concentric circles. Rather than gills underneath, as in shiitake mushrooms, their undersides have tiny pores, which emit spores, placing them in the polypore family. These mushrooms grow throughout the world, practically wherever trees can be found. In fact, turkey tails are some of most common mushrooms found on wood on the planet.
Of all the world’s mushrooms, turkey tails are the most researched in relation to their power to strengthen the human immune system, and also to fight cancer. Clinical trials have confirmed the ability of the turkey tail extract to lesson the damaging effects of chemotherapy, and to shrink tumors, especially for people fighting breast cancer.
All of the preceding photographs were made on a frigid winter day, but the following images were made last spring in the same area of Otter Creek Valley along the Blue Ridge Escarpment of the Appalachians in North Carolina.
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