Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions created by Vann Helms
Years ago I discovered an alternate way down the Blue Ridge Escarpment from the Eastern Continental Divide where I-40 passes Ridgecrest at 2,700 feet. When the Southern Railway first crossed the Blue Ridge at Ridgecrest in the 1880’s on its way to Asheville, the railway needed to build a maintenance road to service the twelve miles of track and seven tunnels. That historic byway, although unmarked on most maps today, was built with mules, dynamite, and manual labor, and is still maintained by the Norfolk and Southern Railway as a vital link to their most famous stretch of rails. In the map below, Mill Creek Road can be seen just west of the railroad (black line). The video attached follows the upper hairpins and switchbacks of the road in the area just west of McElroy Tunnel before the road follows Log Creek.
The road has never been paved, and few guardrails were ever built, even though steep drop-offs are along every curve. With this week’s heavy snow along the escarpment, the road is covered, and driving is treacherous. If you’ve ever skied or snowboarded, you’re familiar with “Catwalks”, the trails built along mountain ridges connecting the larger open areas. Driving down this road felt very much like skiing along one of these Catwalks. At the bottom on the road, you find Mill Creek, and the famous Andrews Geyser. It was built in the 1890’s to commemorate the completion of the Southern Railway over the Blue Ridge and the Eastern Continental Divide. It is totally gravity fed from a mill pond much higher up Mill Creek. After two weeks of extreme low temperatures, the geyser has built an ice mound around itself, and a layer of ice covers the ground within a forty foot perimeter around the geyser.
Below are images made on January 19th. The “rainbow” is formed from the falling spray when the Sun is in the right place.
With almost half a foot of snow still on the ground and in the trees, the bright morning Sun only intensified the colors and the beauty.
Yesterday evening, the Sun appeared just as it was setting over the southwestern Mountains…
If there was ever a doubt how the “Blue Ridge” got its name, this view from the foothills west of Rutherfordton will dispel any other explanations. With winter arriving today, low humidity allows us to see these mountains in all their splendor.
The major mountains shown above in this view toward the northwest stretch from just north of Lake Lure, to Mt. Mitchell and this “escarpment” runs along a line from southwest to northeast. From left to right, they are, Stone Mountain. Young’s Mountain, Little Pisgah Mountain, Round Mountain, the “Seven Sisters”, Roan Horsetop Mountain, The Black Mountains in the far distance, Hickory Nut Mountain in the near foreground, and Mt. Mitchell, the peak to the distant far right, the tallest of them all.
The long mountain along the first ridge is Tom’s Mountain, also called New Forest Mountain with an elevation of 2,500 feet. Next comes Hickory Nut at 3,100 feet, with the Black Mountains along the distant horizon topping out at over 6,500 feet. The log home’s elevation is just under 1,000 feet.
Normally, December snows are gone in a few days, but this one is different. Touring Sunset Mountain yesterday revealed snow that has lingered for a week. Looking down on Uptown Asheville felt more like a European city in the Alps. All it was missing was a good ski slope.
Surprisingly, the snow was still deep in many places.
Snow was still lining the narrow roads that hug Sunset Mountain, just above the historic Grove Park Inn.
Driving back east toward Marion, the view of the soaring Black Mountains from I-40 is always breathtaking.
A surprisingly early December snowfall dumped over half a foot in the valley, and was almost continuous for over a day. That’s the longest period of snow I’ve seen since coming here eight years ago. The temperature barely reached the freezing mark, but frigid temperatures since Saturday have preserved the snow in the shadows, and on rooftops facing away from the sun. Here are a few photos I made of the event.
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