Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions made by Vann Helms
Late summer always brings beautiful sunsets in the Hickory Nut Gorge.
Not a weed at all, but a member of the “daisy” family, this amazing plant grows to be ten feet tall, and every August, produces thousands of small lavender pink flowers that attract every butterfly within a mile around. It is a perennial that grows in the same spot every spring.
The most maligned building in all the mountains has to be the ten story condominium that was perched atop Little Sugar Mountain in 1983. Sugar Top, as it was promoted by the developers, would offer unlimited views of the surrounding high country from its 5,000 foot elevation adjacent to the Sugar Mountain Ski Resort. What was originally supposed to be a five story concrete and wood structure became a ten story concrete only rectangular behemoth before the public could react to the drastic change.
For Hugh Morton and his family, the owners of nearby Grandfather Mountain, this new neighbor was an eyesore on the horizon, and something had to be done to make sure that it would be the only large project to ever be built on a mountain top. With a swell of public support, the North Carolina legislature passed the “Mountain Ridge Protection Act” in 1983, after a bitter battle with developers and property rights advocates. Never again would anything be allowed on ridge tops over 3,000 feet, preserving the unspoiled beauty of these magnificent mountains.
The conservation movement in North Carolina actually owes a debt of gratitude to the developers of Sugar Top. Had that condo never been built, what we take for granted today as a robust environmental and conservation movement might never have gotten off the ground. “The scenic value of high mountain vistas are too valuable to spoil!”, was their rallying cry.
Friends from Florida were spending August at Sugar Top, so I took advantage of this rare opportunity to visit the building, and capture the views that I had heard so much about. One good thing about being at Sugar Top: When you’re inside looking out, you don’t see the building.
Ascending to the tenth floor apartment, the balcony view to the southeast was worth the visit. In the distance is Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain along the east rim of Linville Gorge. Colors are already beginning to appear in the woods.
My first and only previous visit to the the “Blowing Rock” was thirty-six years ago, and I’m pleased to report that nothing has changed.
As the oldest “attraction” along the North Carolina Blue Ridge, Blowing Rock has appeared on countless travel postcards. Click on the thumbnail to see the full size version.
Indian legend has it that a pair of young lovers were forbidden from seeing one another, so the distraught boy threw himself off of the rock to what would have meant certain death. The gods summoned a strong wind from the valley below, and he was thrown back up onto the rock, right into the arms of his beloved.
Even with less than perfect rainfall this summer, High Falls is still one of the most active falls anywhere in the mountains. It is near the top of Little River inside the DuPont Forest State Park in Transylvania County. On weekends in August you’ll be hard pressed to find a parking place anywhere near the entrance to the High Falls Trail. Talk about your perfect summer swimming hole, check out this short video to see why so many people flock to this place.
Just below the summit of 6,643 foot high Clingman’s Dome in the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the parking area for hikers who want to climb the steep trail up to the Observation Tower. Although you are standing on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the views of the Carolina mountains along the eastern side of that lot are as spectacular as any seen from the tower.
On a low humidity day, the horizon can be 100 miles away. On this late July afternoon, the summer haze didn’t lessen the impact of the distant ridges. It was in the mid 60’s.
Passing clouds often hid the peaks…
Above the eastern shore of picturesque Lake Lure is an unpaved road called Buzzard’s Lane. It’s the highest vantage point accessible by car anywhere around the lake, and overlooks ancient Hickory Nut Gorge to the west. Recently, I went there near sunset on a hot summer afternoon and found a hazy view that was different than any I had seen before.
Iconic Chimney Rock, not visible here, is pearched high on the south wall at the eastern entrance to the gorge.
Lake Lure is shaped like a spindly Starfish with fingers and coves radiating out from its center.
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