Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions created by Vann Helms
In 2008, the Queen’s Gap development in the northern Rutherford County mountains was on target to be the largest gated community ever built in the North Carolina mountains. Jack Nicklaus had designed the championship golf course, and the rolling fairways had been cleared. A network of roadways was well on its way to be completed, and a first class equestrian center was taking shape. Most convincing of all, a multi-million dollar American Craftsman “Discovery Center” had opened, as well as an impressive gatehouse where security guards would screen vehicles for entry. Large lots were selling like hotcakes, and the future couldn’t have looked brighter.
But in late 2008, the real estate bubble burst, and everything stopped at Queen’s Gap. For the next four years, a protracted legal battle raged to determine the fate of the project. Ultimately, there was a damaging bankruptcy, and people went to prison. The “Discovery Center” and Gatehouse fell into disrepair, and vandals removed Arts and Crafts copper fixtures. The building’s windows and doors were boarded up, and for years remained that way.
In 2018, the building was finally allowed to go onto the market, and repairs were completed, including a new A/C system. Since then it has been maintained, but has never found a buyer. It is frozen in time, just waiting for the right occupant.
On Saturday, I made my annual pilgrimage to this architectural treasure just five miles east of my house to see how it was faring, and was please to find that it is alive and well, and still for sale.
The most colorful time to visit Biltmore might just be the beginning of September. The Gardens are the most electric you’ll see all year, and the fields of mature Sunflowers are as yellow and green as they will ever be…
Climbing a high ridge overlooking the expansive valley drained by Cove Creek, I knew the sunrise was going to be memorable, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This area is ten miles northeast of Lake Lure, and contains no public lands. The Sun first appeared at 7:05 over the South Mountains thirty miles to the east, and all these images were made over the next twenty-five minutes.
If you want to have the Blue Ridge Parkway to yourself, go on a Monday morning in late August. I only met four cars from the Linville Falls entrance driving south to the Little Switzerland exit. From the first overlook looking west, the sky was that Carolina Blue that frames everything so perfectly.
Working my way through the four “Circle Curves”, I arrived at my favorite Overlook north of Mt. Mitchell, at 3,400 feet. The sheer granite face opposite the view is always colorful, no matter the season.
But the real reward is the limitless stretch of valley looking southeast toward Marion. with the Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell barely visible along the southern horizon.
At 3,700 feet, Dobson’s Knob south of Linville Gorge dominates the eastern view. Located just north of Marion, this impressive mountain is separate from Linville Gorge mountains, and its steep, rocky, western face rises above a large, mostly flat plain, allowing breathtaking long range views of its base, reminiscent of the Alps in Germany and Austria. This mountain has no human development above its base because it is so rugged. The “Mountain to Sea Trail” passes over the summit, after a difficult six mile climb, suggested only for the most hardy of hikers.
I couldn’t resist a stroll along the wall while I had the Overlook to myself…
Further south, another Overlook featured a garden of Milk Weed that attracted Butterflys and Bees to its sweet nectar…
Cruising almost alone along the most traveled highway in the entire National Park system is a treat that you must experience.
Almost a foot of rain has fallen in six days here in the valley. This was a combination of regular afternoon storms and Tropical Depression, Fred. Otter Creek rose over seven feet, and washed out the road further up the valley. No homes were affected.
After a heavy rain on Thursday, not part of Fred, the mountains were blanketed with clouds and fog. This made for a memorable sunset.
Morning usually finds me walking through the woods and along Otter Creek, but this week I found myself driving around the roads along the Rutherford-McDowell County line, checking out familiar views in the summer morning light. It was in the low 60’s, and the humidity was quite low, making visibility almost unlimited, rare this time of year. This is what I found.
One of the joys of living in the Blue Ridge wilderness is the variety of wildflowers that I have captured over the years. Almost daily excursions around the valley have revealed a treasure of incredible specimens. These are among my favorites.
After attending a luncheon at the historic Asheville Country Club, I took a leisurely drive through its meandering lanes past fields of Sunflowers, past architecturally unique homes with flower filled gardens, and along emerald fairways with wide mountain views that rival those found at Biltmore.
Gated communities like to attract attention with creative landscaping around their entrances, and when Cedar Creek Mountain opened ten years ago five miles north of Lake Lure, it was no exception. Cedar Creek cascades over the Blue Ridge Escarpment on a six mile course from its highest spring run below 2,800′ Round Mountain in eastern Buncombe County, into Rutherford County, where it becomes a peaceful stream eventually joining the Broad River.
The “Mountain” in the name is actually 2,600′ Roan Horsetop Mountain, just south of 3,100′ Wolf Pen Mountain. The developers chose to construct an elaborate rock garden featuring a waterfall, a line of Southern Magnolia, ornamental Cypress and Spruce, many varieties of Juniper, and beds of flowering perennials for color. Only five homes have ever been built there, but the rock garden has been maintained, and a bridge over the creek was recently improved with natural log safety railings.
Young’s Mountain, also 2,600 feet, sits at the eastern end of Cedar Creek Road…
A well maintained rock garden can add so much to the natural beauty found throughout these mountains. Though many of the plants are not native to North Carolina, they are non-invasive. A steady rain only intensifies the variations of green these plants offer the eye.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway below Grandfather Mountain, you’ll find the entrance to Rough Ridge Trail. Although rocky at times, it’s an invigorating climb to granite outcroppings that will give you the best views of Linville Gorge, the Eastern Escarpment, and Grandfather himself. Find a rock that you like, and just sit and enjoy the breathtaking vistas all around you. We got lucky on a day in the low 60’s, with low humidity. You must hike this trail.
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