Biltmore Estate in Transition

The Cecil family, descendants of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only child, Cornelia, have instituted major traffic pattern changes that will affect your next visit to the historic Asheville property.  Until last November, patrons could drive their cars past the mansion, stopping for photos, and proceed to the Gardens and Conservatory, where they could park, and leisurely stroll the gardens and greenhouses, and visit the Garden shop. After that, they could drive on to the Bass Lake and Waterfall, park, and stroll through the grounds if they were inclined. They could then proceed on to the areas along the French Broad River, and then to the Winery and shops and hotels at Antler Hill Village. That is no longer allowed. Instead, Biltmore has added a fleet of Trollies that will transport guests from an expanded parking area, to the sites that were formerly accessible by private vehicle. A new entrance gate has been added for the convenience of Annual Pass holders, to bypass the congestion occasionally experienced at the Main Gate. Guests are still allowed to drive the scenic two mile access road to the parking areas, as well as drive directly to Deer Park Restaurant, Amherst Exhibition Center, the Winery, Antler Hill Village, and hotels. The French Broad access is from these roads only. The Garden Shuttle will run every half hour. As of last week, bicycles were not allowed on roads around the mansion, Gardens, or Bass Lake area. This new policy is under review. Contact Biltmore Customer Relations with your thoughts and concerns.

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When I was there last week, I drove to the river areas, and captured these images…

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Forty Acre Rock… It’s a Secret

Along the Carolina Piedmont, thirty-five miles southeast of Charlotte, and five miles south of the North Carolina border, is a geologic treasure that no one knows about, and there’s good reason why that’s a good thing. Imagine if there was a place so environmentally sensitive that the government didn’t want you to know about it, out of fear that human activity could destroy very rare vegetation.  Forty Acre Rock is just one of those places.

South Carolina has designated 2,500 acres near Lancaster, as a “Heritage Preserve”, because to call it a State or National Park or Monument, would promote visitors, which, for so many reasons, is a bold move on their part.  There are no signs  directing you to the Preserve. Other than two cleared parking areas, there are no facilities of any kind in the Preserve. Three hiking trails are clearly marked, but one could get lost here if you aren’t careful. Something really cataclysmic happened along the Piedmont millions of years ago,  and what was left behind were giant boulders, deep ravines, creeks, waterfalls, and most dramatically, a seventeen acre expanse of exposed granite, which was mistakenly named “40 Acre Rock” by early settlers.  A mile and a half hike over rough terrain will take you past a Beaver Pond, and wetlands that contain rare and endangered plants. More and more granite boulders, some the size of a house, become visible as you approach the “Rock”, but nothing can prepare you for what you are about to encounter.

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And suddenly, there it is. The sight takes your breath away. You’ve never experienced anything like this before.  The hour and a half hike was an unfolding mystery, but the reward would have been worth a two day camping trip to get there.

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rich 3Lichens and mosses have found a way to grow on this exposed rock, nourished by the occasional rain storm. And speaking of rain, you don’t want to be out on this granite during a storm, because you could be knocked over by the force of the torrents cascading to the forest below. But it’s the rain that has created the habitat for the rare plants that have found a way to thrive on the soil starved hilltop. Water fills geologic “holes” at the highest point of the Rock, and over millennia, small plants have evolved that can survive the extreme heat of summer, and the extreme cold of icy winters. When the pools dry up, these plants can go into a form of hibernation, waiting for the next shower.

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Following a trail to the north off the Rock, you will enter a gorge where water has smoothed large slabs of granite, creating waterfalls and crystal clear creeks.

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You could easily spend a full day in this Paradise, but make sure you bring lots of water and something to eat, and a cellphone in case you get lost. And because there are no trash cans, make sure you carry out everything you brought in. 

And please, keep this place a secret from anyone who would not respect its fragility.

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Sugar Hill Farm in Snow

A surprise snowfall today blanketed my area, and although only an inch fell, it was enough to bring Winter’s beauty to pastures from Lake Lure to Marion. Here are some images of Sugar Hill Farm, a Black Angus treasure just six miles north of Otter Creek Valley where I live.

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This short video captured the large feathery clumps that fell for almost two hours around my house.,,,

Queen’s Gap Revisited 2020

Over the past eight years, I have photographed the exquisite example of American Craftsman architecture that was built in 2008 as the Wellness Center for a new gated community in the Northern Rutherford County Mountains known as Queen’s Gap. Originally, the development was slated to have over 300 Craftsman homes overlooking a Jack Nicklaus Championship golf course. “The best laid plans…” as they say, went bust with the Great Recession, but the remarkable Gate House and shingled Community Building survived intake, and have been meticulously maintained by the property receivers, in hopes that one day, the right buyer will appreciate the idyllic mountain setting and the historic design of the structures. Personally, I think these two buildings are the most beautiful creations between Charlotte and Asheville, and located just 90 minutes from the Charlotte Airport.

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A vintage promotion piece…Queens-Gap-web

Grand Canyon of the East

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When I saw the cover of Our State Magazine in October, I was reminded that my very favorite, and most breathtaking spot in all of North Carolina’s Mountains is Wiseman’s View on the western rim of Linville Gorge.  Nothing else comes close. As a comparison, I rummaged through my archives to find similar images that show that view at different times of the year. Here are a few I like best.

Winter Sunset…linville winter

In Summer…KODAK Digital Still Camera

My favorite teacher in high school, Mr. Frome…KODAK Digital Still Camera

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While I’m at it, here are a few images from the East Rim summit of Hawk’s Bill Mountain, across from Wiseman’s View.

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To the North

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This is a Bucket List destination that is not to be missed. Wiseman’s View is accessible by car, with a short walk from the parking area. Get details from Google.

Merry Christmas from Otter Creek

May your holiday be filled with the love and joy that you deserve.  Thank you for letting me share my world with you.

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Diverting to Florida for Thanksgiving

My annual Thanksgiving trip to Florida found sunny skies and balmy temperatures, a nice change from the late dreary days of Autumn here in Otter Creek. Here are a few of my favorite impressions from that week.

PALM BEACH

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ON THE NEW RIVER IN FORT LAUDERDALE…

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DANIA BEACH PIER

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SEMINOLE HARD ROCK “GUITAR” HOTEL AND CASINO, HOLLYWOOD

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SOUTH MIAMI BEACH

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CORAL GABLES GARDENS…

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FLORIDA KEYS OVERSEAS HIGHWAY

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slingshot 1This video follows the ride down into the Keys in a Polaris “Slingshot” three wheel open air sports vehicle…