Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions created by Vann Helms
When I see these magnificent trees in the bight morning Sun with a deep Carolina Blue sky overhead, the color of Flamingos comes to mind. After a week of dull overcast days, the Sun finally appeared this morning, and not a minute too soon. The Redbuds are peaking all around Otter Creek Valley, and a two mile drive north was all I needed to immerse myself in their magenta and pink splendor.
The Kwansan Cherries are also in full bloom.
If you look very closely, you can see a modern home atop Glaxhorn Mountain.
On Oak Mountain…
A mile further north are the Northwest Rutherford Mountains, just beginning to green out along Hemphill Road.
Looking back toward the southwest from this spot, the 4,000 foot summit of Mt. Shumont towers above Lake Lure.
To the northwest, Hickory Nut Mountain at 3,100 feet dominates this valley between here and Mt. Mitchell.
Back toward the northeast, Pinnacle Mountain and Long Mountain form a wall along the Rutherford-McDowell County line.
Back at home, Otter Pond can claim her own electric pink Judas Tree, or Eastern Redbud.
Staying home doesn’t mean staying inside. Social distancing is our standard way of living deep in these beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
After living in these mountains for eleven years, I thought I had experienced all the “Wow” moments that have stopped me in my tracks so many times. My first Autumn, my first snowfall, the Carolina Rhododendron gardens of Roan Highlands, incredible waterfalls, the delicate Dogwoods, and the profusion of flowering trees of April, but until today, I had never fully appreciated the ubiquitous Redbud Tree.
First to flower in a color other than white, the gangly shrub/tree could always be found deep in the woods, and along the two lane byways of the South in late March, bringing a patch of bright pink to an otherwise drab winter landscape. Until today, I had never experienced more than a few Redbuds in one place. Today that all changed.
Two summers ago, Oak Mountain in northwest Rutherford County was clear cut of its forest, leaving only a few lucky sentinels as a reminder of what had previously covered its slopes. At the time, I felt as though the entire mountain had suffered a rape, denuded of its oak, poplar, hickory, maple, and ash, in a most violent way. I mourned for the animals and birds who had called Oak Mountain home for over a century. I lamented the fact that the loggers had left piles of limbs and debris in their wake, and that no replanting had occurred after they had fled.
Nature has always tried to heal the scars that men make, but sometimes she does this in a most unexpected, and surprising way. What I saw on Oak Mountain today was one of those times.
Having spent the past two weeks in South Florida, Spring began without me below Oak Mountain, so as I drove along Cove Road northeast of Lake Lure trying to quell the cabin fever that has affected us all with this pandemic, I had to pull over when I was suddenly presented with a blanket of pink along the higher slopes of that formerly ravaged dowager.
For whatever reason, thousands of Redbud, also called Judas Trees in these parts, had covered the northeastern slopes of the mountain, replacing the lost giants with a profusion of magenta and pink waves of color. Why these short shrubs had done this so completely is a mystery. I was awestruck.
The small buds of the Eastern Redbud, in an image by Greg Hume…The flowers are edible, and the seeds and twigs can be ground into a seasoning for wild game, thus another name for the tree, Spicewood.
Never underestimate Mother Nature’s ability to recover from disaster.
The northwest corner of Rutherford County has a number of peaks up to 4,000 feet, but just to the east are the foothills of the Piedmont Plateau. Thanks to a logging clear-cut of a high ridge and valley below last summer, vistas that had been hidden for decades were suddenly exposed, and with winter still hanging around, the bare remaining trees allow open views of the distant mountains. Last evening just before sunset, the almost full Moon had already risen in the eastern sky.
That line of mountains in the far distance is South Mountains State Park, south of Morganton. They are prominent in the view below, past Piney Knob, a smaller stand alone peak.
To the northwest is 3.100 foot Hickory Nut Mountain along the Rutherford-Buncombe-McDowell County line.
A closer look at Hickory Nut…This entire area is sparsely populated with few paved roads, and no public lands or forests. The mountains are mostly owned by large timber and paper companies, such as Weyerhaeuser, part of the 12.5 million acres they manage nationwide.
New Forest Mountain and Pinnacle Mountain rise above a Loblolly Pine forest where a lone cell tower reminds us that civilization is never far away.
Below is a video I made as I drove back down the mountain. With it, you get a better idea of the three dimensionality of the terrain, and the Carolina Piedmont on the horizon.
As I left the gym at 4:30 yesterday, it was 47 degrees and the Sun was shining. When I looked west from the parking lot, a long layer of clouds hovered above the tall mountains. Sometimes, if it’s cold enough, those are snow clouds, so instead of driving south toward home, I drove north, chasing what I hoped would be snowflakes.
As I climbed Hwy. 221 toward Linville Falls Community at the top of the Blue Ridge, the temperature dropped steadily until I drove under the Blue Ridge Parkway at 3,000 feet, and it was 34 degrees. Another mile, and the first flurries appeared. Passing below the western slopes of mile high Grandfather Mountain, it dropped below freezing, and the flurries changed to a light snow. Another five miles, and I turned toward Sugar Mountain, and the car thermometer dropped to 26 degrees. I pulled into a Food Lion parking lot, where three days worth of snow was on the hillside and on the pavement.
Sugar Mountain loomed to the south, and I could see that it was snowing heavily on the ski slopes. I drove toward the snow, and suddenly I was in the middle of a heavy snowfall with large flakes. It was so unexpected, and just had to walk through it, even without my jacket.
This three minute video was made with my Go Pro camera at 60 fps so I could capture the flakes falling.
By now it was 5:30, and the floodlights along the ski slopes suddenly came on, in preparation for the night session. If I had worn my ski clothes, I would have gone. I’ll drive back on Monday and ski for half a day at special March Madness rates. I don’t ski on weekends because the lift lines are ridiculous. I can’t wait…. I was back home north of Lake Lure by 7:15, and it was 38 degrees. From my house, I can be anywhere in these beautiful mountains within two hours. How special is that?
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.
When I was there last week, I drove to the river areas, and captured these images…
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.
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.
Lichens 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.
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.
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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