Last Weekend of Autumn 2019

This year, Autumn’s final weekend was a tad later than usual. Spending Saturday afternoon at Lake Lure brought surprisingly bright color. With a lake elevation of barely 900 feet, combined with the effect of warmer water, Lake Lure is always a late bloomer…

lake lure 34,000 foot Mt Shumont behind 2,800 foot Rumbling Bald Mountain  never disappoint when it comes to sheer drama…

Lake Lure 1Yacht Club Island, originally known as Snake Island, guards the entrance to the cove that leads to the “Million Dollar Dam”.  Unusual Boat Houses have always separated Lake Lure from other man-made lakes in the mountains.

lake lure 23,200 foot Stone Mountain catches the last rays of sun.

A twenty minute drive north to Elliott Mountain finds the last of the Sugar Maples still hanging on…

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On Sunday, just 75 miles northeast of Lake Lure, Grandfather Mountain has a dusting from the season’s first snow…grandfather 1

Facing Grandfather is the Residence for Saint Bernadette’s Catholic Church…bernadettes

Another twenty minutes northwest is 5,100 foot Sugar Mountain, who opened for skiers early this year after a record breaking 14 degrees during the past week, sending snow-making machines into full production. A 3″ snowfall helped jumpstart what hopes to be a record season…sugar 3

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An easy drive back to the Blue Ridge Parkway  south of Linville Falls revealed the last patches of color from a popular Overlook…parkway 3Dobson’s Knob north of Marion dominates the Catawba River Valley…

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A 2,000 foot plunge down from the Parkway finds the Catawba at low water at sunset…catawba 1

catawba 2The main flow of the river could still accommodate a kayak or two…

After almost six weeks of Autumn splendor, the Blue Ridge Mountains are poised to welcome Winter.

 

 

Returning to Elliott Mountain

Seven years ago this week, I was exploring backroads a few miles north of my house, when I happened upon  Laurel Valley Road, and decided to follow it.  A steep winding road took me up Elliott Mountain, and I discovered the most colorful area I’ve ever found anywhere in these Blue Ridge Mountains. For whatever reason, Sugar Maples were growing in profusion on this small, otherwise non-descript hill, and I just happened to be there when they were at their peak display.  Since then, every year during the second week of November, I return to Elliott Mountain, hoping to experience that same awe.  Either because of drought, too much rain, to warm temperatures, or some other weather related reason, I’ve never seen it the same way since.

On Tuesday, I went back, and even though clouds had moved in as a cold front was approaching, the Maples were even better than I remembered.

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I made this video seven years ago during my first visit. The quality isn’t the best, but you’ll get the idea.

Coasting Down Interstate 40

When I drove to Asheville on Saturday, I was amazed how vibrant the color was along Interstate 40 between Old Fort and the Eastern Continental Divide near Ridgecrest.  Yesterday, with a deep blue sky, I returned to capture the trip on video.

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I secured my tripod to my hood with Gorilla Tape, pushed the right buttons on my camera, and drove onto the Interstate at Old Fort. I was disappointed with the results on the climb west. Everything was overexposed. At Ridgecrest, I reset the exposure, and headed back to the eastbound entrance for the trip back down the mountain. It’s six miles of coasting to Old Fort, and keeping the car in a lower gear kept my foot off the brake.  I stayed in the truck lane so I could move slower. I’ll let the results speak for themselves.

Here are two screen captures that I especially wanted to share.

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After making the video, I stopped to look back toward the mountains I had just driven through…best mtn

The video features the music from The Planets, Jupiter, the bringer of jollity, by Gustav Holst, which seemed very appropriate for such a monumental place… When I arrived in Old Fort, an afternoon freight had just made the slow trip down the mountain, and stopped me in my tracks.

Down the Continental Divide

Driving back from Asheville near sunset, I took the road less traveled to descend the Blue Ridge from the Eastern Continental Divide at Ridgecrest. This gravel road is maintained by the Norfolk and Western Railway so their crews can have access to the twelve miles of track, and seven tunnels, that allow trains to navigate this historic section known as the “Old Fort Loops”  It got that name because a series of loops were necessary to make it possible to climb and descend the three mile (As the crow flies…) trip to cross the Blue Ridge.  The road is seldom used, except for hunters and folks like me who want to experience the thrill of seeing untouched forests and ravines. A B&B, The Mill Creek Inn, is the only civilization along the way.

trainA Freight emerges from the 1,800 foot long Swannanoa Tunnel near the crest of the Divide, heading down into the “Loops”

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divide 5The remnants of Old Highway 70, which was abandoned decades ago in favor of a different route, is visible below. Nowadays, it is a favorite hiking and biking trail.

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overpassOne of three underpasses that were built over 100 years ago is at the end of a short paved section that passes the Bed and Breakfast. The trains move very slowly up and down these tracks because of sharp curves and steep descents.

At the bottom of the “Loops”, the setting sun made for quite a contrast from the valley and the mountains.old fort

Sometimes, as Robert Frost wrote, taking the “road less traveled”, can make “all the difference”.

Autumn Boating on Lake Lure

An invitation to speed around beautiful Lake Lure was just what Mother Nature ordered on a crisp Autumn morning.  I was met at the Rumbling Bald Resort pier on the far north end of the lake, and for the next hour and a half, my friend and I explored the many coves that were formed when the lake was made in 1926, and marveled at the mansions that make this lake so iconic. Kirk has a house high above one of these coves, and a stopover for a tour was a highlight of the morning. Except for one tour boat, we had the entire lake to ourselves the entire time.

houseKirk’s house. The view from the upper porch was amazing.kirks viewThat’s 2,800 foot Rumbling Bald Mountain, with it’s exposed granite Sugarloaf seismic fault. It has been inactive since 1880.

From a spot near the cove, the Hickory Nut Gorge and Chimney Rock were impressive to the west…gorge

kirk pilotsKirk pilots past Rumbling Bald. THe color peak is still a week away at the 900 foot elevation.

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This four minute video captures the three dimensionality of the scenery, with North Carolinian James Taylor singing “Carolina in my Mind”.

 

From Asheville to Craggy Gardens

On Sunday, October 27th, in the company of a good friend, I was a passenger in a Jeep Sahara as it moved slowly with heavy traffic from the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance at Hwy 70, to the Craggy Gardens Overlook near Mt. Mitchell. It was one of the most colorful rides I have had in the ten years I have lived in these mountains.

parkway shadows

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jeep maple

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mountainside

 

orange tree

rocky face

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distant ridge

yellow canopy

craggy gardens

berries

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Color in the Vicinity of Otter Creek

Now that I’ve cruised the Blue Ridge Parkway four times in the past month, it’s time to explore the immediate area near my home in Northwest Rutherford County. With color arriving late this season, I decided to take the twenty minute drive up Cedar Creek Road into Eastern Buncombe County, and check out elevations between 1,800 and 2,700 feet. This lightly traveled way leads to Old Fort-Bat Cave Road, and through the Gap between 3,300 foot Stone Mountain, and 3,500 foot Round Mountain. Along the way, I quickly observed that the best color was between 2,200 and 3,000 feet.

This was the view to the northeast toward Marion, N.C., from an overlook known as Blackberry Ridge, on the northern slope of Stone Mountain.blackberry ridgeGrandfather Mountain is the most distant peak on the left side of the horizon. 3,600 foot Dobson’s Knob is the mountain just to the left of the tree.

little pisgahAfter passing through the Gap, 4,300 foot Little Pisgah Mountain dominates the southwestern horizon. This view is from a Gated Community on Round Mountain called Sun Dance Ridge.sun dance ridgeStone Mountain lurks high above the entrance gate.

ridge roadHigher up Sun Dance Ridge at 2,700 feet, the color was peaking.

Looking back to the east, Stone Mountain was just catching the midday Sun.stone mtn

I drove back north, through the Gap, and back down Cedar Creek Road, heading for a mountain three miles north of my house, where the Maples are especially bright during the first week of November. Although it was still too early for their annual display, I found dramatic views, just the same.

cabin view 1From the deck of this cabin at 1,700 feet, Tryon Mountain along the North and South Carolina border was resplendent against this Carolina Blue sky. The closer mountains are on the eastern side of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock.

cabin view 2What a perfect spot to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Truly a Million Dollar view.

cabin view 4Turning toward the east, Long and Glaxhorn Mountains protect a vast valley where Black Angus cattle graze.

cabin view 3Otter Creek Valley, where I live, is just over those two peaks on the right, Oak, and Brushy Top. In another week, this view will be very colorful.

laurel valleyThe Sugar Maples are just beginning to turn at this cabin a little higher up the mountain.

sun colorDriving back down the mountain, these Maples and Hickories were aglow from  the backlighting of the Sun. That’s when the colors are most vibrant.

About half way down, Grassy Mountain to the east just proves that when you live in The Blue Ridge Mountains, all you need to do is wait a few days, and all the colors will come to you.grassy