Late August at Lake Lure and Chimney Rock

Late summer always brings beautiful sunsets in the Hickory Nut Gorge.

Yacht Club Island
Yacht Club Island, the only island in Lake Lure, seen here in late afternoon.

Chimney Rock Mtn sunset
Chimney Rock Mountain looms above the historic Lake Lure Inn and Beach. Both the hotel and the lake were born in 1926. Chimney Rock has been around a few million more years.

The Butterfly Magnet Joe-Pye Weed

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.

A burst of growth in August produces this remarkable flower bundle.

A burst of growth in August produces this remarkable flower bundle.

They grow in clusters like a family.

They grow in clusters like a family.

The hillside below the house is thick with them.

The hillside below the house is thick with them.

Joe Pye Weed Swallowtails
Swallowtail Butterflys love the sweet nectar. I’ve counted thirty individuals feeding in one area.

Remarkable that the wind doesn't blow these giants over.

Remarkable that the wind doesn’t blow these giants over.

Joe Pye Window

This photo is from a 1983 Southern Accents magazine showing how Joe-Pye was used in a Highland, N.C. home.

This photo is from a 1983 Southern Accents magazine showing how Joe-Pye was used in a Highland, N.C. home.

The Spectacular Views from “Sugar Top”

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.

Sugar Top Condominium
Photo by Jennifer Crouch

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.

Sugar Mountain Golf Course

Sugar Mountain Golf Course

From as far away as fifty miles, Sugar Top attracts the eye away from the other ridges. This view from the golf course also shows the ski runs in their summer regalia. I learned during my visit that construction on a new gondola lift to the summit is well underway. This will be a much needed addition to my favorite ski mountain.

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.

The 300 yard long hallways reminded me of the movie, "The Shining"

The 300 yard long hallways reminded me of the movie, “The Shining”

Little Sugar Mountain north view
From the parking area at the base of the building, the views are amazing. This is looking north toward Boone, with part of Grandfather Mountain on the right.

Grandfather Mountain from Sugar Top
A turn to the right reveals Grandfather Mountain in the clouds.

Sugar Ski Runs
Looking off to the southwest, mile high Sugar Mountain with its ski runs dominates the vista.

Sugar Top View 2
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.

The entire panorama from the 10th floor balcony...

The entire panorama from the 10th floor balcony…

That’s Grandfather to the left, with the Linville Ridges community stretched out “legally” along the adjacent ridge. Grandmother Mountain with her tower is to the right. Click on any of the images to see the full screen versions.

Grandfather Mountain in Clouds
On the drive home, I stopped to get one last summer view of Grandfather Mountain under a heavy layer of clouds.

Linville Falls Cows
Near Linville Falls Village, cows have recently replaced Christmas trees on these rolling hills.

The “Blowing Rock” Legend Lives On

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.

Blowing Rock 2015
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.

Blowing Rock Wedding Poster
The Rock has become a favorite wedding venue, and was preserved in this recent wedding poster.

Blowing Rock Vintage Card
The Rock is over half-a-billion years old, and it’s safe to say that it will still be there over the valley well after we’re gone.

High Falls in DuPont Forest State Park

High Fall on Little River
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.

View from Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies

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.

Clingman's Dome East View
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.

Low Clouds at Clingman's Dome
Passing clouds often hid the peaks…

Clingman's Dome Sky

Fraser Firs at Clingman's Dome
Fraser Firs, known as the perfect Christmas trees, grow along the high ridges. These hardy trees are native to the Southern Appalachians, and grow nowhere else.

Below Clingman's Dome
A visit to the Great Smoky Mountains isn’t complete until you come to Clingman’s Dome.

Hickory Nut Gorge from Buzzard’s Lane Overlook

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.
Hickry Nut Gorge Panorama

Hickory Nut Gorge
Iconic Chimney Rock, not visible here, is pearched high on the south wall at the eastern entrance to the gorge.
Lake Lure Mountains
Lake Lure is shaped like a spindly Starfish with fingers and coves radiating out from its center.

Sugarloaf Mountain
At nearly 4,000 feet, Sugarloaf Mountain sits 3,100 feet above the lake level to the south.Lake Lure Porch View
Finding a rocking chair on a cabin porch even higher up was the perfect place to watch the sunset.


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