Biltmore Awakens from Pandemic

Biltmore Estate in Asheville is slowly returning to normal after a three month closure because of the virus. The Gardens are in full bloom, and the House is once again welcoming guests. The Estate roads have once again welcomed private vehicles after having ended that long loved practice last October for reasons still not very clear. The Garden Shop has reopened for business. Of course, masks are required indoors, and outdoors, when social distancing cannot be maintained. Even the “Downton Abbey” exhibit, which would have ended in April, is being reopened for an extended run.

Guest await their opportunity to enter the mansion.
This image would not have been possible under new restrictions from last October.
Yours truly, proud to be back.

New Drone Images over Otter Creek Valley

Mid-June finds the Valley lush and green. The morning was sunny and dry, perfect for a drone session. My cousin brought his high tech “bug” from Charlotte, and here’s what he captured.

My house has the blue roof… This view was toward the northeast.

Toward the Lake Lure Mountains to the southwest. The closest peak is 2,600 foot Roan Horsetop Mountain. Next is Young’s Mountain. The most distant ridge is 4,000 foot Mt. Shumont, about fifteen miles away..
Otter Pond to the east looking toward the north Rutherford Mountains

He flew the drone directly above the house to its maximum altitude, and did a slow 360 degree view of these Northwest Rutherford County mountains.

Exploring Cedar Creek Gorge

Where Buncombe County meets Rutherford County along Cedar Creek Road, a series of falls and cascades suddenly tumble down through a narrow gorge along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. You won’t find this place highlighted on any map, and there’s only one narrow entrance right off the pavement where you can enter the upper falls and grotto. From there, the gorge deepens drastically as Cedar Creek makes its way over a mile to the bottom, and the only way in is by knotted rope down the a steep embankment to the creek a hundred feet below the road. You can hear it, but thick vegetation hides the creek completely.

On this June afternoon, the creek was quite active from recent rains, and because of its obscurity, we had the upper grotto completely to ourselves. Here are my impressions of that grotto, followed by a video of the encounter….

The first major falls is twenty feet high…

A large cave is hidden by the falls

Above the large falls are a series of smaller falls, and large sheets of granite worn smooth by millenia of floods.

This short video will show the natural beauty of this special place’

Overlooking Asheville

On a mild June day with low humidity, it was the perfect time to climb Sunset Mountain to get a clear view of the Asheville skyline from five miles away.

Looking toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Clingmans Dome at almost 7,000 feet in elevation.

Tiger Lillies along Sunset Summit Road….

Looking west toward the Tennessee border…

Rocky Shoal Spider Lillies of the Catawba River

This week traditionally sees the peak blooming of these rare plants in the Catawba River in South Carolina…

Living in The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina- A Blog

Each year, around the end of May, the Catawba River in Chester County, South Carolina, is  covered  by delicate white flowers of the rare and endangered Rocky Shoals Spider Lilly.  Because of hydroelectric daming along most of the river’s course, the habitat for these treasures has been depleted, but these few miles along the York and Chester County stretch are much as they have been for thousands of years.  This year the bloom came early, and these photos capture the last of the display.

At this point, the river is over a half mile wide.

The bulbs attach themselves in the shallow mud around the river rocks.

The water flows very swiftly around these rocks, providing valuable nutrients for these unusual plants.

The photo below was made two years ago when the bloom was at its peak.

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17″ of Rain in Five Days

A stalled low pressure system over the mountains produced an unprecedented amount of rain this week. Normally quiet streams became torrents, and damage here in the Rutherford Mountains was widespread. Farm fields near the creeks were submerged, and century old culverts were overwhelmed, and seriously eroded. For an area that expects 66″ of precipitation a year, 17″ is a quarter of that, and in just a few days.

2,800′ Wolf Pen Mountain above Cedar Creek farm…wolf prn mtn

One minute video in Cedar Creek Gorge…


Damage along Otter Creek Road…road 2

road 1

road 4

On higher ground, Mother Nature still had a job to do…pink


Pink Lady’s Slipper OrchidKODAK Digital Still Camera



roses red

Pink Blackberry blossomspink berries 1





Living deep in the mountains, you just have to learn to accept the good with the bad, and move on. On the bright side, fire danger is the lowest it’s been in a long time. And the valley couldn’t be greener…rocking chair

The Grove Park Inn awaits Re-opening

Under a dark rainy sky, Asheville’s historic hotel remains closed and empty.

grove park

The golf course…golf house 2

Exploring a Ridgetop Meadow

After eleven years of hiking through Otter Creek Valley where I live, I was surprised to discover something new when looking at a recent satellite image from Google otter creekMy house is located just to the right of the two red roofs in the center. What I saw was a cleared area in the upper left center, a feature that wasn’t there two years ago.  Obviously that was the result of clear cutting timber from that part of the forest. Today, in the company of my canine companion, Buddy, I headed west to find out what had happened there.

Just after sunrise, we hiked up Otter Creek Road to the historic farm of the Connor family. The 150 year old log cabin is visible below Dick’s Mountain. Otter Creek flows past the homestead at the base of the mountain.cabin 1

Climbing to the top of an old corn field, I found a logging road, heavily rutted by heavy rain over the past year. After a few hundred yards, I came across many blooming Mountain Laurel shrubs,Laurel

Another quarter mile, I suddenly came upon a large meadow at the crest of the ridge. meadow 6

The loggers had cleaned up there debris, but had not replanted any trees. A panorama of mountains surrounded the meadow for a 360 degree vista.meadow 1

2,800 foot Wolf Pen Mountain dominated the northwest horizon.meadow 3

To the north, Brushy Top Mountain with its exposed granite south face,  caught the morning Sun…meadow 5

To the south, was the old logging road entrance…meadow 4

Looking westward, Roan Horsetop Mountain rose above the woods…meadow 7

Heading back down the old road, I emerged at the top of the field to see the log cabin illuminated by the bright mid-May Sun.cabin 2

The view of the entire farm took me back to a time well before electric power, indoor plumbing, and virus pandemics. How fortunate I am to spend my isolation in such a beautiful place.cabin 3That’s Otter Creek Road in the center.  Look closely and you’ll find the cabin.




Biltmore Reopens the Grounds

Just in time for the Catawba Rhododendrons,  the Cecil family has opened the gates to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville for a limited number of Annual Passholders.  

rhodo 3

The best part is that all roads on the grounds are once again allowing private vehicles to drive freely through the spectacular  creation of Frederick Law Olmstead, the first time that has been permitted since last September, when vehicles were  restricted to the entrance road, and the western portion of the Estate along the French Broad River, and around the hotels and restaurants and the Vineyard.  Once again you can cruise past the House, and drive into the Gardens. The Garden gift shop, which had been closed last October, has also reopened.

mansion 1This is the  first time I have ever seen the Chateau’s front doors locked shut during the day, and the first time I have not seen a vehicle or a person in front of the largest private residence in America.mansion 2

Driving through the Estate, I never saw another car ahead of me or behind me. pink rhodoI could explore freely on foot, admiring all the varieties of Rhododendron, Azalea, and Mountain Laurel, all related to one another.

flame 2Flame Azalea and deep fuchsia Catawba Rhododendron.

mountain laurelMountain Laurel under a massive Norway Spruce…

azaleas 1The Azalea Garden…

jap maplesJapanese Maples along the drive…

pink rhodo 2Pink Rhododendron…rhodo 1

rosesClimbing Roses in the Conservatory’s garden…

flockEwes and their new Lambs graze in a pasture below the Chateau…

estate 2They don’t call it The Reflecting Pond for nothing…

On the way back to Otter Creek, I stopped to look back to the west, and to admire Mount Pisgah and the Balsams. That’s the eastern slope of Sunset Mountain in the foreground, and Asheville is nestled in the valley between the two.pisgah

George Vanderbilt had a vision of the grandest house ever built in America, and even a pandemic cannot take away from his dream.





High Meadows below Bearwallow Mountain

At the west entrance to the Hickory Nut Gorge in Henderson County sits Bearwallow Mountain. At 4,237 feet, it’s the second tallest peak east of Asheville and south of Interstate 40.  On its southern slopes, 600 feet below the summit, is an expansive grassy plateau that has morphed into an exclusive community of horse pastures, jogging trails, and beautiful homes known as Grand Highlands.  Early May is the perfect time to explore these rolling hills as winter turns to spring.  On this particular afternoon, a light rain was falling, and clouds obscured the mountain summit. The valley far below is where the apple orchards dominate, with the town of Hendersonville to the west.


tudor valley

fencesBearwallow Mountain in the clouds…


under constructionUnder construction…


long limb

Driving over Bearwallow Gap on a gravel road leading to U.S. 74 in the Hickory Nut Gorge, Wild Azaleas were in full bloom.azalea mountain

wild azaleas