Descending from Ridgecrest to Mill Creek
Instead of taking the fast way over the Eastern Continental Divide from Asheville, I chose to use the original gravel Mill Creek Road that was built in the 1880’s when the Southern Railway first climbed the 3,000 foot ridge on it’s way west. The Southern Baptist Conference Center, known as Ridgecrest, sits astride the Divide just east of the town of Black Mountain. As I exited I-40, I found this field of Sunflowers along the Interstate.
From the top of the Divide, the Southern Railway, now run by Norfolk-Southern, enters the 1,800 foot Swannanoa Tunnel, that takes the trains under I-40 as they make their way toward Asheville. Kudzu covers the tall trees, and the Blue Ridge Mountains dominate the northeast horizon.
The route of the railway from Ridgecrest to Old Fort.
Halfway down the mountain, across from the Bed and Breakfast known as the Inn on Mill Creek, an ancient Apple orchard attracts Black Bears on these late August afternoons.
Farther down the mountain, this one lane railway bridge survives from the days that mules pulled wagons over the Divide.
Near the bottom of the road, the railway crosses over Mill Creek as it enters the famous Old Fort Loops, a series of curves, loops, and bridges that allow trains to climb and descend the mountain where it is most steep.
Note the large pipe in the lower right. It brings water from the mill pond 600 feet up the mountain that powers the famous Andrews Geyser in the center of the “Loops“. It was built in the 1890’s to commemorate the completion of the railroad over the Continental Divide.