Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions created by Vann Helms
Today is October 25, and the mountains below 3,000 feet are still waiting for their first frost. This is historically late, and the trees know it. Aside from the Sumac and Sourwood along the roadways, the ridges remain green, with only the occasional Maple showing its flash of red and orange.
Ten days ago, I drove along The Parkway to the Linn Cove Viaduct, and although the color on the slopes of mile high Grandfather Mountain was dramatic, the colors along the Parkway were just not happening.
On Saturday, October 23rd, I entered The Parkway from U.S. 70 east of Asheville, and drove north to a 3,000 foot Overlook. This was the only tree I found with color, and the slopes above 3,000 feet were still almost as green as Summer.
Hopefully, that first freeze will come soon, but the peak of color along The Parkway is still a week or more away. My fingers and toes are crossed.
With the first frost predicted for next week, this may be the last chance to enjoy the colors and textures from the waning days of summer around my meadow. Wildflowers, mosses, mushrooms, and even a critter or two, are trying to attract those last pollinators before the freeze arrives.
THIS WAS SIX YEARS AGO. ALWAYS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PLACES ALONG THE PARKWAY.
In past years, October 11th would have been the peak of color along the high ridges facing the iconic Black Mountain range, home to Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak of all. Not this year. Although the colors have begun to roll down from the higher slopes, they are still five to seven days away from their maximum.
Wait a few more days before you visit this portion…
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Dividing Rutherford from McDowell County are a series of 2,600 foot peaks that stretch for four miles from east to west. Names like Pinnacle Peak, Long Mountain, Rich Mountain, New Forest Mountain, and Mike’s Mountain, are known to locals, but not to the outside world. The views from these summits look out across the western Piedmont toward Charlotte. Other than scattered vacation homes, and valley farms, development has not been part of the equation.
As the colors of the season move down into lower elevations, these steep ridges slowly come alive. These images were captured just after sunrise on October 11th. The peak of color in these parts happens after November 1st, long after the leaves have fallen along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
When Frederick Law Olmstead designed the forests and gardens of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville in 1890, even he couldn’t have imagined how beautiful they would be 130 years in the future. Today, his creation is as close to heaven on Earth as any place in all of America. His genius is evident in every vista that visitors find when motoring along the winding roads built for horse drawn carriages so long ago.
Visiting this magical sanctuary on the first day of Autumn gives one a tantalizing glimpse into what will unfold over the next two months. No two years are ever the same, and on this cool and misty morning, the heart races at every turn, just as Olmstead might have imagined.
Enjoy this short video…
In 2008, the Queen’s Gap development in the northern Rutherford County mountains was on target to be the largest gated community ever built in the North Carolina mountains. Jack Nicklaus had designed the championship golf course, and the rolling fairways had been cleared. A network of roadways was well on its way to be completed, and a first class equestrian center was taking shape. Most convincing of all, a multi-million dollar American Craftsman “Discovery Center” had opened, as well as an impressive gatehouse where security guards would screen vehicles for entry. Large lots were selling like hotcakes, and the future couldn’t have looked brighter.
But in late 2008, the real estate bubble burst, and everything stopped at Queen’s Gap. For the next four years, a protracted legal battle raged to determine the fate of the project. Ultimately, there was a damaging bankruptcy, and people went to prison. The “Discovery Center” and Gatehouse fell into disrepair, and vandals removed Arts and Crafts copper fixtures. The building’s windows and doors were boarded up, and for years remained that way.
In 2018, the building was finally allowed to go onto the market, and repairs were completed, including a new A/C system. Since then it has been maintained, but has never found a buyer. It is frozen in time, just waiting for the right occupant.
On Saturday, I made my annual pilgrimage to this architectural treasure just five miles east of my house to see how it was faring, and was please to find that it is alive and well, and still for sale.
The most colorful time to visit Biltmore might just be the beginning of September. The Gardens are the most electric you’ll see all year, and the fields of mature Sunflowers are as yellow and green as they will ever be…
Climbing a high ridge overlooking the expansive valley drained by Cove Creek, I knew the sunrise was going to be memorable, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This area is ten miles northeast of Lake Lure, and contains no public lands. The Sun first appeared at 7:05 over the South Mountains thirty miles to the east, and all these images were made over the next twenty-five minutes.
If you want to have the Blue Ridge Parkway to yourself, go on a Monday morning in late August. I only met four cars from the Linville Falls entrance driving south to the Little Switzerland exit. From the first overlook looking west, the sky was that Carolina Blue that frames everything so perfectly.
Working my way through the four “Circle Curves”, I arrived at my favorite Overlook north of Mt. Mitchell, at 3,400 feet. The sheer granite face opposite the view is always colorful, no matter the season.
But the real reward is the limitless stretch of valley looking southeast toward Marion. with the Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell barely visible along the southern horizon.
At 3,700 feet, Dobson’s Knob south of Linville Gorge dominates the eastern view. Located just north of Marion, this impressive mountain is separate from Linville Gorge mountains, and its steep, rocky, western face rises above a large, mostly flat plain, allowing breathtaking long range views of its base, reminiscent of the Alps in Germany and Austria. This mountain has no human development above its base because it is so rugged. The “Mountain to Sea Trail” passes over the summit, after a difficult six mile climb, suggested only for the most hardy of hikers.
I couldn’t resist a stroll along the wall while I had the Overlook to myself…
Further south, another Overlook featured a garden of Milk Weed that attracted Butterflys and Bees to its sweet nectar…
Cruising almost alone along the most traveled highway in the entire National Park system is a treat that you must experience.
Almost a foot of rain has fallen in six days here in the valley. This was a combination of regular afternoon storms and Tropical Depression, Fred. Otter Creek rose over seven feet, and washed out the road further up the valley. No homes were affected.
After a heavy rain on Thursday, not part of Fred, the mountains were blanketed with clouds and fog. This made for a memorable sunset.
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