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”

divide 3

divide 2

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.

divide 1

divide 4

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.

lake lure 1

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

caleb and vann

jeep maple

bright maple 1

mountainside

 

orange tree

rocky face

caleb directs

distant ridge

yellow canopy

craggy gardens

berries

resoirvoir

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

 

The Biltmore Estate under an Autumn Fog

Cloaked in a thick morning fog, Biltmore tried to hide its Fall splendor, but Mother Nature had other plans.  The air was a cool 52 degrees, and the tourists had not yet located the main entrance. Once again, I had this American treasure almost entirely to myself. The genius of Frederick Law Olmsted was on display everywhere I turned. 

houseThese evergreens are temporary and will be wrapped in thousands of lights for Biltmore’s world famous Christmas celebration. Inside the House, the new Downton Abbey Exhibition is being installed for its debut next week.

pond

lake

path

grass

The last of the Azaleas were still in bloom…azaleas

white pine

road 1

evergreens

red and yellow

falls

The French Broad River was very active after recent rains…river

In this short video, listen for the birds and the waterfall…

 

 

Spectacular Color along the Parkway

With the late cool weather and the first frost, combined with five inches of badly needed rain, the trees have finally decided to show their stuff, especially along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Linville Falls to Grandfather Mountain. After the passing of a cold front, the Carolina Blue sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it, with not a cloud in sight. Low humidity intensified the hues, and made visibility limitless. It was Wednesday, October 23rd, and there was certainly no shortage of mid-week “Peepers” out to marvel at nature’s annual extravaganza. A little Vivaldi for background made for a perfect three-dimensional, super High Definition, sensory experience.

maplesSugar Maples at Linville Falls Community

linville homesVacation homes at Linville Falls

linville wallWestern Mountains of Linville Gorge at 3,500 feet…

Linville RiverLinville River from the Parkway bridge…

East ViewLooking east from 4,000 feet…

Lake 1Grandfather Mountain from 4,500 feet with Grandmother Lake…

Parkway CruisingCruising beneath Grandfather…

linn cove viaductToward Linn Cove Viaduct…

boulder fieldGrandfather Boulder Field above the Viaduct…

traffic

boulder colorRough Ridge Trail above the Parkway…

Rock People

small person

fence

grandmotherSouthern horizon toward Linville Gorge peaks…

ridgesView toward northeast from Linn Cove…

This two minute video will give you a three dimensional sensation of cruising on the Parkway…

 

 

 

First Color of Autumn

Because of September’s record setting heat, and almost no rain since July, the trees decided to wait about ten days to show their stuff.  With showers returning, and temperatures down to freezing, they seem to be making up for lost time here in Otter Creek Valley. 

barn

yellow

colors

dogwoodThis lone Dogwood stands between two tall Maples that are finally beginning to turn. The tall grass is Broomsage, and the Mountain people used it for, you guessed it, making their brooms.

orangeA misty Otter Pond greets the rising Sun…

otter pond

woods

Another week should be an entirely different story….