Strong Winds and a Foot of Snow

A slow moving winter storm dumped over a foot of snow in this valley, followed by winds gusting 50 mph. Rare in this part of the mountains, even low temperatures in the mid-teens made it feel below zero for many hours. Another storm is expected within days, even more rare when you consider that this area can go for years with no snow at all. All the same, the flakes were welcome, and the valley was transformed into scenes that would have made Currier and Ives jealous.

Lake Lure before the Big Snow

With predictions of a foot of snow or more in the coming three days, a drive around the Lake Lure Mountains seemed to be in order. Buffalo Shoals Road twists and turns high above the iconic lake, affording breathtaking views of the water and the rugged granite peaks surrounding it.

Looking north from US Highway 64
View toward the southwest from the highest point of Buffalo Shoals Road. That’s 4,000 foot Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.
The Hickory Nut Gorge to the west with 4,600 foot Little Pisgah Mountain in the far distance.
Boulder Field along the winding road…
One of many homes perched on a steep slope high above the lake below. 2,800 foot Rumbling Bald Mountain is the view.
Many homes follow the Craftsmen style, a favorite all along the Blue Ridge.
At the north end of the lake, a large home takes shape in view of the Rumbling Bald Resort and beach. 4,100′ Mt. Shumont is in the distance.

A Cold Carolina Blue Sky

Still no snow here in Otter Creek Valley, but with a 20 degree low on January 8th, winter has certainly moved in. That means the bright Carolina Blue skies are deep and saturated. Very low humidity makes for unlimited visibility and clarity of the horizon. At noon, it was 35 degrees when I drove around my neighborhood. Ironically, the ski areas just 50 miles north of me have received 17″ of snow just this week.

Two years ago, these ridges suffered a total clear-cutting. They are coming back. Can you spot the house on the peak?
3,100 foot Hickory Nut Mountain in southern McDowell County
Loblolly Pine forests under Northwest Rutherford County peaks…
Bill’s Creek Road is the main connection from I-40 to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock
Pinnacle Peak and Long Mountain behind this Short Leaf Pine
Who needs a four-wheeler when my 2005 Deville climbs just as well?
Cedar Creek Falls in the northwest corner of Rutherford County

Holiday Doldrums and Covid

With the latest variant spreading like the common cold, venturing too far from my wilderness is not the best idea. Quick trips for supplies afforded me the opportunities to capture a few images worth sharing.

A lack of rain combined with low humidity made for the perfect condition to photograph nearby mountains.

3,100′ Hickory Nut Mountain along the McDowell-Bumcombe County line
Rare at this elevation, a Loblolly Pine forest flourishes in northern Rutherford County
The north end of Lake Lure is high and dry for another two months because of the semi-annual drawdown for dock and boathouse repairs.
Sunset over 4,000″ Sugarloaf Mountain
My home surrounded by large Eastern Hemlock trees…
A light rain has fallen since New Year’s Eve
1,600′ Dick’s Mountain just south of the house on a frosty morning
A touch of Holiday warmth inside…

Biltmore puts on her Winter Clothes

As Fall recedes, and Winter approaches, The Biltmore Estate in Asheville dresses for the holidays, and the last shades of Autumn anticipate the season’s first snowfall. Where bright yellows of the Hickory give way to burnt oranges of Beech and Oak, the gardens move toward hibernation, much like the Woodchucks and Black Bears. The Soybean and Field Corn fields have long since lost their green nutrients, and will sleep through Winter, awaiting an early Spring harvest.

The Chateau has been welcoming holiday visitors since Thanksgiving…

The forest and gardens will still dazzle the guests with a rainbow of color, just as Frederick Law Olmstead envisioned 140 years ago…

Firethorn
Bald Cypress

The forest Evergreens will stand tall as they have for over a century. A Carolina Cane stand will still welcome the hiker into its inner sanctum…

Wild Tom Turkey
Soon the Reflecting Pond will freeze over, and the Canada Geese will move to warmer places…

Lake Lure Bids Farewell to Autumn

You might think that with December just a few days away, the colors of Autumn in the mountains would have disappeared weeks ago, but the slopes around Lake Lure always would prove you wrong. At an elevation less than 1,000 feet, the lake and the Northwest Rutherford mountains surrounding it, are always late bloomers when it comes to color. This year, with the first freeze delayed until November 14th, so were the leaves.

Every two years, the Lake level is lowered by about seven feet, so that residents can repair docks and boathouses, and construct new structures that would eventually be in the water. Large expanses of the lake bottom are exposed all winter until the lake is refilled in March. These are views at the far north end from Legends Bar and Grill.

All boats are moved into storage, and the floating docks sit in the mud.
The southern view from inside Legends

A short drive into the Rumbling Bald residences up the mountain reveals the late colors as the Sun was dropping behind 3, 400 foot Rumbling Bald Mountain.

Scene from “Dirty Dancing” were filmed around the golf course that snakes its way around the homes…
The slope below the exposed granite wall of Rumbling Bald Mountain.
A ridge catches the last of the Sun’s rays below 4,000 foot Mount Shumont
The South Face of Stone Mountain to the north at sundown…
Buffalo Creek is one of many creeks that feeds into manmade Lake Lure…

The Isothermal Belt and Late Autumn Color

The Isothermal Belt is a well documented micro-climate area east of Hendersonville, N.C., north of the S.C. border, and extends north to the Rutherford/McDowell County line. Because average temperatures in the zone are five degrees warmer than the surrounding area, the last frost of winter happens in early April, making this area ideal for growing apples. The early blossoms survive, making for a longer growing season. The area is the fourth largest in America for apple production. In the fall, these slightly warmer temps delay the period of peak color by up to two weeks after most of the southern mountains to the north and west. This year, above normal temperatures all over the mountains delayed the first frost by up to three weeks, and the color changes were much later than usual. Only now, in mid November, are the colors reaching their peaks, and it seems to have happened all at once, since the first frost happened just last week. These images were made yesterday, November 12th. And WOW……

Around Lake Lure
Youngs Mountain

Just north of Lake Lure is an overlook above the Cove Creek Valley, along the Eastern Blue Ridge Escarpment. These views are toward the north and east…

My Private Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall

Most visitors cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway in October to see the best color, but for me, I just need to drive a half mile up my road to experience color rarely seen along the Parkway. In 2008, a paved, one mile extension was built just past my house to service a gated community that went bankrupt in 2009. Since then only two homes have been built up there, and every autumn I just hop into my car, and slowly move through the most dramatic display of foliage I’ve found anywhere throughout the Carolina mountains. A steep wall of mountains on the north side of the valley looms over stands of Loblolly Pine, making the perfect contrast to the multicolors of Maple, Oak, Hickory, and Sourwood. The second week of November is usually the peak, but everything is late this year because of no freeze, and this coming week will be incredible.

Actually, since there is no traffic, a leisurely stroll is the best way to experience the quiet solitude of this place, with only the occasional bird song, Turkey call, or a breeze through the trees.

Check out this short video…

Autumn at Rumbling Bald Mountain

An earthquake in 1874 set off a series of loud rumblings in an around Bald Mountain as giant granite boulders broke away from the northeast face and plummeted to the slopes below. After that, the inhabitants changed the name to Rumbling Bald Mountain, and today that exposed granite face is one of the largest in all of North Carolina. In the fall, near sundown, the contrast of light and shadow makes the area especially breathtaking.

Rumbling Bald is on the left, at 3,010 feet… View from Apple Valley Golf Course.
The mountain rises from the northwest shore of Lake Lure. View from inside Legends-on-the-Lake Restaurant
Rock climbers love this mountain…
View of 2,600 foot Young’s Mountain from Bald Mountain Farm
The last rays from Bald Mountain Farm

Full Color along Cedar Creek Road

Cedar Creek begins at the 2,300′ level of the Blue Ridge in eastern Buncombe County, and grows as it cuts through the gorge into northern Rutherford County, merging with Cove Creek, then the Broad River east of Lake Lure. Following the creek down the mountain is a two lane, mostly paved road. In Autumn, it never disappoints when it comes to color, and this year is no exception. After two days of light showers, the hues seemed to shimmer in the misty light.

Cedar Creek Rapids