Grandfather Mountain

The name Grandfather Mountain may sound old, but the area is vibrant with a variety of experiences. The fun begins immediately as visitors receive an auto tour cd upon entering the park. Pop in the cd and immediately, you’re immersed in the history that appears at every turn.

With a movie highlighting the area, restaurant, fudge shop, and animal encounters, the first visitor center has plenty to do. My favorites were the animals and animal feedings. If you get a chance, definitely check out the bear feeding which provides an opportunity to view the black bears up close and yet safely.

The drive up to the next visitor center via the narrow, winding road, is not for the faint of heart, but provides stunning views along the way. For those wishing to forego the final steep ascent to the visitor center, there is a lower parking lot with a short, scenic hiking trail that leads to the visitor center.

The second visitor center at the top of the mountain is less commercial, but provides more outdoor activities via hiking trails, the mile high suspension bridge (mile high in elevation, not from the ground), and plenty of unencumbered views.

One day was hardly enough to scratch the surface. I could see easily spending more time fully exploring the area. For all the pertinent details go here: www.grandfather.com

Turkeypen hike; mushrooms, bushwacking and great scenery

“How much farther up does this go?”….. Up being the key word as we had climbed for about half an hour and still were climbing. I knew we were on the right trail, but I couldn’t see where it ultimately went. The thick Carolina foliage only revealed the trail as you hiked along.

I had heard this trail was one of the tougher hikes on the hiking challenge and so far it was living up to its description. We were taking on the Turkeypen hiking trail near Ashville, North Carolina and it is one of eight hikes listed on the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s hiking challenge 2.0. When you complete all eight hikes, you’ll receive a White Squirrel patch; I just saw a couple of white squirrels in person and that was really cool! Squirrel or not, the hiking challenge is a great way to encourage people to get out and explore new scenery.

Turkey Pen/South Mills River gap would be my 4th hike in the series, and it’s rated very strenuous at 6.4 miles and elevation gain of 1,240 feet. As you stand in the parking lot there are a couple of trail options. We took the one on the left, as if you were walking in front of your car. Up is up, but I think this might have been the easier way to tackle the terrain, because you climb the all of the elevation in the beginning.

We continued the steep ascent stopping along the way to photograph the tall trees and tons of mushrooms. I’ve never seen so many different mushrooms on one trail. I enjoy fried mushrooms, but I have no idea which ones to pick so I just took photos.

Finally, we reached the top of the trail and were greeted with a survey marker noting the trail and elevation. The top was shrouded in thick foliage so it was shady, but the expansive views were hidden. Take this hike in the fall and I bet you’d see a long way.

Happy to have the hardest part of the trail behind us we descended into a lush forest with babbling brooks and moss covered logs. The guide labeled this section the Garden of Eden and it was easy to see why. Just as the Garden of Eden had a surprise, the trail had one more surprise for us.

Descending into an open area, the trail mysteriously just disappeared into a stream. There weren’t tracks around the stream as expected. It just stopped. I’m used to walking down a stream a bit, but usually you see the trail on the other side. I didn’t see any signs of trail here.

Backtracking a bit didn’t reveal any missed turnoffs and the trail guide didn’t note anything about crossing a stream. This has to be the way to go, so I decided to go scope it out and return with a report.

I picked my way over the rocks and headed down the stream. After a few yards, I found the only exit point which was through tall brush that appeared to have remnants of path through it. Although it appeared to not have been used in eons.

There were two options here; snakes or poison ivy. I’d prefer the snakes because generally they move, although in a similar area, I saw a rattlesnake hold its ground and I moved. Well, here goes…trekking poles in hand, I made my way through the dense foliage.

About 100 feet later, I exited the jungle into a wide open space and there was the trail. I’m not sure how people were getting to this section, but I think I was the only one through that overgrown area in a long time. Fortunately, there weren’t any snakes or poison ivy.

Shortly after that adventure, the trail again dead ended in a large creek. However this was noted on the trail guide and there is a trail that goes to a fun swinging bridge. I say it’s a fun bridge; it wasn’t too high over the water and was easy to make swing. I bounced, rocked my way over the bridge and just had fun playing. Don’t ask me why I found that so entertaining, but at one point I almost swung myself right into the river.

Leaving the bridge, the easy trail follows the creek with access points among the trees. One stop was too inviting to miss and I stretched out on a rock in the warm sun. The sound of the water, the warm sun, and warm rocks and I could’ve been out for a long time. I must be part cat; I enjoy a good nap in the sun, plus I had been walking for hours. Days it seemed.

The trail crosses more bridges, then makes another small ascent and ends up in the far end of the parking lot behind the sign with the big map. 5 hours and 6.4 miles later, we were done and mostly spent. It turned out to be a combination of hike and adventure, which I always enjoy.

As I took one last, long look at that creek babbling among the green trees, I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the fall. They say October is the best month to see the fall foliage. I may have to make a visit back just for that.
For more information:
www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/turkeypen

Green River guest post

I spent 11 days in Asheville and wrote about many hikes. Here’s a fun hike, I submitted as a guest post. Enjoy!
http://blog.exploreasheville.com/2013/06/green-river-hike.html

Linville Falls

Linville Falls
“Wow, look at that water flow down the canyon!” The roar of water screaming between the tall rocks and then falling down into the unknown echoed in front of us. Just before this canyon was a beautiful waterfall that emptied into a pool that looked quite inviting. Course, there were signs everywhere saying “no swimming”.

This was just the beginning of our hike up Linville Falls. We had gone past it on the way to Grandfather Mountain and decided to take a quick walk on the way home. The trail continued further up the mountain and promised more scenic views so up we went.

DSC_1349

Did I mention we were walking up? The views from the top are always good, just sometimes the walk up is a bit challenging. That’s okay, it helps you slow down and enjoy the view. We came to place with a stone wall on the edge of a cliff. Looking right over the edge, you could see the valley stretch out below and merge with the green mountains in the distance. Definitely picturesque but not the final destination.

Taking a left up some stairs, we made the short climb to the other overlook. Wow!!
The roaring falls and lush, green valley lay before us in full view. The first place we stopped could be seen waaay down in the distance. Remember the roaring water through the canyon? You could see where it went from here; it exited the side of the mountain and fell into the valley below.

Even though the falls and area looked small from up here, we could still hear the roar of the water. Looking out into the valley, we could see the entire scene unfold; the waters exited the forest, down through the rocks, falling freely into the valley and then meandering through the forest floor.

As the afternoon slowly turned into evening, we pondered the possibility of sunset pictures, but the sun was behind the rocks. I’d think that sunrise would be better, although I didn’t return to find out.

Regardless of the time of day, the hike is only about a mile round trip and the views are incredible.
For more information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5188440

Blue Ghost Fireflies

“There’s one” I whispered, as we watched the little bluish white light up the darkness in front of us. It disappeared, and a few seconds later another appeared. Then another, and another.

The dark forest would be lit up by these little lights that flew to and fro. It really did look like we were watching fairies.

It wasn’t fairies we were watching, but the rare Blue Ghost Firefly. I grew up playing with the flashing, yellow glow of fireflies and assumed they were all the same. Not quite…. The Blue Ghost fireflies are different for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious is their bluish white light. Hence the name, Blue Ghost.

This adventure was a night time tour that was led by a Blue Ghost firefly expert whom provided entertaining and tremendously detailed information about these little creatures. Several features delineate the Blue Ghost firefly from other species; such as lights that steadily glow instead of flash in sequence and both male AND female have lights. Our guide explained that they’re mostly found in the North Carolina, Tennessee areas because the forest floor is the perfect condition; damp, but not saturated.

We spent about an hour enjoying the peaceful forest and the light show. Most everyone was quiet, even the kids, and enjoyed the opportunity to peer into a different world.

BlueGhost fireflies are mainly visible in May/June and watching them light up the forest was an experience I won’t soon forget. Nature is always amazing, day and night.

For everything you ever wanted to know about Blue Ghost fireflies but were afraid to ask, go here:
http://www2.brevard.edu/jefrick/Blue%20Ghost%20pub.pdf

Cedar Rock trail video

I enjoy composing short, informational T.V. stories at work, so I decided to do one for a beautiful hike. The video is only a couple of minutes, but you’ll get a sense of the trail and what to expect. I call it the “man on the ground” perspective.

For directions and more info:
http://www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/dupont2

http://youtu.be/1bn9aR-WuE8.

Four days, one back pack….can I really do this?

This isn’t going to fit……I said as I looked at the pile of clothes and gear on the bed. I was heading to North Carolina for the weekend and was determined to take just my back pack. I’m not a light traveler, so this was going to be a challenge, but that was part of the reason for the trip.

I could see myself getting on the plane, placing the pack under the seat, and easily disembarking upon arrival. No bag check, no fees, no waiting at the baggage claim, and no worries about trunk space. Just grab and go.

Making it work:
A little clarification is in order; my back pack is not like the large, steel framed one I carried for four days in the Grand Canyon. It’s what I call a commuter back pack that is the perfect size for traveling because it snugly fits (gets close enough), under the seat on commercial flights. In spite of it’s small size, it has been to a lot of cool places and as I write this, it’s packed for another adventure.

I was heading to the mountains, which were cold so I carried layers. First were my clothes: zip off pants, shirts, rain jacket, and socks. Next up was my DLSR with 18-200mm lens, and a water tight container that housed two video cameras and their mounting/cabling accessories. Ok, that took up all of the space. I still had my fleece jacket and a few other small items that just wouldn’t fit.

I reluctantly drug out my gym bag, which seemed to swallow everything up into a dark abyss. This isn’t going to fit under the seat at all. Plus, what am I going to take on the hiking trails? And then it hit me… I loaded everything in the back pack, and used a cloth grocery bag to hold my jacket and camera. Perfect!!

What a feeling to stroll through the airport with just my backpack and a small bag. To comply with the one carryon rule, I wore my jacket, stuffed my camera into the back pack, and rolled up the shopping bag. I made it with one bag after all; thankfully I didn’t have to open it till I arrived!

Freedom:
Wow, what a way to travel!! When it came to get off the plane, I just grabbed my pack and went outside to wait for my friend. No waiting for my luggage at the baggage claim, no lifting or wheeling thirty pounds of luggage around the airport.
At my friend’s house, I left the cameras in the pack, and swapped the clothes for snacks. Within a short time of arriving, I was on the ground exploring.

The rewards:
I’ve never traveled so light and it was fun. I enjoyed refreshing mountain streams nestled in the forests, scenic views from the tops of mountains, long waterfalls, and peaceful hikes through the forest.

Returning home was bittersweet, but now I know that I DON’T HAVE to take it all with me. Life is full of analogies and I couldn’t help but wonder if I could pack a little lighter in life. Hmmmm….that’s a whole different story.

If you get the opportunity to ditch the luggage and just grab your back pack and head out, you should try it. The freedom is addicting.

Pink Beds hiking trail

I hadn’t been to North Carolina in several years so I was excited for the opportunity to go hiking. As we followed the winding road through the forest, along the creek and waterfalls, the memories of the forest returned.

The Gatekeeper:

We grabbed our gear and head out on foot for the hiking trail. As we approached the trail, there was something different, or should I say someone different. With all due respect, the gentlemen reminded me of one of the Seven Dwarfs; chest length grey beard, round weathered face, and a hat. Leaning on a shovel, he softly said “the trail is temporarily closed”.

“Ok” we said and struck up a conversation and what a fascinating story unfolded. He was an Amish gentlemen responsible for about 5-6 teenage boys who were repairing the boardwalks on the trail. They traveled around the country and worked with the government to handle civic projects like these.

All the materials, lumber, nails, etc., were provided and they just supplied their skills and time. Considering how a lot of kids grow up facing a computer screen, it was refreshing to see boys out in the woods, using skills that their fathers had taught them. Skills that allowed them to create and build things; skills that allowed them to make a difference and leave a legacy.

We talked with the gentleman long enough that the boys came out with their supplies which paved the way for us to go hiking.

Looking for Pink Beds:

We encountered several boardwalks along the trail and I’m pretty sure I could easily drive my SUV over them without any problem. They were well built!!

What struck me is that these were more than just a boardwalk; they had history, meaning, and I had met the people who built them. Isn’t amazing how “normal” things become important once you know the history of them or meet the individuals responsible for their creation?

The hiking trail itself was a beautiful walk through the forest that crisscrossed a stream a number of times. At one point, there was a beach like area along the creek and we stopped and enjoyed the view of the crystal clear water and the forest. I put my hands in it and confirmed that the water was cold!!

I have yet to encounter a mountain stream that was warm, but that doesn’t stop me from putting my hands in itJ

We walked through places where the forest was thick and dark like an enchanted forest where you’d expect something to pop out. Other places the trees were sparse and plenty of wide open places perfect for picnics abounded.

Along the way, there are two different color trail markers and we wanted to stay on the loop trail. That worked well till we encountered an intersection that gave us the choice of “the other trail” or a trail with no markings. We quickly found that the trail with no markings dead ended at a stream, so we followed the only other option which was the correct way.

We made the entire loop, which seemed to go on for a lot longer than expected. Normally that’s okay, but the sun was starting to touch the tip of the mountains and once it goes behind, it’ll be dark quick.

Fortunately, all was well and it was a fun, scenic hike, with the added benefit of some interesting history.  And next time you cross a boardwalk, it may have been built by those group of teens.

For more information on the Pink Beds trail, go here and have fun!

http://www.exploreasheville.com/things-to-do/hiking-trails/pink-beds-trail/

The Waterfalls of DuPont State Forest

I love hiking to waterfalls; the walk through the forest, the rushing sound of the water as you approach, and the anticipation that builds. Will the waterfall be gushing off the top of a mountain? A series that cascade into a plume below? Or something simple but elegant that just is perfect?

When a friend invited me to hike a trail that included three popular waterfalls, I had to say yes!  As we grabbed our gear in the parking lot, the sound of the flowing river was so inviting I couldn’t wait to hit the trail.

Our route today would take us by High Falls, Triple Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls all located in DuPont State Forest in North Carolina.  According to the map, the mileage for this round trip adventure would only be 3-4 miles so that gave us plenty of time to thoroughly explore.

The Route:

Starting from the Hooker Falls parking lot, the trail takes an unusual route; up the stairs, across the two lane road (look both ways), and then along the opposite side of the bridge. The road is not busy so the walk is easy, still be careful. Stopping on the bridge is a great place to get a view of the clear river flowing over the rocks.

After crossing the bridge, the trail goes down the stairs and then stays right. If you go under the bridge, the scenery is still beautiful, but it’s not the right direction to find the falls.

The wide trail and crystal clear river make for a beautiful hike through the forest. The river looks so calm you don’t realize the power of the current until you stop and look intently. Toss a stick or leaf in and you’ll easily see just how fast it’s flowing.

Triple Falls:

Our first stop was Triple Falls and wow, what a view from the trail!  The falls start at the top of the mountain and then cascade down three high ledges into the valley.  The view from the trail is amazing, but you have to take the boardwalk down to the falls to get the full effect.

As you exit the last stairs, you hear the deafening roar of water and feel the mist on your face.  Perfect! I like to venture as close as possible to get that unusual photograph or just because I can. Well waterfalls create wet rocks and it wasn’t long before I was imitating a cartoon character that stepped on a banana peel.  All four limbs were flailing in all directions with the hope of somehow not falling. Fortunately, I didn’t fall into the water. I wouldn’t have gone down the falls, but I would’ve been wet and cold.

High Falls:

Further up the trail, we came to another opening and the entire side of the mountain was a steep waterfall.  Unlike Triple Falls which cascades over a few ledges, High Falls just falls almost vertically about 125 feet to the bottom.  There isn’t a trail down to the base because of the steep incline but at the top there appeared to be a covered bridge. Of course I wanted to know if we could there.

Sure enough, as we followed the trail, we exited in front of that quaint, photogenic bridge that crossed the river just before the falls began.

The bridge was a great lunch spot and perfect place to admire the dichotomy of views.  On the forest side of the bridge, it was just a peaceful river that I’d love to kayak on. The water is clear, calm, and the trees are tall.

On the other side of the bridge, the river flows for a short distance and then just disappears. I could see myself kayaking down this river, admiring the covered bridge from below and then suddenly wondering where the river went. By the time I realized it, I’d be in for an unforgettable ride. Note to self; I need to pay more attention when I’m kayaking.

Bridal Veil Falls:

We left the bridge and continued down the dirt road to reach the final destination. Along the way there are trails into the forest, but we saved those for the return trip.  A couple of cyclists passed us and I noted that for next time. This is definitely a peaceful place to ride and explore.

A short while later, we took a right turn down another trail and were greeted with the sound of rushing water.  As we emerged from the trail, we saw an awesome sight; a sloped granite face, with millions of gallons of water, blasting down in full force.

Thanks to natures design, there is a spot you can sit on a rock and face the falls.  You are on an outcropping and the falls go just below that so you’re literally just a few feet away from the rushing power. Myself and others captured some fun photographs there.

Sitting facing the thunderous waves of water is quite thrilling. There’s something magical about being in the wilderness and safely enjoying the beauty of nature’s power.

One last view:

As we walked back, we decided to take one of the side trails that go up a levy. We followed the trail to the top and the view was like a postcard!  Stretched before us was a large, glass smooth mountain lake.  The crystal clear water revealed the bottom was covered in a layer of leaves which added a unique effect.  It was so peaceful, I could see sitting here for hours and letting all my cares melt away. However, the only thing melting at this time was the daylight so it was time to make our way back.

The final portion of the trail crosses the road before the parking lot.  As I looked down the two lane road, I had to wonder how many people speed cross the bridge and never know the magnificent beauty that lies beyond.   I wonder how many times I’ve been one of those people…..

http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/bridal_dupont1.htm