This blog and pictorial is offered in celebration of the season which I can best characterize as North Carolina Autumn. Camus offered that “autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” It is a season that makes me giddy, perhaps a remnant of childhood when we would laugh and leap into a pile of leaves on a crisp cold day, and the penultimate reward was a bag full of sugar-rush and chocolate for having dressed up in some fanciful garb on Halloween. To this day, walking through colored forests puts me in mind of being in a joyful cartoon. Our trip to immerse ourselves in the North Carolina Autumn in quest of color and waterfalls reconnected me for a week with my east coast childhood memories and feelings. It is never too late to have a happy childhood!
And so the tale begins.
October 16, 2014
I have lost track of how much time I have spent traveling in the last few days. It has been two days since we left the relentless rain of Alaska’s wettest season in 104 years. A late night ferry ride to Juneau, arriving beyond the hour of midnight but in time for gratitude at having a place to land my head before spending the day visiting my dermatologist (who curiously lives in Haines, but only works in Juneau), a bit of shopping before handing my car off to the first of series of repair shops who will pass my car off to subsequent shops for subsequent repairs in my absence over the next ten days. And we are up at the crack of dawn to begin the dosey-doe of airlines to whisk us off to Charlotte North Carolina.
I have lost track of how much time I have spent travelling when I awake at 6:00 a.m. in North Carolina. I have not yet set my watch, which reminds me it would be 2:00 a.m. in my usual reality. I have slept about four hours after travelling four time zones but my body knows when it is time to get moving (curiously I seem to still be in the minority at the Econolodge) and I have woken up sorting through inventory of camera equipment in my mind and working on how to sort/stage/travel with a very modest array (travelling mode) of one camera body, three lenses, five filters, and one tripod.
We never got our usual road trip accomplished this year, so I decided to explore a place I have never been. I lived on the east coast for about twenty-five years and never drove the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway. As is so often the case, we tend to neglect our own backyards, though from my home of New Hampshire, North Carolina did not feel like a backyard, but coming from Alaska, my sense of scale has been redefined. There is a chance for splendid foliage and waterfalls. We missed a large measure of autumn in Alaska this year due to winds and weather stripping the trees as soon as they turned. Most importantly, it is a chance to visit a new best friend. I recently rekindled a close friendship with Elaine at my brother’s wedding, where we took great solace in each others company being two of the very few straight people at a gay wedding. (Ironically, this straight fellow was the only guy in a skirt (kilt), too!)
It is exciting to once again follow the lens, and getting the boots on new ground. We have never been to Charlotte, and heading toward Asheville and Brevard is all new terrain to explore. It will be an adventure, which I am always up for, but by definition adventures have no guarantee of success, risk the chance of failure, and entail the possibility of infinite surprises. These things are not on my bucket list, but the list has an uncanny tendency to generate itself. Besides, it is NOT a bucket list, it is living life. (I actually refuse to have a “bucket list”. I plan to live forever, and so far, so good.) There was a sense of excitement getting off the plane knowing it is a new airport, even though it looks like a lot of other airports, and bears an uncanny resemblance to LAX.
…. photos shared by Elaine on my timeline in Facebook show swollen and raging falls in the Pisgah National Forest due to recent rains, and foliage in full force at low elevations. Will the rivers be too swollen? Have we overshot the peak time for foliage? Is there a chance of failure?
… at 6 a.m. I am wondering, where is the sun?
… at 7 a.m. I am wondering, where is the sun?
We arrive in Brevard & Elaine’s wonderful home in Connesstee Falls. It is fun to see new trees and hear new birds. It is a bit late in the day and we enjoy just sitting down and visiting and catching up, but eventually we get up and out and make a short jaunt to see some of the local sights. Elaine runs us down to Dupont State Forest where we have an opportunity to stretch our legs and take the short hike down to Hooker Falls. A fellow photographer on the scene says the water is still high, but not nearly what it was a few days earlier during the unseasonable monsoon.We visit Hooker Falls in Dupont State Recreational Forest and Atagahi Lake. I am relieved to see the water is clean and the leaves are colorful. After a wonderful supper, I finally get a full night’s sleep.
On our first full day out, we drive up through the Pisgah National Forest (home of the first Forestry School in the US as provided by George Vanderbuilt for his property) and photographed Looking Glass Falls (twice). We enjoy lunch in Asheville, and then continue up the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Craggy Gardens, where the foliage was pretty well blown off from high winds during the previous week. Mount Mitchell was bare of foliage, but the air was sweet with spruce and fir. Lots of green left in lower elevations waiting for the second wave of foliage. Stopping along the road to explore views, we paused to admire the adirondack rock and found garnet schist’s.
On Carolyn’s list of things to do is the Southern Highland Craft Fair in Asheville, so we shift our sightseeing away from behind the camera for the first part of the day and enjoy the opportunity to admire the displays of local craftsmen; I cannot help but select a few tokens to take home. It is great to collect chotchkies and momentos to remind us of travels here and there. One piece at the fair got my attention in particular. A piece of pottery depicting a group of amphibians stacked upon one another, capped by a dragonfly. It is, in fact, a toad-em pole, and we have a totem pole in town next to our library that is capped by a dragonfly. How cool and prophetic is that? Having helped a few starving artists, I cannot completely avoid the need to foto the foliage, so we head up to Linville Falls. Lovely country, but the photo ops of the falls was minimal despite high recommendations on a favored photography forum. I made the best of things as I could. Back home to Brevard, where we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the clubhouse with Elaine.
We decided to avoid the leaf peepers on the Blue Ridge Parkway today, being Sunday of the peak weekend. Pokey peepers, aka the “Liege of leisure.” The first stop is Whitewater Falls just short of the South Carolina border, then on to Gorges State Park, which has earned its name, even if misspelled. One and a half mile hike up to Rainbow Falls, which also has earned its name. As I walked through the mist I could see a full circle rainbow travelling along directly in front of me. Quite misty!! (Failed photo op). Another quarter-mile to Turtleback Falls, and another quarter-mile up to Drift Falls, which fails to provide any decent photo opportunity being on private property, and behind very unfriendly signs and enough extraneous foliage to be a poor photograph. We back-track to take a social trail down to Stairway Falls. Getting tired on the trail, but the brief detour turns out to be well worth the effort. Back at the car, we make one last stop and short hike to check out Upper Bearwallow Falls, but it is not worth the time photographically. Lovely country!!
We are up and off early to Great Smokey Mountain National Park. I feel compelled to rename it Great Smokey Mountain National Cluster Flock. Everywhere there are lines of cars resembling stampeders on the Golden Stairs of the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. There is a long line of cars stopped in queue to find a place to park at Clingmans Dome, and at that point we change our mind and turn around. Got to visit Tennessee briefly (slap the border and turn back.) High points of the day were the Grist mill, Morgan Gap, and sunset shots!
On our first stop to the mill, three buses were in the parking lot and the grounds were covered in tourists elbow to elbow all straining to hear an interpretive ranger speaking. We retreated and came back a few hours later to find the site all but empty of tourists, providing the ideal condition for my camera work.
We had a brief moment of panic in the parking lot of the Gristmill when we were ready to leave. I have rented a car that has a keyless fob (a new item in my life at the time) who had control issues. When I went to start the car, a warning light came on that essentially said the car could not communicate with the fob and some error was involved. I used to be a mechanic, when a screwdriver and a pair of pliers could usually get a soul out of any jam. There was a reason I gave that all up, and this seemed to be a good example of my thinking at the time. No cell phone service to contact the rental agency either. Dang. When in doubt, reboot … I removed the fob’s battery, put it back in, and VOILA we are off and running again. On the way back toward Brevard, I have heard there is yet another waterfall in the Cherokee reservation nearby. One last opportunity!
Foliage continues to get better and better! This is comforting country and walking through these colorful forests fills me with awe. We spend the first part of the day hiking in the Dupont Forest to High Falls, Covered Bridge, and Triple Falls (lots of photos not included in the blog on a gallery link at the end of the page.) After putting a few miles on the boots we are back in the car and head up once again through the Pisgah National Forest (becoming a favored old friend) to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Graveyard Fields (nicer than it sounds) to visit Lower Falls. There are wonderful tunnels of rhododendrons on the way down to the falls, making the area even more magical than expected. Rabbit holes! It is wonderland, regardless of the name.
Up Pisgah one more time to visit Moore Cove Falls where we are treated to a rainbow in the falls. Then back down to Dupont Forest for a final walk from Reasonover Road to Bridal Veil Falls. We are back home before 6, and Elaine wonders what is wrong??
On our way out toward our last leg of our journey, reflections and colors remind me I am not in any particular hurry to leave the neighborhood of wonder.
After a great week of wonderful adventures in new country and comfortable evenings in great company with Elaine, we bid our fond farewells and return to Charlotte via the house that Vanderbuilt. We were told it was a “must-see” attraction, and indeed it was a great finale to a fine holiday.
What was amazing to discover, is that this is George’s little farmhouse. He was not interested in pursuing the family business, and was given a “daughter’s share” of the family inheritance, which still permitted him to buy up great tracks of land and engage in sustainable agricultural industries. Look it up, it is well worth the discovery!
Not much to say about this day except that it consumed 17 hours travel to get back to Juneau, where we spent the night before a few more hours of travel home to Haines on the ferry. Exhausted and well spent, the time was indeed well spent, and of course it was great to be back home where, guess what, it was still raining!
There are a lot more photos to share with you, on the North Carolina gallery at: https://timenspace.smugmug.com/Collections/North-Carolina/
Enjoy the show!