Day One | Day Two | Day Three
When Norma said she wanted to go to Asheville, North Carolina, I wasn't sure what to think. I thought maybe she had some friends there or had some other connection. No, she just read about it and wanted to go there.
The last time I was in North Carolina, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune in 1991. I rarely left the base and regret not having experienced the local culture while I was there. Now was my chance.
We left early on December 27, 2006. It was a good 8 hour drive from Washington D.C. We listened to a good deal of bluegrass music on the way up to get us in the mountain mood.
Asheville is described as a "mountain getaway with a delightfully cool climate, a base to explore the great outdoors...a sophisticated town with a very cool climate of creativity, a place to explore shops, galleries and museums."
- from Asheville Official 2006 Visitor Guide
Day One: December 28, 2006
On our first full day in North Carolina, we went to Chimney Rock Park, a Natural Heritage Site first purchased by Dr. Lucius Morse who came to the site in 1902. The Morse family still owns and operates the park.
At $14 per adult, entrance was expensive compared to other parks...but well worth it. It soon became obvious the money was being well spent maintaining the numerous stairs, decks, and boardwalks that made accessing the scenic overlooks easy for young and old alike.
The entrance to the park resides at 1080 feet above sea level. After a little driving, we started our exploring at the beginning of the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. Not sure of the elevation, but I'm guessing it is about 1700 feet based on the position of surrounding objects of known elevation. Norma and I walked on the trail then up several flights of stairs to the rocky areas that made the park famous.
The morning started out cold. On the drive up, we saw snow and ice. But the day was sunny and after walking uphill, we were comfortable. The forecast called for 55 degrees. We stopped at the Cliff Dwellers shop to remove some layers.
Near the shop, Norma read information about the area in front of Vista Rock. See first photo at left.
We walked up the narrow Needles Eye, appropriately named because of the narrow passage between rocks. Not a good place for a big person or someone with a large backpack. Note to self, "Wear a frameless soft backpack next time."
Norma poses next to some layered boulders near Pulpit Rock (see second photo at left). Continuing up the rock, we caught a view of the valley below, cut by Rocky Broad River (see third photo at left).
We continued up to Chimney Rock, elevation 2280 feet. The sunny weather and low humidity made for fantastic visibility. See fourth photo at left.
Norma and I crossed a bridge 258 feet above the parking lot below that connects the Sky Lounge gift shop/deli to the base of the Chimney Rock stairs. Near this bridge, lichens grow on the rocks. These patches of silver-gray and brown are a combination of algae and fungi. They exude weak acids which dissolve the rock so that mosses can grow. The mosses act as "soil catchers." After awhile, enough soil is present for larger plants to grow.
- from sign at Sky Lounge bridge
Continuing our upward trek, we stopped at another overlook called Opera Box, where we got a nice view of Chimney Rock, now below. See fifth photo at left.
Our highest stop was Devil's Head. The rock must have looked like the head of a devil to someone but I didn't see it (see sixth photo at left). Not sure of the elevation but I'm estimating about 2350 feet. Again, we had another great view of Chimney Rock (see seventh photo at left).
We wanted to continue on Skyline Trail and Cliff Trail to the top of Hickory Nut Falls but unfortunately, these trails were closed due to ice hazards.
Heading back down, Norma and I stopped at Moonshiner's Cave, a small natural cave. This cave is nearly a vertical fissure in the mountainside created when a landslide, earthquake, or some similar upheaval split the huge granite blocks beneath Chimney Rock. While there are no records of stills being operated in Moonshiner's Cave, moonshiners were known to have distilled illegal "shine" in other caves in Hickory Nut Gorge.
- from trail sign in park
Norma and I then hiked the easy 0.75 mile Hickory Nut Falls Trail to the base of the falls. These falls are 404 feet from top to bottom (see eighth photo at left). Scrambling up rocks near the base of the falls, we saw some leafless vegetation covered with a thick layer of ice (see ninth photo at left).
After our day at Chimney Rocks Park, we headed to the North Carolina Arboretum. Surrounded by the Southern Appalachian Mountains and adjacent to the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, the Arboretum is comprised of 434 acres and offers 65 acres of cultivated gardens, and 10 miles of trails.
- from Arboretum brochure
From the Visitor Education Center, we began a short circuit hike on Running Cedar Road. This took us to Bent Creek Trail which followed Bent Creek. The wood chip covered trail made for easy walking. See tenth photo at left.
At the west side of the park, we picked up Carolina Mountain Trail. This took us past the greenhouse and back to the start around dusk.
Norma and I caught dinner at Doc Chey's pan Asian cuisine in downtown Asheville. Though most things were closed, it was obvious that Asheville is a town full of atmosphere...a place worth seeing in the daytime as well as at night.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Two: December 29, 2006
The day started much as yesterday. Cold in the morning but clear and sunny. It was a good day for a serious hike.
I never heard of Cold Mountain but Norma was familiar with a book and movie by the same name. This piqued her interest and got her in planning mode for a serious hike.
We drove to Camp Daniel Boone on Little East Fork Road (SR1129), went past Ledbetter Lodge, then parked on the east side of the road near the Art Loeb Trailhead. This is the northwest side of the end of trail 146.
On the west side of the road was Pigeon River, a scenic stream (see first photo at left). On the east side was Shining Rock Wilderness, a subset of Pisgah National Forest.
Norma and I donned our blaze orange hunting vests. Don't know if there was hunting in the area but after our Big Savage Mountain Trail hike, we weren't taking any chances. We began our hike at 0850. The trailhead was 3239 feet above sea level, according to my global positioning system (GPS). The path was often rocky with a variety of uphills and downhills. We saw no wildlife but we did see a few interesting things. Woody vines wrapped themselves around each other while a green vine spiraled down (see second photo at left). Fungus on a tree revealed a curious pattern (see third photo at left). A fallen tree with a spiral grain pattern caught our attention (see fourth photo at left). I found a large hollow tree trunk (see fifth photo at left).
The sunny parts of the mountain were fairly warm while the shady areas remained cold. At the lower levels, ice grew out of the ground with an interesting grainy pattern (see sixth photo at left). At higher elevations, snow covered the ground (see seventh photo at left).
We crossed numerous small streams (see eighth and ninth photos at left).
Near the northernmost side of trail 146 at Deep Gap, we ran into a family of backpackers (our first human encounter) and a nice campsite. We stopped for a short break then headed northeast on trail 141.
Near the top of the mountain, there was a cold water spring at north 35 degrees 24.574 minutes, west 82 degrees 51.741 minutes, elevation 5645 feet. Good thing to know if you choose a campsite near the summit. See tenth photo at left.
We reached the summit at 1300, elevation 6030 feet according to the National Geographic Pisgah Ranger District map 780. My GPS reported a maximum height of 6045 feet. The view was fantastic and definitely worth the climb. See eleventh and twelfth photos at left. Also see the photo at the top left corner of the page.
A very friendly collie accompanied some hikers from the road to the summit. Nobody knew who the owner was. See thirteenth photo at left.
We finished the hike at 1700. My GPS said the hike was only 9.34 miles while an on-line report said it was 10.6 miles. Whatever the distance, it was a strenuous hike. Even with stops for breaks, it was hard to believe it took over 8 hours to complete the journey. There was 2800 feet of altitude gain (according to one website) and 3390 feet of total ascent (according to my GPS).
If you want to do this same hike or backpack in this area, I suggest you take note of the following information:
Pisgah Ranger District
1001 Pisgah Highway
Pisgah Forest, North Carolina 28768
Blue Ridge Parkway weather and road conditions
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Three: December 30, 2006
On our final full day in North Carolina, Norma and I went to the famous Biltmore Estate, America's largest home. This 250 room house on 8000 acres was the home of George W. Vanderbilt (1862-1914), grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The home was opened as a private reisdence in 1895. In 1930, it was opened to the public at the request of Asheville leaders hoping to increase tourism during the Great Depression.
- from brochure at the Biltmore Estate
We walked through the house and saw some beautiful furniture and architecture. There was a turn of the century style gym, swimming pool, and bowling alley in the basement. A plethora of rooms were required to house the servants.
After visiting the house, we caught a late lunch at Stable Cafe where we ate a southern cuisine sampler. Our waiter told us the estate brings a million tourists per year. At $40-$44 per adult, the place is a great source of revenue for the area as well as a huge employer.
Norma and I headed to the esplanade (see first photo at left), walked around the grounds, through the gardens, and in the greenhouse. We saw a paperbark maple tree (see second photo at left), purple leaf European beech tree (see third photo at left), some plant with tenacles (see fourth photo at left), and various orchids (see fifth photo at left).
A nice view to the west was seen from the south terrace. See sixth photo at left.
A late dinner was eaten at Jack of the Wood Pub where we also saw some live bluegrass music.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Too many people only associate getting outdoors and hiking with the warmer months. While the long days certainly make for easier planning, the low humidity and high visibility of winter holds its own unique beauty. It would have been nice to have seen Black Mountain and Grandfather Mountain but with a long drive home and rain throughout the day, we decided to head back to Maryland on December 31, 2006. Maybe we'll catch North Carolina again during a warmer season, finish our adventure, and possibly paddle the French Broad River too.
Norma planned, organized, and led this trip. She did a fantastic job in doing so. I am thankful to have shared this experience with her.