North Carolina was one of several states I traveled through shortly after “Sandy” blew through the east last fall. Not that it was a very colorful autumn to begin with, but what was left of the color was stripped from the trees before I arrived here the first week of November. I was horribly disappointed from a photographic point of view, and I vowed that I would return. My desire to get back through the Smoky Mountain area is what prompted me to hover in Florida for the winter instead of heading west as I had planned. I couldn’t bare the thought of capturing so much diverse beauty across the country and have nothing to show for it in several states I knew to be far prettier than what I witnessed.
I should say I have no regrets in the long run. If one has to hover for the winter, Florida is a pretty darn good place to do it! In lieu of autumn color, I’m enjoying the freshness of spring on my journey back north. As you know from my last post, I was quite taken with an unexpected beauty I found in the mountains of Georgia. From there I traveled through South Carolina, camping for a couple of nights in Devil’s Fork State Park. After several hours of kayaking in heavy winds on Lake Jocassee, I went in search of some hikes and waterfalls. Unfortunately most of the trails were closed at 5:00 (or at least the parking lots were) so I only made it out to one! I did think it was a bit odd that they pulled in the welcome mats that early with plenty of daylight left, but assume budget and staffing is to blame.
While in route to the hikes I didn’t get to take, I did a double-take at the sight of this big ‘ol guy. As I often do with animals, I took a few pictures as I advanced (you never know at what moment they will flee), but when I squatted down for the perfect shot THROUGH the fence he didn’t run, nor snort and paw at the earth. He stood up and slowly ambled over to greet me, and actually welcomed a gentle face rub. No bull! Well, actually, quite a LOT of bull!!
While camped in Florida I met Trish and RD Daniels, a fun and active couple who live in Newland, NC. They invited me to visit on my way north, assuring me that I’d love the area. They also graciously offered to make arrangements for me at a very quiet campsite right along Elk River. How could I pass that up??? Some of the very best of what I’ve seen across this country was at the suggestion of a someone I meet along the way. (Meet Trish and RD here… Memories of Florida)
There was one special place I really wanted to see on my way north though, and it was close enough to my route to want it all the more. When Elissa flew out to visit me in Asheville last fall I took her on a day hike out to Triple Falls in Dupont State Forest. We enjoyed the hike and fresh air with the girls, but again… knew it would be much prettier at a different time of year. I wanted to take her back out there, if only in spirit!
In mapping it, I found that traveling through Caesar’s Head State Park (SC) was the shortest distance to get there, but definitely not a route for a monster motorhome! Sooooo, I set about locating any businesses with large parking lots near the turn-off to Caesar’s Head. There was very little to chose from, but when I zoomed in on the satellite view on Google Maps I found a couple of “spots” that gave me hope. A few phone calls led me to the manager of a small and conveniently located restaurant who said, “No problem. We’re closed that day anyway. Your motorhome will be safe here.” Yay! I sure like nice people!
Triple Falls was one of the locations used in the movie The Hunger Games. And, as you can see if you compare it to the pictures in this post, it looks much different in the spring than it did in late autumn. I’d still love to see it surrounded by vibrant fall colors one day!!
Knowing how much I love to hike, especially in scenic places, Trish started a list as soon as I told her I was coming to visit. By the time I arrived she had a full page of activities she thought I’d enjoy, many of which we tackled during my short visit!!
The night I arrived at my great little campsite along the river, she and RD drove down the mountain to see me, and whisked me out to Elk River Falls.
The following morning Trish and I did a hike up to the top of Table Rock.The 360 degree view was spectacular!
We did a second hike that day, out to Upper Creek Falls in Pisgah National Forest. Twice we took our shoes off and forged the river to reach another trail. Both times I considered how exhilirating it would be to slip into one of the cool pools of fresh mountain water.
The following morning we drove out to Grandfather Mountain where Trish had arranged for me to meet their director of communications, Landis Taylor. Landis met us at the gate and took us on a personal tour on the mountain, starting at the top. I should add that it was a VERY windy day, with gusts nearing 60mph at the summit. The moment our car doors were torn from our hands we knew the hike/climb up to Calloway Peak, which we had planned for the day, was not likely to happen. It’s far too exposed AND steep!
We went so far as to move our cars around to a protected side of the visitors center. As we were walking (with effort) toward the Swinging Bridge, Landis told us a funny story. She walked out into that very parking lot to meet up with a news crew who had come out to do a story in even higher winds, and something the reporter was holding (a scarf I think) blew right out of her hands. Landis went racing after it and, with the cameras rolling, was literally swept off her feet! Needless to say she made the evening news!
As windy as it was, I couldn’t resist the urge to walk across the mile high, 228′ long “Swinging Bridge”. Not an experience for someone who is afraid of heights nor, on that particular day, for the weak of heart (or for that matter, the light of weight!) I was holding on all the way across and back. That didn’t stop me from pulling my camera out for a few pictures!
Landis then led us to the Grandfather Mountain Animal Habitats. These natural enclosures are home to two cougars and four black bear, along with some river otter and white tailed deer. Their newest additions are two bald eagle named Griffin and Isis.
Our delightful hostess, Landis, led us farther up the path and told us about Grandfather Mountain’s Green Initiative while strolling past the Earth-friendly Fudge Shop. Of course I had to check this out! It’s rare I indulge in this kind of calorie/sugar high, but yummmmmm!
Next stop was the Nature Museum which, amongst many other things, is home to the finest collection of North Carolina gems and minerals available on public display.
Our only disappointment on Grandfather Mountain was not being able to do our intended hike, but we knew we would be back in a day or two for that, so we drove away happy. I was highly impressed with this place, not only for the extraordinary views and trails, but for their efforts to preserve the natural habitat and keep it all earth friendly while hosting thousands of visitors each year.
A big thank you to Landis Taylor, for the informative tour and amusing stories during our visit there!!!!
From Grandfather Mountain we headed out for a safer hiking option for the day… South Harpers Creek. The long trail through the woods led us to the top of Harper Creek Falls with a stunning vertical drop I didn’t dare to get any closer to than this…
Farther up the trail (and a safe distance from the main fall) we forged yet another river crossing in order to hike out to a breathtaking bluff (literally takes your breath away!) overlooking the falls. Getting any closer to the edge was NOT an option, and the image really doesn’t do justice to the magnitude of the height of the bluff, nor the sheer drop of the falls.
The following day we finally got our hike on Grandfather Mountain! It was still windy, but with gusts nearing only 50mph it seemed like “child’s play” compared to the day before. What the heck! We’re a couple of brave, sure-footed women right??? Our hike/climb up Grandfather Trail would lead us to the top of Calloway peak, the highest point along the Blue Ridge Escarpment at an elevation of 5, 946 feet.
The first thing we encountered as we set out was a sign warning us how difficult the trail was. I shoved my hat (for fear of losing it) and my camera (for fear of breaking it) into my backpack and we headed out. I’ll let the images tell the rest of the tale. Keep in mind these scenes ARE the trail, and in many you’ll see the blue arrows marking the way.
The wind gusts were intense at every exposed place on the trail, but nothing like they were at the top, where we literally crawled and crab-walked across the narrower boulders as we neared the peak.
I had to stick around awhile longer just to take in the stunning view. We had been told that on a clear day you could see all the way to Charlotte! I wouldn’t be surprised. While there it occurred to me that I hiked to much higher elevations in the North Cascades, Sierra Nevada’s and Rockies, but never to the “top”, where the view led to infinity for 360 degrees. There was always another higher peak nearby.
There was more to enjoy along the trail than the stunning view…
And we lived to tell about it! Actually, the hike was exhilarating, and got my heart beating a little faster a time or two, but we took those places cautiously and never felt unsafe. It left me wanting to do it again actually! And I will… when I return… which I will.
A very special thank you to Trish and RD, for the invitation to visit their beautiful part of the country, for their hospitality, and especially for Trish’s planning on my behalf. There was more to my visit that, for lack of space I am unable to share here, but I am grateful for every bit of it! Many thanks!!
As a side note I have to add that this post about my time in North Carolina is lagging behind the experience by about three weeks. My travels often take me off-grid, where I have no wifi and often no cell service. I LOVE those places, and relish the breaks from being so “plugged in”, but the experiences are always followed by a bit of stress as I scramble to catch up. I rely heavily on my cell phone and internet connection for communicating, researching, planning, and blogging (that’s making a very short list out of a painfully long one!)
Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets other than falling back into the old habit of bringing needless stress into my life. I enjoy sharing my journey, and am grateful to know so many are traveling along with me virtually. It is you faithful “followers” who give me a sense of obligation to be consistent with my postings. In order to relieve myself of some self imposed stress, let me just say this… if I go quiet for awhile, know that I am most likely off-grid, and having the time of my life… at one with nature!!
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