Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mount Mitchell State Park

Candler, North Carolina (high 72, low 54)

On Thursday, we started our day on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at a Visitor center, and after a short visit there, a few miles further was the Folk Art Center. Local artists sell their wares, and there were some beautiful  items for sale.  There was a gorgeous quilt on display, but unfortunately they didn’t allow photos.  One  man was there making the nicest little whisk brooms.  They were really well made and I appreciated the fact that he made them by hand, but I decided not to pay $20 for a whisk broom.  It was a wonderful place to see local hand made crafts, but we left without buying any of the treasures.  One thing about living in a motor home, is it keeps you from buying more “stuff.”

Some parts of the Blue Ridge have more visitor centers and places to stop, but many areas have only scenic over looks.  Restroom facilities need to be visited when you find one, because you might not find one for quite a while.  This part of the parkway had a lot of visitor centers in one area, so stopped at them all, not wanting to miss anything.  After our first few trips on the Parkway, we broke down and bought a $10 map.  There are a lot of free ones, but they don’t give you the mile markers,  any of the roads to exit the parkway, or all the special places along the road.  It was a good investment and one I’d recommend.  It’s nice to know the quickest way to exit the parkway.  Just a reminder…don’t exit on Highway 151, unless you’re real brave!   One more reminder, is start with a full tank of gas.

I wrote about our stop at Craggy Gardens Overlook in the last post.   After we left there, we headed towards Mount Mitchell State Park, which wasn’t too far.

You have to leave the Parkway and head up the mountain to get to the park.  I was worried that the road up would be a narrow, scary, gravel road, but it wasn’t.  It was actually a very good road….except when we saw the 40 foot diesel pusher coming back down.

on the way to Mt Mitchell, highest elevation east of the Mississippi

We started the ascent at over 6000 feet elevation.  That was the highest we’ve even been at that point!


Not long after beginning our ascent up to the park, we started to notice the wonderful, sweet fragrance of the Red Spruce and Frazier Fir trees.  They are the most beautiful trees.

I wish I could bottle the wonderful fragrance.

Hike to overlook at Mt Mitchell

Unfortunately, for whatever reason the forest is dying.  Some are saying it is air pollution and acid rain from the factories in the state.  Others are saying it is a little insect called the Balsom Wooly Adelgid.  Many of the larger trees have died and it’s truly a shame because in my opinion, this is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen.   They have been spraying some sort of horticultural oil on the trees and we saw a lot of younger trees, so maybe that’s a good sign.

overlook at Mt Mitchell 6684 ft elevation

Oh….the fragrance.….try to imagine!

Aren’t these the most beautiful trees?

gorgeous fragrant trees at Mt Mitchell

This is not your normal state park. The highlight seems to be the scenic overlook.  There is a restaurant and a snack bar, and  9 tent camping sites, but no rv sites.  Not sure I’d want to take our motorhome up the mountain anyway.  Smile

There was a sign saying “fee area” ahead, but we never found a place to pay or any type of gate.

We parked the truck and then walked the steep path up to the scenic overlook.

In the picture below in the upper center, you can see some of the dead trees…..but this area was particularly fragrant, and while I was gasping Smile for air, I was enjoying the sweet smell.

Hike to overlook at Mt. MItchell

Since we started this uphill climb at over 6000 feet elevation, we could really feel it.  There were benches placed all along the path.

overlook at Mt Mitchell 6684 ft elevation

We finally made it to the top. This will be the highest point we will be until we head west.


The view from the overlook was spectacular, but like any area that’s so large, it’s very hard to capture it on “film.”

overlook at Mt Mitchell 6684 ft elevation

The dark areas were from the clouds above.


overlook at Mt Mitchell 6684 ft elevation

It was a little cool  up there.


You could see for miles in all directions and it was all gorgeous.  North Carolina is truly a beautiful state.

overlook at Mt Mitchell 6684 ft elevation

We reluctantly left the overlook and walked back down the trail to the parking lot.  I took a few minutes to try to burn that memory into my brain…. the sights and smells.   I think I will need to go back there again before we leave though, just to be sure I can pull up that memory whenever I want to.

Despite all the dead trees, it’s still a magnificent place and one well worth the trip.

When we left, as usual,  we were nearing the end of the day, we were in the middle of the Blue Ridge Parkway, not near the road off of the parkway, so we decided we’d better head home.

I think this was the best day we’ve had since we’ve been in North Carolina.  Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell….what a day.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge

Candler, NC  (high 77, low 52)

We’ve had some wonderful days and seen some amazing things since we’ve been here in North Carolina, but I think yesterday may have been my favorite so far.

Most everything we have done has involved the Blue Ridge Parkway one way or the other.  It’s the center of all that’s beautiful in this area.

The Blue Ridge is a National Scenic Highway.  It runs 469 miles from Virginia through North Carolina.  There are no commercial vehicles allowed, so everyone there is just enjoying the scenery.  There are many marked hiking trails, numerous waterfalls and primitive campgrounds.  There  is a scenic overlook every time you turn around, so there are plenty of places to stretch your legs, or take photographs.  There are some visitor centers with gift shops, and bathrooms, but there are no  gas stations….at least not that we’ve seen.  

The parkway runs pretty much on top of the mountains and there are not a lot of roads to get you on or off it.  Travel is slow, so if you’re in a hurry, stay away.    Make sure you fill your gas tank.   A big Rv can use it, but for the life of me, I don’t know why you’d want to.   The roads are good, but they are extremely curvy and the elevation is either going up or down constantly.  You have to really watch the road to avoid falling off the side of a mountain.  We’ve seen very few rv’s and they have been fairly small ones.  We did see a big diesel pusher up at Mt. Mitchell, but I don’t know why because there is no campground there  except for tents.

Al has been wanting to go to Mt Mitchell, so yesterday was the day.  Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi, at 6684 feet.   I was a little nervous (of course).

Our campground is right off Highway 151, which is also known as Mt. Pisgah Highway.  It will lead us straight?? up the mountain to connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway.   That is quickest way to get to the parkway, but we won’t use it again.  We made the mistake of going up Highway 151 the first day we were here….in the truck,  not the motorhome, thank God.  There are signs warning you that trucks should not drive on this road.  It was the curviest and steepest road I’ve even been on.  Many parts were extremely narrow and two cars meeting would have to be real careful.  We have made a point of getting to the Blue Ridge via other roads.

So, yesterday, we took the long way, and got onto the Blue Ridge and headed to Craggy Gardens.  We didn’t know what to expect, but it was on the way to Mt. Mitchell, which was our main goal.

There was a nice little scenic over look with a visitor center with gift items, and restrooms.

If you looked up, you could see the road ahead leading right through the mountain.  See the tunnel?

top of Craggy Gardens overlook, tunnel

There was a beautiful scenic overlook, so we took some time and enjoyed the view and took pictures.


We looked up to this peak in the next picture, and noticed people walking around on the top of the hill.  It was a long way up from the parking lot where we were.  We thought they were daredevils and didn’t know how the heck they got all the way up there.


We finally got back into the truck and proceeded through the tunnel and up the mountain.

tunnel at  Craggy Gardens overlook

Once we got up the mountain a little we discovered how those people got all the way on the top of that mountain.  There was a nice little trail.

Craggy Gardens overlook

It sounded like an easy one, since it was only .7 of a mile…but we knew better.  We knew it would be straight up a mountain at 6000 feet!

Craggy Dome

It was a very pretty trail though and well worth the effort.

top of Craggy Gardens overlook

We started out going through a tunnel of Rhododendron's.  They will be in full bloom and gorgeous in May and June…and we hope to be here then.

Trail to Craggy Overlook, thru the Rhododendrom's


trail to Craggy Gardens overlook

It was a beautiful hike up.

trail to Craggy Gardens overlook

The view was spectacular and the fall color is really starting to appear.

Craggy Gardens overlook

6086  foot elevation at top of Craggy Gardens overlook

See the parking lot down below in the following picture?   That’s where we initially parked and looked up at the people on the top of the mountain.

We’re at 6086 feet elevation.

Craggy Gardens overlook


There was a pretty lake down below.

Craggy Gardens overlook

6086  foot elevation at top of Craggy Gardens overlook

The trip back down the trail was much easier.

trail to Craggy Gardens overlook

We loved Craggy Gardens, but our main goal was Mt. Mitchell.  I’ll cut this post short and do one on Mt. Mitchell tomorrow.  It was the most amazing place and we plan to go back before we leave.

White Squirrels and Carl Sandburg

Candler, NC (temp 80, low 50)

We’ve had several very busy days, and have done a lot of exploring and hiking.
We’ve checked out some campgrounds in our travels and found a few that will be nice for future visits, one of which was a Thousand Trails park.

We like to check out campgrounds when we’re visiting an area because we can’t fit our rig into just any campgrounds anymore.  We love our big rig, but there were definitely advantages when we had our 32 foot motor home.

I think I am going to put together another blog just for campgrounds.  It won’t be anything fancy, but just as a guide for us when we’re trying to remember what a place looks like.  We always think we can remember these places, but we’re learning the older we get, the less we’re remembering.

We drove to Lenoir, North Carolina. There were some beautiful parts of the Blue Ridge that we wanted to explore a little more and that’s where the Thousand Trails campground was located.  We also discovered a little restaurant that had eastern North Carolina style barbeque, so we blew our vegan diet and ate lunch there.  It was very good, almost as good as what I grew up on High Point, NC.

You can see what they had to do to build the Blue Ridge Parkway. It looks like they were worried about rock slides in this area.

mountain road
There were beautiful mountain streams, many waterfalls, and a few lakes.  It was beautiful every where we looked.

price lake, nc

We had a very long day, but did manage to make it home before dark.  One time of driving home at dark was enough for us.

We had heard North Carolina has a population of white squirrels, so our mission was to find them. They live in the city of Brevard.  It’s a beautiful little town (as are most of them here).
We were successful in finding some cute white squirrels.  They are not albino.

white squirrel, Brevard NC

They were very playful, probably from the cool weather.

white squirrel, Brevard NC

Another stop that day was to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.  They raised trout for restocking and management programs. They offered fly fishing classes and had some nice hiking trails.  This bear was a fake one that they used as a decoy to catch illegal hunters.

Fish hatchery mt pisgah national forest

It was a very nice little free place and we found a real nice campground nearby.  (more on that when I get some time)

Here is Al feeding some of the trout. 

Fish hatchery mt pisgah national forest

We got back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and found some more amazing views.  The Blue Ridge runs over 400 miles, so there are plenty of different places to explore.

Blue Ridge Parkway overlook

The fall foliage is just starting to turn, but in some areas it’s getting pretty nice.

Looking Glass Rock Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking Glass Rock Blue Ridge Parkway

We drove down to a place on the Parkway, called Graveyard Fields.  It’s supposed to be the first area where the foliage starts to change.

Near Graveyard Fields on Blue Ridge

Near Graveyard Fields on Blue Ridge

You could tell there had been a fire there a few years ago.

There was a nice little trail down to a pretty waterfall.

Near Graveyard Fields on Blue Ridge

waterfalls  Near Graveyard Fields on Blue Ridge

You could continue the hike and find the second part of the waterfall.  As usual, we were running out of daylight and didn’t have the time.

Wednesday found us at the home of the poet  Carl Sandburg.
This lake was visible from the porch on his home up on the hill.


He lived there 22 years and did about 1/3 of his writings there.

It’s a 240 acre working farm.  His wife raised champion milk goats and some of their descendants are still on the farm.

The parking lot is on the bottom of the hill.  You have to walk way up the hill to the office and house.  We paid $3.00 each with Al’s Senior pass, and got a nice guided tour of the house.
When Carl died his wife sold the property to the state as it was.  She just packed her personal things and left the rest.  She wanted it preserved for the people to enjoy.

The entire house was filled with books and magazines, and the personal property of the family.


His office where he usually wrote all night long.


I enjoyed looking at the old kitchen.


The next picture is the view from the front porch.

Notice the fish pond?   It turns out there were a some of my favorite friends residing there.


The tour guide pointed them out to us and said she had been trying to get a picture of them, but never could quite get them.



After we toured the house, visited the goats and made friends with a few of the barn cats, and then we decided to take a hike up the mountain.

It started off easy enough, going through the orchard.


Soon, we were hiking straight up a big old mountain.   It was a good trail, but it really kicked our butts.


We finally make it to Big Glassy Overlook.



We are not used to hiking in mountain, we are not used to the elevation, and we are out of shape.  Yep, it about kicked our butts!  We put on nearly 4 miles by the time we left the Sandburg place.

We extended our stay again…  We’re now planning on leaving next Thursday.     It’s hard to leave this beautiful state.