Banner Elk, TN Oct. 19
Today was the quintessential road journey: the road was the journey in many ways. It is back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We will have only traveled about one-third of the Blue Ridge by the end of tomorrow when we will leave it. Today we were back in mountains, but also began to view sections of the parkway with meadows, valleys and even human habitation. Once again, the skies are clear although it is cooler; at daybreak the temperature is close to the freezing mark. By noon it is in the 50s, much cooler than previous days.
Our first stop was to be the little town of Little Switzerland, supposedly postcard perfect. One way to reach it would have involved driving the “Diamondback”, a switchback frenzy road similar to “The Dragon”. We passed on it and took the parkway instead. Little Switzerland was not worth it and we said a quick good-bye and headed to Linville Falls.
Before we reached the Falls, we stopped at an overlook with great views. Well worth the time. However, we observed an unknown structure far off in the distance on top of one of the mountains. We later discovered that it was a condo building constructed in the early 2000s. Its construction created such a stir about how its size and location desecrated the mountain and the view for others. North Carolina then passed the “Ridge Law” prohibiting any future construction of buildings above a certain size and height on ridge tops.
Linville Falls is a NPS maintained site along the Blue Ridge. There is an upper twin falls and then a lower falls. The falls are located in a deep gorge and we were able to hike to a vantage point where we could look down on both the upper and lower falls. The Trail was busier than most of the trails since we left Gatlinburg. This is still the Appalachians so the trails continue to be rocky, with tree roots, and with elevation gain. The falls are not stupendously high, I believe the lower falls are 80 feet tall.
Grandfather Mountain was our next stop. Grandfather is well-known in the Southeast, it has been a destination for tourists for decades. In fact, when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was being considered as one of the first national parks in the East, Grandfather Mountain was also a prime contender to be the first. The area is now in two sections; one is owned by a private family who has owned it for decades as a private entertainment/tourist site, the second portion is now owned by the state as a park from land first owned by the family who owns the private section. We spend the majority of our time with the private section.
Our first stop was the headquarters to watch their 27 minute video. It was extremely well-done; highlighting the geology, fauna, flora, and weather of Grandfather Mountain. It was produced recently by Clemson University, located not far from here in South Carolina. Part of the information was new, other sections we have been hearing several times recently.
For instance, rhododendron plant leaves curl up as the temperatures decrease. When the temperature reaches freezing, the leaves start to droop down. When the temps reach around 15 degrees, the leaves curl up in a fashion similar to a cigar.
As we may have mentioned previously, this area encompassing the Blue Ridge, Great Smoky Mountains, etc is extremely diverse in types of plants. One reason stems from the glaciers. As the ice age moved southward and southerly temperatures more closely approximated northern temps, many plants began to propagate at a more southerly location. The higher elevations also are cooler so plants once introduced here could continue to thrive at the higher elevation.
The mountains, with their range of elevation, produces varying weather conditions. Thus a lower elevation will be warmer and support plants and animals appropriate for that temperature and weather. We have read or heard numerous times lately that the diversity of flora and fauna in this mountainous section of the country is unparalleled anywhere else in the U.S.
Lunch was interesting. As we drove up to the gate to pay our admission, we got behind a tour bus. It was one of two buses, the other was already through the gate, full of school kids on an outing. Well, they got to the restaurant before us and that was the prime reason we saw the video first. By the time the video was over, the kids were just finishing up and tables were beginning to have a few open spaces. I asked one of the chaperones where the kids were going next and we managed to avoid them for the remainder of the afternoon.
After lunch we drove up to the top of Grandfather Mountain. Here at an elevation of 5278 feet above sea level is a suspension bridge hanging over a chasm 80 feet deep. Despite not liking to look down from heights, I managed to make it over the bridge-and back again. Chris has an easier time and was able to take the photos from the bridge itself.
We went back and viewed the museum at Grandfather Mountain and then headed out to Linn Cove viaduct. This viaduct was the last portion of the road constructed. (The general contractor was from Plymouth MN.) The road goes over the boulder field for Grandfather Mountain and environmentalists fought for years to either not have it built or to build it in a way that did not harm the environment. The roadway is cantilevered out over space. The bridge was eventually built using a European method of construction never previously used in the U.S. 193 concrete sections were put together, only one of them was straight. The bridge was built placing each new section at the end of the previous section. Not at all like the process used by the CCC crews in the ’30s when they pretty much just moved rock and paved.
Our last stop was at the Mast General Store in Vallee Crucis. This is one of those old-time stores now catering to tourists. We only visited a portion of it, the section devoted to outdoor clothing by Woolrich, Pendleton, Smartwool, Patagonia, etc.
We met our Evergreen hosts for the next two nights and had dinner at a local diner not far from their home. Another friendly couple with a very welcoming attitude.
Ed and Chris 10:30 pm