Friday, October 24, 2014

Appalachian Adventures!

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that Goddamn mountain.” Jack Kerouac

I had to start with this quote because it feels synonymous with our trek and the Blue Ridge Mountains and I love Jack Kerouac, so any reason I can to quote him, I will. We left the bustle of the city for the age old Appalachians, hankering for some down time and seeking the opportunity to follow our mountainous roots. We needed to get back to nature, hitting the hiking trails and just bask in the grandeur of Mother Nature.

North Carolina Arboretum
Being from Utah there is a vast difference between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. Yes, I can already hear those used to the Rockies, calling the Appalachians lovely rolling hills and although they might not peak as high as the Rockies, they do possess a wisdom and spirit that the Rockies do not. These “hills” were once as high or higher that the Rockies but being four times older than the Rocky Mountains, they have had more time to erode and eventually whittle down to what we see today.  Can I say I prefer one to the other? No! They both have fantastic trails and beauty galore, but while the Rockies have a vibrant youth and energy about them, the Appalachians magnetize with their enlightened serenity.

Chimney Rock
I also noticed a difference in regards to the outlook of life in general of the people that surround both of these regions. In Utah, everyone is always going and planning, hell, the state motto is “Busy Bee.” The people we met and conversed with in the Asheville and surrounding areas, seemed carefree and to go with the flow; a life lived in the moment if you will. Which got me thinking about if the vibe and if the age of a mountain can affect the behavior of those that live in her shadows? Or if the more conscious perspective of those here in the south, or if it could be in large part due to the powerful vortex energy that surrounds the area. Now I just need to hunt down a scientist to study this for me, takers?

Hickory Nut Fall or better known as the fall in "Last of  the Mohicans"
Our stay in the Blue Ridge Mountain area was packed full of marvel and adventure and I really just couldn't wait to get out the door and see where the next trail would take us.  With hiking trails galore, we couldn't resist taking every weekend to hike and indulge in a new piece of eye candy. I feel as though we had just begun to scratch the surface of the beauty that the vistas of the Blue Ridge hold while we were there. Beyond just hiking we found lots of excursions and fun to be had, most involving nature in some aspect, but really, you’re nestled right along the Blue Ridge Parkway, how can you not partake. So here they are, our crazy mountain adventures, crammed into one post because well, I’ve been busy and here I am trying to play catch up.

Lake Lure or that place "Dirty Dancing" was filmed
Our first hike was Chimney Rock and Hickory Nut Falls. Now I am not quite sure if Chimney Rock should be classified as a hike, since there is an option to take the elevator to the top of the 26 stories versus climbing the 500 stairs to its majestic peak; a great option for those that want to take in this natural splendor, but may have physical limitations. The namesake is for its resemblance of a chimney sticking out of the ground and on a clear day one is rewarded in their climbing accomplishment by viewing 75 miles of stunning vista! I believe I could have sat for hours on its perch looking out over the panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains, captivated and in awe at the remarkable view.

Lake Lure
Once down from the perch of Chimney Rock, there is another trail leading you towards the waterfall made famous by the “Last of the Mohicans,” Hickory Nut Falls. Less than a mile stroll and you are immediately cooled by the mist of the falls; 404 ft. of water force pouring over the side, making it one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. The water shimmering silver as it falls down the side of the huge cliff walls; demonstrating the force of Mother Nature and the power of erosion and how this entire area has been shaped over thousands of years.

Emerald Village Mine
Our bodies cooled down from the falls and back in the car we couldn't resist the urge to explore and check out the town of Lake Lure that was just up the road. Not only was the film “Dirty Dancing” staged here, but it was also a vacation destination to many luminaries: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Calvin Coolidge and FDR to name a few. Lake Lure is a natural amusement park; between the walking trails around the lake, the sandy beach and the flowering bridge, one could easily feel as though they have been transported to a whole new world and a time of whimsy, when lake side resorts were all the rage and life was a simpler time.  

Our Mining Adventures
One of our first non-hiking adventures took us to Emerald Village to go panning for gems. We got in touch with our inner child and didn't even hesitate to dig right into the dirt in search for that giant emerald. This enterprise was so much more than I had originally speculated, but Tom, Tom knew all along it was going to be a blast and his smile said it all as he scooped heaps of dirt from our pile of earth and onto the pan for the water to wash away, leaving us nothing but sweet rewards. To say we had a “gem of a time,” would be an understatement, this place was a kid’s paradise, especially for those adults that are still children at heart. So how did we make out? Not quite sure, but we sent our loot off to our family jewelry expert, Sherry, to figure it out and come up with some beautiful creations all her own; I for one can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

The Blowing Rock
The following weekend we were prepared for another hike and we headed to The Blowing Rock, a cliff that overhangs the valley of John’s River Gorge and is North Carolina’s oldest travel attraction. The three of us were prepared for a hike to get in order to see this view, so imagine our surprise when we walked out of the fee station and there she was, right there in all her glory! Those of you that know me, know that I am rarely a person without words, so imagine a site so jaw dropping that I was left speechless! I was in a state of wonderment at the quintessential beauty of the sight in front of me; if there is a heaven, this is what I envision it would look like.

Grandfather Vineyard
After being bribed to leave The Blowing Rock by the prospects of wine tasting and rain on the horizon, the three of us headed over Grandfather Vineyards to search for drier weather. Not only were we met with great wines and the comfort of an indoor tasting, but the terraced vineyard was treasure in and of itself. Vines ripe with dew covered grapes, a slight cloud cover and brightness that only fresh rain could bring all brought the perfect landscape for a sipping on a glass of wine and eating a delightful afternoon snack. The grounds were the perfect backdrop, Adirondack chairs lining the babbling creek, it was like a little oasis that almost made you forget that anyone else was around. A perfect atmosphere to regroup before heading into town for some Art in the Park. 

Grandfather Vineyard
Being in the mountains and in such an outdoorsy play land, we got to relish in times past and recreate a lot of our childhood moments. One such event included the day we decided to go on an apple picking adventure. Of course a lot of the apples on the low lying branches had been picked already, but not to fret, I still remembered how to climb a tree! That youthful rush as I reached for limb after limb, climbing higher and higher, picking delightful honey crisps as I went and then tossing them down to Tom to put in our basket. The basket was full in no time and we rushed to get back home to make apple crisp; mouths watering as we could already taste the warm crisp merging with the large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top and yes, it was damn tasty!

Sky Top Orchard
Another day and wanting a trail adventure that was close by, we headed to the North Carolina Arboretum. Not only does this place offer up over ten miles of hiking and biking trails from beginner to advanced, it also offers plenty of cultivated gardens to sit back and enjoy post hike. The Arboretum was a complete dog haven, with an outdoor cafĂ© where Ethel could sit and relax with us and regroup before touring the Bonsai Garden and taking in all the vibrant flowers this place boasts. Overall this place is pretty magical, giving a nature experience for all levels of fitness and for those that just want to peruse gardens or for those of us looking for a more arduous excursion through the vibrant forests and a definite recommend if you’re in the area and want something close to Asheville.

Climbing Trees at Sky Top Orchard
Triple Falls was also on our list of places we must hike, being so close to a place that the “Hunger Games” was filmed it would be a travesty to not visit this spot. DuPont State Forest Park, makes it really easy to get in and see not only Triple Falls, but Hooker Falls and High Falls as well; a nice and fairly easy three mile groomed trail. Of course Triple Falls exuding the most character out of the three as it cascades down the hill side, creating three distinct falls; a great spot to stop for a picnic and to just take in the dramatic scenery mixed with that Hollywood presence.

Triple Falls also known as the place in the "Hunger Games"
Then there was our grand adventure, the Blue Ridge Mountains setting the idyllic backdrop for a horse ride, and it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. It was imperative that we made this happen. We arrived at the stables early, taking time to enjoy the free range farm and the creatures that live there before saddling up for a two hour ride through the back country. Neither of us had been on a horse in years, so we were a little nervous, but the guide set us at ease and gave us a nice boost of confidence. The ride was picturesque and peaceful; truly a great way to spend the day, taking in some breathtaking scenery without even having to walk.  The best aspect the leaves, were just beginning to change, and the foliage was spectacular, riding along the ridge line, we were captivated by the bright red and orange against the bright blue sky. Two hours flew by and it was an experience we will treasure for years to come and a bonus that our asses weren't nearly as sore as we had anticipated.

Asheville and the surrounding areas truly offer up so much to do and see. If we weren't off on an adventure you could find us strolling along the shops and the Urban Trail in Asheville, sometimes stumbling upon festivals on Lexington Street or lost in the ginormous farmers market, picking up produce and local goodies.The people here are kind and lovely and we had the pleasure to meet new people and I even had lunch with our charming host, Monica; who by the way is amazing and I am so happy I had the opportunity to meet her. And less I forget, this area is a foodie's heaven, especially for those that try to eat local and organic like us. We feel so fortunate that we got to come back to this place and stay for a longer time this time! So far we've spent the most time in North Carolina, making it nine weeks as opposed to any other place, we really love it here and I definitely wouldn't mind owning a little cottage nestled right among Blue Ridge Mountains.

The beginnings of fall
Thank you for bearing with the long and rambling post in my attempt to catch up on our journey, we have been busy as of late and sometimes I just let the moment overtake me. Our time in Black Mountain and the Asheville area was phenomenal and it was so hard to leave; from the quaint towns surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the rich green forests, and the rolling smoke covered hills. If we weren't heading towards the ocean, I don’t know if I could have managed to leave, this place truly captured my heart!

While I work on getting caught up, please enjoy some images of our time in among the great Smokies. 

Top of Craggy Mountain
Looking Glass Waterfall