The Quest for Fall…Adventures with Mikey!
(The events described here have been compressed from two weekends spent in Western NC with nephew Mikey from Texas. Since then Mikey has vanished; he was last seen downloading “Red Dead: Redemption 2” for the PS4, aka ‘that thar consarned infernal contraption!’)
Fall is out favorite season in the mountains.
Every year Sylvia and I venture forth to Western NC in search of Fall and the vibrant colors of autumn in the Appalachians. It may not be quite as impressive as the show of colors in the Northern Appalachians, but the change of seasons in the south is still well worth seeing.
Some years, we find what we are looking for…and others, not so much. Last year was a not so much. Though we ventured west three times between the last weekend of September and mid October, the leaves remained stubbornly green each trip. It was perhaps the most disappointing fall we can remember.
This year we were hopeful for better. But as the days of October approached, the region was once again locked in an unprecedently warm spell, plus still recovering from not one but TWO major hurricanes that had dumped record rainfalls measured in some areas in feet. A lot of leaves were down already, and early forecasts of the colors pointed to another late change and a ‘muted’ autumn show. We prepared ourselves to be less than overwhelmed, but still believed we could find something, somewhere, worth looking at if we went far enough and looked hard enough
But of course, there is ALWAYS something to look at in the Appalachians at any time of year.
We brought along nephew Mikey for his first tour of Western NC. Brian, the Minister of Expedition Planning, planned for a strike at the Linville Gorge, and after that an open agenda of whatever we felt like doing. We planned to go high in search of whatever color was to be had!
For this trip, the normally gruff but lovable Brian took a solemn oath to be on his best behavior and not complain about crowds, tourist traps, rocket scientists, bad drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway, lack of parking in Downtown Asheville, diversions into knick-knack stores, ‘rustic’ wreckage stripped from old barns, fu-fu shops that lead to ‘wallet shrinkage’ and any of the other thousand or so of his usual ranting subjects. For this trip, ‘Bad Brian’ would be left at home and ‘Good Brian’ was going to be very much in effect.
We spent the first night in Crabtree Falls Campground (not our favorite) off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Brian loaned Mikey his old MSR Hubba solo tent, thinking he could get one more year out of the aging rain fly.
It rained HARD that night and the MEP was once again proven wrong…despite being replaced in 2014 the fly leaked. Upon further examination, we noted the deterioration was in fact quite obvious. This despite the fact that we had taken great pains to store the tent in very favorable conditions.
Lightweight tents purchased ten years ago were notoriously poor in terms of durability…they are a bit better now, but still, everyone who invests in lightweight outdoor gear has to understand the reality…the money you invest today will not generally take you very far. Lightweight shoes fall apart; Lightweight tents disintegrate gradually even if cared for; if not cared for, they quickly become useless. Lightweight clothing rips, tears and frays. Don’t even go near a campfire with it.
At any rate, Mikey survived the night only slightly soggy, though he complained of dreams where he was ‘at sea in a small raft.” Our own brand new Quarter Dome tent stayed marvelously dry. Sorry, Mikey.
After this rude introduction to the outdoors, we dried out Mikey by hiking out to Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge to take in the views. We were lucky, as the clouds parted just after we arrived. You can read the full trip report here…when the Site Editor wrote that report the pictures from our other, better camera were not yet available due to what we call in high tech a ‘brief outage to our availability zone.’ Service has since been restored…Here’s a few of the ‘lost pictures’…
Our opinion is that the view from Hawksbill Mountain is in some ways better than that from Table Rock Mountain, but that both are awesome. The Gorge is our favorite place to hike in North Carolina.
On the way out from the Gorge we stopped at the Brown Mountain Lookout to show Mikey, who enjoys reading about the paranormal, where the Brown Mountain Lights COULD be seen if it were not broad daylight.
Sylvia however stated that having lived with her husband for ten years makes her an expert on the paranormal.
After taking in the Gorge we went up to the area around Grandfather Mountain, NC. Though we had great weather this day, the trees were not in full color yet…but they were ‘fixin’ to get ready to change’ as Mikey would say.
We stopped and wandered about the first section of the Tanahwa Trail, which roughly follows the Blue Ridge Parkway for over 13 miles along the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. Sylvia and I tried to hike a part of this in 2013, but as oft happens the MEP got his logistics wrong, and we only ended up hiking a small section of it. It’s a renowned hike with some fine views, but you really need two cars to do the whole thing.
Perhaps we might do this as a preparatory hike for Patagonia in 2019.
The first section has a few actual views of the Linn Cove Viaduct itself, some of the impressive structure and some of the road at eye level. The Linn Cove Viaduct, for those who don’t know, is a 1,200 foot section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that soars out from Grandfather Mountain, and was the last section of Parkway to be opened in 1983, more than two decades after construction of the rest of the parkway was complete.
We didn’t get high enough to take in any of the supposedly grand views on Rough Ridge, but we were impressed by the large rock formations along this section of trail. Definitely some huge boulders here.
We then drove down to Davidson River Campground in the Brevard area. It’s one of our favorites for developed camping. While typically crowded in peak season, usually on Sunday it’s not too much trouble to get a spot, so we risked it.
We nearly struck out. The MEP had forgotten that this was Columbus Day weekend…the following Monday being a holiday, the campground was full when we arrived. Oops! Now what?
The staff at Davidson River was, as always, very helpful. Despite dealing with a new government online registration system that was obviously making their jobs a nightmare, they were able to slide us into a spot where someone had cancelled. We wondered to ourselves if the torrential rain the night before that had interrupted Mikey’s sleep had been a factor in this.
At any rate, the site turned out to be the next one over from the same spot we’d landed in February…where, in a sublime act of rocket science, our ratty old camp chair had been stolen. Serendipity? Whatever. We prayed for no rain and kept an eye on our camp chairs.
We also rigged a makeshift tarp up using a ground cloth to forestall a repeat of the soggy affair that had transpired the night before. As it turned out there was some rain that night but only sprinkles…the tarp did its work and Mikey stayed dry.
The next day we went down to Gorges State Park for a trip to Rainbow Falls. You can read the full trip report here. We like Gorges State Park quite a lot and hope that NC continues to keep this as much of a wilderness experience as possible. We know there are plans to open a regular family campground here…we look forward to this but hope it doesn’t overcrowd the place as much as we fear. The general public really has not discovered this place yet.
After the Gorges and Rainbow Falls we went up the road to see the nice but much more touristy Looking Glass Falls.
Since we weren’t seeing a ‘whole ton’ of color we decided to up the elevation a bit. And you can’t get much higher than Mount Mitchell, famed for being the highest point in the United States east of the Rock Mountains. In fact, Mikey had it as a bucket list item to visit!
He was only mildly dismayed when Brian informed him that Black Elk Peak, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is technically east of the Rockies and almost 700 feet higher. But Mount Mitchell is still the highest point east of the Mississippi. Mikey seemed pleased with this fact, and ignored uncle Brian for the rest of the trip.
Brian has never been greatly impressed with Mount Mitchell…he really wishes they’d close the damned auto road and make people climb the whole way up for the view, the way it ought to be. But then again, he did drive up to give Mikey a look at the overrun-by-the-tourists summit observatory.
Sylvia suggested that Brian go hike Black Elk Peak by himself if he wants to be alone. Or, to just take a hike in general.
Though the views from Mitchell were great, we saw very little fall color. Still a bit too early, even for that elevation.
After this we took a trip to our favorite city in Western NC, Asheville NC. We visit every chance we can. Mikey also very much liked the experience and likened Asheville to Austin, Texas…by FAR the best city in the Lone Star state, in our opinion.
We very much enjoyed our time out west with Mikey and hope that a need for food and water will lure him back from playing video games sometime soon, so we can have more adventures!
But we still had unfinished business out yonder…we had to go back, in hopes that we might yet chase down fall!!!
Next Up…The Great Fall Color Chase Part II