Fall Expedition: Beacon Heights and the Blue Ridge Parkway
Sylvia and Brian can be found in the Blue Ridge Mountains virtually every fall, and have been since 2009. We have been trying to remember what year it was we saw the last fall color show worth mentioning. Best we can recollect it was probably 2015. We missed most of the 2016 show, arriving late due to other obligations, and 2017 fall itself arrived so late (almost November) that we completely mistimed all our trips and missed it. It was again late in 2018, though we did manage to see a viable, if muted, display.
The reason for this more than anything else has been longer, hotter summers. Don’t get Brian started on Global Warming again.
We had very high hopes for 2019. Though this was again a warm summer (that lingered through September) a late arriving drought had created fertile conditions for autumn to come closer to its usual time table, and with something like the spectacle we had seen in past years. Most authorities were expecting 2019 to be the best fall in years.
We headed west in m id October with high expectations, and with something else…Team Sled Dog Captain Fitz Roy. Fitz was not a member of our team last fall…we adopted him in early December. We have no idea where and with whom he spent his first fall…but this one he is spending with us.
Brian and Sylvia take their fall very seriously. And now that he’s a member of the team, so does Fitz Roy. Alas, Fitz is permanently stuck in winter plumage.
The team piled into the trusty jeep and headed west toward the Blue Ridge to see what, if anything, had changed between this fall and last.
Brian had an ambitious agenda for the third weekend of October…which also happened to be the peak leaf peeping tourist weekend. With favorable reports of autumn color from the previous week, the Minister of Expedition Planning set his sights on the area south of Asheville, which is also our favorite area of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He did not expect solitude.
He figured the further south we went, the more likely we were to hit peak at the mid-high elevations. In fact, as events would show, he would have done better to do the opposite and head north — colors had not quite peaked yet.
But at any rate, time constraints prevented a strike as far as Asheville. We instead opted for the Grandfather Mountain area. Luckily, on the way we spotted a bald eagle gliding low over US 421.
We found that colors were muted in the valley’s on the Eastern side of the divide near Wilkesboro (as they oft are for some reason.) But once we were on the parkway and started to head south, things began to look better.
It looked like were were there a bit before peak again…but there were still plenty of colors, and the viewing was helped by fine weather.
Grandfather mountain happened to be socked in. But views to the East over the foothills were wide open…we stopped at busy Beacon Heights for a look, being lucky to find a parking space in this very popular spot.
Beacon heights is a large rock ledge accessible from the parkway by a trail of about a quarter mile. Sylvia and I have done this trail many times; its quite easy. We figured this might be a good trail for Fitz.
But it was hard getting him out of the car. Too many people and dogs around made Fitz very nervous. Even so, were were able to get as far as the top of the right, more dramatic viewpoint.
We also checked in on the left viewpoint…of the two it is Brian’s favorite, as it tends to be less congested, and has views back to Grandfather Mountain.
Views out across the Piedmont were expansive, and included the distant city of Charlotte, entirely visible to the naked eye though it is probably sixty, seventy crow-miles away.
We also spent some time exploring the little used and very rough portion of the Mountains to Sea trail that follows the parkway, and cuts across the Beacon Heights Trail. The MST today is probably similar to what the AT was a generation ago…very wild and rough in places, little more than a road in others. It has yet to be smoothed down by the passage of thousands of feet, or rebuilt from necessity by the laborious efforts of trail crews. It’s still a very raw trail.
Just as Fitz is still a very raw hiking dog. By the end the efforts of walking, climbing, being forced to sit still with so much activity and dodging other dogs had exhausted him. We headed down the Parkway near Linville Falls for a high-end lunch at Subway.
It was a pretty good exploratory trip…but we had our sights set MUCH higher than Beacon Heights. For the next hike would be serious indeed…were were going deep into the backcountry of Virginia. For this hike, we would sadly say temproary goodbye’s to Fitz Roy.
This hike would be no place for raw hiking dogs, nor raw hikers.
Next Up: To The Farthest Ridge: The Three Ridges Hike