The vistas are great even off the mountains

It’s possible to get a thrill without even going up a mountain.

It’s also true that the mountains are on our horizons nearly everywhere around here.

Sometimes we’re out driving on a bleary-looking day, just taking back roads while running some errands, and we come around a corner to this:

They certainly add nice texture

We’re still talking clouds.

Just look how much more interesting the sky becomes when all these puffy chunks…and layers…of clouds slowly float past.

And look what they do to the sunlight on the hills and valleys of the many mountains in our view! Bright spots chasing away shadows.

Complex layers of clouds

Often the clouds around here take on many forms…all at the same time.

It helps to have a grand view.

Just plain gray layers overhead. Some pretty color glowing in the distance. Huge billowy white thunderheads growing in the distance. And it teases you with patches of blue throughout.

Have you noticed all the clouds?

This portion of western North Carolina almost never has a completely clear blue sky.

It’s particularly interesting to observe the sky from a grand vista along the Parkway, especially at just the right time…you know, following a rain!
We love the view from this overlook, because of its layers and layers of mountains, its wide expanse of horizon, and the way it features Looking Glass Rock.

See Caesars Head

The South Carolina State Park next door to Bald Mountain Wilderness Preserve has the intriguing name Caesars Head.

Turns out it probably is named for an early local pioneer’s favorite dog. A rock outcropping seemed to mimic the shape of the dog’s head.

So much for a tie-in to ancient Roman history.

The view from up top sure is pretty….

Speaking of color

We drove past a sign that announced an upcoming site: Bald Rock Heritage Preserve.

A further sign indicated this was the site, and there was a very narrow & steeply sloped parking area…full of cars. Hmmm, maybe we should look.

We were actually just across the border into South Carolina, up in the mountains. No cell signal that would allow us to scout the place at all.

So down a 100 foot long trail, and this is what we found:

Bald all right, except for that covering of graffiti!

I framed this photo to catch some of the rock and graffiti, but to primarily show the incredible view of an immense wilderness area. I figured the graffiti was allowed as an innocuous opportunity for people to let off steam.

Turns out the South Carolina DNR is considering closing the site to the public, because the graffiti has increased dramatically in recent months…you know, when people have had nothing else to do but drive around and enjoy nature (with a spray can in their hand).

Color, color everywhere

This is the fourth summer we have stayed in this area, and we still find new places and see new sights.

Sometimes what’s new is the appearance of an area at a different time of year than we’ve seen before.

As I said in yesterday’s post, the elevation of areas along the parkway affects their growing season. And sometimes the transition from winter drab to summer green occurs very quickly.

Several years we have almost comletely missed the explosion of rhododendron.

The color in this picture seems to be lovely fall leaf colors. But look closely…it was taken only a week after yesterday’s picture, although at a slightly lower elevation.

All that color is from fresh leaves that have not fully uncurled, from small buds not yet beginning to uncurl, from seed pods with bright foliage, from brief spring blossoms that soon fall, and from weeds and mountain flowers in low shrubbery.

It may not always be green, but it’s sure working in that direction!

The hills, mountains, and fields around these parts of North Carolina get the right amount of moisture and sunshine to go green and stay green most of the year.

But the majority of trees are deciduous, and the climate has a definite winter season.

In early May, we were exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway east of Asheville, and stopped at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center.

This location is at an elevation of 5500 feet, and shows the effects of that elevation on its forest. The trees are smaller, and the moss and lichen growing on them are heavier. This is apparently because of the lower temperature, the frequent fog & rain, and the shorter growing season.

I was surprised at the appearance of these trees growing on the west side of the overlook there. Although the distant hills seem to be uniformly green, in fact only the lower elevations are that way. Up high like these close trees, only small buds are showing. In the second half of May!

We stopped there a week ago, and there’s no picture to be taken, because the foliage of this grove now blocks the view!

Sometimes it’s not the water

We find ourselves drawn to water wherever we travel in the US. Both oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, and countless other large and small lakes and rivers.

But in this instance, we were more intrigued by the bridge over the river.

Poinsett Bridge is the oldest intact bridge in South Carolina and perhaps in the entire southeastern United States. Built in 1820, it was named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, director of the state Board of Public Works during the design of the road over the bridge. Poinsett gained greater fame for introducing the poinsettia to the United States.

But wait, there’s more. The bridge is believed to have been designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument! The stream is nice, too….

Mutt and Jeff

As we explore the areas where we park the coach, we try to find points of interest that are readily accessible.

Ross and Ryan are pretty game to try fairly rough trails, but that effort wears thin quickly. When a trail is particularly rough, sometimes Robyn will plunge ahead and I’ll stay with the twins, and if she returns with a glowing report and great pics on her phone, she’ll stay with the twins and I’ll go ahead.

Sometimes we just get lucky, and we can see the excitement right from the car!

In the instance of Bridal Veil Falls near Highlands, NC, the road actually goes behind the falls!

Well, used to go behind. I guess they got tired of ice on the road in winter, and all year there were problems with falling rocks. So now we drive past it, park next to it, and walk behind it. Just a wisp of a thing.

Less than a mile past this falls is the largest torrent in a free fall that we have seen around these parts.

It’s called…wait for it…Dry Falls!

The greatest thing about it is you can walk behind it!

If you click on this pic, and look carefully near the center, there’s a colorful-but-blurry combination of Robyn and Ryan, and a faint seated pair of Ross and Grandpa Claude!