Day 13: Julian Price – Roanoke (July 16, 2009)

Every one told us that Boone was the place to go in the northern Appalachians of North Carolina. We both felt like it was a bust, having liked the intimacy and slow pace of small town Blowing Rock more. We gave it a shot though and walked through some of the numerous shops along the main street. However, we just couldn’t avoid the feeling of a bustling college town.

Our first stop of the day was Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, which was only 10-15 minutes north of the Julian Price campground. This is an absolutely gorgeous old mansion with an even more beautiful view of the rolling Blue Ridge foothills. What was nice about this park is that the mansion has been turned into a local artist co-op, where only Appalachian artists and crafters are allowed to sell their work. They also try to have a resident artist located in their closed in porch, whom is performing and explaining their work to those of us who take interest. I might have even found my future wedding band here.

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After deciding to not spend another minute in Boone, we got back on the BRP and continued north into Virginia stopping here and there including one of the six locations of the Blue Ridge Frescoes.  is home to “The Last Supper” fresco. It is in a humble old church that doesn’t look like much on the outside, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if it wasn’t in use, except for the nicely manicured lawn. But once inside, this church becomes quaint and beautiful due to the intimacy, natural light and woodwork.

After crossing into Virginia it didn’t take long to get to Mabry Mills. Having been here once before, the previous winter it was nice to see it in a different season. This mill is in total contrast to Mingus Mill from the beginning of the trip. It has a picturesque pond and waterwheel, with a weathered stone foundation. Also the BRP has a small stone arched bridge in the background which compliments this historic mill. There are some nicely paved paths that go to a few other historic buildings, some of which are in their original locations, and others where moved here from a nearby farm. All of which have a small sign board describing what it is you are looking at, so if you go in the offseason it is still a pretty informative stop.

After the mill we continued on the BRP to Roanoke, to meet up with a friend. After a brief reunion we all headed up to the top of Roanoke Mountain for the sunset. Unfortunately most of the overlooks had been fairly grown over so it was difficult to get a clear view of the city combined with the sunset, it almost seem to be a choice of one or the other. After some good hot chocolate and nice conversation we called it a night.

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Day 12: Crabtree Meadows – Julian Price (July 15, 2009)

We woke up at Crabtree Meadows and found that we had fortuitously pitched our tent next to the trail head for Crabtree Falls. This was a semi strenuous hike down into a small gorge. After hiking over the top of the falls we came down a steep hill and around a corner to see a gorgeous stair stepping and drizzling waterfall. Hugged by a tight nit of trees and other vegetation this was a very intimate waterfall. It might have been one of my favorite waterfalls I have ever seen. While it was not the most grandiose, something about being able to see every detail of the water flows made it the most captivating. It was hard to walk away, but we had a steep 1 ½ mile hike back to the tent and car.

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After packing the tent we sped up the BRP to Linville Falls. We did the Chimney Rock Trail out to a sweeping viewpoint of the Linville Gorge. This was a bit of a letdown from Crabtree Falls. Linville is a large powerful waterfall that cuts through a few different walls of rock, unfortunately it is almost impossible to get close, which creates a lack of intimacy with the subject. Also I felt very constrained by the location of the falls and the trails/overlooks, which made it difficult for me to get a photograph that I felt was unique. I do believe that this is a place worth stopping, the trail is easy, but if you are looking for a classy photograph this is really a location where it helps to have a unique environment, such as snow dusted trees or beautiful fall colors. There are a few other trails at the park that allow you to go down into the river basin and up to the waterfalls, however it is a strenuous and almost all day hike to really make it worth it, so we elected not to do it.

The next stop along the BRP was Linville Caverns. Luckily this was included in our Go Card, otherwise we would have regretted spending the money to go in. At the same time, we thought that it was worth the stop. While we waited to go into the cave we noticed some trout swimming in a mountain stream coming out of the cave. Slightly confused we later heard a story about how the cave was discovered. A fisherman and explorer was confused just like us that these fish were swimming into and out of what looked like the mountain, and touched off his curiosity to explore what was behind the small opening. We saw all kinds of interesting cave formations, but after seeing mystery cave in the Badlands it just didn’t compare.  Again though, if you have the time and the Go BR Card this place is worth the stop.

A few hours north of the caverns we stopped at Banner Elk Winery. We go a free flight of wine tasting and tour with the Card. While the winery isn’t much, it was interesting to get a guided tour of the wine making process at a small winery, they do everything and I mean everything by hand, bottling, corking, sealing, and labeling. The wine wasn’t bad either and if we had a larger discretionary budget we would have bought a case or two.

Grandfather Mountain was our last major stop for the day. Our first activity was to tour the wildlife that they were rehabilitating. This included: black bears, cougars, river otters, deer, eagles, and a few other wild animals. After which we headed up a narrow and curvy road to the top, where there was a small trail to an overlook. After crossing a swinging bridge we ended up on this solid rock promontory that had the most amazing sweeping view of the south facing Blue Ridge Mountains. This was a location where we could have spent all day exploring the 12 miles of hiking trails. Unfortunately to maintain our schedule we had to move on, but worth the stop. Again this park has a steep entrance fee but, is included in the BR Go Card.

We finally got to our destination, Julian Price State Park. After setting up our tent we headed a few miles down the road to the cute town of Blowing Rock for dessert at Crippen’s Country Lodge. The Banana Crème Pie and Peanut Butter Pie were out of this world. They also have a romantic garden in the front lawn. This would be an amazing choice for a romantic weekend.

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Day 11: Asheville – Crabtree Falls BRP (July 14, 2009)

We camped at Lake Powhatan Recreational Area, which was a bit of a drive outside of Asheville. However, if you are looking for a great place to escape the residential and industrial feel of Asheville, than this is a great get away.

We caught the first trolley tour (using our Go Card). This was one of the reasons why we bought the card; we knew that at almost $20 a pop we took a large step towards making the Go Card worth the price. 1 ½ hours later we knew the ins and outs of Asheville, this tour took us through the historic residential, industrial, and commercial areas and helped us decide our plan of action for the rest of the morning, including a great Cuban restaurant for lunch.

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After lunch we jumped in the car and headed up to Marshall, NC for a 3 ½ hr white water rafting trip with Nantahala Outdoor Center.  We were informed that the Nantahala River was one of the oldest rivers in the world, the first being the Nile, however the 3rd oldest river is the French Broad which flows through parts of Asheville, NC.

We then headed back towards the Blue Ridge Mountains and camped at Crabtree Meadows, getting there at about 10:00 pm.

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Day 10: Great Smokey National Park – Asheville (July 13, 2009)

After getting up early for our drive from the Great Smokey Mountain N.P. back to Asheville we stopped at Mingus Mill. This is a historic grist mill inside the park. The first thing you will notice about the mill is that it does not have a waterwheel; instead this mill is powered by a pair of turbines that are enclosed inside the structure. The turbines allow the mill to work more efficiently with the low amount of water that flows down the wooden slew. I think that while there is not a photogenic wheel, the slew actually works well, mostly because it is unique. It isn’t a quintessential mill which forces the viewers to ask more questions to fulfill their curiosity.

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After Mingus Mill we left the park and got onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) at the North Carolina Starting Point.  Our goal was to drive along the BRP from here to Roanoke, VA.  Only getting off when we got to Ashville and to see other scenic locations. One of those spots was Sliding Rock which is in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC. It was a sunny day and the park was crowed as everyone from 5-6 year olds up to their Fathers, Mothers, and Grandparents where sliding down this natural waterslide into a chilly swimming hole.  A sight that I had wanted to see 8 months before in the Fall, during another photography trip.

After getting back onto the BRP we got off again in Asheville for the Biltmore. Our breath was taken away by this American Castle and by the grounds that were impeccably taken care of. Amazingly this 200+ room mansion somehow didn’t take away from the beauty of the landscape. Instead it seemed to meld well with the distant mountain ranges. As if this 100 year old beauty complimented the majestic views with its own majestic quality. The gardens while large and flawlessly maintained were not as elaborate as I had expected, although their conservatory was very interesting to walk through. We finished it all off with a tour of the winery and a wine tasting which ended of course with a small purchase.

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Day 9: July-12: Asheville – Great Smokey National Park

July-12: Asheville – Great Smokey National Park (Chartered 1934) Park Map

After a long night photographing a friend’s wedding in Asheville and purchasing a Blue Ridge Mountain “Go Card” we headed west to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  We entered the Park through Gatlinburg, TN. This city came across almost like the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The strip was littered with “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” storefronts, hotels, and casinos…  While it is tucked away in a beautiful forested valley, Gatlinburg left us more than a little disappointed.

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So we made no detours and headed straight to the park entrance.  After getting a few directions from some Mountain Tennesseans with very thick accents we hit the roads of the park. On our way to Laurel Falls from the Sugarland Visitors Center we came around a corner of Laurel Creek Road and saw a train of at least 10 Classic Autos slowly working their way up the grade. It turns out that this is a Classic Trip for those Classic Autos. The Great Smokey Mountain National Park (GSM NP) is at the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway and along the Appalachian Trail which connects Main to Georgia.

After finally getting to the parking lot for Laurel Falls it was quick but steep hike up an nicely paved trail to Laurel Falls. Along which we saw numerous strollers and even a wheelchair. GSM NP is the most visited National Park in our Country, which is probably why the trails are so accessible to the public. While this is good for our Country it was not good for my photography since it was difficult to avoid people being in my photos.

Next we headed a little further down the road to the infamous “Sinks” which is a series of deep swimming holes that offer some nice jumps of modest heights. After which we headed back in the direction of the Sugarland V.C. but headed east along New Found Gap Road. New Found Gap was the location of the Park’s dedication, which was performed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. Then we headed up to Clingmans Dome for the sunset. The hike was again along a steep and paved trail, although a little longer and steeper than the Laurel Falls Hike, on a nice evening this would have been an incredible view, where you would be able to see for miles. Unfortunately the Smokey Mountains “Smoke” was too thick.

After the failed sunset we headed down to Smokemont Campground.

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