Here is some good advice. If a rare photo opportunity becomes available, take it. In fact, jump all over it. This past week, most of the eastern US suffered through the frigid, bone chilling effects of what has become known as the 2014 Polar Vortex. This rare event occurs when part of the extreme cold air circulating around the North Pole breaks off and heads south and east via strong jet stream winds. The end result is some of the coldest air in at least 20 years. Just 5 days ago in the small town of Elk Park, NC, the location of Elk River Falls, the temperature dipped to -14 degrees. The entire area was sitting between -10 and -14, just amazingly cold temperatures for this far south. Pictures of frozen waterfalls began to appear all over the social media scene. Unfortunately for me, work would not allow me to break away for a short while.
Sometimes it seems, the places we discover that we will treasure most, are the the ones we had no intentions of seeing in the first place. On a cloudy, cool, clammy day in mid to late October, my fiancé and I were simply heading to Abingdon, Va for the day. The GPS chose a route from NC, that took us through Boone, then into Tennessee to Mountain City, then to Into Virginia through a small but very cool town named Damascus. Read more
I have recently completed my 2nd day trip to Elk Park, N.C. and Elk Mills, Tn. to hike and view the two magnificent waterfalls on the Elk River. The two waterfalls are only 4 miles apart by river, but there is no trail that connects these that I have been made aware of. Read more
This past Saturday, I took time to revisit the river where my love for waterfalls began. This meant a trip to the North Carolina-Tennessee state line area, just south and west of Boone, NC. This was a visit to the Elk River. About 6 or 7 years ago, while visiting family in Newland, NC for Christmas, 2 of my younger cousins had a wonderful idea. It just happened to be a warm spell in Newland and the temperature on Christmas day was 50 degrees, a heat wave for Newland. I was asked if I wanted to ride to see a waterfall….my answer was…why not?? Read more
I love it when a plan comes together! At the last minute, the Friday of Super Bowl Weekend, my stepfather and I decided to take a little trip to the NC Mountains Ski Country, for some Super Bowl Sunday skiing. I was hesitant of this as I have not had a pair of the thin gliders on my feet in over a decade. I wasn’t very good then, so inexperience and old age just didn’t seem to be a combination that would work in my favor. Read more
It is now the middle of October, and I am in the mountains to see some color. Leaving the triad on US 421, it is painfully obvious that many others have this same idea. Once we got to Boone, it seemed everyone kind of dispersed and went their own way. I wanted to visit the Roan Mountain area, so I chose a route that used US 421 to Boone and then US 321 to cross into Tennessee and then to Hampton. Between Boone and Hampton, are 3 fine waterfalls that I know of: Trash Can Falls on the NC side, Compression Falls off of Poga Rd, and finally Laurel Falls in the Hampton area. The first stop is Trash Can Falls. This one is very easy to miss, as there are no signs. As US 321 runs north with the Watauga river to it’s right, there is a large pull off to the right. At the far north end of the pull-out is a small path that begins on the other side of the highway. This leads you maybe 1/10 of a mile just up a small creek and gorge to the waterfall and pool known as Trash Can Falls. Trashy name, nice waterfall, and a local favorite swimming hole in the summer.
After this short pit stop, the road twists and turns into Tennessee. Not far into the state, you will cross the Elk River and Poga Rd. I did not visit it on this day, but a few miles up Poga, is a barn that you park at to see Compression Falls. This is one of my favorites, but a beast to get to, even though it is only 0.7 miles. The descent down the river bank and gorge is unmatched as far as difficulty. More people get injured at this one than any others in the area. Here is a shot from a previous trip.
Anyway, the next thing you will notice is the beautiful Watauga Lake, fed by the Elk and Watauga Rivers. With the colors at their peaks, it was a pretty drive along the lake. Once past the Lake, the Hampton area is soon up. As you pull into Hampton, there is a pull off and parking area for Laurel Falls. Drive right on pas it. There is a shorter, flatter, alternate way. About 1/4 past this, is Dennis Cove Rd, a narrow, newly paved road. Take this left, it will twist and climb about 4 miles to the Appalachian Trail Crossing. This is the parking area. The trailhead for the waterfall starts here. Just follow the white rectangular blazed AT about 1.3 miles, right to the waterfall. The first mile or so is about as flat as a mountain trail can be. I later learned that this used to be a railroad track, kind of explains the flatness. After crossing a neat footbridge, the trail winds a short ways through some rock passages and then the sign….
From here, the AT makes a long descent down into the gorge. The trail is largely rock steps, but big ones. It is a pain to get down and some good huffing and puffing back out. Once down there, you are at one of Eastern Tennesse’s better waterfalls, Laurel Falls, 55 feet high.
If you look close enough, you can see 3 people who were unwisely playing around on the top. This is how people fall and get seriously injured or worse, die. The water was fairly low on this day and the whole gorge was in shade. Here is a shot from my last trip here when the water was significantly higher..
It was beautiful on both days, I would say go early for better lighting and preferably after recent rain. After the tough climb out, it was a nice flat walk back and off to Roan Mountain we went, only to learn that Roan High Bluff closed on October 1, and we did not have the time to make the long hike. That is how it goes sometimes, so we headed back into NC and caught a few shots of Grandfather Mountain before heading home.
Roan Mountain Rhododendrons as seen from the well placed deck in the midst of the famous “Gardens”
It is mid June now and doing what has become an annual tradition, we are off to Roan Mountain to view the Rhododendron Gardens at their peak. Roan Mountain is beautiful any time of year, but there is something extra special in June, a color show that can only be rivaled by the brightest colors in fall. The two best places to see this vibrant color show, are on either side of Carver’s gap. Carvers gap is a pass that sits right on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. The mountains rise to over 6000 feet on either side, and the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway at this spot. One side follows the Appalachian Trail, up and along the balds. This in my opinion is where the color show is at its finest. The normal hike is to Grassy Ridge and back which takes you up and over Round Bald and Jane Bald before reaching Grassy Ridge. Here, the trees are sparse, the grass is roughly ankle to knee high blowing in the breezes. The rest of the area is covered by blooming Rhododendrons, Flame Azaleas, and fields of smaller yellow flowers. Combine this with awesome mountain views of NC on one side and Tn on the other, along with very good views of Mount Mitchell, Table Rock, Hawksbill, and Grandfather Mountain from Grassy Ridge, you have the makings of a memorable 5 mile hike. Just be prepared for several up and downs, strong winds, much cooler temps than the valley and frequent fog.
From Carver’s Gap, the other direction leads up to the Rhododendron Gardens, the site of the historic Cloudland Hotel that used to sit in both states, and one of my favorite places on planet earth, Roan High Bluff. This bluff at over 6000 feet is not a part of the Rhododendron color show, but the view from the perfectly placed and well built platform is absolutely second to none. It is a must see if nothing else. The Gardens are what the fuss is all about for most people. Here the accessibility is much better for all people, restrooms are provided, along with a very well layed out paved path winding through one of the largest, most colorful thicket of Rhododendron anywhere. There is an overlook with a beautiful large deck that oversees many, many Rhododendrons with Table Rock & Hawksbill to the left, and a grand view of Mount Mitchell on the right. This area tends to be more crowded , as it should be, so come here with your imagination, camera equipment, and your patience! At the peak of Roan Mountain at over 6200 feet, the Appalachian trail crosses right over it and also shows the remains of the old Cloudland Hotel that was prominent around the turn of 1900. This hotel sat on the state line and old stories say that a sheriff used to sit in the NC side where drinking was illegal, and wait for people on the Tennessee side that were drinking to cross the room into the NC side and arrest them. That must have been crazy. Now all that is left is part of the original foundation. I will let the photos do the rest of the talking for this blog entry. Hope you enjoy!
The Blue Hole…the name itself is intriguing enough to catch my interest. When I learned that it was the name of a waterfall in NE Tennessee, I had put it on my list of waterfalls to seek out this year. This past weekend, I just happened to find myself staying in a cabin in NE Tennessee, about 30 minutes from the Blue Hole, so this became our destination for a Saturday afternoon hike. The location is in the Stony Creek area, a smaller town just outside of Elizabethton, TN. After a pretty ride up State Highway 91 and a short drive up Panhandle Rd, we were there. It turns out that it wasn’t much of a hike, maybe a 1/2 round trip total at most.
The Blue Hole is not a single waterfall, but actually a series of 4 waterfalls. All 4 of them are small, but certainly not lacking character. Some recent rains also had the water levels at a decent level. It was a good day to be here. The hike is just a short scramble down a fairly steep hill. There are some interesting steps built for assistance here, they are quite steep though. Once down the hill, falls 2, 3, and 4 are all very close to one another. I am guessing that it is falls #3 that gives the blue hole its name as it creates a fairly large pool with a greenish/blue…color. It is gorgeous little waterfall and yet another reminder that a waterfall does not have to be large to be spectacular. Just upstream from #3 is #2, which some might consider 1 waterfall, but they have separate pools and drops with enough stream separating them for me.
Blue Hole #2 is very nice as well. It can only be heard from the trail as you must enter a small opening to view the large hole cut out by the stream over the years . Being inside of this and outside on Blue Hole #3 gives these two waterfalls very different feels and both are very photogenic. Notice the cup on the left side. I am sorry to report that trash is a problem at this location. It appears the locals like to come to this area, drink and throw their garbage everywhere. It is a shame as this is a special area. I have some choice words for people like this that I will use my better judgement and leave off of the blog.
Blue Hole #1 gets things here started off nicely!
Interesting Stairs to Falls
Part of my girlfriend’s Christmas gift this season was a two night stay in the cabins at Roan Mountain in March. We both love this park and area. I was super excited and have been heavily anticipating this weekend for nearly 3 months now. What I did not realize at the time was that it was the first weekend of March Madness, The Big Dance. Being an avid NCAA basketball fan, it was tough to take a trip to a land of enchantment, with no connection to the outside world, on this weekend, knowing that my team UNC was playing its first two games in its bracket just 26 miles from my home. It was quite a test for my character….
Thankfully, full 4g connection was available about 5 miles down into the Roan Mountain valley. Kristin, who has become quite the UNC fan herself allowed me to make several trips down to keep up to date. I can tell she has become quite a fan herself ….. as news of Duke’s 1st round loss was almost as pleasing to her as it was to me….
Anyway, Roan Mountain is probably best known for the beautiful Rhododendrons and Flame Azaleas that light up the mountain every June. There is a festival each summer just for this very thing. It is also one of the tallest peaks around, towering over 6200 feet, just a few hundred feet short of its big brother to the south Mount Mitchell. It has Roan High Bluff which is arguably the finest scenic overlook in the Appalachian Mountains, and Miller Homestead: a very well maintained farm from the 1800’s. If you want to know how people survived up here back then, take a tour of this during the season. Unfortunately both of these attractions were shut down due to it being March, even though the temperatures soared into the 70’s each day.
Aside from the Rhododendrons, the other big draw has to be Carver’s Gap and the Balds of Roan Mountain. This area was open for hiking. Carver’s Gap is one of the low points along the ridge and is right on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line. The Appalachian Trail runs right accross hwy 143 here. One direction it leads up to the top of the mountain with spur trails to the historical site of the old Cloudland Hotel, and Roan High Bluff. If you wish to see Roan High Bluff, the AT is how one must get there until April I am guessing. The other direction follows the AT to Balds named Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge. This is some spectacular hiking with miles of 360 views, one side being the Tennessee mountains, the other side being the NC mountains. It is beautiful any time of the year, but it seems to peak in June, when the mountain is exploding with color. The elevation up here is just above or below the 6000 feet mark, so plan for cooler weather up here and conditions that can change in a hurry!
As you drive through Roan Mountain, and pretty much anywhere along Hwy 143 and then 19E from Roan Mountain to Elizabethton, you will find yourself along side the Doe River. I wished I had kept count of how many times we crossed it, it would have been quite a number. The stream’s headwaters have to be somewhere up on Roan Mountain. As it flows below the cabins, it is a beautiful stream, full of life and swift currents the whole way it seems. Hiking the trails and driving the park, the chances to become one with this river are plenty. It is a state stocked trout stream, so expect plenty of fishermen standing knee deep in the rapids as you drive by.
The cabins situated in Roan Mountain were a real treat to stay in. 20 cabins are nestled in the woods just up the hill, but still within an earshot of the Doe River. They are placed perfectly. They seem to be right in the middle of the Balds and the town way below in the valley. They have a very wilderness feel to them, rooms were very nice, kitchen and bathrooms were quite nice as well. The large wood burning stove and the supplied wood instantly made me wish for colder weather. With temps in the 60’s in the evening, we spent our time on the porch with the supplied rocking chairs. The beds come with linens, the kitchen was full with range, refrigerator, pots pans, plates, and coffee maker. It exceeded my expectations in every way. I will overlook the 1980’s hotel/office furniture it had in the living room. Close to the cabins, a pack of 10 deer liked to hang out. We saw them 2 of the 3 days there