Super Bowl Weekend Skiing & A Waterfall Or Two Of Course!

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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

Laurel Falls & The Coldest Day In June I Have Ever Spent

Laurel Falls by waterfallshiker
Laurel Falls, a photo by waterfallshiker on Flickr.
The day was set to photograph and hike the Balds of Roan Mountain. It is Rhododendron time and there is no finer place to view the Catawba Rhododendrons than Roan Mountain in early June. I had it from a good source that they had been blooming and were ready. Little did I know that the cold front passing through on Friday night would leave Roan Mountain with temps in the upper 30’s for Saturday morning, along with winds easily in the 30-40 mph zone and a thick fog to top things off. On top of that, the rhododendrons are not peaked as of June 2. They are beautiful, stunning in a few areas , but still a week from peak.
The forecast for Roan Mountain on this day was sunshine and a high of about 67. This a cool day for this time of year. Little did I know that this forecast applied to the town of Roan Mountain at about 3000 feet, not the peaks of Roan Mountain at 6200 ft where the temps never climbed out of the mid 40’s. This required winter gear in June. I wasn’t quite ready for that. With this mind, I decided to abort my sunrise hike and opt for some hot breakfast and coffee. I decided that the cloudy morning would be better suited for waterfalls viewing, at lower, warmer elevations. I was within moments of Elk Falls, a waterfall I have spent considerable time at. I have been exploring other waterfalls in East Tennessee recently and one called Laurel Falls was on the short list? When I saw how close it was, It was a no-brainer.
There are two options of getting to this waterfall, one is right along Hwy 321 just out of Hampton. The other, the one I took, was a 4 mile ride up a very twisty, curvy Dennis Cove Rd. The parking is on the left , and the Appalachian Trail crosses the road here. The trail to the falls follows the AT the entire 1.2miles with the first mile being nearly flat. It follows along the Laurel Fork most of the way and there is a really cool half foot bridge that crosses it.
Then comes the sign with the white squares and a left arrow. Here is where the trail goes down and the workout begins. It is fairly steep for quite a distance, but rocks are placed in steps to make it as easy as possible. The real fun is coming back up……need I say more?
Once at the waterfall, I was taken away by the beauty and size of this thing. There is a high mountain peak directly behind the waterfall straight up. With the sun going in and out, I had difficulty photographing this one. For the icing on the cake, all of my photos on my DSLR got lost while transferring to my iPad. All I have to go on now are the few shots I took with my Iphone for EveryTrail. I did stay at the falls and enjoyed of the waterfall, which had a nice, full water flow to it today. I had a great conversation with a thru-hiker named “Tumbleweed”. He, at age 74 reminded me that at my young age of 42, I still had time to hike it. He was quite a character.
In closing, nothing really went according to plan today. It was the absolute coldest day I have ever lived through in the month of June. I lost over 100 photos from the waterfall and Roan High Bluff, and the Balds. With this in mind, I still had an excellent day, hiked around 8 miles and can not wait to go back. The rhododendrons should be 100% blooming next week?

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Roan Mountain State Park – A Winter Stay

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.

Not much color yet, but still a sight to see!

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