A day in Chimney Rock, NC

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Today was my birthday!

For the past two years, I’ve been going to Chimney Rock on my birthday. It’s a perfect way to spend that day.

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Chimney Rock is a little village right next to Lake Lure. It’s full of cute shops, restaurants, and all kinds of natural wonders: Chimney Rock itself, which I passed on because it involves taking an elevator through a mountain, a wonderful rocky creek that has places where you can wade and even swim, and the whimsical Bridge of Flowers, which has been there since 2013.

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My daughter (who is clean 49 days now!), her hubby, and I walked through the town, stopped for ice cream, and spent about an hour by the creek, sitting on the rocks and wading in the water. Most of these pictures (except the one of DD playing in the creek) are of the Bridge of Flowers, which has every type of plant, aromatic herb, succulent, and flower you can imagine, and tons of artistic and whimsical touches, such as “secret gardens” with brightly painted benches, handmade birdhouses, “doors to nowhere” and old windows repainted in creative ways, colorful gates, paving stones, and lots of other creative touches. It’s maintained by the community, all volunteers.

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A beautiful day in the Blue Ridge mountains.

I took a nice long drive today to one of my very favorite spots, in Sunburst, NC.   There is a campground there, an actual swimming hole (which I posted about last summer), and the most beautiful scenery you could ever ask for.

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Closeup of the running water and moss

 

Further reading:

Day Trip to Sunburst, NC  (if you’re a butterfly fan, you will want to take a look)

 

Spring in the mountains.

These three gorgeous pictures capture the Blue Ridge in April.   These photos were taken from about 3,000 feet.

I wasn’t lucky enough to get the flowering dogwoods or many other flowering trees (most have turned green by now).

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Early spring drive.

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I needed a day to unwind and de-stress, so I decided to take my new car out for a spin, because it was such a gorgeous spring day, and this is my favorite time of year.

Has anyone noticed the colors on the some of the trees in spring are the exact same colors you see in the fall?   The reason for that is the chlorophyll, the substance which turns the leaves green so they can make their own food from sunlight, hasn’t kicked in yet.  In the fall, the leaves stop making chlorophyll when they no longer need to make their own food.   The photo above and immediately below show the fall-like colors.

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Is it early spring or late fall? It’s hard to tell here.

I drove all the way to Sunburst, a beautiful spot near Lake Logan which has a campground, a swimming hole, and a fast moving stream.    In the summer, this is a great place to cool off (the water in the swimming hole is crystal clear with a slight greenish tint, surprisingly deep, and cold)  but right now, it’s fishing season.   I didn’t fish, but I sat on one of the big boulders and just took in the sights and sounds, and let the stress leave my body and mind.

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Fishing in Sunburst, NC

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Sunburst Swimming Hole

A swamp in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Who knew?

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The swamp covered in water lilies.  They don’t appear to be in full bloom.  Photo: John Boyle/jboyle@citizen-times.com)

 

Yesterday as I was driving east along US Highway 70 headed toward Black Mountain, I passed an unusual sight:  to the immediate left on the road was a flat expanse covered with what looked like bright pink water lilies.   On closer inspection, I realized I was looking at a swamp!   We don’t have swamps here in the Blue Ridge Mountains!  Or do we?

I’ve actually passed the swamp many times before without knowing it.   It never really stood out to me before, since this stretch of the highway isn’t especially scenic.   It’s filled with used car lots, run down buildings, and sad, outdated, nearly empty strip malls.    During the winter and early spring, I had seen the swamp, but because of the vast amounts of rain we’ve had this year, I assumed it was just a flooded area and would probably eventually be drained and something built there.

But the presence of the water lilies made me realize this wasn’t just a flooded area that would eventually dry up, but an actual, bona fide swamp!

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Photo: John Boyle/jboyle@citizen-times.com)

 

I was intrigued.  I wanted to find out more.   When I got home, I Googled “Swannanoa Swamp,” not expecting to find much, if any information.   But there were actually two articles written about it, one in the Asheville Citizen-Times and another on the River Link website.   There were also a few photos, which I have copied here.

Since both articles appeared to be written in the past year, I assumed the swamp was a new thing.  I had never noticed it at all until this year, when I assumed it was just a flooded area.  But it’s actually at least 60 years old!

Here is the quote from the “Answer Man” on the Asheville Citizen-Times article that explains the swamp’s (actually two connected swamps) unusual history:

…The KOA Campground in Swannanoa owns the swamp ponds on the north side of the road, which are actually strangely attractive with all the lily pads and bright pink lilies in bloom.

A co-owner of the KOA, who asked not to be identified, said a divider lies between the two ponds, and they do have a resident beaver. Campers aren’t allowed to fish in the swamps.

For their origin, she referred me to Swannanoa Valley historian Bill Alexander, whose family owned much of the property around there on the north side of U.S. 70.

“When Grovestone inquired about some property they would like to get rock out of, my father and my uncle gave them permission to dig some of that area out, just for the granite or whatever they could get out of there,” Alexander said. “They did that, and because they were getting something essentially for nothing, they said, ‘We’ll make you a lake.'”

This was in the early 1950s. The lake remains as the KOA Campground lake.

“There was a body of water that came from the original lake, and it didn’t have anywhere to go,” Alexander said. “The swamp was a run-over from the lake. That’s how that body of water, specifically, came to be.”

The article went on to explain that there have been no known health issues or problems because of the swamp’s presence, but that people exploring the area should take precautions and stay covered and use bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes, which breed there as they do in any wetland.

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Swamp in winter or early spring.  Credit: Riverlink.org

I didn’t get out of the car to explore the swamp myself, so I didn’t get a chance to take my own photos.   I think you probably have to go in via the campgrounds, which are behind it.   Maybe one day I will do that.    These photos don’t show the brilliant pink of the water lilies.  It’s not a large area.  I’d say it’s about the size of a fairly small, but long pond.

Sunday drive to Mount Mitchell.

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I had to get out of the house yesterday and clear my head.  I’ve been very upset about the situation with the children at the border.

Nature usually calms my soul and centers me, so in spite of the iffy, partly cloudy weather, I took a drive to Mount Mitchell State Park, about 50 miles to the north from where I live.   Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountains (eastern flank of the Blue Ridge) and at 6,683 ft is the highest mountain on the East Coast (Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the second highest, at 6,289 ft).

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It was noticeably cooler at the summit, almost sweater weather.  That high up, only conifer trees can grow, and the area is known for its Frasier firs, a species known only to this area that almost died out about twenty years ago due to an aphid infestation.  There are still many white skeleton-looking trunks of the trees that died off, mixed with the newer trees, giving the area an eerie but interesting look.

I took these photos.  Hope you like them.

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Friday evening drive into the mountains.

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I was bored and needed to clear my head, so I headed into the mountains again.  I took the same route I took on Memorial Day.   It was later in the day though, so there was this wonderful late afternoon golden light that was just magical.

There was no one at the overlook where I stopped to take photos, and no signs of civilization at all, not even any cars on the road.  I felt like the only person in the world, and realized these mountains looked exactly this way thousands of years ago.   This is what the native Americans would have seen, long before there were any paved roads.

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Dogwoods in bloom.

I snapped these photos of a flowering dogwood near my home today. Dogwoods–actually a shrub, not a tree–are a common sight in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains and are so well known their beautiful four-petaled white blooms are the North Carolina state flower.

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Click the images for more detail. (The closeup is a little blurry–sorry about that).

These photos are not color enhanced!

I was out in Leicester, NC today and suddenly saw this huge field with grass so bright I thought someone slipped LSD into my water bottle. Or that I’d somehow been transported to western Ireland. I have never seen grass as green as this. These photos don’t even capture the neon intensity of the green.

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Here’s a bonus photo of the mountains about 20 miles south of Leicester. The grass here is “normal” green–contrast that with the above photos.
I love this part of the country in the spring. ❤

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Snow and sky.

I took some photos around Asheville, North Carolina yesterday and today. Yesterday’s photos are the sunny ones. Today’s are the ones with the trippy looking sky. It’s warmed up quite a bit, with temperatures above freezing for the first time in a week.

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If you click this photo to make it larger and look closely at the left hand side where the land meets the sky, you can see the top of Mount Mitchell, part of the Black Mountain range of the Blue Ridge, and the highest peak on the East Coast. It’s covered with snow.

Other snowy photos from yesterday:

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The sky is on hallucinogens! (these photos are from today)
These photos don’t quite capture the almost otherworldly weirdness of the sky today. These are not storm clouds. I don’t know the name of these wavy clouds but they are shaped by wind currents.
Click the photos to enlarge.

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