October sunset.

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A beary good day.

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I took a drive out to Lake Logan, about 30 miles from here.  The lake’s surface was so still it was like a mirror.  There was no human activity at all (this is a very isolated lake, but in the summer there is still quite a bit of activity from people camping in the area).

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There’s a definite fall feel in the air even though the days are still hot and most of the leaves haven’t really begun to turn yet.   Summer is definitely over.

Driving back home along some back roads, was I in for a surprise!    This black bear was standing in the middle of the road and at one point was quite close, but he quickly lumbered off before I could grab my phone to get a closeup picture.   I managed to snap this photo before he disappeared back into the woods.  I guess he found the attention unbearable.

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Return to Sunburst, NC

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I enjoyed our day trip to Sunburst a couple of weeks ago so much that I decided to go back, only this time alone. I left my house early and arrived there at about 11 AM.

I was the only person there!   How wonderful!  I could easily imagine I was the only person in the world, and this tranquil and perfect little spot with its cold mountain water, breathtaking views, and swarms of colorful butterflies was my own little Garden of Eden.

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This time I had taken along a couple of plastic gallon jugs, and filled both with the cold, clear water. I know it’s perfectly safe to drink as is without filtering it, because I tried it last time we went and didn’t get sick.

With no other people splashing the water, it was very still, and therefore it was easier this time to get an idea of how deep the water may have been in the “swimming hole” area.   The slope down into it was quite steep from where I stood at waist level.  My guess was the water in the deepest spot was about 6 or 7 feet.  You could still see the stones at the bottom,  with the water at that depth taking on a greenish tint.

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Looking down into the “swimming hole.”

Here and there in the shallows were little piles of different sized stones.
I’m not sure if these are some kind of markers, or if they’re just there for decoration. Whatever they were there for, I thought they made for interesting photographs.

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If anything, there were even more butterflies here this time than last. I spent less time taking pictures of them, but I did take this one because it includes a yellow and black butterfly that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest (there were actually quite a few of them there too).

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I stayed about an hour and waded out into the water up to my waist, then decided to go home because I had errands to run. On the way up the hill back to my car, I saw some trash. That made me angry. Why are people such pigs? Why would they desecrate this idyllic Eden-like spot with their garbage?

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I looked in the car and found a trash bag in the back, and spent about 10 minutes picking up beer cans, chip bags, styrofoam cups, etc. Then I got in the car and drove back home.  I think I’ve found my happy place.  I’ll keep coming back here often.  It should be lovely in the fall.

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Day trip to Sunburst, NC

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Blue swallowtail butterflies.

Probably the best kept secret in my neck of the woods is a swimming hole in Sunburst, North Carolina.  It’s about 30 miles to the west of my home, deep in Haywood County, near the Tennessee border.  It’s actually part of a river system near Lake Logan, in the Smoky Mountains.   It’s one of those places that mostly just the local people know about, since it’s not advertised anywhere, there are no signs leading to it, and there is no admission to get in.   Which is wonderful because it never gets too crowded, and you almost feel like it’s your own little secret happy place.

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You just park by the side of the road and walk down to the water (you have to be careful — it’s very rocky and lots of roots too).   But once you’re down there, you’re in for a treat.   The water is cold, and probably the clearest freshwater I’ve ever seen — or tasted.   There is no cloudiness to it at all.   You can drink it and it tastes fantastic.    In fact, I filled my water bottle with it to take back home with me.  Next time, I’m taking a gallon jug!

I went up to my waist in the water (I didn’t jump off the rocks like the kids in this video were doing — and the water does look quite deep in the middle) and when you emerge you do feel rather tingly all over — I’m not sure if that’s due to the coldness or the minerals in the water.  It has a very “soft” feel to it, and I did feel very relaxed for several hours after this trip, so I wonder what good, healthful minerals it might have been infused with.

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There were blue swallowtail butterflies everywhere!  Here is the video I made.  Please excuse how amateurish it is — I’m new at making videos and haven’t figured out how to get it to fill the screen yet.    I just posted this one and the Clearwater Beach one on my Youtube account, which I’ve always had but never had anything of my own on it before.

The swamp again!

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about a surprising swamp here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.   At the time, I only had a couple of photos not taken by me.   I’ve been fascinated by the swamp ever since I discovered it.

Today, with nothing else to do, I took a drive back to the swamp to get some photos.  There wasn’t really anyplace to go down into the swamp and get closeups (not that I’d really want to do that anyway) so I took these from the highway that goes right past it.   The weeds along the side of the road were too tall to walk in.

I love the creepy beauty of these pictures.

The flowering plants growing on the water are water lilies and the blooms are a lovely bright pink, but it’s hard to make out the color from the photos.   It would have been worth getting closer in for that.

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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.

Memorial Day Photos — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC (Balsams, Plott Balsams, Devils Courthouse)

I had no plans for Memorial Day and no one to spend it with, and I was going stir crazy sitting around the house, with nothing to do but watch the depressing news.     So I decided to go for a drive.

I’m lucky to live very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I decided to drive south along it into the Plott Balsams, about 50 miles from my house.  This range (which is east of the Smokies) contains the highest peak along the parkway (6,053 feet).    The highest peak on the East Coast is Mount Mitchell (6,674 feet) in the Black Mountains, but that’s about 50 miles in the other direction.

I moved to western North Carolina in 1993, and I remember these high peaks you see pictured here used to be almost bald and covered with the dead white remains of the Frasier firs, which were almost made extinct by an aphid infestation that killed almost all the trees at this elevation.   Now they are lush and green again, but in a few of the photos, you can still see the white trunks of the dead trees peeking through the green.  I love the contrast of the dark green of the firs and balsams against the light green of the deciduous trees (which stop growing above 4,500 – 5,000 feet).   The pink flowered shrubs are wild rhododendron.

Enjoy the photos I took today.

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Clearing my head.

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I needed to clear my head today.  Sitting around the house does me no good at all and it’s easy to sink into negative emotions like depression and worry.    I knew I had to get out for awhile.  Fortunately I live very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I decided to take a nice long Sunday drive.   I decided to go up into the Black Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge just north and east of Asheville.

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I drove about 60 miles, to Green Knob, which is about 15 miles past Mt. Mitchell (at 6,683 feet, it is the highest peak on the East Coast, even higher than Mt. Washington in New Hampshire).  I was going to go up to Mt. Mitchell and take some pictures, but I took one look at the line of traffic on the off road going up there and said, “no way.”   There are other spots just as nice.

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The drive up there is always interesting.   As you climb, you feel your ears pop, and the air gets noticeably cooler.   I was able to turn off my A/C and roll down the windows and breathe in the fresh mountain air.    After awhile, the deciduous trees get shorter and stumpier, until they are mere twisted shrubs.   Craggy Gardens is filled with these stunted little trees and lots of wild rhododendrons, which are native to this area.   When they’re in full bloom, they have beautiful, big lavender clusters of flowers.   Right now they’re just dark green.

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Climb a little higher, and the deciduous trees and shrubs are completely replaced by conifers.    I’ve been told the climate up here is similar to southern Canada.   There’s a lot of ice and snow here in the winter and this part of the Parkway is usually closed off during the cold months.   Mt. Mitchell itself is covered with the skeletons of the Frasier firs, which were indigenous to this area but died off about 30 years ago due to an aphid infestation. But it isn’t all bare–there are other types of conifers that are surviving quite nicely.

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On the drive home, it rained a little–some of the photos here show the building up of the storm clouds.   I got home and felt much more at peace.  Spending time with nature always has that affect on me.   Here are the rest of the photos I took today.

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The progression of autumn: October 17

I got some good ones today! I think the season’s at it’s peak in western NC. Sorry — there was no post last week.
Click the photos to enlarge.

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By the lake.

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Fallow field.

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Another one by the lake.

Previous posts in this series:
October 7th: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/10/07/the-progression-of-autumn-october-7/
September 27th: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/09/27/the-progression-of-autumn-september-27/
September 20th: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/09/20/the-progression-of-autumn-september-20/
September 13th: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/09/13/the-progression-of-autumn-september-13/
September 7th: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/09/07/the-progression-of-autumn-september-7/

Summer storm.

At around 7:30 PM the sky began to get very dark, and a severe thunderstorm warning was issued. I drove to the nearby shopping center parking lot so I could get some good photos of the storm coming in.

It looked pretty impressive and scary as it rolled in, but turned out to be a washout, with rain but no hail, although it did get VERY windy for a few minutes just before the rain started.

I also got a couple of shots of the sky as the storm moved out, around sunset, and the colors were so pretty. (Click on the photos to see more detail).

Taken at around 7:30 PM:

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I took these at about 8:30 PM:

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