Part three- Exploring The Blue Ridge Mountains

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Picking up in the Black Balsam, this picture above is off the Flat Laurel Creek trail, a personal favorite in the Balsam. Black Balsam road is off the parkway (FS 816) just past Graveyard. The other way to access the Balsam is off 215 south in Canton. Flat Laurel Creek is a 2.5 mile hike that is flat but rocky. There’s several streams running through and a few small waterfalls to discover. It connects to Sams Knob, which is an additional 1.2 miles up. If you go from the parking area of Black Balsam road you jump right on the trail to the knob and is a 2.2 mile hike that takes you over a long boardwalk and into the open spaces of the Balsam before jumping into the forest. The view a top Sams Knob is nice. These two trails are a great highlight of the pretty forests and Flat Laurel Creek, which is a beauty of a mountain creek. All along Flat Laurel Creek trail is little camping spots and side trails taking you to more adventures. Be careful not to get turned around taking those side trails but have fun exploring.

Now for a quick story about camping in the Balsam with three bears. The last two pictures above are from this story, one is the warning of bears and the other the campsite I met them in. Note my bag of food hanging in the tree. So I did a solo camping trip that was planned for two nights in the Balsam. I set up camp off the Flat Laurel Creek trail, down by the creek. I made mistake number one by cooking a whole package of sausages on my fire, which sent waves of sweet smells into the forest. There was not another camper around that area. I hung my bag of food in a near by tree, not very high as I was right there. I went to wash up by the creek, literally ten feet from my site, when I heard a noise, it was a small black bear jumping down out of the tree with my bag! I didn’t make a sound as I saw the bear was smaller and knew momma had to be near by. The bear ran off in the woods with my bag in tow. A few minutes later it returned without the bag. No more than a few minutes passed that another, slightly bigger bear appeared and then momma came. I watched them for a moment from outside my tent before climbing in, a bit terrified. I sat in my tent with a hatchet in one hand and a a big knife in the other. This all went down just before night fall. For the rest of the night I sat scared, having to pee in a bottle, not making a sound as the three bears circled my tent, breaking branches and sniffing around. It wasn’t until morning that they left and I packed up and hurried out of there. I returned a day later to find my bag torn to shreds, my water bottle with big teeth marks in it and all my food gone. This was a huge lesson for me about food cooking, bag hanging and bears in the wild. I have become much more careful since. There are many bears in this area, as there are many campers. I was lucky these bears were not aggressive, as is the case with black bears in general but be warned!!

Another cool adventure in the Balsam is hiking to the balds. The Art Loeb, Investors Gap and Tennent Mountain loop are all together, running into each other on this portion. From the parking area you walk towards a usually gated road. You can walk the road and it takes along a winding open space with views out over the Balsam. The loop to Tennent mountain can be picked up from that road. It can be a five mile loop here, it can connect to Investors Gap for a longer voyage or jump on the Art Loeb. If you jump on the Art Loeb right at the trail head at the gate it is a short 1.5 mile hike up to the balds and stunning views. I love each way. Another way to access this area is from a large pullover going up Black Balsam road before it dead ends into the main lot. This half way pullover offers a few ways to go. If you jump on the Art Loeb here it is a bit longer, I did this trail from here and ended up going 12 miles by mistake, taking connecting trails and wondering with no certain direction but made it back all the same. It’s a fine idea to take a map or GPS. Often you can catch many wild flowers and blueberries along the trails. Going to balds is a must do with scenic views and just plain great hiking.

A few miles past the Balsam is a pull over for Devils Courthouse. It’s a short hike to the top but offers some nice views over the parkway and Blue Ridge Mountains.

From here the parkway goes off into the Great Smokeys and Cherokee reservation. That wraps up my Blue Ridge Parkway section. To back tract just a bit I will take us back into the Balsam along 215 south. From Canton you get on 215 south along Lake Logan road. The lake is quite pretty as you drive past. The road is a windy one up into the Balsam. A few miles up you will come to an impressive falls called Sunburst. There’s a natural spring running out of the mountain here. I always stop to check it out on my way up. There is a small, roadside camp ground at the Sunburst area as well. Just up around the corner from the falls is a slight pullover that has a trail up the hill. Back here there are two hidden waterfalls I call Twin falls. there are no signs or markers. It’s an easy trail back to them. As you reach the first one you actually have to cross over the falls, very carefully to get to the second one. There’s an amazing camping spot between the two. This is a really cool, little known spot.

From the Twins the road continues up, there are several pull offs with trails, one I like is a larger pull over before you get to the Flat Laurel Creek trail pull in, which is super to easy to miss. There is a long cascading falls you can see from the road here. After you park you go over the guard rail and straight down a hill. There are a few camping spots down here. You make your way to the water and can hike up the rocks to get to a nice swimming hole, complete with swinging rope. It’s a neat spot.

Going on let’s go into Cherokee. If you go in off 19 through Maggie Valley, you will encounter Soco falls along the roadside. It’s a really cool double falls that requires no hiking. I used to visit Cherokee every year on my birthday. It is the gateway to the Smokies and you can access the park through downtown Cherokee. Besides Soco another waterfall worth seeing is Mingo falls. It’s a super short .3 hike to the falls. These are the easy ones.

Getting into the Smokies is an endless playground of hiking and exploring. There’s 850 miles of hiking in the park. One of my favorite areas is Deep Creek. Along this hike you will encounter a few waterfalls, follow the river and have a great afternoon of hiking. The loop is 4.6 miles round trip. Right away you run into Toms Branch Falls, then shortly after is Indian Creek Falls down a short .8 mile junction. Then towards the end you see a short turn off for Juney Whank Falls, this is 1.2 miles down the trail. You can access the trail head for a much shorter hike to this one as well. All together it’s a perfect afternoon spent among the waterfalls.

Two great hikes I have heard about but haven’t done in the Smokies are Cades Cove and the Alum Cave trails, Alum runs into Mt. LeConte also supposed to be amazing. But yes they are on my list!!

Next up is Cataloochee Valley. This place is awesome. It’s a narrow, windy mountain road getting into the valley below. You come to a big open field as you enter and you have a great chance to see some Elk, as it’s a preserve. I love to see these big creatures. The best times to see them are early morning or late afternoon. There are lots of hikes here. Also lots of history with old cabins, churchs and ruins. I like the trail at the dead end that goes straight out and runs into an old cabin called Little Cataloochie. This trail is 5.4 miles long and not too hard. It runs into the water several times and is just pretty forest. Also another trail that follows the river is Balsam Mountain Nature trail. It’s an easy .7 mile stroll. The Boogerman is a cool hike, it can be a 7.6 loop if combined with the Caldwell Fork trail. There’s about twenty trails in this area and all vary in degree of hard to easy. Just jump on a few and check them out!

So for some random adventures. One waterfall I like is called Toms Creek falls. It’s an easy 1.2 mile hike. You can get there off US 221 from Asheville, turning on Huskins Branch rd. You can hike to the top of the falls for a different perspective. It’s not marked but there’s a parking area with a bulletin board.

Hot Springs is a neat, little mountain town, made famous for the Appalachian trail crossing and the towns natural hot springs. The springs have been made into a spa but it’s affordable and some tubs are right on the French Broad river. There’s a few ways to get on the Appalachian trail and anyway you go is great. There’s a long road that turns to a gravel road you go down before crossing the bridge into Hot Springs called Bridge st. This takes you to Paint Rock. These cliffs are jagged and pretty sweet. High up on Paint Rock are pictographs dating back 5,000 years. There’s a trail before the road curves at a fork in the river. Once you get up top you can stroll along the cliffs. I’m positive this was a sacred spot for many natives. Going out further on the road, you go into a forest area with camping, a great little swimming holes along Paint Creek and hiking trails. Dudley falls is one of those swimming spots. Across the street from there is a hidden area with a small falls but you gotta climb up into it. This is a cool area to enjoy. Back at the bridge over to Hot Springs is a trail that crosses the bridge and follows the AT called Lovers Leap. It’s a 2 mile loop.

A real local gem is out past Fairview in Gerton, NC. The Upper Hickory Nut Gorge trail. This one is a really nice, very new trail. There’s a few trails here, Bear Wallow Mountain, Little Bear Wallow, Florence Nature Preserve and Wild Cat Rock trails. I did the nature preserve and Wild Cat Rock. There’s remnants of an old cabin, some small streams and falls and just open, beautifully hiking. It’s a 4.2 mile loop on this one, that does climb up before flattening out. The Wild Cat Rock trail takes you past Laughing Waters retreat center and their orchard and gardens. There’s a big, granite rock face to check out on this trail. It’s 3 miles and is moderate. I’m so happy I found this area as it’s so close to my house. I plan to go back and see the other trails.

 

Going out of North Carolina I want to highlight two amazing trails, one in Virginia and one in Tennessee, about a three hour drive to Grayson Highlands and about an hour and a half to Cravers Gap and Roan Mountain. I wrote a post about Cravers Gap already and can be found on my page under adventures in the summer sun. Now Grayson Highlands is one of the most special places I have ever been. It’s a great way to end this series of posts. The Appalachian trail runs north and south here, as it does in Roan Mountain. I have visited the Highlands a few times and each was amazing. Hiking over twenty miles and camping a few days the first visit and several miles the second trip. A certain highlight is the wild ponies that wonder the mountains, along with long horned cattle, deer, turkeys and other forest friends. I just love encountering the wild life out here. On our camping trip we woke up one morning to the ponies eating grasses right by our tent, it was a special treat for sure. The hike can be tough as it’s up and down the whole way. There’s amazing open vistas, deep woods adventures and just being out on the AT is always great. There’s endless camping throughout the trails. The drive out there is pretty nice, going through Boone, a funky, mountain town, as well as West Jefferson, be sure to stop into both. I love the changing landscapes, blueberry picking, stopping at AT shelters and there is Mount Rogers, a nice peak to explore. It’s just a super great way to spend a long weekend. Be sure to leave the ponies alone, don’t feed or pet them, they are wild and should stay that way, human interaction is inevitable but if they get too comfortable with us it takes a little wildness away.

There’s sooo many adventures yet to come, as my passion for exploring never ends. Not to mention so many more places to go. Some places on the list I’ve mentioned and others such as Grand Father Mountain, more AT travels, waterfall hunts and endless mountain regions to discover. So stay tuned!

I added a recent adventure. It is the Big East Fork trail. You follow 110 south from Canton and come to an intersection, there you follow 276 south towards Brevard, which will lead to the parkway but before you get there, you will come to the parking areas for the Big East Fork and the Shining Creek trails. Shining Creek is the first you encounter and just past the guard rail off the road you will come to the Big East Fork parking area, these trails follow opposite sides of the river and both equally awesome. They both follow the rocky, mountain river. Both trails are relatively easy and flat for the most part. There are numerous swimming holes to jump into, a really big one is an emerald green pool that can be accessed by either side and you can’t miss it. There are several unmarked trails and foot paths that can take you in different directions and they suggest you have a map of the area as getting lost in there is a real possibility. I’m an all out explorer so I have been several of those paths. It’s important to keep note of where you are and directions you traveled. It is super pretty all up in this section of the Shining Rock Wilderness and a great afternoon of hiking which ever trail you take.

Exploring The Blue Ridge Mountains–Part 2

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After writing the last section I realized how much I am in love with this part of our country. I believe as we truly seek where we belong, it finds us. I moved here by chance, after a simple visit. It is as if the trees spoke to me, invited me to come explore. I have realized that the forest is my place to go to get away from it all, to get grounded in what I call reality, a place to clear my head, to get in touch with my truest passion, a place I call my office for work and a center of endless learning and knowledge. Although I have a fierce desire to travel and see more of the world, it’s always nice to return to a place that is as ancient as time itself and that is so lush with forest life. I just want to share this place with everyone and be a guide for others to see what I have seen. With that, let’s get in it!

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I’ll start where we left off, down near the NC and SC border off highway 281 is White Water Falls. This waterfall is huge, totaling 811 feet! The upper falls makes up 400 of those feet. From the parking area it is an easy stroll to the upper viewing area, at just a quarter mile on a paved route. The sheer size of the falls is memorizing. From here you can get down in it on the Foot Hills trail. This trail takes you down a ways and can be considered tough. This half mile stretch drops 600 feet down to the river. Here you cross a bridge and can few a smaller portion of the falls. It also makes for a nice spot to swim or just hang out. The Foot Hills trail continues on for another 77 miles! It takes you to Table Rock. I love this trail for it’s beauty and challenge. I have only ventured along it for about five miles or so. It would be a fantastic journey however to completion, so one day or shall I say one week, I’ll do it. None the less it’s a must see waterfall wither you get down in it or just view it from the overlook. To see the lower portion you have to travel into South Carolina.

 

Next I’d like to get back to some closer adventures near Asheville. Traveling down route Old 70 East about 10 minutes from Asheville you will find some great stuff. One of those highlights is a college called Warren Wilson. This college is a historic farm school started back in 1894. When I first moved here I looked into going there but didn’t make it happen sadly. It’s unique in the fact it is a working farm, students grow the food they eat in the cafeteria, they raise cattle, and learn how to work the land in various ways. It’s a neat place to stroll around. There are over 40 trails in and around the campus. One my favorites is the River trail, which follows the Swannanoa river. It’s a five mile, flat trail that travels along the pasture fields, in and out of the forest. It’s a super easy hike and offers a few nice swimming holes. The famous one is called Hippy Hole, where you often find students swimming, sometimes clothing optional. I have tubed this section of the river as well which is good fun as well. Most of the other trails are a mile or under and they all connect. There is a trail that takes you past old building ruins, here is where the trolls live. The Old Hemlock trail is a short walk that passes other ruins and connects with the Stand 4 trail, it can be a nice little loop. If you go straight past the Old Hemlock trail you can walk through the apple orchard and onto the Rhododendron Ridge trail, which a bit of a longer one but takes you along nice forest. Yet others go into long pine sections and ones that go past the farm and bamboo forests. It’s just a cool area to dive into and most all of them are easy hikes.

Continuing on Old 70 you will pass a section called Curtis Creek, this is a long forest area and gravel road that takes you up to the Parkway, there is some nice primitive camping down here. Going past that area you will head into Old Fort, a tiny mountain town. You can get here from I-40, exit 73 as well. In Old Fort is a special waterfall called Catwaba Falls. This is special to me as I once slipped and fell off the upper falls and survived. That memory has given me new respect for being safe, never climbing on waterfalls again and leaving me with some vertigo. None the less, it is a super pretty falls. The hike is a 3 mile round trip, relatively easy. There is an old dam half way to the falls and small swimming spots all along the river. The lower falls are a 100 feet of beauty, with plants and mosses dripping down in layers. If you feel adventurous you might make the climb to the upper falls. It requires some skills, using ropes to climb and can be tough. This section is a hard half mile, however the pay off is awesome. Once you reach the top, you will go into a rhododendron tunnel that leads to the 100 foot, hidden upper falls. It is a splendid oasis. There’s a perfect, deep pool at the base. After climbing up this far it makes a great place to hang out all afternoon. Catwaba falls is popular spot and a must if visiting Asheville, being so close.

Now on to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the forest highway of endless wonders. You can access the parkway from all over Western NC. The parkway runs from Virginia down into the corners of North Carolina, spanning 469 miles. There is so much to see, hike, and enjoy along the way. Getting on the parkway changed my experience of moving here a hundred fold. I spend a good majority of my time traveling and hiking this magical road. I will take you from North to South in this section, hitting some of those sweet spots. I can’t cover them all of course but here’s some of my favorites. Starting from Asheville and going North you will drive by the Folk Art Center, it’s worth a walk through for sure. I grew up with Folk Art and this is a great example of mountain life as through the eyes and hands of some amazing artists. There is also the visitors center about a mile away to get info, maps and parkway gear. A trail right by house is a loop between the two and I’m on it all the time. Might add it was the trail the Obamas walked on their visit here. The Mountains to Sea trail is THE trail that runs the whole parkway. It is 1,175 miles long running from the mountains down to the sea of outer banks of North Carolina. You can hike many segments anywhere off the parkway.

Continuing North on the parkway you will pass many overlooks to catch some wonderful mountain views and get a sense of just how expansive this chain of the Appalachians called the Blue Ridge Mountains is. The first highlighted trail I’d like to show is at the first tunnel and the trail takes you up to Rattlesnake Lodge. It is a steep 1.5 mile trek uphill. When you reach the top you will come to the ruins of the lodge. It was built in the early 1900s and burnt down in a lightening storm in 1926. The lodge was a summer retreat for Dr. Chase Ambler and his family. The complete history is at: https://www.rattlesnakelodge.com/thelodge.htm     The feature picture to this post was taken at the top of Rattlesnake on a ridge trail that goes up past the ruins.

There is another trail at Bull Gap off Ox Creek road just off the parkway that is a 3.8 mile hike. I love this trail for experiencing some history and the natural spring that is there. You can camp up at the lodge remnants.

Ever north bound you will travel up to a premier area called Craggy Gardens which is in the Asheville water shed. From here up you are in a wet, rain forest climate, which is prone to rain storms and even hail at any time. There are several awesome, challenging hikes in Craggy. First ones can be found at a pullover on the left hand side at an old fence, which hardly exists anymore. From the pull over you can go left onto the MTS trail. It goes straight up to Ravens Call overlook, a rock out cropping with a nice view of the Bee Tree reservoir below, and naturally ravens fly over head. This trail is 4 miles to this spot and climbs steadily before flattening out and climbing again. You of course can keep going along the MTS. Craggy is some of the nicest, fairy land landscapes around. It quickly became one of favorite areas to revisit time and again. Traveling on the parkway you come to the picnic area. Half way up this road you come to a parking area with trails splitting off on both sides, as well as a often closed forest road. That forest road is a nice walk and eventually takes you into Barnardsville. It goes down slowly and goes a long ways. If you take the MTS to the left of the parking area you will get on the Snowball Mountain trail. This trail is 1.4 miles up to Hawks Bill Rock. It is challenging as it climbs in elevation. This is a great overlook spot. You could continue on here and go to Snowball Mountain and an old fire tower, which is another 2.5 miles.

 

If you drive up to the picnic area you can take the hike up to Craggy bald, this bald can be accessed also at Craggy Gardens visitors center which is a much shorter, easy hike of a third of a mile. I prefer the hike from the picnic area which is a pretty easy stroll of 1.9 miles. You come to a shelter at the top just before the bald. The bald itself is an open prairie like space, with a few twisted trees around. The views are 360 and pretty good. At the visitors center you can also access the hike for Douglas Falls, a 7 mile round trip venture. It is a tougher trail, considered strenuous and very rocky but every bit a pretty hike. This trail descends 1,300 feet so the way back is the hard part. Douglas is a 70 foot waterfall. There are a few small waterfalls along the route as well. As you go past the visitors center you come to Craggy Pinnacle. This trail is an absolute beauty. It shows off the gnome like regions of Craggy with twisty trees, neat rock formations and great over look views. You might spot some small, rhododendron tunnels near the top, which I believe are the gnome trails, home of the Cherokee legends of the little people. Stories tell of little people that lived here and often came out to help the Cherokee with medicines and food. It is simply an enchanted trail all together. The trail is a 1.5 mile round trip. there are several overlook points to check out with nice stone platforms.

There are many trails within Craggy to explore that I didn’t highlight, as your leaving Craggy Pinnacle you will come to two overlooks, the first is a parking area overlooking Graybeard mountain. If you cross the parkway along the mountains to sea trail it takes you down a closed service road and back on the trail. From there you hike along a rocky trail, it’s moderately difficult. It is a pretty area. Going to the left of the parking area on the MTS takes you on an also moderately tough hike along the opposite ridge. I like this trail as well. Eventually it takes you up to yet even more Craggy balds, not as spectacular as the main ones but pretty neat all the same. The next overlook area is the overlook of Glass Mine Falls, which is an 800 foot waterfall! Jumping on the MTS to the left here takes you down a skinny section that turns into a piney hike.

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Going on now along the parkway north you come to Walker Knob Overlook pull over. I really enjoy the Big Butt trail either way you get on it. This way is from the parkway, the other is from NC 197 in Barnardsville. You drive on a windy gravel road until you reach the top and a intersection where pavement begins again. The trail is hard to spot but there is a gated forest road at the trailhead. Both trails are pretty tough, the trail from NC 197 is a hike straight up, climbing in elevation 3,277 feet! And the first two miles are no joke. The total trail is 10.9 out and back.  Off the parkway it is at mile marker 358.9, from here you get on the MTS on the left hand side. From here it is only 6 miles out and back to Big Butt, with Little Butt lookout at 2.5 miles in. The forest here reminds me of a mix of Mt, Mitchell and Craggy Gardens. Fitting as it’s half between the two on the parkway. There’s many staircases to take, some long and some short. Once you get out in it a ways, when the trail flattens out some, you will come across little outcroppings and open spaces. The view from Little Butt is nice and a good lunch spot. I really like the forest on this trail with many Conifers and Birches. It’s a good challenge too.

After Big Butt, up next is Mount Mitchell State Park. A real gem of the parkway and the highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. It’s a different world up there. The forest resembles a Canadian forest, with balsam conditions and many rare plants you won’t find anywhere else. Spruces and Firs dominate the area, along with Yellow Birch trees. My favorite part is bright green, wet mosses all over everything, makes it other worldly. Mt. Mitchell has been prone to acid rain that has killed many trees up along the peaks. As you enter the park there is a pullover on the right side of the road, from here the MTS trail runs on both sides of the road. If you cross the road and go up into lower Mitchell, your in for a treat. This section offers the best of Mitchell, it takes you through the pines and birch, through rocky outcroppings with amazing views and into the famed mossy regions, all the while wheeling your way up the mountain along the midsections. Here is also the weeping rock. There’s a series of rocks that appear to be crying, water drizzling from the cracks. It is a special little section and here I always stop to honor my ancestors. If you drive to the top you can take the short but steep walk along a paved path to the summit. Near the very top parking lot there is a short trail that connects to the paved path called Balsam Nature trail. the trail is .75 miles and is a real highlight. It displays all the wonders of Mitchells diverse ecosystem. There is the Mount Mitchell trail that begins at the campground and takes you to the summit, this is a tough trail at 6 miles and takes about 3-4 hours. The Deep Gap trail that is 4.3 miles and is moderately difficult, it starts at the picnic area and has several vistas to enjoy. The Commissary Trail that starts at the park office and follows an old logging road. This is an easy 2 mile stroll. The Old Mitchell trail that is a 4 mile round trip hike, that is moderate. It starts behind the restaurant. I really like this one as it runs through changing forest types. Down at the base of the park there is the Buncombe Horse Range trail and MTS running in both directions. I like the Horse trail that goes right from the small pullover down into Mitchells lower forest. There is a break in the trail that right takes you down and left that follows mostly flat terrain. I prefer the flat one. There are several small streams running through and it is often wet along the rocky trail. The weather is different up here, colder than any other spot on the parkway obviously, subject to high winds and changing patterns, so be prepared.

There is another way to access Mt. Mitchell and that is off NC 80 north to South Toe River rd. This is part of the state park. It’s a very nice campground and offers a few waterfalls and much hiking. You can follow the MTS trail here for 13.1 miles to the summit, it is considered tough and climbs 3,600 feet up. There are a few others in the grounds. There is a short .75 mile loop called Devils Den that is a sweet hike following the river. One I like will take you to SetRock Creek falls. It is a short half mile hike to the 75 foot falls. Follow the white blazes. There is another waterfall called Roaring Fork Falls that is down a road that has a sign for Busick work center just over the bridge. This is before the golf course and campground. It’s a beauty, little falls.

Moving right along past Mitchell is Crabtree falls. This at mile marker 339.5 off the parkway. Crabtree has a nice camping area and the hike itself is just over a mile to the falls, that is moderate. You have the option to continue on the trail. The waterfall is 60 feet and a pretty one.

My last destination going North from Asheville is Linville Falls. This section of the parkway gets super pretty, passing open fields. Linville campground is on the parkway at mile marker 316. The camp ground is a nice one and is along the Linville river, there is also a nice picnic area at the entrance. The best way to see the falls is from US 221 North to Linville falls rd. That road is gravel and gets rough after the main parking lot, this road will take you to Wisemans View, which is well worth the journey if you have an able vehicle. It looks out onto Table Rock and the river and valley below. There’s a legend of the Brown Mountain Lights, strange lights that shine in the valley as you look out Wisemans, and all around in the forest. I experienced these and can tell you first hand they are real and pretty awesome. It’s an eerie feeling seeing them but a once in a lifetime thing. Some say there is an underground military base down in the valley and they come from there. Others say they are alien or ghosts and some simply believe they are just natural gases much like the Northern Lights. There’s primitive camping, pull up spots on the road as well. From the main lot you can view the falls from several spots. One way takes you to the upper falls and another way takes you to Erwins View that has two overlooks and Chimney View. Along Chimney View are several chimney rocks that jet out overlooking the river and gorge. It’s a short mile and half to get to these views. Then there’s the gorge. Many hikes take you down into the gorge. One I like is called Pine Gap trail. This is a real tough one. It’s only .7 miles but is straight down and the trail is narrow. It leads you down to the river where you can jump in. Hawks Bill trail is 2.2 miles long and offers amazing views of Table Rock and Short Off mountains.

Just after Linville on the parkway is a trail called the Tanawha trail. There’s a visitors center there and large parking area. This trail is unique and interesting. It takes you under the parkway bridge and view the Linn Cove viaduct. The trail could go 11.4 miles total, I myself did a few of those miles. Rough Ridge is one of the destinations on the trail, a rock outcropping with great views. You crawl through huge boulders at the beginning, which is just great fun. The trail is pretty and full of small streams and bridges to cross. It’s not too tough but offers some challenge. Just past there is Flat Rock overlook. An easy 30 minute stroll to a nice overlook rock.

Going back now to the South. Leaving from Asheville and heading in the opposite direction you will pass several roadside trails all of which offer cool adventures. You will come to a turn off for 191, Brevard rd which goes past the Arboretum. This is a neat place with gardens, a prize winning Bonsai tree collection, a biking trail and center to check out. Christmas time brings the lights all through the small park. If you take a left at the light nd then another left at the next light it takes you down into Bent Creek. This is a mountain bikers fun park. There are several mountain biking trails that bring fast down hills, lots of bumps and hills to ride and tough, rooty, rocky other trails to explore. There are sevral hiking trails as well. In the back of Bent Creek is Lake Powhatan. I nice tiny lake that has a small beach area to jump in. I’ve ridden and hiked all over this area and it’s all good stuff. Chose your adventure in here. It is also an experimental forest so there’s all kinds of neat treasures to see as far as plants and mushrooms goes. You can camp on the forest road that leads out of Bent Creek and up to the parkway. Which is where will we pick up.

Continuing south bound on the BRP there are again several roadside pullovers and parking areas. You go through a series of tunnels before reaching the Mount Pisgah area. Complete with a nice campground, picnic areas, restaurant, and inn. Not to mention the trails. There’s several here I have enjoyed. The main attraction is the hike to the summit of Mt. Pisgah. This trail is 1.5 miles and considered strenuous. The trail is quite rocky and it is steep. There are several stairs to climb on your way. It is pretty along the way. This hike starts behind the picnic area. The views are quite nice from the summit. There a few other trails here, from easy, short ones to tougher up and down ones. A famous one is the shut in trail. George Vanderbilt made this trail in 1890, using it to go between his hunting lodge in Buck Springs to his estate, the Biltmore Estate. This trail actually starts at fore mentioned 191 by the Arboretum and climbs to Pisgah or you can go the other way around. It is 16.3 miles long and can spit you out at many of the over looks and parking areas along the way. It is a toughy. One trail I have enjoyed, though pretty hard is the Buck Spring trail. It follows the white blazes. It is 6.2 miles and climbs quite a bit before dropping and leveling out. It drops down to 276 in Brevard above Pink Beds. It crosses some streams and through an old Chestnut forest with large remaining trees there.

Just past Pisgah is the Frying Pan fire tower hike. It is a pullover at mile marker 409.6 and you can’t miss the tower. It is a 1.5 mile hike round trip. You can climb up into the tower, though the main platform is locked. You can view Cold mountain and Mt. Pisgah from here.

Next up is Skinny Dip falls at mile marker 417. This is also the Looking Glass Rock overlook. I do love these falls, it reminds me a hidden oasis deep in the mountains. The hike is .75 of a mile long and is relatively easy but is rocky. The falls are a fun spot to jump in. You can hike up past the falls along the river, it is full of boulders with small dipping holes all over. Many people do in fact skinny dip back here. There is a dragon tree at the beginning of the trail that has become a famous photo spot. I learned the natives would bend the young trees to mark ways to special places or hunting grounds, this was one for sure. Just before the parking area there is a big pullover on the right, this takes you along the MTS trail and connects to the Bridges Gap Camp trail that leads down to the Pigeon river. There’s plenty of primitive camping down here and it’s lovely, right on the river. The trail continues and follows the river a ways. There’s a small waterfall back along the trail and some nice river side spots to fish or hang out. It’s just 1 mile down to the river and from there it takes you into Shining Rock Wilderness and connecting to the Big East Fork trail which goes 3.6 miles to 276. This is a super pretty hike, I just love hikes that follow rivers or streams.

Just about a mile down the way are two of my absolute favorite areas, Graveyard Fields and the Black Balsam. Graveyard falls is a sweet little falls that you can jump in and the fields are a wonderland full of blueberries and black berries. It’s only a third of a mile hike to the main falls and if wanting more it’s a 3.5 mile loop to the upper falls. The hiking is super nice full of wild flowers, streams, berries and open fields. In fall these are some of the best colors views there are. Camping used to be abundant here but is often closed when bears are active. I do enjoy jumping in the falls in the summer. There are great views of the Balsam area as well. Graveyard is super popular and can get crowded but there’s enough space to get away while exploring.

To the Black Balsam! This a vast wonderland of hiking, camping and adventure. Dare I say number one on top of my list. In the Balsam you’ll find trails leading to beautiful vistas, others taking you deep into the piney forests, rivers and streams, tons of camping spots for back packing and bears and more bears. Hate to make ya wait but this section will begin my next post……….

Exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains- Part One

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So I have wanted to make a blog post about some of the amazing trails and areas I have explored since moving to these wonderful mountains 10 years ago. Upon moving to Asheville I instantly became charmed by the city but once I set foot on the trails there was no looking back. I began to learn the flora and mushrooms, ventured out to many waterfalls and overlooks and simply immersed myself in the ancient Appalachians. In this post I will highlight some great trails, with descriptions of what to expect about the strenuous factor, what you might see and all the highlights!

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My first trail to spot light is the Old GrayBeard Trail in Black mountain. It is 8.9 miles total, out and back takes up to 5 hours round trip. It is a total of 2,180 feet ascent. This trail is a strenuous one, mostly towards the top, up to the waterfall isn’t too terrible. This trail begins in the very back of Montreat college. Black Mountain is a cute, quint little mountain town. I have had the pleasure of vending at the weekly tail gate market in town and have got to know many people who are locals there and they are friendly and warm. In the future if I stay in this part of the world, I’d like to live there, it is the essence of a small mountain town. There are a few trails in Montreat but this is my favorite. Montreat is a private, Christian based college. It was founded in 1916 with many historic buildings from that era. The campus is beautiful to stroll around and if you have kids, their playground is top notch. The road through the college goes straight back along assembly drive which will turn into Gray Beard trail rd. This road will dead end straight into the trail head. Right away you will notice the Birch trees and rushing water that is the Flat Creek. This creek runs the whole way up the trail. These kinds of trails are my favorite, to walk beside the rushing water is a delight. There are two ways to go, first is crossing a bridge onto the main trail or going across the parking lot to the Sanctuary trail that connects to the Gray Bread trail eventually. The Sanctuary trail is a loop, about an hour long and moderate. There are some uphill parts but nothing too bad. There is a small pond at the top of the hill, at the beginning and a gazebo that makes a nice lunch spot.

 

As you go along the Old Gray Beard trail you’ll find it is quite rocky. About 20 mins into it you come to a split with a bridge on the left, which takes you on the loop back to the parking lot or to the right, the long journey. Going right you will begin your climb, it is gradual at first, taking you over four creek crossings before reaching a plateau. Here you will see signs. To the left is the continuing Gray Beard, to the right is the Old Trestle road. You can connect back to the Gray Beard off the Trestle or you can connect to the overlook trail, another highlighted Montreat trail or you can connect to the Old Mitchell toll road that goes up to Mt. Mitchell 13 miles later (I’ll talk about these off shoots later). Oh the choices. Sticking with the Gray Beard trail you will venture on for several miles, winding around the mountain on a series of long switchbacks. A highlight along the way is Walden rock, a nice opening and overlook. Next you will come to Gray Beard falls. A smaller waterfall but every bit pretty. This is a nice spot to catch a rest. From here the journey gets steep. You will be going all uphill, past a shelter called Walkers Knob, here some say are the best views. If you continue on the path narrows and the forest changes. It gets pretty in this section but is a rocky, tougher climb up. Making it to the end is a feat but worth it for a challenge and accomplishment! I did the whole trail this past year for my 41st birthday. I have done sections of it several times and keep going back.

 

I wanted to add a little about the other trails that shoot off Old Gray Beard trail. That being the Trestle road and Old Mitchell Toll road. I have traveled both, the Trestle to completion and Old Mitchell for a little ways. Both trails take you on private property which seems to be owned by a hunting club. During bear hunting season it may be a good idea to avoid these two. However in off season it’s just fine to pass through. That also may be an indicator that there are bears in this area. The Trestle road also connects to Overlook mountain trail, which I only briefly went on but is said to be a nice overlook but is a steeper trail. Trestle is a wide trail that used to be a road, it’s long and not too exciting. Eventually it connects with Old Mitchell and Gray Beard trails. Old Mitchell was interesting to me because it travels all the way to Mt. Mitchell 13 miles later. I haven’t been up for that challenge yet. I did see an old cars remnants, from a crash long ago I learned.  This trail is overgrown in some parts and basically follows a ridge line. It’s a pretty trail being so narrow, it too connects back up to Gray Beard trail.

So on to the next one. Staying in Black Mountain, the next trail takes you to the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. This is a conference center slash kids camp. The trails are open to the public and there are several to explore. I myself have tapped into the upper trails and some of the lower ones. To get to the upper trails you have to drive past the main buildings, which are old and historic. Follow Blue Ridge Assembly drive until you come to Gym road on the right, follow that short road up to Cottage circle, another short road which takes you past Lee Hall, there is a parking lot back there and trail signs. It’s a short hike up to the trails, walking past their amphitheater. The trail up to High Windy is a tough one, climbing 2,030 ft and taking you 5.9 miles round trip. It’s a wide trail that climbs uphill the whole way, with stretches of flat hiking along the way. Along the way you come to an old shelter, this is the half way point. The view at the top is okay but not as spectacular as you may hope. I enjoyed hiking this trail because it is well maintained and is pretty forest to walk through.

 

Besides this trail there are many others in the Assembly. For other upper trails, there is a loop that is nice and takes you to a small waterfall, it is an easy hike called the Carolina loop. There is another one that winds around through rhododendron and is relatively easy. There are several lower trails at the beginning of the Assembly and are nice easy walks as well. Trails are well labeled and you can get a free map inside the main  building. It’s a nice area and a cool place for kids to mess around in as well. There is also a disc golf course there to explore if your into that.

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Moving on to Brevard, North Carolina. It is known as the land of waterfalls and lives up to that title. Brevard is a nice, small mountain city. It is home to a great music college and the downtown area is bigger than Black Mountain and quite lively. They have a festival every year called the White Squirrel Festival, named for the famous white squirrels in the area, rumor has it they were from Russia and escaped upon a circus visit to the area, breeding with the squirrels here. I have yet to see one myself. Most of the great places to see waterfalls are along US 276 in Brevard. It is a road that goes deep into the forest with lots of forest roads coming off it for adventuring and camping primitive style, those are my favorite places to go camp. Along this road you will see Looking Glass Falls, a picturesque one for sure, no hike required. Also Moore Cove Falls which is a hike I will highlight. Looking Glass Rock, John Rock, Sliding Rock and Pink Beds are others I will talk about later, all on this road. 276 will take you up to the Blue Ridge Parkway as well. I’ll start with Looking Glass falls, Sliding Rock and Moore Cove falls. These three are back to back to back along the road. Looking Glass and Sliding Rock involve no real hiking as they are right off the road. These two are highly popular spots among visitors because of easy access. I used to swim in Looking Glass when I first moved here and have dipped into Sliding Rock as well, this is some of the coldest, take your breath away water I know. Sliding Rock is literally a natural water slide and many, many people go down every year. It is a fee area of a few dollars but worth the experience.

After these two you will find Moore Cove Falls trail just off the road. This has become one of my absolute favorites to visit anytime of year. Visiting it in the winter is neat as at the base of the falls, ice will build up and make a sculpture. This is one of the first ever places I tried meditation. It is also a place I placed my fathers ashes after he passed away. The hike is easy, totaling one mile. It leads you past some neat rock formations and small running creeks, before reaching the falls. The falls themselves are more of a whispy trickle compared to other waterfalls in the area. You can walk behind them and hike to the top as well. Behind the falls is a cool cave like area that I’m sure was a scared place for the natives. It is a special place and a must see on this road of adventure.

As your going down 276 you’ll come to a split in the road, following the road to the right you go up to Looking Glass Falls, to the left is a side road that takes you to a few forest roads. You’ll see signs for the fish hatchery. As you turn on this route you come immediately to the trail head for Looking Glass Rock on the right. This is a premier hike in the area. The rock itself was formed some 300 million years ago! The rock is made of granite and was formed by volcanic activity. It is referred to as the ‘pluton monolith’. If it hadn’t cooled before reaching the surface, it would still be an active volcano these days! Viewing it from a distance is beautiful and can be viewed well from milepost 417 on the parkway or from the Black Balsam road. However hiking to the summit is the wonder. It is a 6.5 round trip hike that ascends 1,700 feet. It is a trail of switchbacks. I would call it moderate to difficult but if you take your time it’s not terribly tough and the view at the end is simply spectacular. I try to get up there at least once a year. The hike is mostly through the forest with few views until the top, a cool highlight is a helipad near the top. The rock is a rock climbers oasis, many people climb it’s famous face. You can also access the base of the rock from a hike off forest road FS475B. It’s an easy hike and you go through a really neat boulder field as you make it to the rock itself. It’s pretty cool to see it from the bottom.

A neat spot to check out is past the hatchery you come to a forest road, FS475B, mentioned above. This road is full of great primitive camping spots. As you drive on the gravel road, you come to a trail called Slick Rock Falls, it’s a small waterfall but worth the look. It is right at the beginning of the trail. The hike from there is a good ascent and makes for a nice hike but the falls is the highlight.

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At the Fish Hatchery is a learning center. From the parking lot you can access the hike for John Rock. There are a few ways to go but I found Cat Gap loop to be the nicest.  Looking Glass Rocks little brother. This hike is a nice one. You will see a nice waterfall along the way and it goes into some sweet pine forests with small streams running through. The total hike to the summit is a five mile loop and climbs 1,000 feet. It’s gradual and very pretty. The view up top is nice with views of the valleys below and Looking Glass Rock as well. I really like this hike. Especially the small bridges you cross and the many small cascades. The trail links up with the Art Loeb trail, which is a 30 mile trail I will talk about later.

Next up is Pink Beds. This area is full of adventures. It is a pull off, parking area right off 276. It can be a loop of 6 miles but also leads you to an off shoot trail called Barnett Branch which is a 3 mile one way tract. There’s also a few other connecting routes that I personally have not explored. Which is to say follow your trail signs. Pink Beds loop is a very pretty trail with sections that take you over long board walks and short foot bridges. There are sections of rhododendron tunnels and more open piney sections. There are small creeks and streams running all over. Barnett Branch can be a fun off shoot that has a pretty little waterfall as part of the hike. I have camped here several times, it’s a nice camp site near the waterfall. You can also access Barnett Branch from FS1206, that also has nice primitive camping along that road. I really like this area of the forest and have gone back time and time again. In spring and summer you can be treated to the beauty of the rhododendron flowers that dominate this area.

There are many other wonderful trails to explore along US276 in Brevard as well. Moving on but staying around the same region is the extra special experimental forest of Dupont. Dupont is the mecca of waterfalls and big ones at that! There are 5, pretty easy to access waterfalls along one wide gravel roadway. The two big ones are close to each other along short but challenging trails off the main walk way. I say challenging because it’s one steep climb and the other an up and down venture. They are Triple Falls and High Falls and they are the biggest ones. When I first moved here you were allowed to jump in and swim in any of them, climb around on the rocks up and down. These days there are so many people that visit the area that ranger presence is heightened and it’s not allowed as much. Dupont is a very busy destination and that can take away from the experience just a bit. Triple Falls is a short .7 mile hike that is straight uphill, it is an impressive three tiered waterfall that is very powerful when running on full throttle. High Falls is a 1.9 pretty flat stroll along a small river and is equally as strong in flow, there is a side section of this falls that people slide down the rock into a pool of water below. You can view both of these from different places.

From those two you can take the journey to Bridal Veil falls, my personal favorite. The distance is 7.25 miles out to this one, all flat forest road walking. At about 3 miles you come to a covered bridge which is pretty neat. You also pass Lake Dense which is also neat to check out, especially in fall. There is a few off shoot trails, one taking you to a small waterfall called Grassy Creek which is a 1.3 mile hike. You will pass a small horse ranch before getting to Bridal Veil. When you reach the falls you will have to hike up a gradual large rock face and it can be slippery so do so with caution. You can walk behind the falls also with great caution and even go above it. I love these parts of the experience, especially being behind the falls, it’s like no other waterfall venture and is often quite secluded with very little traffic.

On the other side of Dupont is a nice falls called Hooker Falls. It is a short walk, just under a mile to get to Hooker. This is a great swimming spot. Many people jump off the top and the water is pretty deep. It is quite safe to swim here and get under the falling waters. I’m always happy to jump into the water anytime and this waterfall is a good one for that. And that’s a wrap for Dupont.

Sticking with Brevard, I want to highlight another waterfall called Courthouse Falls. This one is off highway 215, down forest rd FR140. It is a 2.7 mile hike in and a little steep in places. The falls themselves are very pretty. The pool at the bottom is a nice swimming hole. Many daring folks go for it and jump from above but I don’t recommend this as it is pretty sketchy.

Going past Brevard you head towards Cashiers, another exciting area to explore. Out this way you’ll find Gorges State park and Panthertown. I’ll start with Panthertown, which is a big area with lots of trails, great camping and some cool highlights. I like to go in off Cold Mountain rd which is off highway 281. This road takes you past Lake Toxaway and puts you on Panthertown rd. From the parking lot you have two trails to pick from, you can go straight into the forest or take an old logging road, they connect either way. The route to School House Falls is 2.3 miles long, is considered easy and takes you over a boardwalk. All around this area and at the falls is camping. School House is a pretty little falls and a great place to post up for the afternoon. There are a few trails branching off in different directions and all provide nice, easy hiking adventures. There is a hike called Little Green which is actually a loop and totals 5 miles. This is a pretty hike and follows a creek. The other adventure I like in Panthertown is to the Great Wall. You have to enter from the other side of the park off US 64 East, from there you get on Ceder Creek rd to Breed Love rd which will dead end, total of 5 miles off 64. The Great Wall hike is a short .25 mile hike on the Salt Rock Gap trail. I will say Panthertown can get confusing as there are many off shoot trails that could take you in various ways. Getting a Panthertown map is a good idea. The Great Wall is a huge granite face and pretty awesome. It is not hard to climb up into it a short ways safely. You can check out views of Big Green mountain and Little Green mountain as well. I keep going back to Panthertown because there is a lot to explore and I have much to experience in there still. There are a few waterfalls within this area, besides School House there is one called Granny Burrell falls, which is a nice one and others I haven’t discovered yet but they are there and on the map! There is also a cool trail that takes you Devils Elbow and here you will find sandy beach like areas to sit by the water and hang out. And one last highlight I’ve been to is a bald, outcropping called Black Rock. You can wonder around on the balds and get some really sweet views. I highly suggest a weekend camping adventure in Panthertown to really explore and soak it up.

To finish this part one I’ll highlight Gorges State Park, Raven Cliff Falls and Paradise Falls. All three of these are wonderfully amazing waterfalls. Starting with Paradise falls, which is tricky to find, my suggestion is to google it as Paradise Falls NC. I will say it’s off 281 north. This is a challenging hike to say the least. It’s not very long at half a mile, but that half mile is straight down! It is tricky and can be slippery in mud if it rains. There are a few ropes to help but go slow. It is worth it however as the base of the falls is a fantastic swimming hole in an emerald green pool. You can get into the kettle, I call it, a round hole in between the huge rock cliffs. You can view the falls from above with caution as a damn runs into the falls and people have died when the damn opens. It’s also a huge drop off if your trying to peek over the edge. Up top is another great swimming spot. It is one of absolute favorite falls around for sure. Some people jump from the high cliffs which is a good forty to fifty feet, I don’t recommend this as it can be dangerous, there are some smaller spots that are much safer to jump in.

Gorges State park is one I haven’t explored too much but really want to. I did spend an afternoon hanging in a hammock near Rainbow falls, which is wonderful. There is a lot to see in the park, a few waterfalls and tons of hiking. It is off 281 in Sapphire. It’s definitely on my list to get back to. Turtle back Falls is a popular one as people slide down the face of the falls. I’ll talk more about this park after I visit again.

Last on my list for this post is Raven Cliff falls. This is right off 276 in SC. The hike is moderate at 4 miles out and back. It is a big one at 420 feet. You come to a foot bridge, it was closed when I went but the trail goes on if it’s open. You come to a bridge that is somewhat over the falls and there’s some small pools to mess around in.

More adventures coming in part two, stay tuned and happy hiking!!

Memories Past

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” –Dr. Suess.

So as this blog of mine has grown over time. I noticed it makes for a great photo album, a great journal and a great way to remember the places I’ve been, the things I’ve done and when it’s said and done, a great something to leave behind. As I take a look back, I see many awesome experiences I haven’t included since I started this blog over two years ago. There have been some significant events that have shaped parts of my life and have had a big impact on me emotionally. This particular post is kind of just for me, but also as one day I won’t be around anymore, it’ll be a little something for my son or whoever to look back at.

I’d like to start this post by remembering some people that have departed from my life, friends and family members. It’s always hard to say goodbye, sometimes you get a chance, sometimes you don’t. As I grow a little older, I realize it gets harder and it also reminds me of my own morality and how fragile and sacred life really can be. In a way it makes me live louder, fuller and do things I want to do and not wait. Embrace, be inspired, appreciate, have gratitude, love those here now and be present as much as I can. I also see the importance to embrace the chances you might have to be around those who are sick or close to the end, to share some space with them, listen, chat, hug them. I like to think that when that time comes for me people close to me will come to visit me. Thinking of those who are gone, I read through ‘A year to live’ by Stephen Levine and did some journaling around that. It has helped me find peace and understanding with death. All these people have touched my life, taught me things, grew close to me and shared memories with me in so many different ways and from a view uniquely their own. Some lived long, full lives, some died way to soon. They are all from different places and times in my life. I can say I love them all dearly. There are a few others I could not find pictures of but would like to mention their names, Alice Kozinski, Angie Beach, Jacob Larmon, Hank Sylvester Sr., Rose Sylvester and Jeremy Vaughn. I am sure I may be failing to mention some others but they are in my heart all the same. I honor my ancestors and my kindred. I think of them all often.

 

 

Now to take look back on some adventures that were rather memorable. Great places visited here in the country called the United States, which I’m not how sure that’s an appropriate name anymore. Not in any particular order here we go. So in early summer, late spring of 2017, Jill, Brendan and myself traveled to Washington, D.C., the capitol of  our fine country. We spent a long weekend diving into the many offerings of D.C. Lucky enough for us there just so happen to be a protest against none other than our 45th, worst ever in the history of man, horrible, terrible, president Donald Trump. It was a tax march, to try and get him to do what ever other president has had to do and show his taxes publicly. There was several thousand people gathered for this one, us included. First a rally happened in front of the capitol building, with many speakers, then we marched. It was a super powerful feeling marching through the streets of downtown D.C., waving signs, chanting, stopping to yell at the white house and Trump Towers. The feeling was best described as electric. I may have flipped off the white house, oops. Slogans were something like..”we want a leader, not a lazy tweeter.” “hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and such. We carried signs that said, “tax the rich”. There were many funny, creative and serious signs as well. We felt a part of something good. Letting our free voices be heard and standing up for something we believed in. Of coarse nothing happened that day, Trump was in Florida golfing and no one made him show his taxes but I do love a good protest and have been in many small ones, but this one took the cake as the biggest and funnest one I’ve ever done. It was a trip to watch Brendan marching, he had a bandana over his face like a try anarchist. Power to the people! We were some of the ones that Trump doesn’t like and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the spirit of protest, I added some local ones I joined. March for our lives, for awareness of gun control and mass shootings. The womans march, for womans rights and the #me too movement. The science march, climate change awareness and the environment. Trumps visit to Asheville protest. It’s energizing to be in such crowds, making a small difference and banding together as community.

 

 

We spent lots of time checking out all the cool, free museums. It is super awesome that they are free! The Smithsonian, the Holocaust, the air and space, a few art ones and Native American to name a few. So much to see and learn in each and experience. I really enjoyed all of that! We also went to monuments, memorials, and historic buildings. We’d see dinosaur bones, mummies, precious gems, priceless works of art, statues, artifacts and on and on. A super cool, extra fun thing was we rented bikes and rode all over the National Mall, even some at night. That was so much better than walking everywhere and just neat to ride around Washington on a bike! Pretty cool, it’s a hop on, hop off deal, there is stations all over the city, so you can ride it to one place drop it off and walk awhile then pick up another somewhere else and ride. Going through the Holocaust museum was difficult and powerful, as was walking the Vietnam war wall. Really neat seeing the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington memorials and The MLK Jr. memorial that was relatively new. It’s always interesting to see so much history in one place, how much things have changed, how much has been preserved and how much lost. We stayed at an air bnb and rode the subway which kept costs down. It was a fun trip for sure.

 

 

Just after our D.C. trip came the passing of my father. We three had traveled to Buffalo to be there. A trying time for us all, with emotions that covered the range. It was hard to see him so weak, it had a surreal, gut wrenching feel to watching the process happen in real time. I’ll not forget the hospice experience, the details of the rooms, the small trail out back, the court yard, the picture hanging in my dads room that looked like a place at the end of my street in Asheville, playing the piano in the lobby, when his friend, Don, played the last song he’d ever hear (It Stoned Me by Van Morrison), taking him outside one last time, watching old home videos in his room, old friends of his stopping by, the priest reading him the bible, praying with us all, the two deer that came to his room window after he passed, holding his hand as he took his last breathe, all of it is vivid and clear these years later. We’d have the memorial and funeral, along with a 21 golf ball salute at Kimmys house. It was nice to be around Joey, Jenna, JoJo, Angelina, Kimmy and Lori. It doesn’t happen much and that seemed very special. While there we did manage to get away some, hiking the Niagara gorge, which was pretty spectacular. The water was more turquoise than anything I’ve seen in nature and the rapids were amazingly fast, big and dangerously strong. We saw Niagara falls. It took me back to fourth of Julys of the past, my dad and grandparents would take us there to see fireworks when we visited in summer. We would go to the houses I grew up in, in Buffalo. That was a strange feeling being there. I didn’t get to really enjoy the time we had in them as my dad had hoarded up both of them and they were in bad shape. That had some mixed emotions involved, my grandparents had left us kids their house and it ended up being taken and sold. I will never be inside them again. We did go to my grandparents one last time with my dad, who insisted despite his condition, to get a set of golf clubs for me and Brendan to use. It was such a meaningful thing for him to give those to us. We also got to see lots of family that it had been years since seeing, like my aunt Irene and uncle Bobby, my cousins and old family friends. We also went by the Lady of Fatima, a place my dear grandparents would take us all the time and I have such fond memories from way back when, that too was big to have visited. I did get a chance to say hi to them as well, going to their tombs for the first time ever. I loved my grand parents very much and always thought of them wonderfully. It all was filling a hole I had empty for a long time. Although being one of the most difficult times I can remember, it was also healing, a trip down memory lane going around Buffalo, taking me back to my youth a lot and a time of family togetherness.