Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chimney Rock, NC

In Asheville, Wednesday morning started for us around 8:00am in the cottage as we showered and started to get ready for our 9:00 breakfast in the main dining room of the B&B. Ann chose the Carolina B&B and no doubt knew that the food was reputed to be very good, but I was pretty much clueless, though in retrospect, I should have known from the attention paid to the hors d'oeuvres the night before that breakfast would be really nice.

Our first course was a yogurt panna cotta with strawberry coulis and this was followed by a roasted red pepper quiche with sausage and a biscuit. This is a lot of trouble for breakfast and I appreciate it. Eating like this, you would think we both would have gained considerable weight during our trip. To the contrary, we both lost weight and when you see the Giant Stairmaster that we climbed later in the day, you will start to understand why we lost weight.

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis

Roasted Red Pepper Quiche, Biscuit, Sausage
After breakfast, I shot some photos at the B&B while Ann got ready for our day's excursion. The night before, she found a magazine with a bunch of recommended day hikes in it and after we plotted them on the map, it turned out that three were within an easy distance. She chose Chimney Rock State Park where the climactic cliff scenes in Last of the Mohicans were shot, a little less than an hour southeast of Asheville.

After a couple stops shopping to resupply and replace my busted flip flops, we got on the road for the quick 45-minute drive to Chimney Rock NC. Somehow our Garmin got confused and had us trying to make a right turn into the park several hundred yards beyond the entrance. Doing a quick U-turn finally let me see the astonishing view that Ann had been talking about since we entered the creek valley town. The camera flattens out perspective: Chimney Rock is way more impressive in person than it is in a photograph.

Although from the main drag, Chimney Rock and the surrounding cliffs seem so close, it's a mile on the park road before the entrance booth and another mile and a half up to the parking lot. Ann jokingly asked the friendly attendant at the entrance booth if they had an elevator to the top. The guy said that they had reduced the price of admission because the elevator was out of service. I thought he was kidding until I saw the sign on the window stating "Elevator out of service." Who knew?

As we wound up the switchbacks to the parking lot below the 315-foot high granite monolith, a   Sharp-Shinned Hawk dove out of the trees and swooped from right to left in front of us after something on the ground on the left margin of the road. Because we were rounding a switchback, there was no way to look back to see what it was after or even if it was successful.

315-Foot Chimney Rock from Parking Lot
From the parking lot, we started up the first of many, many stairs to the top of Chimney Rock, about 500 in total, something on the order of 25 flights, making it one hell of a workout. Opportunities to stop going up are frequent and a good way to admire the view. It's just fascinating to see how the trees and plants are making inroads into all this rock; there's even a couple of pine trees growing on the very top of the chimney. If that isn't the picture of optimism, I don't know what is. The pines are very tiny but apparently are many decades old.

Trees Grow in the Craziest Places

View Headed up to Chimney Rock
All over the higher elevations of the park, Carolina Rhododendrons are blooming and for the most part, are blooming snow white with perhaps the tiniest shade of pink. They seem to be spindlier and have smaller clusters of blooms than the more familiar Catawba Rhododendrons which bloom a good many weeks later, the vivid purple that everyone knows from domestic plantings.

Carolina Rhododendron All Over the Park

I came across a small tree, called the White Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus, with which I am not familiar. Perhaps I have just never encountered it in bloom, but for whatever reason, it has never entered my lexicon of native flora.

White Fringe Tree

Annie Taking in the View Atop Chimney Rock

These Mounting Clouds are a Sign of Things to Come

The Flag Atop Chimney Rock
The view up top was definitely worth the long climb. Here is a view of Lake Lure due east of Chimney Rock. Lake Lure was one of the locations for shooting the movie Dirty Dancing. It was really hazy during our visit, presaging a wicked afternoon thunderstorm. If you look closely, there is a Turkey Vulture right down on the horizon just above the tallest peak in view. Speaking of birds, we were standing under one of the pines on top of the chimney chatting with one of the park rangers, the one who helped me identify the Fringe Trees below on the hillside earlier. As we were chatting, a magnificent male Magnolia Warbler in full breeding plumage flew into a tree at eye level no more than 18" away. I couldn't get the camera up and focused fast enough before he flew off to the hillside behind the chimney.

Lake Lure
After climbing to the top of Chimney Rock and taking in the stunning views, we opted not to climb higher up the hill (as you can see in the photo below, there is a good bit of rock above the chimney), but rather to make the 3/4-mile hike to 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls, one of the falls shown in the climactic scenes at the end of the film The Last of the Mohicans. We had to climb back down the hill to get to the trail to the falls.

There's This Much More Above Chimney Rock

Love the Interplay of Rock and Trees

Hundreds and Hundreds of Steps; Headed Down Now

False Solomon's Seal

Along the path to Hickory Nut Falls, we ran across this Female Black-Throated Green Warbler gathering nesting materials from the path in front of us. Female warblers are always tricky to identify (and worse still are fall warblers after they have molted out of breeding plumage).

Black-Throated Green Warbler Gathering Nesting Materials
We could hear Hickory Nut Falls for a few minutes before we could see it. As always, the camera does an excellent job of flattening out perspective. These falls are 404 feet high though you can't tell the scale in the photo. They are much more impressive in person. The picture of Ann in the photo below helps give some perspective. Of course, the temperature was in the mid-80s and the humidity before the coming thunderstorm was oppressive. No doubt the water felt great.

404-Foot Hickory Nut Falls

Waterfall Detail

My Nut in the Water
On the way back, I caught some more flowers that I hadn't noticed on the way out, including these Dwarf Crested Irises hanging off the side of a rock, a couple of Cucumber Trees, and a couple of Carolina Rhododendrons that were much pinker than the rest we had seen all day. I've seen a lot of Cucumber Trees, Magnolia acuminata, the hardiest of the Magnolias, throughout the Appalachians. Though they are usually widely distributed in small numbers, we saw quite a lot of them throughout the park here, many too small to be blooming. I still remember fondly the massive tree in Colonial Heights, VA that was planted in 1718. That is a Cucumber Tree to behold.

Dwarf Crested Iris

Cucumber Tree

Pink Carolina Rhododendron
We were good and starving as we came down from the park in the mid-afternoon. Given that it was a Monday, the café where Ann wanted to eat was closed, but luckily the Old Rock Café right outside the park gates was open. Situated along banks of the picturesque Broad River which feeds nearby Lake Lure, it was an inviting place to sit on the back deck and have a relaxing lunch of burgers and beer to the sounds of the water rushing over the rocks. The clouds that had building all day finally blackened, the wind got up, and we heard distant rolls of thunder: rain was imminent. Quickly finishing up our lunch, we walked the 15 yards to the river  but had to make a hasty run for the Jeep to avoid the huge downpour through which we drove for the next 20 minutes on our way back to Asheville.

Just Outside the Entrance to the Park

Never Seen Burger Toppings on Top of the Bun Before

Just Awesome After a Long Hike
Ann's first questions inside the restaurant was "Do you have beer?" I cannot tell you how good these tasted after a long morning of hiking. Catawba is from Morganton, east of Asheville, and Dale's Pale Ale from Oscar Blues which we all know as a Longmont (just outside of Boulder) Colorado brewery is now also brewed in Brevard, south of Asheville, for the East Coast market. Dale's is a longtime favorite of mine.

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