Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Linville Falls, Linville NC

Ann woke up on Tuesday of our vacation week with a terribly painful and swollen knee after severely straining her PCL the day before. Tuesday also brought a glorious change in the weather! Clearly a cold front blew through on Monday evening and Tuesday dawned crisp, bright, and clear, setting the stage for a wonderful travel day.

The plan for the day was to hike Grandfather Mountain (#16) from the swinging bridge to Calloway Peak and back, with a quick stop at Linville Falls/Gorge (hike #15) along the way to see the beautiful waterfall. Given the state of Ann's knee, I was pretty sure that the highly technical hike at Grandfather using ladders and fixed wires was out, but we could at least drive to the top and see the view from there. And at least Ann could see the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a 228-foot suspension bridge; I know she had her heart set on that.

Linville Falls: Plunge Basin
If we had had any hope of hiking Grandfather, I would have been cracking the whip to have breakfast and leave, but we ended up lingering over coffee and talking a bit with the owners before heading north. Breakfast was a delicious sweet pepper quiche with sausage and a biscuit, way more food than I wanted.

Huge Breakfast
Just after breakfast, we started our journey north from Asheville in the direction of Boone starting out on I-40 headed east. On our trip north on US-221 from Marion, we saw first one stone yard (where you go to buy rock and stone for patios and houses, etc.) then another. And then another and another, sometimes side by side, for a total of 8 in a 10-mile stretch. That's kind of bizarre, don't you think?

Linville Falls is located just at the intersection of US-221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. We got out of the Jeep and approached the still-closed Visitor's Center at the far end of the parking lot to look at the trail map on the side of the building. For whatever reason, Ann chose the red trail on the map, the Plunge Basin Trail, with a difficulty rating of Difficult. Hey, it wasn't my knee that was busted and I was game for pretty much anything. We started down this trail to the left of the Visitor's Center with the idea that we would probably come back and do the other two trails when we were done. For the record, our fifteenth hike ended up being three miles in total, comprising both arms of the Plunge Basin Trail and the scant few yards of the Dugger's Creek Loop Trail.

Short Trails to the Falls
Just outside the Visitor's Center, Ann pointed out several patches of the prettiest blue bluets. These are the Thyme-leaved Bluets, Houstonia serpyllifolia, and I think that they are even bluer and prettier than the Common or Azure Bluets, Houstonia caerulea.

The Bluets, Houstonia serpyllifolia, Were So Blue
The trail started off wide and flat and then got a bit more difficult with roots, mud, and rocks, and ever encroaching rhododendrons closing in upon the trail. We crested a little rise as we headed along the north bank of the river and then started to descend quite sharply, coming around a corner and down some stairs. Suddenly, the view on our left opened up onto a steeply walled gorge lined with beautiful pink azaleas just coming into bloom.

Rhododendron carolinianum aka Carolina Azalea

Another More Delicately Colored Azalea
A few more stairs down found us in a walled in overlook on the side of the precipice staring right down into the Plunge Basin. The sight was breathtaking, with the rocks clad in azaleas and rock doves fluttering to and fro along the cliff faces.

Azaleas and Waterfalls

Close Up of Initial Plunge
After viewing the Plunge Basin from the overlook, we backtracked to the top of the hill and took the other branch of the trail marked to Linville Gorge. This proved to be a very difficult trail, steep, slippery, and barely more than an animal trail through rhododendrons in places: a tough go on Ann's bum knee. As we were delicately maneuvering through the rhododendron thicket that passed for a trail into Linville Gorge, I spied a single Painted Trillium in a brief sunny opening in the jungle-like cover. This was the only Painted Trillium I would see on the entire trip.

Painted Trillium, Trillium undulatum
It was nice down in the bottom, walking from rock to rock in the Linville River, but honestly, it wasn't worth the effort to get to the bottom of the steep canyon and back up again, especially since down in the canyon, you lose all the breeze and the air gets very still. If you go, go to the overlook and then go on about your day. We also didn't feel that we would gain anything from seeing the same falls from the other side of the river. I'm glad we chose the side with the sun behind us; it made for much nicer photographs.

Linville Gorge, Looking Up at the Falls

Annie Resting Her Sore Knee

Single Magnolia acuminata Blossom
Because of the rugged nature of the trail into the gorge, we couldn't make terribly good time and we wanted to get on with our day and our plan to go to Grandfather Mountain, just north of us off the Blue Ridge Parkway. So, we forwent the moderate trail on the other side of the river (we really didn't need to see the same falls from a different angle) in favor of the very quick walk to see Dugger's Falls, a tiny little waterfall tucked back up into the rhododendrons.

Bridge Overlooking Dugger's Falls

Tiny Dugger's Falls
After a quick lunch in the parking lot, we headed north along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping as whim dictated to take in flora, fauna, and the at times breathtaking views. The sides of the roads were carpeted in Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare), Robin's Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea), various Fleabanes (Erigeron spp.), many kinds of Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), and a few stunning patches of Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata).

Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia, on Robin's Plantain

Bee on Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea

Blue Ridge Parkway: Roadside Blue Phlox

Close Up of Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata

One of Many Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.)

Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia, on Fleabane (Erigeron spp.)

Lost Cove Cliffs From Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking East at Stack Rock Creek

Large-Flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum

Pink-Phase Trillium grandiflorum
At 2 pm, we arrived at Grandfather Mountain to find it closed. Actually, you could pay half price and drive halfway up the mountain, but to what end, I am not sure. Because of high wind warnings, the top was closed for three days running. Damn private companies and their lawyers. So all of Grandfather Mountain that we got to see was from the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we pulled off to have a look at it.

Grandfather Mountain: Closed for High Wind

Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa

Dove's Foot Geranium, Geranium molle
Ann was bummed with the turn of events, so I proposed going into Boone and finding something to eat and a beer. We quickly found Appalachian Brewing and several Appalachian State students playing bar/pub golf. They left quickly to head to their next bar while we sat out back at a picnic table and enjoyed great beer and a really decent pizza at from the Farm to Flame food truck.

AMB in Boone, An Excellent Brewery

Beers in the Sunshine

After a couple of beers in the later afternoon, we went to find our B&B, more about which in the next post.

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