Mountain Meandering (Part 1)
by Ian Markham -- November 7th, 2014
Over the past month I’ve had an amazing time exploring the mountains of western North Carolina. Now I wouldn’t recommend to anyone spending three out of four weekends away while taking a full course load, but, perhaps paradoxically I would also tell you to do whatever you can to experience fall in Appalachia. Last year I didn’t really get a chance to and after my first visit to the mountains heading up to Asheville over fall break I was hooked.
My first trip to the mountains this semester almost didn’t happen. The weather rapidly deteriorated on the eve of an ambitious backpacking trip that had to be called off. True to my British roots, I was not to be deterred by the damp weather and quickly rearranged to sample the offerings of Asheville from the comfort of a cheap motel and added microbrews to the agenda of montane meandering. Between the showers we managed to get out into the bush and, being the seasonally-naive Californian that I am, I was totally blown away.
A thick layer of fog turned the breathtaking views from the parkway into a solid blanket of grey but had the upside of getting us off the road and into the forest.
The fog lifted to reveal a glorious palette of yellows and orange painting the forest. Here Nic schooler KC Bierlich strolls nonchalantly through this enchanted wood which had me giddy as a little school girl.
I felt like a kid in a candy shop. So many things to photograph! Every which way you turned was just one scene more glorious than the shot before.
I just love the peculiar quality of light produced by the diffuse sunlight passing through layers of coloured leaves. Needless to say it was near impossible to tear me away from this place even as darkness descended and stomachs growled in protest. Eventually my traveling companions did somehow manage.
While I failed to photo-document the delicious brews, burgers, and brunches that we sampled in town I will recommend that anyone looking to eat well make a culinary tour of Asheville. The town is one of the micro-brewery capitals of our country but even if you aren’t a die hard beer-lover there is plenty of delicious diversity.
On the road to or from Asheville I would also recommend taking a stop at Catawba falls. It’s just off the main freeway but the lack of signposting leaves it delightfully peaceful.
We worked our way up the creek leading to the falls to turn over some rocks and look for salamanders. ‘Mandering has quickly become one of my favorite activities in North Carolina.
This area represents the world’s hotspot for salamander biodiversity and just about every third stone we turned over had a wriggly little critter underneath.
Whether you’re into ‘meandering’ or not these creeks are worth a wander for their clear beautiful waters and peaceful pools. The crowning reward that feels almost undeserved with only a gentle hike up a short trail is the Catawba falls.
The multi-part structure of these falls means that pictures don’t do it justice. But don’t take my word for it. Go check it out yourself!
For a while there was no one who’s pictures we could ruin at the base of the falls so we kicked our shoes off and scrambled all over it. Eventually a school group came through so we scrambled back to the base and continued along the steep slope beside the falls to get a view from the top.
Turns out you don’t see much of a waterfall from the top without falling off yourself, but the view made it well worthwhile. It’s hard to believe this crystal clear creek rushing downward represents the headwaters of the slow muddy Catawba river that the highway crosses many miles down the road. Then again, most things are cuter when they’re young.
Rather than run the risk of saturating my dear readers’ desires to enjoy the glories of fall or alternatively induce uncrontrollable envy, I will stop here and leave my next two visits to the mountains for future posts.
Tune in again soon for shots from my trip to Boone and more.