Monday, August 18, 2008

Blue Blue Ridge Mountains

Yes, the Blue Ridge Mountains really are blue as you gaze into the distance. Up close, however, they are green and gray. At Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina, the gray is granite and gneiss cliffs towering over the valley, and filling the stream beds with huge boulders. I couldn't walk more than a few yards on the trails without finding another really "gneiss" shiny rock to pick up and and stash in my pocket. At one point, I even found some sandstone that crumbled in my fingers, and white feldspar. My rock collection has some very nice additions from this trip. Driving on winding mountain roads is a challenge for someone from the flat lands of Kentucky. We averaged about 30 MPH on the steep switchbacks going about three-fourths around Lake Lure to reach our condo complex.

The Chimney which is the major attraction of the area is a 315 foot chunk of rock which eroded away from the main cliffs. An elevator goes up the inside of the mountain, or you can take a path with about 700 steps. Then a walkway crosses out to the Chimney itself. Although I am uncomfortable around (make that "afraid of") heights and falling therefrom, I firmly took my stomach in hand, and followed Dick across the chasm and up to the railed area. The view is spectacular, but I let him climb to the next level alone while I returned to the gift shop for coffee. We later heard that a young child was out on the rocks and fell to his death a few weeks ago. Why anyone would take a 2 year old on those high trails above the Chimney is beyond my understanding. I firmly believe that acrophobia is a survival trait passed on by my successful ancestors. The park advertises a pair of Peregrine Falcons on the cliffs, but we saw no raptors all week, except the Black Vultures of course. They soared high above the tops of the mountains, then roosted on the lifeguard chairs at the beach on Lake Lure at night.

North Carolina is in a drought again this summer, and the rhododendron leaves curled into little pencil shapes on the sides of the mountains. Hickory Nut Falls barely trickled water, but it was enough to cool off the hikers, and support lush ferns and wildflowers among the fallen rocks along the trail. Tulip Poplars are already starting to drop golden leaves. A very loud helicopter flew back and forth all morning, and we couldn't quite tell what it was doing, except that it had a red canister of something below it. If this were California, I said, I would expect that copter to be hauling water for a forest fire, dipping into the lake for refills. We learned that this was, in fact, exactly what was happening, even though we did not smell or see any smoke from the fire which had burned since July 29.

Lake Lure is down three or four feet due to drought as well. Many people with pontoon boats can't launch them because the water around the docks is too shallow. Even the captain on the lake tour we took was very careful not to bottom out in the mud. Last week he and two passengers had to jump in to push the boat back into deeper water! A kayak is the best way to get around on the water. The real estate industry does well in the area. We heard tales about the three most expensive houses, and how they belonged to the same family. Steep slopes rise from the lake to the vacation homes, requiring retaining walls which cost more than my whole house in some instances, and moving steps for rich people to ascend from the boat house without having heart attacks. I have real issues with anyone spending millions of dollars for a house they may come to a few weeks during the year, when other people don't even have a place to spend the night. In the next post, I'll talk about our visit to nearby Biltmore Estate.

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