A Move Further South with Hopes for Abundant Fall Foliage in Asheville NC


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November 7th 2013
Published: December 7th 2013
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Most Of The Remaining Leaves Were PrettyMost Of The Remaining Leaves Were PrettyMost Of The Remaining Leaves Were Pretty

Taps RV Park - Asheville NC
The forecast for Thursday, October 31, 2013 called for steady showers for the better part of the day. My site at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground in Lexington KY was pretty level so I decided to get the Pilgrim hooked to the truck on Wednesday late afternoon. There’s normally thirty minutes, give or take, of outside tear-down work, and I’d rather not have to drive for six hours soaking wet. All that was left outside for Thursday morning was pick up my electrical cord and check my vehicle lights.

The rain held off until I had been on I-75 for about fifteen minutes. It never rained exceptionally hard but was hard enough to necessitate the use of the windshield wipers for most of the drive. There are two things that will annihilate turning leaves – rain and wind. I must admit that the foliage along I-75 and, subsequently I-40, was the most brilliant I had seen this fall but surely was hoping that the weather was better in Asheville NC – my destination.

The trip took right at the six hours I had anticipated, and the 300-mile drive was interrupted only by a fuel stop for the truck and
The Colors Were Awesome Against The Brilliant Blue SkyThe Colors Were Awesome Against The Brilliant Blue SkyThe Colors Were Awesome Against The Brilliant Blue Sky

Blue Ridge Parkway Between Ashville NC And Great Smokey Mountain National Park
the driver. That’s a much longer driving day than is my norm, but I was hoping to get to Asheville, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway while the fall foliage was still attached to the trees. Other than the monotonous, hypnotic din of the windshield wipers, the trip was uneventful and set-up followed suit; however, sometime in the wee hours of Friday morning, the wind started rocking the Pilgrim like it had been converted to a sailboat on an angry ocean. The Pilgrim and I have been in a couple of more severe wind events, but not many and not by much. I just knew the trees would be denuded at daybreak.

Friday morning I half-heartedly set out for the Asheville Visitor Center to fine tune my week. Amazingly, many trees in the city were still vibrant. After getting some additional information, I decided to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to the southern terminus near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. That’s a trip of about 85 miles. With the reduced speed, a break for lunch and the stops along the way at (hopefully) scenic vistas, I would have
Ranger’s Dwelling - OutsideRanger’s Dwelling - OutsideRanger’s Dwelling - Outside

Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site - Pisgah Forest NC
a full day. The wind and rain definitely had taken their toll on the foliage, but there were numerous places where the beauty remained simply stunning.

The only planned stop I had flagged for this portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway was the Cradle of Forestry which claims to be the “Birthplace of Forest Conservation in America.” That claim probably is well-founded since the history of forest conservation in the U.S. dates back to 1889 when George Washington Vanderbilt purchased acreage for his Biltmore Estate.

Briefly, while I’m speaking of the Biltmore Estate, Biltmore House (the main house on the estate) was constructed between 1889 and 1895 and, at 178,926 square feet and 250 rooms, is the largest privately owned house in the United States. Regular admission is $49.00; but, for those who plan well and are unconcerned about the weather, the cost can be reduced to $39.00 if the tickets are purchased seven or more days in advance. I spent $50.00 for a one-year membership in The Preservation Society of Newport County in Newport RI last summer and saw eleven pretentious properties. In my opinion, there is no tour of a single estate, castle or any other
Ranger’s Dwelling - InsideRanger’s Dwelling - InsideRanger’s Dwelling - Inside

Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site - Pisgah Forest NC
ostentatious display of wealth that is worth $49.00! Any questions?

Vanderbilt’s architect suggested the employment of a “Forest Manager” to oversee the undeveloped portion of the 125,000 acres. He initially hired a young man by the name of Gifford Pinchot, who would later serve as the first Chief of the USDA Forest Service and then as Governor of Pennsylvania, to develop and implement a forest management plan for the forest. In 1895, German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck accepted George Vanderbilt’s offer to come to North Carolina to succeed Pinchot as manager of his forest properties.

For the next 14 years, Dr. Schenck focused all of his forestry skills on transforming the abused and overcut woodlands into a restored image of what had once been a flourishing forest. After Vanderbilt died in 1914 of complications from an emergency appendectomy, his widow, Edith Vanderbilt, completed the sale of 85,000 acres to the federal government to carry out her husband's wish that the replenished land remained unaltered. That property became the nucleus of today’s Pisgah National Forest.

The Cradle of Forestry in America is a 6,500 acre Historic Site within the Pisgah National Forest that was set aside by
Dr. Schenck’s OfficeDr. Schenck’s OfficeDr. Schenck’s Office

Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site - Pisgah Forest NC
Congress to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in the United States. The Forest Discovery Center hosts an 18 minute movie about Vanderbilt, Pinchot, Schenck and the beginning of forest conservation in America. An interactive exhibit hall and a gift shop are also located in the Center. There are two trails – the first of which I explored.

The 1.0 mile Biltmore Campus Trail winds through the Biltmore Forest School’s rustic campus of seven historical buildings. Periodically (but particularly on weekends), a toy maker, a weaver, a quilter or a wood carver might be found plying traditional Appalachian crafts. The 1.3 mile Forest Festival Trail emphasizes Dr. Schenck’s forestry experiments and many other educational topics such as how plants grow, decomposition, forest issues and past transportation methods. Other features include an ozone garden, antique portable sawmill and a 1915 Climax locomotive.

The Cradle of Forestry in America is truly a great educational facility. The buildings I visited are focused on learning, and the facility offers numerous school tour packages geared to a variety of age groups. The attraction definitely is worthy of a stop while travelling the Blue Ridge Parkway even if the visit is limited to the
The Denuded Trees Caused Me To Resort To Plan BThe Denuded Trees Caused Me To Resort To Plan BThe Denuded Trees Caused Me To Resort To Plan B

Along The Blue Ridge Parkway Heading North From Asheville NC
Forest Discovery Center and the viewing of the video; however, I would have to stop short of endorsing a lengthy diversion to visit the facility.

On Saturday, November 2, 2013, I again set out for the Blue Ridge Parkway – this time to venture northbound to its intersection with I-77 where I would bring it and I-40 back to Asheville. The first 15-20 miles of the drive were punctuated by significant ascents to the ridge. The amount of fall foliage became inversely proportional to my altitude until I encountered several miles of nothing but denuded trees. Deciding that the writing was(n’t) on the trees and that this might result in a incredibly cognizant waste of fuel and time, I decided to turn around and drive through the lower altitudes of the Pisgah National Forest – another drive I already had on my agenda, well sorta.

After about two miles of backtracking, I rounded a curve and encountered a black fur ball loping down the highway. My first nanosecond, lifetime-engrained thought was, “That is one big dog,” followed immediately by the realization that it was a black bear. By the time I grabbed my camera, turned it on and
Few Trees Remained In Full SplendorFew Trees Remained In Full SplendorFew Trees Remained In Full Splendor

Along The Scenic “Murphy Loop” NC
waited (seemingly) ten minutes for the “ready” chime, the bear had left the highway and was scurrying up the very steep embankment. Lesson learned - if a bear is ever chasing you, run up a hill because it slows them down just a little bit! LOL I barely got a shot of a black glob before she/he/it disappeared from view.

The trip, as I had originally planned it, would have taken me west on US 62 to Murphy NC and then east on US 74 and through Maggie Valley NC back to Asheville. According to mapquest.com, that trip is 250 miles and takes six hours. With my trek through a small portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway behind me, I essentially had a very late start for the entire Murphy NC loop.

My impromptu drive through the Pisgah National Forest began in Miles River where I caught US 64 southwest to Lake Toxaway. So far, just as originally planned, but from Lake Toxaway I ventured northwest on NC 281 to Dillsboro. From Dillsboro I headed back to Asheville on US 23/74. Even had it not been for the overcast weather and the mostly barren trees, the plague of
Connemara Close-UpConnemara Close-UpConnemara Close-Up

Carl Sandburg Home NHS - Flat Rock NC
almost constant reminders of civilization made the drive a waste of fuel; BUT, my curiosity was satisfied! I hope to see Murphy some day as I explore the numerous North Carolina waterfalls in that portion of the state.

I had put all the “leaf peeping” adventures at the front end of the Asheville “A-List” but definitely wanted to see the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock NC before I left town. Sandburg was born of Swedish ancestry in Galesburg IL on January 6, 1878. At the age of thirteen he left school and began driving a milk wagon followed by work as a barbershop porter, a bricklayer, a farm laborer, a hotel servant and a coal-heaver. He began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Later he wrote poetry, history, biographies, novels, children's literature and film reviews. Sandburg won three Pulitzer Prizes – two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Sandburg married Lilian Steichen, whom he called Paula, in 1908 and together they raised three daughters - Margaret, Janet, and Helga. The family lived mostly in the Chicago area before moving to North Carolina. “Paula” Sandburg had been looking for a new farm in a warmer climate to raise her Chikaming dairy goats. When she showed Connemara, a 246-acre rural estate, to her husband he reportedly said, “This is the place. We will look no further.” Sandburg purchased Connemara on October 18, 1945 for $45,000.

Upon buying the house, the Sandburgs immediately began remodeling. Contractors were hired to work on the heating, plumbing, electrical, roof and basement. The Sandburgs installed new chimneys and bathrooms as well as dozens of bookshelves for his large library. They also repainted the house and installed a new indoor kitchen, having turned the original kitchen building into a three-car garage. The entire remodeling process lasted for some two and a half years.

The Sandburgs lived at Connemara from October 1945 until July 1969, and he published more than a third of his works while living at Connemara. It was at this house he died of natural causes on July 22, 1967. In June 1968, his wife deeded ownership of Connemara to the U.S. Government to preserve the house as a memorial to her husband. The National Park Service restored the house and installed Plexiglas covers over the bookcases between
Sandburg Had Markers In Almost Every BookSandburg Had Markers In Almost Every BookSandburg Had Markers In Almost Every Book

Carl Sandburg Home NHS - Flat Rock NC
the purchase time and its opening. The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site officially opened to the public in 1974. The site includes the Sandburg residence, the goat farm, sheds, five miles of hiking trails and two small lakes. Visitors can take guided tours of the Sandburg residence and visit the dairy.

The walk from the parking area to the home is lengthy and seriously uphill for many; HOWEVER, there is a phone at the parking area for those in need of assistance to, I assume, procure a ride to the home. I must admit, I stopped for a break and a prolonged look at the pond about half way up the hill. Interior photography is allowed. All the staff I encountered, even in passing, was friendly. The volunteer docent was very knowledgeable. The NPS staff member at the barn was extremely cordial and very helpful. I would suggest the Sandburg site is a must see for many and is time well spent for almost everybody.

One day when the weather was decent, I took the trolley tour and will put it on my “highly recommended” list. The trolley had passed a restaurant and noted that 12 Bones Smokehouse has
Heading Back To See The KidsHeading Back To See The KidsHeading Back To See The Kids

Carl Sandburg Home NHS - Flat Rock NC
been featured on “Good Morning, America” and is open only for lunch and only Monday through Friday. Why? Because, according to the trolley driver, “The food is so good, they can be!” Later in the week, I went to town to duplicate a portion of the tour route and photograph some of the remarkable homes I had seen. Of course, that trip included a requisite stop at 12 Bones Smokehouse. I had the ribs, and they were great. The place was packed, but the service was still prompt.

Given the marginal weather, I had a good time in Asheville. As noted earlier, I knew beforehand that western North Carolina is saturated with waterfalls, which I put on the back burner for this visit. With a return visit in mind, there was no burning requirement to complete my “A-List.” I hope you enjoy your Asheville visit and its nearby attractions.


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29th December 2013

On the road
I love road trips and your writing makes me feel that I'm on the journey with you. Great photos of the colours on the trees - autumn/fall is my favourite season of the year.

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