Every October, Miss Chef and I celebrate our anniversary with a long weekend in the mountains. Happily for us, this normally coincides with beautiful fall weather and the annual spectacle of fiery foliage. It’s not a difficult or tedious tradition to keep.
In the past, we have stuck around the Asheville-Hendersonville area, closer to South Carolina. For some reason, this year I thought we should strike out to a slightly different part of the state, and I remembered that Miss Chef has a former colleague who is now working at a very nice restaurant in Banner Elk. This is further north, very close to the border of Tennessee, and (I think) further into the Appalachians.
So Miss Chef sent off an email or three to her friend April, and soon we not only had reservations at the restaurant, but an invitation to stay with April and her boyfriend Brian at their home. More about the restaurant in a post to follow, but both our hosts would be pretty much swallowed up by it until Sunday. So Miss Chef and I had Friday and Saturday to ourselves, to explore this new territory.
And explore it we did…in fact, this post became so long just talking about Friday, that I’ve decided to indulge myself and create three separate posts about our trip. I sure hope you all enjoy lots of photos of mountain scenery!
Before we left home Friday afternoon, the leaf-peeping began in our own front yard! We planted this red maple as a 6-footer in 2007, and this is the first year it’s truly come into its own as a display of fall color. I really just wanted to share this sort-of crappy picture to show off our pretty tree.
Notice I said “afternoon?” Yeah, it took us quite a bit longer than we’d hoped to get in the car and on the road. First we had to drop Rosie off at her own vacation home—she stays with our friend Maria out in the country when we travel. Finally we pointed the car west and headed off into a beautiful fall afternoon. We oohed and ahhed at the lovely leaves as we started to climb into the foothills, and then at one point I looked around and said, “I think we’ve driven out of the color.” For once, our special weekend was just a few days too late for prime leaf-peeping. I was a bit disappointed, of course, but then again…there are still mountains and distant views to enjoy!
The weather forecast was for a very nice day on Friday, followed by clouds, dropping temperatures and possibly rain the rest of the weekend. So I thought that we should take advantage of Friday’s weather to visit the one place in the area we were both interested in—Grandfather Mountain.
Neither of us knew much about it, other than there being a nice view from a lookout area, reached by a swinging footbridge. I wasn’t sure how I felt about a suspended, moving bridge over a crevasse, but I was interested to see how I’d react. I do have some fear of heights, but I’ve been atop both the Eiffel Tower and the now historical World Trade towers without any problems.
Happily for us, the drive to Grandfather Mountain took us down the Blue Ridge Parkway. That’s where I took the above picture. Even with only patchy spots of bright color, the Parkway was a beautiful drive. It’s a two-lane road twisting along the edge of the mountainside, sometimes enclosing you with high trees and slopes, sometimes offering gorgeous open views. After a while I realized a very important reason for the Parkway’s quiet beauty was the absence of billboards, strip malls and warehouses. And semi trucks!
We took advantage of a couple of the frequent overlooks, which probably help drop the incidence of accidents. I’m here to tell you it can be very distracting to drive along this road! It was best for all concerned that I stop to get a good look at the scenery.
This time we had two cameras—our expensive point-and-shoot Canon, and the one in my new smartphone. So Miss Chef and I didn’t have to fight over the camera.
When we got back in the car and rounded a few more curves, unbeknownst to us our destination loomed ahead.
On our previous weekend trip, we’d come to appreciate the aid of GPS on my phone, but it gets pretty darn spotty in the mountains. So it took us a while to be sure we were headed in the right direction. Which is all to say that from this picture to the next set was a bit more time-consuming than it may appear.
At any rate, we found our way to the park entrance, paid our (fairly steep) entrance fee, received a guide CD and drove our way to the top. On the way we passed the site of the annual Highland Games (think burly men in kilts tossing tree trunks), and the entrance to the small nature museum. I’d love to visit the museum, but it was getting late in the day and we wanted to get to the top.
We did stop at a lower parking lot, where we thought we might take a trail to the top. But it was after 4 pm, and the trails were closed. So naturally, we took more pictures.
You can see how the road switches back and forth on itself as it climbs further up the mountain.
Miss Chef concentrating on a shot.
Finally we drove all the way to the top—barely getting past two minibuses coming the other way on the narrow roadway—and climbed up more stairs to reach the famous bridge.
As we neared the peak, the small trees gave mute testimony to the power of the winter wind up here. Fortunately for us, it was pretty quiet today.
While impressive, I have to say the bridge was disappointingly stable! Sure, it moved a tiny bit, but it certainly didn’t swing. As we learned afterwards from the CD we’d received at the entrance, the original, wooden bridge with spaced-out slats was replaced recently with this taut metal one. Here’s a shot of the floor in the very middle of the span.
Yup, it’s also called the mile-high bridge…but that’s a mile above sea level, not above the valley. As a matter of fact, it’s “only” 80 feet above the rocks below. Not scary to me, but further than I’d like to drop!
Once across the bridge, we certainly enjoyed the expansive view on all sides. Unfortunately, the sun was low and in our eyes, so it was hard to get good pictures. Not that we didn’t try. A lot.
Some of the cell phone photos actually came out better…
Since we had two cameras, it was easy to take pictures of each other, too!
From the furthest lookout, the light was better for pictures back the way we’d come.
The bridge we had crossed, with the gift shop and information center behind it.
Second Peak (which you can see in that first photo of Grandfather Mountain that we took as we approached it on the Parkway below).
Finally we had enough horizon gazing, so we crossed the bridge again and spent some time in the gift shop—until they told us to hurry up and make our purchases so they could close. I guess the young employees were anxious to head off to their Friday night plans, because they did everything they could to make us feel like we were imposing on their precious time.
Still, there was nothing to force us to hurry on out of the park itself, and as we drove down the twisty road, there was one more surprise in store for us. Wild turkeys!
Between the quickly fleeing light and our spotty GPS, we had some trouble finding our way to April and Brian’s house. We went several miles past their road, but we did end up finding a decent place to have dinner, so maybe it was for the best. Finally, in the dark, we arrived at our destination, a three-story log home in a entire neighborhood of similar homes tucked here and there into the trees of a mountain slope. With steep, switchback roads connecting them.
I only took one shot of the house, from inside.
We were still awake when our hosts arrived home around 11 pm, and we all stayed up another couple of hours over beers and yarn-spinning. (That’s what they call it in the mountains, right?) Eventually it was time to head to our comfy beds. April and Brian would be heading back to the restaurant before noon the next day, and Miss Chef and I had more exploring to do before our big dinner that evening.
Coming up next: Part 4B of our Fall Fun series—exploring Linville, inside and out.