But more about that later. We had an entire day to explore this new corner of the Appalachians.
The evening before over beers and story-swapping, Brian had mentioned Linville Caverns. “I’ve never been,” he said, “but they’re supposed to be really cool.” It sounded like a fairly standard cave tour, complete with the total darkness experience, but I'd never done it before, and Miss Chef was game. So why the heck not?
While Linville looked like it was just down the road, it was a bit of an adventure to get there. I’m still not sure we didn’t take a big spiral tour around the area. Regardless, we finally saw the big sign and turned down an entry road tunneling through bright-leaved trees.
We arrived at a small parking area next to a ridiculously picturesque stream. We spent quite a bit of time here, picking our way down the edge of the stream and just enjoying the quiet and beauty of nature.
And taking pictures, of course.
Now before you get all excited…the pictures in the caverns didn’t turn out well at all. I mostly didn’t use the flash, to try to avoid washing out the subtle colors, so there was a lot of fuzziness.
I was surprised how busy it was on a dreary Saturday morning, but I guess if the weather’s not cooperating, why not go hide inside a mountain? The tours are led by guides—who all seemed to be in their late teens or twenties—in groups of fifteen. There was a bit of a wait, the last part in front of this slightly ominous door.
|Note not only does this cave have a door, but a lock!|
Yes, there are bats that hibernate in these caverns. We were a bit early in the season yet, but the guides did inform us about the mysterious fungal disease that has been killing bat colonies all through the eastern US. The brochure we received when we bought our tickets at the counter included a blurb about protecting other bat colonies by using a special bleach spray upon exiting the caverns. The guide told us we simply had to wipe our feet on a “special” mat…which looked to me like a standard-issue commercial floor mat that was wearing away in spots. Fortunately, I have no plans to visit any susceptible bat-harboring areas anytime soon.
So, into the caverns! Linville Caverns were first discovered in the 1800s by local fishermen who noticed fish disappearing into the mountainside, and decided to follow them in. There is still a colony of fish there, which I’m guessing is actually held in there by grates or something. These were the only living things in the water I saw, and they were only by the entrance.
I’ve had to bump up the brightness on all of these pictures. I told you it was dark in there! Unfortunately, the pictures do little to convey the experience.
There were spotlights throughout, many of them highlighting interesting formations of stalactites. There was one that looked very much like an alligator (though I told Miss Chef later, if we were on the other side of the world it would have been a dragon!). But taking pictures of these with a hand-held point-and-shoot camera doesn’t work so well.
Oh, look—a blob!
Oooo, stringy blobs!
And the biggest blob of all! This thing was about four feet long.
And these are the GOOD pictures!
This next one isn’t very good, but I have to show it to you, because it’s of the only bat that had shown up to hibernate. Shockingly, it was no more than four feet off the ground, on the side of the passageway used by hundreds of tourists every day. They told us it was the size of a chicken nugget, but we didn’t realize it would be the same color, too!
Deeper in the caverns, just as I was starting to think about those 18th and 19th-century explorers delving their way through here for the first time without electricity or flashlights, the guides began the total darkness talk. They turned off all the lights except for one which was about the same brightness as a typical lamp of the times. Yup, it would have been creepy going into an unknown cave with that small sphere of lighted area around you.
Then, of course, all the lights went out. The guides were very jokey about it, telling everyone to grab their loved ones beforehand so no mistakes would be made in the dark. No, I didn’t grab Miss Chef’s hand, but I was surprised at how not-uncomfortable it was. Sure, surrounded by other people, with a guide’s voice to focus on, and knowing illumination was only the flick of a switch away was some help. But I guess I’m not nearly as claustrophobic as I thought.
I enjoyed our little trip through the caverns, but I imagine there are much more dramatic and exciting ones around the country. All the same, it wasn't bad for a first-time experience.
Still, I was much more impressed by the scenery back outside.
Our original plan for the day had been to check out Blowing Rock—which we knew as much about as we had about Grandfather Mountain—but once we were back on the road, Miss Chef suggested we see Linville Falls. We’d seen road signs for the falls all around the area, but once again—we didn’t know squat about them. But that’s what I love about traveling with Miss Chef; we can change plans and enjoy spur-of-the-moment side trips.
Fortunately, it wasn’t far between the two sites. The falls are located in Pisgah National Forest, which covers over 500,000 acres—it’s the same forest we’d been to on our first visit closer to Asheville. Regardless of what the falls might be like, I was perfectly content to just be able to hike around the woods, soaking up some nature.
The trail to the falls started with a long, fairly steep downhill slope. Which meant we’d be climbing up a long, steep trail on the way out! There was hardly anyone else on it, but as we came closer to the falls, our path intersected with several others; one leading to a paved parking area, and two others leading to three different lookouts. There was a lot more foot traffic here, with visitors of all ages and seemingly all nationalities.
We started with the closest lookout, and continued down to a large rocky area projecting out into a small river. First we saw this charming little falls:
…and then behind us, this amazing slalom of a rapid!
Hmm…it was much cooler in person. Anyway, at the end of that video, if you knew where to look, you could see the area of the next overlook we were headed for. Unbeknownst to us, there was a lot of climbing ahead.
(Ok, imagine ten or fifteen minutes of huffing and puffing, some light muscle burn in the thighs…I couldn’t complain, though, because we kept running across quartets of fit, gray-haired couples coming the other way.)
Throughout the weekend, we kept seeing these well-crafted stone walls, steps, berms, etc. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of work that went into this, and I said a little prayer of gratitude for the men who built these for our enjoyment. I also wondered if they used donkeys or mules to haul the stone and tools up these hills. If so, a prayer of gratitude to them, too!
Once we had climbed to the top of the mountain (I guess), the first lookout was over the next valley. It was like something out of a western novel, seemingly untouched by human presence. Well, other than those of us leaning over the edge of the lookout wall.
It was about this time Miss Chef discovered the panorama feature on the camera.
I think if you click on this, it will give you a bigger view—the right-hand side is in the photo above, the rest is a bit distorted.
After absorbing this expansive landscape, we took another short path 180 degrees in the other direction…and found Linville Falls.
What? Can’t see it? It’s right there in the…oh, here.
It slowly dawned on me how far we had climbed…because the first lookout where we’d stopped was…down there.
Now go back up two pictures, and you’ll really see what I’m talking about! I’m really glad I had no idea how high I’d be hoisting my out-of-shape self beforehand. But I’m awfully glad I did all that hoisting. What a spectacular sight!
We played with the panorama feature some more, of course.
We don’t know those people, but they add perspective…and they did entertain us on the way up. They had two boys, one whining about the climb, the other asking questions about everything he saw. Their dad handled them both really well, and the whole thing was rather amusing. Now we’ll never forget them!
I haven’t mentioned that it was pretty crowded all along the way. For a bunch of lazy, tv-addicted people, there are still a lot of Americans out there in our national parks. Of course, there were a lot of folks from other countries…like the group of Asian students we crossed paths with on our way back down.
But wait…there was one more overlook to check out! And it was all downhill from here, so why not?
Obviously this was much closer to the falls. And if you look near the top of the photo, you can see the crowd where we started out!
Here’s the view in the other direction.
Man, next year we have to time it better, to see the fall leaves in their full glory!
Well, that was it for they day—who knew we’d spend the bulk of our anniversary weekend in Linville, a town we’d never heard of? There must be a lot of other little-known gems left for us to discover.
In the meantime, we had to find our way home and get changed for our big dinner. This is the end of the beautiful mountain pictures, but I know my audience. You’ll want to keep an eye out for the next post, ‘cause it will be all about some beautiful food!
Bonus: I almost forgot to share this video from the last lookout. There's a flock of pigeons doing aerial maneuvers above the falls.