In all my time in the woods with Dad, all my time on waterfalls, at mountaintops all the flowers examined and tiny details on leaves examined. All of it.
During all that time, I never realized the woods could be romantic, even a turn-on.
But that’s what it felt like in June on the Blue Ridge Parkway with my lover, driving past purple rhododendron flowers, white mountain laurels and various yellow blossoms too small to name from a car. That’s what if felt like going through so much grandeur of arching, pointing and curving blue ridge hills at so many overlooks. You just want to pull over and grab your lover and kiss. Some overlooks may be a bit crowded but not all.
Our route was not the whole parkway, but just a North Carolina section which we traveled before returning to our own Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a road across the Blue Ridge Mountains, joined by many trails to its sides. The active may get a chance to get out and walk at places like The Fryingpan. The inactive can ride in the car and not leave, still seeing the beauty of the natural world.
From a display on one overlook, you can learn that much of the land below was at one time private land of George Vanderbilt who helped develop scientific forestry, but also about the Cherokee who once lived here.
The Blue Ridge Parkway can be a place to enjoy views, a place to enjoy time with a lover or a place to learn. Enjoy it as you wish.
Who am I, some kind of wimp? I have scaled other mountains, scrambled up other rocks, even climbed other metal towers. But this? Rickety-seeming, a little rusty a narrow path that any child crossing by causes a panicky heart attack from me. I’m terrified. Terrified of the view below me. Terrified of losing myself or worse, my phone, if I dare to take a photo.
I move slowly, letting others squeeze past me, feeling the breeze and what I perceive as the metal stairs giving a little bit with my steps. I’ve stood on mountain crags before and never felt like this. In fact, I laughed at my Dad for feeling this way. But somehow this old tower is different.
Who am I kidding? I sound like a wuss. And yet that’s just it. The fear keeps me in the moment. And when I quite being scared when the clouds of fear clear, when I’m standing out at the top, just below the structure of the fire tower itself, I see the place below me, completely focused due to the lingering adrenaline.
And what a view! Hazy mountains beyond, trees, with all their tiny needles and leaves, covering the mountains like wool. Hawks circling, cars driving down the tiny belt like road and parking lot buckles. The who thing a moment I am in, mindful, joyful even.
My mind tends to fly: movies, politics, social media. Yet somehow fear keeps me in place. So by the time I do feel safe to bring out my phone it feels like I know exactly what panoramas to take.
Climbing down, I feel like moving slowly, not out of fear, but out of not wanting that moment of revelation to leave me.
Perhaps this is just the way this planet, this life is for me. Appreciation coming only in the moments of terror and other arousal and even those I have to work for. Others are like this too. This is why roller coasters exist. This is one of the reasons why people pursue orgasms. This is why people watch horror films. This is why I express feeling in awe as feeling “small.”
Of course, letting the mind wander has its value too, however much Zen masters may deny it. Some people travel precisely for that reason: to allow their minds to wander and not have to be tied down to the obligations at home.
So yes, all that’s my emotional state and thoughts on my emotional state. But you might have come here, expecting a review of The Fryingpan Trail, near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
It’s not a walk through the forest as much as a walk on a wide non-drivable access road. For botanical experts like my dad this is a treasure trove of plants to look at, but it might not be for everyone.
But the tower is worth the walk. In spite of being a bit scary for some people, it is still one of the best places to see the world below and completely safe.
Bald Mountain’s loop trail at Franconia Notch in New Hampshire, isn’t long, at just 1.5 miles, some of which you don’t even have to do. The hike can just be done as an even shorter up and return route, which is what we did. But don’t let that fool you into thinking everyone will feel like doing it.
Visitors will find themselves scrambling up rocks for a short distance before reaching the summit and even Yvonne, shown above, who’s been with me on quite a few trails by this point, didn’t feel like making it all the way up the rocks. I left her behind and kept going. To me rock scrambling is part of the fun and takes me back to my time scrambling on rocks as a child. But I can see why not everyone might enjoy it.
Earlier that day we returned to Artist’s Bluff, the focus of a previous trip to the area and the other side of the fork that leads to Bald Mountain.
Which of the two vistas of the notch below and mountains above you prefer depends on what your preferences are in terms of what you like to see. Artist’s Bluff gives you a clearer view of Interstate 93, with its seemingly Hot Wheels style trucks and cars giving a good scale for the grandeur around it. Also from there, you get a better view of Echo Lake Beach and its kayakers.
But from Bald Mountain, the Interstate is less intrusive, as shown in the view above, although you’ve got a much wider view of Cannon Mountain’s ski slopes, which lets you know you’re still in civilization of sorts. Also more visible from Bald Mountain are some hazy mountains off in the other direction.
If going up Bald Mountain, you’ll want to leave some time to sit and enjoy the view. Also if you don’t mind cramming more stuff into one day, leave some time for the rest of Franconia Notch. I’ve covered some other highlights in other posts, including the park as a whole the oddity that is the former Old Man of The Mountain site, and The Basin. Driving or walking through the notch area is a treat in itself, looking up at the exposed rock formations on various peaks.
My better half or “frequent hiking companion” as I call her, Yvonne laughed the first time she entered it, on our camping trip at Mount Pisgah Campground. I must say that having her laugh at the idea of being crammed into such a small space was better than having her whining all night. She liked the tight space for the two of us, for obvious reasons, however.
We had it to ourselves, even though my Mom Judy Roitman and my Dad Larry Pounds had another tent and my sister Jessie Pounds and her boyfriend Allen had yet another. Jessie was the one who suffered, due to a failing air mattress and no sleeping bag. Somehow she slept.
We had arrived after nightfall and after dinner, and after getting lost for a few hours with me not recognizing my parents’ new SUV and going around the loop a few times, with just a few hastily picked up now cold leftover McDonalds fries to eat by the fire. The mountaintop air felt freezing cold to my summer-adjusted Tennessee skin. But Yvonne was taken in immediately by the flames of a fire my parents had started.
“I want to stay a bit longer. I don’t get to do this stuff often,” Yvonne said. And so we started the first night of our weekend-long trip.
Mount Pisgah Campground is, for me, an ideal spot as car camping sites go. While the site had plenty of water pumps and restrooms, it still, in spite of by no means being back country at all, gained many points for its natural beauty. The area, due to its high elevation, had an explosion of mountain laurels, purple rhododendrons and azaleas, many of them right at the campsite or near the road immediately to it. These thick bush clusters are called Hells, for obvious reasons due to the difficulty of getting out of one. But to me it was heaven. Red squirrels, instead of the grey ones common below played around us.
Just outside the campsite, out on the road, we could see an array of stars away from light pollution. The campsite, or at least the part of it we were in may not be the best for that, given its lack of open space except on the road, but the various “hell” thickets do provide some privacy between campsites that a campground in more open space would lack.
The area also boasts nearby trails, which will be the subject of two future posts, gave us a chance to see even more of this natural beauty.
The shower only had one stall, leading to quite a wait. But after sitting for a while surrounded by all of the dark thickets near the stoop of the restroom was actually exactly the experience I needed, even if it annoyed the others.
Apart from the trails, just exploring the campground and nearby area is fun in its own right and not just for the hells and the stream. Yvonne and I, apart from the rest of the family, did some exploring on our own, walking just outside the campground and along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Pisgah Inn.
Throughout our trip, no one else felt like showering, as there was only one shower per gender at the campsite and a long line for each. But then I realized it was not a problem to wait outside beneath the stars, looking out into now dark rhododendron thickets, even if I was just waiting for a shower.
The Pisgah Inn is a place we didn’t stay with an fine-dining excellent restaurant we didn’t eat at, a craft and gift shop, featuring exquisite gifts we did not buy, and a country store at which Yvonne and I bought a single loaf of white bread before crashing on the rocking chairs. So why do I bring it up?
The main draw of Pisgah Inn, as far as I’m concerned, is the one thing we did experience fully: a deck from which you can peer out at the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the detailed green-tree carpeted closer hills to the further bluer ones.
This is what draws people up here. And we would see the mountains from even more angles as the trip went on.
Artist’s Bluff, particularly the less than .5 miles just the bluff, is not that far a walk but it has everything: grayish cliffs! Mountains of green trees! A bright blue lake! And that most scenic of things, an interstate!
It’s another odd thing writing about hikes and National Parks. There are people like Bill Bryson in “A Walk in the Woods” who whine about being out in the woods too far away from any farms or villages — unlike in Europe — and want some human habitation for perspective. And then there’s people like Edward Abbey who demand that not a single car touch their perfect parks.
And then in the middle there’s me, an admirer of both writers, who just sits back and looks at that little shoelace of pavement I-93 with its hot wheels cars and trucks. They go by in the shadow of the mountains around them, dwarfed by the mountains that drew artists lugging their canvasses here almost a century ago. Neither they nor the ski slopes really steal from the area’s natural beauty that have brought people here for centuries.
Many people, people who are not trying to cram this hike in near sundown like I was, go on to Bald Mountain or stop at the bluff on their way down. Also, the nearby Echo Lake is a good way to cool off, again, if you’re visiting at a different time of day. For me though I have no regrets. Artist’s Bluff is a place to enjoy at your own pace.