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Thursday, February 27, 2014

North Carolina: Discovering Mountains

I've made it a point in my life to get out there and enjoy myself. Part of that is enjoying the landscape on Planet Earth. I enjoy driving through the farmland or prairies. I relish in the thought of driving up the coast with my windows down. I enjoy the bustling cities, crowded fair in the middle of nowhere, or stopping on the side of the road in the country just to look at the fields. I appreciate my surroundings.

This past holiday, I had the opportunity to take a long road trip from the Chicago area through the deep south to Florida. It was a memorable experience with breath-taking views and a full range of landscapes to keep me intrigued. From mountains to beaches, I went out of my way to experience it all. I've written about the exploring Kentucky caves, artistic finds in Chattanooga, strolling through Savannah, serenity in Bok Towers, a rainy day in St. Augustine, and eateries and pubs along the way. It was quite a trip.

We drove through Tennessee in the dark and rain at the start of our road trip and only experienced the twists and turns of the hillside driving in the dark. On our way back home, we made plans to stay near the mountains. With uncertain weather, and potential NYE festivities to enjoy we booked two nights in downtown Asheville.

The weather was great for a day driving up Mount Mitchell. After a couple of detours, we found ourselves going up, up, up. We stopped at every overlook peeking through our binoculars and taking pictures at each stop. We saw birds and trees. We were able to see down into the valley and up into the hillside without leaves obstructing our view. We saw other onlookers peering over the edge from faraway overlooks. Water froze as it trickled down the mountainside forming a crystal waterfall. 

We took our time; we had all day. We saw what looked to be snow, or maybe just gray trees, up at the highest point. Uncertain how high we'd be allowed to drive, we ventured on. Mr. K was enjoying the hairpin turns as we whipped through the mountainside.

When we thought we were nearly done, we passed through the Mount Mitchell State Park entrance. We drove up and kept driving. Then we saw it. The white caps on Mount Mitchell were ice. Thick ice was coating the trees, the bushes, and the grass. We parked and got out to check it out. The ice encasing the grass was standing sideways in a fascinating windswept formation. It was amazing, it was breathtaking, it was cold!! We examined the plants and looked out as far as we could look, but that's as far as we got. No hiking for us. Back to the warmth of the car to twist and turn back down the mountain roads.

We went back into downtown Asheville invigorated and satisfied, with another experience to fill our memories.

On the way out of town the next morning, we took a detour through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was equally as breathtaking, though a bit more full of visitors. We stopped in the visitor's center to quickly check out the exhibit. We saw little animals and plant-life displays. We sat by the river and took it all in. The sounds were soothing. The water was so clear. I could sit there all day. But we had to move on. 

As we drove on, we saw big wild turkeys. We stopped when we could to get out and enjoy the landscape. There were fewer overlooks, but with winter stripping the foliage of many of the trees, we could see through as we drove. We read the informational plaques to learn why the Smoky Mountains are smoky (watery mist from the dense forest). We reached the overlook to see the large expanse of trees shrouded in purplish blue haze, it was beautiful. It was like the Grand Canyon, one of those sights that pictures, paintings, and written accounts don't do justice.

We drove back through the trees and hit Gaitlinburg. It was a jolt to the senses to go from such majestic beauty to the neon signs, dense crowds, and chain restaurants and tourist traps crowded into this American mountainside town. We'll need to find a better route out next time.

This is yet another reminder to enjoy your surroundings. To get out to your national and state parks and see why it's worth conserving. To take a step away from your everyday life and see that there is more out there. It's rejuvenating.

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