It’s Only Natural

It was supposed to be raining when I woke up in Maggie Valley. When I’d decided to hunker down for the day, to sit-out the storm, I had visions of sleeping late, enjoying a long leisurely meal or two, and just, you know, hanging out.

So why is it that my first thought upon seeing dry pavement was, “I can ride today after all.” Maybe it’s a sickness.

Since I was close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), and I had yet to make it to Clingman’s Dome — highest point in GSMNP — I figured that would be a good destination. Once it did start raining, I told myself, I’d be close to shelter.

It didn’t take long at all — 20 minutes? — for me to reach the park entrance, which is near the southern terminus of the BRP. Unfortunately, when I did, I was greeted by a sign proclaiming US-441 to be closed. The Oconaluftee Visitors Center is just inside the park entrance, so I went in to find out exactly where the closure began, hoping I could reach the summit. But it was not to be.

“Actually,” one of the rangers manning the desk told me, “the Tennessee side of the park is currently being evacuated.” What?!?

The weather on the Tennessee side of the park was much worse. There were reports of trees down all over the place, falling on people and cars.

So I headed back toward Maggie Valley. I couldn’t resist stopping for some pics along the way, figuring I might as well make the most of my outing while the weather held. Here are some snapshots I judged to be worthy of sharing. Many are grainy because it was so overcast.

SD_IMG_0134

It was interesting to see the difference in the foliage at lower and higher elevations. I hadn’t expected to see so many bare trees. You’ll see the change as I move from lower points near the end of the Parkway, up and into the mountains.

SD_IMG_0135

 

Ferns
Ferns

 

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

 

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

 

Natural Heart
Natural Hearts

 

SD_IMG_0150
Still pretty green, right?

 

SD_IMG_0151
Looking a bit browner.

 

SD_IMG_0158

 

SD_IMG_0160

 

SD_IMG_0167
Teeny Tiny Little Blossoms

 

SD_IMG_0163
Green at lower elevations.

 

SD_IMG_0164
The hilltops were still mostly brown.

 

SD_IMG_0169
Odd name for a tunnel.

 

SD_IMG_0174
You can see the sky getting grayer.

 

SD_IMG_0183
Pretty little yellow flowers.

 

SD_IMG_0189
Moss and lichen-covered trees.

 

SD_IMG_0199
Moss and lichen-covered trees.

 

SD_IMG_0222
Not much green at all.

 

SD_IMG_0215
Tiny purple flower.

 

SD_IMG_0206
Wintry-looking.

 

SD_IMG_0205

If nothing else, I got to see some pretty cool clouds moving in. It was getting colder, too.

SD_IMG_0223
Menacing Clouds

 

SD_IMG_0226
Menacing Clouds

 

SD_IMG_0228
It sure looked like I was about to get rained on.

 

SD_IMG_0236
Cool Clouds

 

SD_IMG_0241
Hints of Pink

 

SD_IMG_0242
Roadside Cascade

 

SD_IMG_0243
Same cascade.

Temps were in the upper 40s by the time I decided to head back to my motel. So that was my morning.

Final note… this post has been in the works for a week. I caught a stupid head cold/upper respiratory think that’s had me coughing/hacking/gagging and blowing my nose for a week. As an extra bonus, each day ended with a pounding headache, too. Last night’s was so bad, I thought maybe I was dying. Needless to say, we didn’t do any riding over the long, holiday weekend. Maybe this coming weekend I’ll feel better.

Visual Smorgasbord

NRG_IMG_0838I have yet to mention long-range weather forecasts and the impact they sometimes had on each day’s planning. A little bit of bad weather can be tolerated. Major storms, on the other hand, must be given serious consideration. That morning, as a major storm was bearing down on the area, I decided to plan ahead more than usual to find a good spot where I could hunker down for a few days. I’d thought Bryson City, where I’d spent the previous evening, might be a good spot. It was close to eateries, shops, and stuff, but the hotel was a bit further from things than I would’ve liked, and on a pretty steep hill.

After a bit of research, Maggie Valley is the spot I chose. I even booked a motel room for two nights. The motel I selected was close to several restaurants, shops, and other attractions, inexpensive, had great reviews, and a Mexican restaurant within easy walking distance. Not only would I not have to worry at day’s end about where I’d be sleeping, I would have a margarita to look forward to as well.

Although storms were expected to move in that evening, the weather was absolutely perfect that morning as I set off for the Nantahala River Gorge.

NRG_IMG_0049

 

NRG_IMG_0051

 

NRG_IMG_0055

 

NRG_IMG_0056

 

NRG_IMG_0057

All of the previous images were captured along the relatively flat US-74/US-19 south of Bryson City. The next several images were captured along the hillier Wayah Road.

NRG_IMG_0067

 

NRG_IMG_0068

 

NRG_IMG_0070

 

NRG_IMG_0845
It was SUCH a lovely place.

 

NRG_IMG_0073

All of those scenery pics MIGHT make you think the road wasn’t very good. It was actually excellent.

NRG_IMG_0082
Where I’d Been

 

NRG_IMG_0083
Where I Had Yet to Travel

 

NRG_IMG_1817
Different section of road (exact location forgotten).

The road was so nice, I sort of lost myself in thought. Before I knew it, the lovely river, with all its cascades and waterfalls was replaced by a beautiful little lake.

NRG_IMG_0078

I think I might be happy living in Western North Carolina. Until tourist season hit every year. Which reminds me…

According to the National Park service…

Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 522,427 acres, divided almost evenly between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. [There were] more than 11.3 million recreational visits in 2016. (This figure does not include the approximately 11 million travelers on the Gatlingburg-Pigeon Forge Spur.) Highest visitation of any of the 59 national parks. The second most heavily visited national park is Grand Canyon with 4.6 million visits, third is Yosemite with 3.8 million, fourth is Yellowstone with 3.2 million.

That doesn’t include all of the motorcyclists who flock to the region or people who go there to visit other area attractions, like the many rivers and lakes, Dollywood, etc.

In other words, it can get crazy-busy. I was there during the off-season, which is why it looks so empty. I’d be willing to bet that, were I there in mid-July, the roads would be clogged with traffic. Overlooks/pull-offs would probably be so full, I’d be lucky to find a spot on the bike, much less in a car. There would be LOTS of loud-ass cruisers (I will never understand the appeal of that noise). In short, it is probably a place to avoid. Unless you like that sort of thing.

I stopped in Franklin for lunch. While I ate, I was looking at several route options, but decided to stick with my original plan. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize Google maps had “lost” my original plan until I was rather far rom where I was supposed to be.

Instead of backtracking the way I’d already traveled, I quickly selected an alternate route. That’s how I happened upon this.

NRG_IMG_0085

In retrospect, I should have gone in. But the weather was too perfect to waste even a few minutes of ride time.

NRG_IMG_0086
Sylva, North Carolina

 

NRG_IMG_0087
Sylva, North Carolina

 

Getting to see downtown Sylva, albeit briefly, was a happy accident.

I finally got back to the section of Moonshiner 28 I’d meant to hit, but riding in the opposite direction than originally planned.

Holy cow was I glad I had decided to backtrack. The next images were all captured there…

NRG_IMG_0091
A Cascade (can’t remember name)

 

NRG_IMG_0089
Lush forest surrounds full river.

 

NRG_IMG_0092
Closer look at the same cascade.

 

NRG_IMG_0097
Same road, different cascade.

 

NRG_IMG_0098
A closer look because I couldn’t decide which pic I liked better.

But wait, there’s more!

NRG_IMG_0102
There were actually few pull-offs because the road was so narrow.

 

NRG_IMG_0107
Dry Falls

There was a LOT of water flowing over that waterfall. I could not imagine why it was called Dry Falls.

NRG_IMG_0111
Why DRY Falls? Apparently you can follow that pathway behind the falls and stay almost dry.

 

NRG_IMG_0109
Dry Falls

 

NRG_IMG_0112
Weird hand growing out of tree!

 

NRG_IMG_0113
Waterfall Close to Road

 

NRG_IMG_0114
See what I mean about the road?

The road was actually so nice, I repeated a large section of it “for Hubby” and then decided to continue with the route I’d originally planned, which took me into and through a section of the Pisgah National Forest, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and eventually to Maggie Valley.

As the road climbed toward the BRP, I started seeing flashes of pink. I HAD to stop for a closer look.

NRG_IMG_0115
Wild Pink Azaleas

 

NRG_IMG_0119
Many trees were still brown at higher elevations.

 

NRG_IMG_0126
Pretty end-of-day view.

That last shot makes it east to understand where the “Great Smoky Mountains” and “Blue Ridge” labels came from, eh?

I was exhausted by the time I reach my motel in Maggie Valley. And delighted to reach the Mexican restaurant I’d read about and enjoy the margarita I’d been thinking about, off and on, the entire day.

NRG_IMG_1824
Perfect way to top-off a fabulous day.

 

I’ve Gone South

I’m enjoying a temporary change of venue this week. It’s not a “vacation” because I’ll be working all week, but it is a fun change of pace.

My friend, Heather Ruuska, who lives in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, invited me to come down for the week. She has a job similar to mine, working from home, so we’ll both be working during the day and having fun at night.

LOVEwork in Doswell, VA
LOVEwork in Doswell, VA

I drove down in the car on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist adding-in some fun road-trip-type stuff.

Stop #1 was that LOVEwork in Doswell, VA (mainly because I HAD to get off of I-95).

Stop #2 was this awesome antique shop along US-301.

Two Frogs on a Bike
Two Frogs on a Bike

I forget exactly where it’s located. Sadly, it was closed. But I hope to find and revisit the place one day.

Two Frogs On a Bike
Two Frogs On a Bike

This BBQ joint was across the street from the antique shop.

IMG_8095
Piggy!

A ways down the road, I was feeling a bit loopy and decided to stop at a convenience store for refreshments.

Scary Stuff
Scary Stuff

It was most definitely a store in the South, judging by some of the snacks for sale.

IMG_8102
Snacks in the Southern US

This guy was outside of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.

I have no idea what "tis here."
I have no idea what “’tis here.”

Moving a bit further south and east…

Sunflowers outside of Rocky Mount, NC.
Sunflowers outside of Rocky Mount, NC.

This cool building was in downtown Rocky Mount. It’s an industrial art school.

IMG_0008
Cool School!

I think the big chicken was just outside of Wilson, NC.

Giant Cock
Giant Cock

Who can resist a giant chicken photo op?

I finally arrived at Ruuska Resort — my name for Heather and Timo’s lovely house — around 3:30-4:00 p.m.

Roxy was happy to see me.
Roxy was happy to see me.

Heather was happy to see me, too. We spent the evening chatting and catching up. (Timo is away visiting family). Then on Sunday we went to the beach.

IMG_8133
A win-win for me. Hardee’s breakfast on the beach!

It was cloudy, but that was a good thing, because it was in the upper 80s to low 90s, and the sun would have made it unbearable.

We left the beach around 1:00 when a shower hit. A bit later, we went to Carolina Beach State Park, minutes from the house, which was very cool. More on the park later, once I return with my real camera for better pics. In the meantime, these phone captures will give you an idea how pretty it was there.

IMG_8150
Wooded Path

 

IMG_8154
Pitcher Plant

Did you know Pitcher Plants lure, trap, and digest flies? There are Venus Fly Traps in the park, too, but we didn’t see any of those yesterday.

IMG_8175
Longleaf Pine Savannah

Such a lovely place, really. And huge! Especially considering it covers about half of the northern end of this beach-resort peninsula.

IMG_8224
Heather’s Sago Palm

We ended the day taking Roxy for a walk.

The next shot was captured from the community boat ramp, looking north across Snow’s Cut (body of water that leads to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway).

IMG_8242
As sunset approaches.

 

IMG_8243
Moonrise Over the Marina

Finally, to top off an already-lovely day, we drove back to the state park for these sunset captures.

IMG_0013
It was storming up north.

 

IMG_0014
Sunset over the Cape Fear River.

 

IMG_0015
Sunset over the Cape Fear River.

Now it’s Monday and time for work. No idea what we have planned for this evening, but I’m sure it will be lovely.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I had to share this fun video of Fiddler Crabs. They looked like beach bugs! In my opinion.