All right, let us do this vacation recap thing!
Jon and I left Chapel Hill on Thursday morning to drive the three-ish hours to Grandfather Mountain which is near Linville, North Carolina. The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation has been running some short commercials on the Travel Channel lately, and a bit of Googling showed that it wasn’t too far from the bed and breakfast we were staying at in Butler, Tennessee. The mountain is 5,946 feet tall and is one of the highest points of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The mountain is also part of a state park and there is plenty to do. You pay at the entrance ($15 per person) and are given a CD to listen to as your progress up the mountain. The disc has bluegrass music and a sonorous old man telling you about the mountain’s history and nature and other things. One of the first sites you pass as you ascend the mountain is the playing fields for the Highland Games. We had just missed the games, which are played in the second weekend of July. That’s a bummer, because we love kilts.
So the first notable geologic site we passed were the Split Rock and the Sphinx Rock, two giant, billion year old boulders that are perched alongside the road. So we got out and took some pictures with the giant and old rocks.
Our next stop was the tourist center of the mountain: an area with animal habitat enclosures, a museum, and some restaurants and shops. The animal enclosures were great, especially the bear area. The habitats are about as natural as you can get, and the animals have plenty of room to roam. There are a few black bears in the bear area, but one bear in particular was really posing for the cameras. His name is Kodiak and he’s a cinnamon black bear; evidently only 1% of black bears demonstrate that color. I guess he thinks he’s special or something.
There was also a brown eagle and some adorable otters. Otters are really the best, sort of part cat and part seal but with the cutest qualities of both animals. I got some good views of them both on the rocks and in their little swimming pool.
Supposedly there were some cougars roaming around the cougar enclosure, but I didn’t get a glimpse of them. Sadface.
We then stopped in the museum, which has a number of small exhibits about the history and natural history of the mountain. The most important display, however, was the weather meter. Grandfather Mountain is a national weather monitor site, and it was pleasant to see that while much of the rest of the country was 100+ degrees, Grandfather Mountain was a cool 81. Higher elevation bitches!
I loved the mushrooms exhibit, mainly because the poisonous varieties were decorated with a little skull. The best was the breed called the Destroying Angel, which sounds like a death metal band.
We then hopped back in the car and continued our drive up the mountain. We stopped at a few lookout points to take pictures of greenery and the summit of the mountain.
We could have taken a hike or two, but it looked like it was going to downpour at any moment, and we’re not particularly nature-y, so we continued our drive up the mountain. The last portion of the drive is a series of really intense switchbacks which are often featured in car commercials. Not for the faint of heart.
We reached the top of Grandfather Mountain and its most famous feature: the Mile High Swinging Bridge. The bridge has been up since 1952 and it hangs over a canyon that is about eighty feet below it. However, the bridge itself sits exactly one mile in the air. The bridge swings a bit when you cross it, but that’s mostly an awesome thing. The views, of course, are fantastic.
Intrepid pseudo-climbers were scaling the ridges at the other side of the bridge. I decided to decline because I was in sandals and it was starting to rain. But Jon, in flip-flops, decided to climb the slippery cliffs while I remained at the bridge and wrung my hands nervously and took some pictures.
That’s Jon, way off on a cliff, in the rain, in flip-flops. I was sort of freaking out.
Anyways, as you have probably realized Jon made it back in one piece and we soon ventured back across the bridge.
We headed back down the mountain after our journey across the bridge. As we took the switchbacks back down we passed Forrest Gump Curve, so named because it was used for one of the running scenes in Forrest Gump.
So, that was exciting.
Anyways, Grandfather Mountain was really beautiful and a great introduction to our Mountain Vacation Weekend. The Blue Ridge area in general is beautiful and Grandfather Mountain is a great way to really compact all the great mountain-y experiences into one excellent day. Grandfather Mountain park also offers a lot of camping and hiking and other nature-y things but, again, we’re not really nature people. A bit of faux-hiking and some animals are an awesome bridge with awesome views was enough for us! Next post: the journey to Butler, Tennessee!