Saturday, May 22, 2010

North Carolina - Exploring and Painting Asheville - Black Mountain

My vacation to North Carolina was like riding a wave, on top of the crest, right up until the slow fall out of the wave.  This trip had perfect weather, perfect timing and excellent painting opportunities.  I arrived home just ahead of the threatening tornado weather in North Carolina and a week before the devastating floods in Tennessee.  Whew!  the difference a day makes....

A couple of weeks before the trip, I was wondering if I would actually be able to pull this one off.  My traveling friend announced she was slated for jury duty but was able to move it to another time.  Then, a week later, I received a jury duty notice.  I too was able to move it to another date.  And finally my daughter had to have gall bladder surgery to remove huge gall stones just days before my departure.  Had her surgery not gone well, I would have cancelled my trip.

Finally, the day arrived, I was on my way.  It was a beautiful Saturday morning and a 13 hour drive with stops.  As I left the cold morning in Michigan and approached the warmer hilly states, I was awestruck by the beauty of Kentucky and Tennessee, only to be taken aback by the breathtaking beauty of North Carolina. 

The vacation was planned around a workshop with Impressionist painter Lois Griffel and was to be held in Black Mountain, a quaint little town 15 minutes East of Asheville.  The Comfort Inn in Black Mountain was a pleasant surprise and was very clean, comfortable and affordable.  This was comforting as I would be staying there for a week and only had reviews to go by from the internet.

The drive down from Michigan was longer due to a huge rock slide on I 40, which is the most direct way in.  Instead of taking the commercial 53 mile detour, I chose to take a more scenic route that took me over two mountains, down into Asheville, then reconnecting to I 40.  It was less time and much more scenic going through the small town of Hot Springs.  My GPS was invaluable during this trip!  I relied on it heavily, however, in an emergency I had maps for backup (which may have been challenging to use in the mountain roads).

I had Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to explore before the workshop on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I ventured out early on Sunday to travel south about an hour to Whitewater Falls in Transylvania County near the South Carolina border.  This is the largest waterfall East of the Mississippi River and is in the Nantahala National Forrest.  As I approached the waterfall area I could hear the roar of the water.  Then my mouth just dropped down to the ground as I gazed in awe - the amazing power of all that water rushing over the cliff.  The camera does not even come close to giving one a feel for being there, however many pictures were snapped to try to capture on canvas at a later date.  From there, I followed the winding road through the Pisgah national forest, which I found out later was originally owned by the Vanderbilts and was part of the 125,000 acres of the Biltmore House in the early 1900's.

Looking Glass Falls was on the way and another beautiful spot to stop and photograph.  Sliding Rock is a naturally occurring 60 foot water slide that dumps into a 7 foot pool.  One brave soul slid down the rocks while I captured the moment on video.  I mailed the video clips to Chris and his son Max.  After viewing his father strategically navigating the slide, Max opted out and went back to the side.  The water must have been very cold!  There were only a handful of people everywhere I stopped so the opportunity for picture taking and ease of travel was exceptional.  The trees were just starting to leaf out, leaving beautiful spots of gray relief for awesome pictures. 

Moore's Cove was a nice hike about one mile in to a light waterfall falling down over a cove area where you could walk behind the falls area.  Was very surreal and beautiful.  The hike in followed the river through the forrest to this gorgeous place.

One small deviation in my plan was after traveling through the Pisgah Forest, I would connect at about 5,500 feet up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to travel on it to Asheville.  When getting to the connector, it was confusing which way to turn.  Even more disturbing was the area looked like a bomb went off up there.  Tons of trees, shredded at the tops and the lack of growth made me curious.  Fortunately, locals were stopping behind me.  I got out of the car, appologized for my intrusion and asked which way to Asheville.  (I did not want to take a wrong turn and be in the mountains after dark!) They advised me that the parkway was closed a few miles up due to the severe ice storms and heavy snow that they experienced this past winter.  Rock and tree debris were blocking travel.  I later learned that other sections of the parkway from Asheville north were also closed.  I could see many places I already passed that had been recently cleared.

So, back down the way I came and on to get a bite to eat before tucking in at the hotel.  It took longer than I thought to drive through the snaky mountain roads.  Everything was so beautiful, I stopped many times at turn offs to observe the breathtaking vistas.  You could see for must be a hundred miles on the tops of the mountains.  The aerial perspective was very prominent.

Dinner the first night was at an awesome freshly made, authentic Mexican place in Black Mountain called Ole's Guacamole.  A small place with a huge presence!  What a pleasant surprise.  The food was so good I went for dinner 3 times during my stay! 

To be continued..... there's just too much to say in one installment.  In part two... The Biltmore House, a forrest fire and Mount Mitchell.

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