For our family vacation this year, I wanted to visit St. Simon’s Island, so I could walk through an old growth live oak forest and also hunt for fossils in the lagoon behind the island. However, my wife objected to the heat and expressed her desire to seek relief in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We have a successful marriage, meaning we compromised by choosing her destination.
We went to Mount Mitchell State Park located 35 miles north of Asheville, North Carolina. To get there, it’s necessary to travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was looking forward to this route but was unimpressed and very disappointed with the Blue Ridge Parkway National Park. It’s simply a busy road through the woods, and I can’t believe this sorry stretch is part of the national park service. There were gangs of motorcyclists and inconsiderate bicycle riders and even an 18-wheeled truck. The road is narrow and winding with a speed limit of 35 mph. The bicycle riders act as if they own the road–not a single one of those lazy assholes pulled off the road to let us pass. The entire parkway is a no passing zone and around many of the bends visibility is too poor to safely pass the bicycle riding jerks. The only wildlife I saw on the parkway was a woodchuck. I didn’t even see a single bird or gray squirrel. By the time I reached the road that leads to Mount Mitchell, I was in a foul mood. My aggravation increased because I hated the endless, climbing, winding road that led to the top.
Note the line of dead trees halfway up this mountain. This forest is dying.
See how open the terrain is? If there were any large mammals in the park, they would be visible. The population of large mammals in Mount Mitchell State Park is zero. There aren’t even any white tail deer.
At 6578 feet Mount Mitchell is the highest elevated point east of the Mississippi. Nevertheless, a visit here is not recommended.
Path through Craggy Gardens located off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a thicket of catawba rhododendron and stunted birch trees. I saw a yellow-throated warbler here but little else in the way of wildlife.
Note how the roots of this birch tree are growing over a boulder.
The sign welcoming us to Mount Mitchell stated that it is a “World Biosphere Preserve.” This is a joke. The trees are all dead or dying and the whole park is nearly devoid of wildlife. Woolly adelgids, an invasive insect, have killed all of the Frasier firs, and acid rain is in the process of killing the red spruce. Mount Mitchell used to host an interesting boreal forest with flora and fauna more commonly found in the Canadian life zones. Now it is practically dead. The landscape is open so from the top of the mountain, it’s possible to see every large mammal for miles. I did not see a single deer, elk, wild boar, or black bear. The population of large mammals in Mount Mitchell State Park, aside from Homo sapiens, is zero. There are supposed to be red squirrels here, but I did not see a single squirrel’s nest, let alone a squirrel. Bird populations are also very low. I saw a few sparrows and swallows and a gray bird that I could not identify despite combing through my field guides for 90 minutes when I returned home.
A restaurant exists on Mount Mitchell. They charge extra money for the view. For example they serve a hotdog for $9. Mount Mitchell totally sucks.
Menu from the Mount Mitchell State Park restaurant. 9 bucks for a hotdog. They suck.
Chimney Rock State Park
The road to Chimney Rock State Park located about 30 miles south of Asheville doesn’t suck as bad as the Blue Ridge Parkway but I saw even less wildlife here. The view of the cliffs is spectacular.
View of Chimney Rock cliffs.
This tunnel was bored through 500 million year Cambrian-aged rock. It leads to an elevator that ascends 26 stories in 30 seconds to the top of Chimney Rock.
View of Lake Lure from the top of Chimney Rock.
View of a cliff opposite Chimney Rock.
Chimney Rock. To be honest, as soon as I was on top of Chimney Rock, I wanted to go back down to earth. I’m not afraid of heights but they make me feel uneasy.
The cliffs here reminded me of an article I wrote about a year ago. https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/piedmont-cliff-ecology/ Supposedly, peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs but the only bird I saw was a black vulture. Surprisingly large birch and hickories grow on the rocky cliff faces along with many cedar trees.
My daughter and I went for a walk around Lake Lure, a manmade body of water in the valley between the cliffs of Chimney Rock. It was hot, and we were delighted to find a public swimming beach here. The cool swim in the lake salvaged my mood.
View of cliffs from Lake Lure.
There’s a belted kingfisher nest in the mud bank on the shore of Lake Lure. I saw more wildlife in the Lake Lure city park than on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mt. Mitchell, and Chimney Rock combined.
Ah Hah! There is a public swimming beach here. This swim after a hot walk was the highlight of my vacation. Note all the Canadian geese. I told my daughter to make sure not to swallow the water. With all the goose fecal matter, it’s probably contaminated with E. coli.
The restaurants in Asheville serve “home cooked” southern fare. The food may be good but it is not as good as my own cooking. The Moose Cafe near the Asheville Farmer’s Market serves excellent biscuits and corn bread but their entree’s were overseasoned with salt while their sides were underseasoned. The local cuisine is nothing to get really excited about.