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In early May 2004 we took a long weekend in western North Carolina, starting every day from our room in Hendersonville. It's a pleasant town, close to our arrival airport and convenient to the sights we wanted to see.

Most of the cars in Hendersonville are newer than this one, which was visiting from Michigan. The vanity plate answers everyone's first question. The answer to the second question is 1949.

Like a lot of places, Hendersonville is showing off street art this year. The bears are fiberglass, decorated by local artists. If you look closely, you'll see there are only two forms. So the artists are challenged to make their bears special. So some of the bears have to hold things.

According to legend, a Cherokee maid grew despondent when she learned her lover had been killed in battle. So she ended her life with a leap from Hendersonville's Jump Off Rock. For the more optimistic, the views are excellent in all directions.

It was cloudy for the whole weekend, so we had to compromise a bit on the views. These are from later in our visit: first near the Cradle of Forestry, then at Chimney Rock. The second view shows why these are called the Smoky Mountains.

The great American poet Carl Sandburg lived here, in Flat Rock — just a couple of miles from Hendersonville. His home is now a national museum. We didn't make time to visit there because there was something else in Flat Rock we wanted to see, so we'll have to go back some day. Sandburg wrote a bit of prose too, including Millville, which appeals to me because it's about South Jersey. It's not well known because the author was still using the pen name Charles Sandburg.

Flat Rock is where to find the St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church. It was first built in 1833 as a private chapel on the grounds of Charles and Susan Barings' home, Mountain Lodge. The original wooden chapel burned and the Barings rebuilt with brick. In 1836 they gave the chapel to the Diocese of North Carolina. To accommodate the rapidly growing congregation, the parish enlarged the building, completing today's structure in 1852.

The church was unusual in that white people and black slaves sat together, and were all buried in the same church cemetery. The first wedding here was between two slaves.

Christopher Memminger is buried here. He was the first Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. His face is on the CSA's five-dollar bill.

Although slaves were buried here, the integration was not perfect. Eventually, the markers and identification were lost. The grounds were restored, and crosses hand-made, by Junior Warden Clyde H. Bloedorn in 1971.

Some privileges are guarded very carefully.

Cradle of Forestry in America, near Brevard.

The museum is on the site of a forestry college established in 1895 by Carl. A. Schenck. Schenck originally came to North Carolina to work on George Vanderbilt's estate, and then went to work on the reclaimed woodland that became Pisgah National Forest. You can crawl beneath the structure to the right of the aisle, to see the kind of things that live below the forest floor.

The Black Forest Lodge shows the influence of German architecture. Schenck's students used it as living quarters.

Athletics were also in the curriculum.


Western North Carolina in general, and Transylvania County in particular, are loaded with waterfalls. We visited just a few of them. There's a wealth of information about them on the internet, whether you're hiking or touring with a group.

Looking Glass Falls, near Brevard, drop 60 feet.
The name is from nearby Looking Glass Rock, which looks like a mirror when water freezes on it in the winter.

Sliding Rock is also near Brevard.
It's a natural waterslide. The drop here is also 60 feet, but it's gradual. There are railings on the left to help you walk up for your next trip down the slide. This quiet stream is at the bottom.

Toxaway Falls, Sapphire.
The falls we see today are what's left over below the dam that forms Lake Toxaway. It's just a roadside view, but pleasant.

Bridal Veil Falls, Highlands.
This 45-foot fall is right next to the road. It was once possible to drive behind the falls, but a rockslide has closed the side road.


Dry Falls, Highlands.
You can walk behind this 65-foot cascade without getting wet. Well, not too wet.

Outside looking in.

Inside looking out.

Not far downstream, the Cullasaja River is quiet again.

Glassmine Falls, Buncombe County.
This is not in the same area; we saw it another day from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Eight hundred feet high, it's one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.


Biltmore Estate

We visited the Biltmore Estate south of Asheville.

You know it's a large property when the directions to parking start with "drive three miles …."

This statue of Diana watches the mansion from a hilltop.

Here's a view of the statue from the mansion's front door.

For completeness, Diana's view of the mansion, about 600 yards away. This is the largest private residence in America.

The water features are on a terrace about halfway from Diana to the front door. It was a gloomy day, but not yet raining when we arrived. We decided to check out the grounds first, and save the inside tour for when the rain came. The opulence never stops overwhelming. This place was built in the 1890s, when there was no income tax and the owner had a lot of income. His family had made their fortune in railroads. So, in this age before gas-engine vehicles, Mr. Vanderbilt built a railway spur to the property, just to deliver materials. When all the materials were on site, he tore up the railroad.

Here's the Italian Garden, and its view of the mansion.

There are several terra cotta statues in this garden, all putti (cherubs). These were popular during the Renaissance in Italy. This little angel is at the far end of the garden, watching over a dry fountain as he looks toward the mansion. Biltmore staff say that there was never any water here.

The south terrace is off one side of the mansion, reached by a walkway under a wisteria-covered pergola.

The statues on the terrace have a more complicated story. Antoine Coysevox (1640–1720) was commissioned to make three marble statues for the Château de Marly, Louis XIV's estate just west of Paris. They were finished in 1709–10, moved to Tuileries Garden in 1716, and moved again to the Louvre a couple hundred years later. Here are two of the terra cotta copies Vanderbilt commissioned for his mountain home. (The links go to the Louvre's information pages.)

Shepherd Playing the Flute

Hamadryade, or
  Nymph of the Woods

The crape myrtle is not a reproduction — it's all natural and completely original. In a few weeks it will be a riot of purple.

Biltmore's conservatory and the walled garden. It's tulip time.

There was a special event going on that involved several young fairies. We never found out exactly what it was about, but they all could sing.

Two architects were so important in building the estate that Vanderbilt commissioned John Singer Sargent to paint large portraits of them for his gallery. They were Richard Morris Hunt, who designed the buildings; and Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed the grounds. Hunt was already famous for several of Newport's grand mansions, and Olmstead was the inventor of landscape architecture. His designs include New York's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park. His artistry is on display at Biltmore, as we strolled the azalea garden before the sky opened up.

We were here at the beginning of azalea time, feasting our eyes on a carpet of purples and whites. A beautiful stream runs through this garden, looking for all the world like it had always been there and Olmstead simply planted along its banks. In fact, the planting came first and the stream — every twig, each rock — was placed exactly where Olmstead wanted it.

As with his other designs, Olmstead made the woods look more natural than if they were truly wild. The little bridge made of found rocks? Manmade, the rocks were hauled in. The bass pond at the end of the path? Dug to order. The beauty of the design is that the visitor doesn't see the design. We stayed in this outdoor "living room" for an hour or so until it started looking like the rain was almost on us. Then we made our way back to the mansion to check out Mr. Hunt's work. We almost got there in time to stay dry.

No photography is allowed in the mansion, so you'll need to visit in person, or browse their website, or find someone's bootleg photos. Cell phones are everywhere now, so the pictures aren't hard to find.

After being overwhelmed in the mansion, we went down the hill to the conservatory, with its many exotic plants. Here are a banana and a parrot plant.

We saw new domestic and wild plants everywhere. This one was back in Hendersonville at Jump Off Rock.

These were at the Biltmore. The first one is Rock Cotoneaster. It's a kind of rose.

This was along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We only drove a short piece of this road. It's 470 miles from end to end, with speed limits from 25 to 45 miles per hour (and they dare you to do it). We used the part that goes to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. You can see the moisture on the grass in this photo. As we climbed higher onto the mountain, we were made painfully aware of our light clothing. It was early May, and it was snowing up there!

The trip wouldn't be complete if we didn't visit an airport. This is the Jackson County Airport in Sylva. The runway is carved out of the side of a mountain. It looks OK on a calm day, but I imagine landing would be quite a challenge when the wind picks up.


Chimney Rock

Yes, there is a Bat Cave. We drove through town on the way to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. It's the only place in the country by that name, so you can't get the wrong one.

Lake Lure is the area's light company. At the east end, its two turbines generate 3.4 megawatts. The beaches and fishing are nice side effects.

There is a much larger version of this photo here

That view of Lake Lure is from Chimney Rock, the area's signature rock formation. These gneiss forms were pushed to the surface about half a billion years ago. It's a state park now, with several trails for hiking. And there's that panoramic view of Lake Lure. They even have an elevator to the top. We took the stairs.

Pulpit Rock has a good view of its own, but it's the place to stand for the best view of Chimney Rock.

Moonshiner's Cave, with exfoliation blocks near the entrance.

This is an example of a talus cave which formed when a very large slab of Henderson Gneiss exfoliated from the main mountain wall and slid to the cliff base. It formed the small cave by leaning back against the mountain and creating an opening. Talus or fissure caves are very different from limestone caverns, which form through dissolution of limestone by acid water.

One of the trails has some man-made help to reach the Needle's Eye. We didn't go there.

There is a plaque at the top of Chimney Rock that explains a bit of the place's history.

In Commemoration

Dr. Lucius B. Morse   1871–1946
Hiram B. Morse   1864–1952
Asahel U. Morse   1864–1939

Three brothers whose vision and faith developed Chimney Rock and made the beauty of its area accessible to all future generations.

It was through the inspiration and personal organizational ability of Dr.Lucius B. Morse that the dam creating Lake Lure was finished in 1926 and in 1927 the town of Lake Lure was incorporated.

In 1949 Hiram B. Morse saw completed a dream long held by the brothers, an elevator to make Chimney Rock more easily reached by everyone.


Guilford Nanney   1871–1952

Superintendent of Chimney Rock for over 30 years, whose high degree of technical skill constructed the trail system over the mountain, built the many buildings and maintained the property through all weathers.


I don't have any scenic view of Mount Mitchell because we were on Mount Mitchell. So I'll leave you with a view of Tanbark Ridge in Buncombe County. We saw it from the Blue Ridge Parkway lay-by at Craven Gap (Mile 377).

There is a much larger version of this photo here.