Friday, March 23, 2012

Chimney Rock State Park - 03/23/12

We were watching the Weather Channel this morning and learned the weather conditions were changing here in Asheville, North Carolina, with rain showers forecast for Saturday and Sunday. The forecast for Monday is sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s. We decided we would extend our stay in Asheville by one more night and visit Biltmore on Monday, March 26. So back we go to the Biltmore ticket office to reschedule our visit from Saturday to Monday. No problem, we are now set to visit Biltmore on Monday with no group tour restrictions. We can tour the inside of the mansion by ourselves as often as we want to.

We were returning to our campground, which is west of Asheville on I-40. I had made a mistake and was heading east on I-40 instead of west. I took the next exit to find a place to turn around. We soon discovered we were southbound on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We came upon a highway exit sign that stated "Chimney Rock State Park" was 25 miles ahead on route NC-74A at the next exit. We had read about this park earlier in the Asheville area travel brochure. Our urge to explore could not be contained, so off we go!

This turned out to be an exciting road trip, consisting of 15 to 25 mph switchbacks rising to ever-higher elevations on a narrow two-lane road. There were short curvy sections of the road posted at 35 mph, but for our size vehicle, a Ford E150 Van, we considered 30 mph was a more prudent speed. Being courteous tourists, we would pull over at the infrequent turnouts along the road to allow the locals to pass us and zip around those mountain roads at what we considered to be nerve-racking speeds.

About 20 miles into our trip we reached an elevation of 2,880 feet. A sign posted there stated this was the highest elevation for route NC-74A in this geographical area of North Carolina. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The entire mountain road runs parallel to a wide shallow creek with crystal clear water rapidly surging around massive boulders that line the creek bed. Brilliant dark green shrubs and majestic evergreen trees were interspersed with lavender colored flowers and rust colored vegetation that formed a scenic backdrop on either side of the creek.

The approach into Chimney Rock State Park is hidden by a large hill and holds a pleasant surprise for visitors upon arrival. As we made our approach over the hill we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the small, quaint town of Chimney Rock. It is located deep within a valley surrounded by massive mountains on all sides. The mountains displayed their abundant variety of colorful trees and their beautiful early spring foliage and flowers of multiple colors. The town is comprised of several boutique shops that offer a variety of locally made products and natural gemstones from the area.

About one-quarter of the way into town is the entrance to Chimney Rock State Park. Chimney Rock is a 535-million-year-old towering monolith with sweeping panoramic 75-mile views from its summit. It has been an iconic focal point in the Western Carolina mountains for well over a century. It is located about one mile from the entrance and is devoid of any trees or vegetation on one side. This side is available for rock climbers to tackle the 400-foot vertical face of the mountain. There is a viewing platform at the summit for those who are physically fit for the challenging hike on the trail and a subsequent stairway climb to reach it. Unfortunately, we are no longer physically able to undertake strenuous hikes of this magnitude anymore. We must now be content to view the magnificence of Mother Nature from ground level.

The same creek that we had followed on the road through the mountains flowed through town. There was a developed pathway alongside of the creek that ran the length of the town. Colorful wild flowers and dark green vegetation hugged the shoreline on both sides of the creek. Massive boulders were dispersed throughout the creek as far as the eye could see. Colorful songbirds filled the surrounding mountains with their haunting melodies. A perfect ending to another most excellent adventure.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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