Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grandfather Mountain Part I: The Summit

For some, the mention of Grandfather Mountain calls to mind the Mile-High Bridge, the animal habitat, and an imposing granite profile perched atop a mountain. Others know the mountain more for its history or geology. Whatever the interest, Grandfather Mountain is a state treasure, and one of North Carolina's newest state parks.

We recently traveled to Boone, NC to visit Grandfather Mountain. One of two destinations along the Blue Ridge Parkway we've passed far too many times, though not for lack of interest. Shortly after moving to the Carolinas, one look at the iconic photo of a man standing near the precipice overlooking a sea of white clouds, and then reading about the mountain in connection with the infamous Union guerrilla, Keith Blaylock, convinced me to visit. But between my fear of heights and an entrance fee, we shoved Grandfather Mountain to the bottom of the To-See list. After all, I could never cross that bridge, so why bother paying the price?

As I learned, for several reasons.

We began our visit at the entrance on US 221. After paying the entry fee, a bit less than we expected thanks to a AAA discount, we received a brochure and an audio CD that, with amazing timing, guided us up the road to the top of the mountain. We paid close attention, noting what we would return to, and where we would stop during our ascent (more on that later). But our main goal was the peak that for so many years, I longed to visit.

Our drive ended in the parking lot of the Top Shop, where a blast of cold wind curled around us and nearly knocked us off our feet as we stepped out of the car. The weather is unpredictable at the summit, so much so, weather equipment is attached to the bridge, so bring a warm jacket regardless of the season. Inside Top Shop, a gift shop and gateway to the Mile-High Bridge and that famous peak, I purchased a warm knit cap and we took the elevator to the upper deck where an inspiring view captivated me.

Copyright 2012 K Buffaloe
Copyright 2012 K Buffaloe
Copyright 2012 K Buffaloe
It was inspiring, I crossed that bridge despite my fear. I had to. It called me to, asking how could I come that far and not walk to that peak?

It helped that the bridge spans an 80-foot gorge, not a mile of empty space. The bridge is simply a mile above sea level. As we soon discovered, in the middle of the bridge near the mile marker, the wind whistles through the metal slats resulting in an ethereal song heard only by those who dare to cross. On this day, that would be me.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To see the view from the other side!
But the singing bridge and panoramic view wasn't all there was to see. As I mentioned earlier, Grandfather Mountain has a unique geology, easily visible to guests, which I'll discuss in my next post.

For more information on Grandfather Mountain, go to http://www.grandfather.com/

For a current view of Grandfather Mountain, check out the High Country Webcam:
http://www.highcountrywebcams.com/webcameras_grandfather.htm

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