Friday, April 22, 2011

Bluegrass in the Blue Ridge

Last night we went out to Marshall, NC to a coffee house we visited on Monday. They mentioned that they had bluegrass music on Thursday evenings so we checked it out. Well worth the visit. Great music by a bunch of people who really love to jam.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the Estate

On Wednesday we visited the Biltmore Estate. We'd been to the mansions in Newport before and had some expectations for the mansion proper. Those expectations were met though the Biltmore is a "warmer" building lacking the vast spans of marble that its northeast cousins have replacing marble with vast expanses of wood. Very nice touches

The real highlight of the day was the gardens. We lucked out and visited at a time when many of the favorite flowers were at their height. The Azaleas and the Tulips were spectacular. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

On the Stream

Freestone Blue Ridge stream
For years we've been talking about poking around the environs of Asheville, NC. It's one of those places that's on our list of retirement locales. So, we had to check it out.

Part of the research, of course, is in the fishing. For that, we enlisted local expert and Orvis Endorsed Guide Brown Hobson. Brown guided out of Jackson Hole for a bit and now resides outside of Asheville. On Tuesday, he brought us to a fishery that's south of town (you know, between Asheville and Tennessee. That one.). In short, a good day of fishing.

Brown Hobson and the boys
scout the tail of the pool
The stream we were on was one of those beautiful freestone streams that originates somewhere where wood sprites and pixies live and gathers steam and fortitude as it slices through beautiful forests and fields. By the time it got to where we were fishing it was a couple of yards wide and had lovely pocket water followed by deep runs. And in those runs lived Brookies, Browns and Rainbows.

This stream was amazing. Two days after a dumping rain turned other rivers brown but this one was running very clear. When the sun got on the water we could sight cast to fish holding in the deeper runs. This water was testament to how important good land use practices are to keeping the streams in good shape. Of course, a couple of miles downstream is a paper mill that pretty much ruins the water (keep yer yaps shut if this clue helped you figure out the river), but up here it was clear and cold.

As one son said, "Dad, I don't think
that's going to fit in the net." That's
what you want to hear.
We fished two locations that were popular spots given the number of footprints in the sand and gravel as well as the well worn paths through the woods. The nice thing was that we had the water to ourselves so it was truly a family affair. My oldest seemed to be the fish magnet as he was on fish first and consistently. My youngest took a bit to find fishy water by with Brown's encouragement and his dogged persistence he got his Rainbow too.

Most of the fish were taken on nymphs though late in the day I had a fish come up and take a swirl at my strike indicator. Knowing that at least one fish was looking up, I swapped out the nymph rig for a #14 Rabbits Foot Emerger. It took me a few tries to get the drift correct, but eventually the fly got in the lane and a Rainbow surged from the gravel bottom and slammed the fly. Very satisfying.

The only Brown of the day. A
wild eight inch trophy.
I'm so pleased to see my children on the water. If for no other reason than they're not staring at some electronics screen. My youngest is a madman with a fly rod in his hand. He's the one that's been bugging me to fish the local pond and he was very pleased to catch his first trout on the rod he won at the TU auction a few weeks ago. He casts well, has intense focus and as Brown said, once he grows another foot he'll have even better skills. I look forward to his growth as an angler.

At one point, my oldest tired for fishing (yeah, I'm not sure I know what that means either) so I pointed out a big boulder in the middle of a long riffle and told him that would be a good place to go sit and listen to the river. I'll be damned if he didn't spend a good thirty minutes doing just that. Perhaps there's hope for the younger generation yet.

Pretty mountain stream
On Sunday, we took a hike out by a place called Graveyard Fields. It's now a high altitude meadow environment (thanks to logging and forest fires) but it did have a very pretty trout stream rolling through it. Since it was a camera day (as opposed to a fishing day) I didn't have a rod with me but I'm told there are Brook Trout in that thar stream.  We hiked along if for a good hour or so and it was perfect riffle, run, pool structure. Definitely on my list of streams to come back to.

I also got to play with the new camera. The Optio W90 I picked up a few months ago has sat in my vest waiting for fair weather (and warmer water) so that I could play with its underwater capabilities. While I won't be winning an Oscar anytime soon, here's the first Rainbow I caught. All of eight inches. Nailed a soft hackle Lightning Bug on the swing.

On the Farm

Monday's event was a trail ride up in the mountains north of Asheville just outside of Marshall, NC. The drive out there was standard highway fare but once we got down towards the town proper it was securely rural.

Marshall is the County Seat of Madison County. It is a small town that looks decidedly Mayberry. Except with an economy that wasn't great before 2008 and is now struggling. They've got the courthouse in the center of town and a single Main street the comprises the entirety of downtown. It's one of those places that is half-way along it's journey from a defunct mountain town and hippy/yuppie enclave. The coffee house survives because of the courthouse across the street and it serves a decent cup of coffee and mundane sandwiches.

Marshall is perched on a small plain along the banks of the French Broad River (wisecracks aside, the name of the river is derived from the fact that it was one of two rivers named the Broad River and it flowed through territory controlled by France way back when). The railroad goes through but the train depot is now an art store. Clearly the world is passing Marshall by.

Outside of town we drove up Route something-or-other, also known as Turnpike Road. Obviously, Turnpike is a North Carolina Mountain word meaning "single-lane, dirt and gravel road that twists and turns and descends precipitously on both sides". We survived the drive mostly because we didn't encounter a  car coming in the other direction.

The trail ride was everything one expects from horseback riding when one does it rarely. Fortunately it was short enough to not inflict damage on body parts that are unaccustomed to riding a horse. The views were fantastic and the trail guide, an authentic mountain dude who spoke a language probably more closely related to Scottish than English, was very helpful. Good times.

I held the esteemed station at the rear of the processoin

Rolling hillsides for miles

Rusty (at least that's what we called him). I didn't
understand a word he said but he seemed
knowledgeable, smoked Marlboros and cussed a
fair amount. Perfect trail boss.

A trail ride wouldn't be complete without a cow in the path

Mad camera skillz and a stylish cap.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Ridge

Mountain Vista
Most of Sunday was spent driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you set aside for a moment the spectacular vistas the fact that the parkway exists at all is a startling fact.

Not only did someone propose that the spectacular countryside be set aside for protection (mostly) but then some insane genius felt that putting a parkway along the very tops of the mountains was an even better idea. Truly splendid. It is a unique was to appreciate the resource in the most spectacular manner.

Transportation and Jungle Gym
We drove south from Asheville yesterday doing the requisite stops at the visitor center and folk art center. Maps in hand we drove south. When we arrived in Yellowstone last summer we stopped at the very first pull-off to admire the Madison River valley. If you haven't spent time in the West it was an amazing first view of the grand landscapes. Yet, by the end of the week we were amazed at how common the view was and how deep was the bounty of the views and experiences after we had plunged deeper into the park.

So it was true with the Blue Ridge. The first stop we made was very nice. Yet, in comparison to what would come, mundane. Opportunities to stop are frequent and the views are designed to be breathtaking. Apparently one of the design points of the parkway is to force you to move at a slow pace and take time to appreciate what you see.

Tunnels are numerous and exciting especially when you're wearing sunglasses. Most are short and when you enter you can clearly see the other end. There were one or two however that were on sharp curves and were longer than most. They provided the special challenge of not only overcoming the fear that Wile E Coyote had painted it on a flat rock face but also dropping the sunglasses, turning on the headlights and not steering into oncoming traffic in one smooth motion. Much fun.

Mid-April seems a great time to see the landscape as the tourists are scarce and the landscape is just awakening from winter. We started in the lower elevations with spring going strong. Lots of blossoms and pale green leaves emerging on branches. By the time we neared Mt. Pisgah the trees were still barren and blossoms scarce. Spring was still waiting to come forth though the trees were heavy with buds and the grasses were a startling green.

Route 151
Lunch required a drive down Route 151 into the town of Candler. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Route 151 is a steep, narrow, winding affair that promises a steep plunge if you veer off one way or ledge wall on the other side. It eventually levels off to Deliverance country and we stopped at a small gas station where I don't recommend dining. Soldiering on, we eventually stumbled upon a Subway and then returned up Route 151 to get on with our trek.

The goal for the afternoon was to get to a place called Graveyard Fields and do some hiking. There were waterfalls that were worth seeing and we meant to see them. Graveyard Fields gets its name from the overturned stumps of trees that fell in a large windstorm. Fire eventually erased the remnants of those stumps but the colorful name stuck.

The hiking was relatively easy though long. We covered a little under five miles. The hike criss-crossed meadows, streams, and wetlands. We scrambled up rocking hillsides and were rewarded with views of several waterfalls. More than anything, I got to see my boys doing something other than toying with electronics. Very rewarding.

All in all, a spectacular start to a visit to the area.

Mountain Brook Trout Stream
Lower Falls at Graveyard Fields
Looking Glass Rock

Looking East