Tag Archives: North Carolina

Skywatch Friday


imageSee why I love the mountains? Linking to Skywatch Friday.


summer already

My great grand-baby scarlet runner beans are planted, in that luscious composted horse poop featured in my previous gallery posting. These are heirloom beans that I’ve collected the seed-beans from for three generations now. We have two new, homemade goat kids this year too: Moosey and Buckwheat. The mountains are beautiful this time of year…


Hiking Craggy Gardens & Mt. Mitchell State Park near Asheville

Rising more than a mile high, the summit of Mount Mitchell, at an elevation of 6,684 feet, is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The breathtaking 360 degree panoramic views of the cascading Blue Ridge Mountains are absolutely sublime. As we ascended the mountain, driving north from Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we noticed the gradual changes in plant life. We decided to hike the Craggy Gardens trail first, on our way up, and then drive all the way up to the Mt. Mitchell summit.

Craggy Garden Blue Ridge Mountains vistas

The drive to Craggy Gardens is only 24 miles from downtown Asheville, up the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a sign for the Craggy Picnic Area on the left, which you pass and then continue for a short drive up the Parkway a few more miles, to the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and trail head. This trail is rated easy to moderate, and is 1.4 round trip, with a slight incline (252 foot gain), that took us about 15 minutes each way. I was glad a friend had thought to remind me that it is typically a good 10 to 20 degrees cooler at that elevation than it is in town, so, this time of year, a light sweatshirt is a good idea. We were greeted by loads of sunshine, but they say if you find a layer of fog settled on the mountain, just wait, as the weather can change rapidly.

Blue RIdge Parkway - Asheville

This weekend the rhododendrons buds were just about to blossom, so I expect they’ll be in full bloom in the next week or two. (We’ll definitely be heading back up for that beautiful sight!) What we did see were the stunning vistas of the mountains stretching far into Tennessee to the west and toward central North Carolina to the east.

If you’re planning to visit, watch for mile marker 364. The trail head is just a little over half a mile past this mile marker. There is no admission fee for either Craggy Gardens or the Mount Mitchell summit.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we headed on up to the Mount Mitchell State Park summit, just past mile marker 355. The parking lot goes all the way up to about 1/4 of a mile from the actual summit, to which there is a paved walkway/trail that leads up to the observation deck at the top of the summit. This walkway is wheelchair and stroller accessible, but it is uphill. It was brilliantly sunny when we were there this past weekend, but I understand that  the summit is often covered in fog and clouds.

overlooking Asheville

There is a small gift shop and concession stand at the top of the parking lot (Mt. Mitchell) which is open May through October as well as a very nice picnic area at the north end of the summit parking lot with 40 picnic tables, stone grills and drinking water. The two rustic and charming picnic shelters with fireplaces are perfect for groups.

During the winter months call the park office (828-675-4611) for information on which roads are open. An average of 100 + inches of snow falls here every winter.

While the only wildlife we observed while we were there were peregrine falcons spiraling and soaring overhead and below the summit, the area is reported to be home to white-tailed deer, black bear the northern flying squirrel, and 91 species of birds, many of which are usually found in New England and Canada.

Both of these trails/summits are stunningly beautiful must-sees if you are visiting the Asheville area between May and October.



Biltmore Estate: A Behind the Scenes Tour

We could not have planned our recent behind-the-scenes venture at the magnificent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. My husband, son and I simply decided to go rent bicycles there on a Sunday afternoon, and, as our family friend, Kyle, works at the Inn on the grounds, our son gave him a call to see if he was there so we could say Howdy. Kyle was there, and we quickly received a call back from him saying that the bicycle rental would be a gift to us that day- just give them our name and everything would be set. How nice! After meandering down the winding pathway awhile, soaking in all the gorgeous mountain scenery along the way, we arrived at one of the many duck ponds and stopped to get a few photos (and catch our breath!). While there, we received another call from Kyle saying he was driving over to meet us at the pond. He arrived, shortly, with his lovely friend, Miss Aubrey – in her big (and I mean really big!) white pickup truck. They lifted our rental bikes into the back of the truck, dropped them off back at the bike barn, and took us for an afternoon behind-the-scenes tour- on the other side of the huge, mysterious, gated bridge…

Biltmore Estate: yours truly, Aubrey Cecil, Kyle, my son.


The serene, heavily wooded, driveway eventually opened up to sublimely beautiful farm space with sheep pens, a barn, and around the bend, Aubrey’s charming old farm house. Just inside the front door of her home lies a modest living room with a quaint fireplace and some original paintings splashed about- if I remember correctly they were Aubrey’s paintings of horses- and there’s a whole row of ribbons she has won in horse competitions over the years. After our quick pit-stop we walked up the gravel road just past her home a ways, to a large sheep pen area. As we approached, the lambs made sweet little lamby noises- but the sheep made the most hilarious deep honking sounds- OMG- not at all like my little pygmy goats!

Biltmore Estate: lambs & sheep

Then we walked back down the gravel road the other way, with Aubrey’s adorable black lab,

Biltmore Estate: Aubrey Cecil's sweet black lab

where we met the massive black bull, and the silly donkey. Fortunately I had my trusty Nikon camera with me that day as they proceeded to give us the grand tour of old barns and storage sheds, the old clay tile silo, guinea hens (which I love), more sheep, the shooting range (which my guys love), which, all in all, amounted to a thrilling adventure I will always remember with great fondness.

If you’re panning a trip to Asheville and the Biltmore Estate, you may be interested in my collection of favorite books about the Estate and the area, so I am providing links to them below (just click on the book covers to follow the link to Amazon). To see my photos of the actual Biltmore House and gardens, see my blogpost, “Autumn & A Walk Around Biltmore Estate”. Following  is a quote from Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

What William Cecil has accomplished at Biltmore Estate is one of the great preservation success stories of all time. He has set a high standard for what all historic house museums strive for: magnificently preserved buildings and grounds, engaging interpretation, and–perhaps most challenging of all–economic self-sufficiency. It is no surprise that Biltmore Estate is widely recognized as one of America’s finest places to visit.”

It certainly is!

My favorites:


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