Monday, October 31, 2022

Foggy Foggy Mountains

Tuesday August 16, 2022                                   Most Recent Posts:
Bear Den Family Campground       Mast General Store & Crab Orchard Falls
MP 324 Blue Ridge Parkway               Crabtree Falls and Little Switzerland
North Carolina

What a day!!   I started out to hike to Roaring Fork and Setrock Creek Falls which are both at the base of Mount Mitchell.

First, Ruby would not start.  No sound at all.  I tried every gear and neutral.  Nothing.  So I sat there.  Now What??  I waited maybe 10 minutes, tried again and she started right up.  Oh boy.   Could she do this to me when I’m miles away from anywhere?

20220816_131930I drove off and hoped for the best.  It is one mile from my site to get out of the campground and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  There was no sign as I left of what I would find on the parkway.

I drove south on the parkway and in less than a mile the fog was so thick it was scary.  I could not see any further than 2 or 3 feet ahead and had to watch the center line to make sure I was on the road.  The camera somehow was able to make the fog look less thick than it was.  Though that wasn’t how it looked when I stopped on the road to take this picture.

After about 3 miles I managed to see a pull over sign for the other side of the road so I inched along until I could see to pull in.  4 other vehicles were also there.  I sat and read (I NEVER go anywhere without a book) for an hour but the fog did not lift.  Below is the “view” from the overlook



3 of the 4 cars were still there when I gave up and creeped back to Bear Den where again there was no fog.  I couldn’t tell when or if the fog would lift but at 1pm I started out again.

No fog for a mile or so and then there it was but not so thick.  I continued 19 miles in varying degrees of visibility and rain thinking I’m crazy but half way through my stay at Bear Den with much more I want to see.  I really have only 12 days remaining here unless I break my no going out on the week end rule.


Still foggy but not as bad as earlier.


Once I turned off the Parkway onto Route 80 the fog totally disappeared and I drove on to Roaring Fork Falls.  I passed two groups coming out given the later time than usual for me.  I virtually never start a hike in the afternoon. But this has been a strange day from the beginning.

  Then the rain started.  It was light and I had a rain coat and I’d driven all this way.  So on I went.  The trail at first was not puddles of water which surprised me.


The cool fungi is definitely a result of all the rain in these mountains.  I suppose the Hoh Rainforest in Washington has plenty as well.  It’s been a long time since I was there but I’d sure like to go back.


On the trail I passed these two cinder block buildings.  My mind tried to make up a story about them but no good ones showed up.  Later I read that they were concrete bunkers formerly used to store explosives.  Used by whom?  For what?Why?  Google refused to answer.


Roaring Fork Falls is 100’ high and seems almost to meander down through the rocks.  So beautiful!


It was a lovely and almost restful falls. I was extremely careful taking pictures as the rocks were wet.  I took the ones above with my canon and the ones below with my phone.

No possibility of sitting and enjoying because everything was so wet even though I was surprisingly the only one there.   The rain continued lightly off and on.

These phone pictures start at a distance and move closer.


The “I was here “ selfie shows the actual distance I was from the falls.


So gorgeous close up.   I hope you’ll also enjoy this video on the falls.


I left when it started raining more seriously.

Tricky hiking out with rocks and roots.  I hope the heavy traffic hasn’t damaged the roots of these trees enough to kill them.   I always try to walk on the ground and not on the roots if possible but I know from experience that others are not so concerned.


Looking down I could see that fall has begun in Mid August here in the North Carolina Mountains.


I walked out along the stream as the rain continued to come down.


Remember that dry trail on my hike in?  Here’s what it looked like on my way out.



Back to Ruby and 3 more miles, most of it on the gravel South Toe River Road,  to the forest service Black Mountain Campground which it turns out is in Mount Mitchell State Park. 

IMG_3494Parking is across from the campground entrance and several trailheads go off from it including the Mountains to Sea trail which goes east to west clear across North Carolina and a trail that goes up Mount Mitchell.  I’d read about both and learned that the trail up Mount Mitchell was an 11.7 mile out and back trail considered challenging and takes over 7 hours.  Not for me.  Mount Mitchell, known as Attakulla to the Native Cherokee, is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains

I did wonder about the MST.  I always wanted to be a thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail and had a map of it hanging by my bed so I saw it every morning at the farm.  But I’ve had to settle for being a section hiker.  The AT is roughly 2190 miles going south to north.  I looked up the MST, going east to west, and found it is 1150 miles.  I’d like to do some sections of it but not today.  

On to the Setrock Creek Trail.  There were a dozen cars already in the parking lot outside the campground entrance, so clearly I’m not the only one who hikes in the rain.  Or at least not here, with so many trailheads.


IMG_3503The Setrock Creek Falls Trailhead was just inside the campground before you get to the sites.  No water, electric or sewer here.   I checked out the campground after my hike and it had some nice sites but the road to get to it back here in the Pisgah National Forest is not for Winnona.

The rain had stopped when I started down the trail to this slightly smaller falls.

Rocky steps and more rooty paths.



And then the falls.  Like Roaring Fork Falls it is in the Pisgah National Forest and at the base of Mount Mitchell.   It’s a 75’ falls and despite today’s rain, was not as full as nearby Roaring Fork.



As you can see, I have a very hard time choosing which photos at which distance I want to use.  Still these are only a fraction of what I took.   Waterfalls are just so fantastic.




The rain began again and harder as I left.  It was after 4pm by this time and two more groups were just hiking in.  Good luck to them.


Back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the fog was some what lighter on my return trip and no other cars were going my way until a black pick up without lights on – Is he crazy – pulled out right in front of me from a side road leading to Spruce Pine.  He surely must have seen me with my lights on.  But I had to put on the brakes.  Was he paying no attention.

Then  amazingly, he put his flashers on but not his lights and kept hitting the brakes so I had to as well to keep from being too close to him.  This went on for 5 aggravating  miles and of course he turned into the Bear Den Campground.   Pretty sure he would not have had to hit the brakes so often if he could see better which his headlights obviously would have allowed in this lighter fog.

Foggy rainy day but lovely falls.  Earlier in my stay here I would have curled up with a book on a day like this.  But I’m running out of time and still have things left to see and do.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Mast General Store & Crab Orchard Falls

Monday August 15, 2022                                             Most Recent Posts:
Bear Den Family Campground                  Crabtree Falls & Little Switzerland
MP 324 Blue Ridge Parkway                    Busy Day in Western North Carolina
Spruce Pine North Carolina

My last post was from Friday when I also went to a store and a falls which had Crabtree in its name.  I usually don’t go anywhere on the week-ends because I’m allergic to crowds of people.  So I spent those two days sitting outside under my awning reading The Deception of Harriet Fleet and cooking some meals to eat next week so it’s easier when I come home from hiking and I’m not tempted to eat out.  Cooking for one is too difficult so it’s easier to make something for four and eat leftovers all week. 

Luckily there is very nice hiking right here from the campground if I’m willing to do the same trails multiple times which I find not a problem since the park has two very nice waterfalls to visit.  Also in the 400 acres and on the other side of the campground are second homes and rental units which a friend of mine is going to be staying in later in the week.  Interesting to hike over there and look.

PXL_20220815_181718452It rained this morning so I got a late start for my drive to Mast General Store which is apparently very famous in North Carolina.  It was opened in 1883 by Henry Taylor.  In 1897 W.W. Mast bought a half interest in it and it was renamed Taylor and Mast General Store. In 1913 Mast bought Taylor out and the store has been Mast General Store ever since.  For the next 60 years it was owned and operated by the Mast Family. 

In the early 1970’s it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the best remaining examples of an old country general store.  During that time it was sold out of the Mast Family and finally closed in the winter of 1977.  But not for long.  In 1980 it was purchased by John and Faye Cooper who moved into the 2nd and 3rd floors and reopened the store.  I was really happy to hear that in 1996 it became an employee-owned company.  No wonder everyone there was so nice and looked so happy.


Since then, the store has grown into a family of stores with this one in historic Valle Crucis, North Carolina as the flag ship.  The Mast Store Annex is just down the road 2/10th of a mile – walking distance and there are now 9 more Mast Stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.  And of course on line.  The mileage signs show how far from the flag ship to the other stores.


Because of the number of visitors to this once little country store, you no longer enter from the front.   I parked in the back in the large lot but walked around to get a good look at the front and then walked back along the side where I saw the mileage signs, the old Esso gas sign and the post office town name.

The entrance in the back has nice old rocking chairs for relaxing and drinking an old timey soda like Grape Nehi.


There are barrels of what used to be penny candy.  Now it’s by the pound.  But there are only a few barrels here.  Many many more in the annex.


PXL_20220815_182437343I’m told in the winter the tourists thin out and locals come to sit by the wood/tin stove and play checkers.  Real people, not just a stage set.  I remember clearly the Batesville store which was the farm’s local country store and older than Mast as it was opened in 1880.   It was and is just down the road about 5 miles from us in the 70’s when we first bought the farm.  It too had a wood stove and a checkerboard and chairs and there were always men sitting around smoking pipes and cigarettes.  The store stocked staples and no bread but white.  But I baked 6 loaves of wheat bread every Monday so we were set for the sandwiches we all ate for lunch.


The wall of mailboxes brings back memories too.  It is still the Valle Crucis, North Carolina post office.  Our country store had mailboxes and a post office inside for Batesville Virginia but we were far enough away that we had a mailbox at the end of the farm lane.  Although in the 80’, s I founded an environmental group called The Blue Ridge Earth Alliance and its address was a PO box there in Batesville.


Yes, we had ceiling fans and uncovered wooden floors and ceilings.  But no stairs going up.  This is a much bigger store than ours.  I wonder if the community was much bigger then than now.  Sweet memories for me.


Lots of touristy things for sale here.  I definitely second this sentiment.


I assume this is reproduction Fiesta Ware.  So funny that it used to come in boxes of laundry detergent.  I love the colors.   This Nana could have used the sign back in the days when she cooked 7 days a week.


PXL_20220815_184051497I don’t remember seeing a wooden coffin for sale in our store but then we were there in the 70’s not the early part of the century when probably they did sell coffins.   Pretty sure you can’t buy this today and my closer picture didn’t come out well but it has rope handles on the side.

The sign above it says “this coffin is an example of a simple coffin that the store carried in the early 20th century.  Residents could order one completely built or in pieces and have it built locally.   I would think most folks in rural North Carolina in that time would have trees they could cut and make their own rather than the money for a “store bought” one.

Further outside in the back near the parking lot are other buildings.


For whatever reason, I took no pictures inside this one which held sports equipment. 


PXL_20220815_184919352Or inside  this one which once was the Valle Crucis Academy built in 1907 by the citizens of Valle Crucis.  Originally it housed grades 1 through high school.  Have you ever wondered if education would be better and students more interested if we had continued the very small, very neighborhood schools.   But $$$$ talks and small schools, better or not, are not cost effective.  Or so they say.   I digress.

Later it was used as a gym for the newbigger school and in the 60’s became a storage house for tobacco until Mr. Mast bought it.  It has survived 3 moves and 2 major floods to become part of the Mast General store.

The entry way has artifacts and the interior school room has clothing and LOTS of on sale brand named shoes.  Mostly running/walking/hiking.


I then strolled down to the Annex where I could walk right in the front door and there were a couple of folks sitting on the porch.



The Mast Store Annex was originally a competing country store built in 1909 but the sign here says it was formerly the Valley Crucis Company Store.   Whatever that means.

I’m not much of a shopper unless forced  and two Mast Generals just about did me in.  But I did enjoy these signs.  IF I had not given up acquiring non essentials, I would like the hiking sign,  my book club companion Laurie could use the cat one and being an old grown up hippie I just laughed at the last one.



PXL_20220815_172412097MANY barrels of candy here too.


Lots of it was old timey candy and things I’d never heard of.  I broke down and bought a 1/2 pound which I think with tax was over $6.   No more penny candy.


IMG_3406Before starting on the candy it was time to get some exercise.   I headed for Crab Apple Falls which is on the grounds of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross founded in 1895 on the site of Valle Crucis Episcopal Mission established in 1842.  The Episcopal missionaries seem to have been all over the mountains as they have sites in Shenandoah National Park as well.

I’m not sure if the original mission is restored or rebuilt but it is obviously strikingly different from today’s church.



Behind the church is the Valley Crucis Conference Center an outreach of the church.  The trail head is just beyond it.  At the start of the trail I was very happy to see these signs indicating that they protect their hemlock trees since without spraying the trees will die from 4 to 10 after being discovered by the exotic invasive wooly adelgid.


From here, the trail became rooty and narrow as it headed down hill.


Eventually there was a very nice boardwalk and steps just next to the falls.  I assume the church and conference center maintain it and I wish they had had a donation jar to which I would have contributed.  


I’ll post some falls pictures first though I hardly glanced at them given the show that was going on down on the rocks.



Not sure what kind of snake this is but he’s caught a fish and spends at least 15 minutes eating it while a group of us watch


Here’s a video if you want to see him in action.


After a while of watching him flip it over and around and try to get it in position, I was feeling pretty sorry for the fish and turned my attention back to the lovely falls.



I’ll skip the pictures of him finally getting the fish turned around and starting down his throat.  He is of course eating it whole.



Once he could close his mouth completely he slithered off the rock, into the falls pool and disappeared.


One last look at the falls and I headed out.  There were 8 or so people here by this time so there would be no communing with the natural world.


What a surprise this turned out to be.  As I looked back I realized that I never know what I might find on any hike and that is one of the joys.