Sunday, June 19, 2016



We visited the Roan Balds last October and pledged to return this year in June to catch the famous rhododendrons in full bloom.  We almost missed their peak but found an idyllic display of nature's beauty nonetheless. Carver's Gap - October

This section of the AT crosses the Roan Balds

The trail head to this section of the Appalachian Trail is on Highway 19E and begins at the border between Tennessee and North Carolina at Roan Mountain. The third week of June is the annual Rhododendron Festival at nearby Roan Mountain State Park. The area was crowded with sightseers. From the trail head, the color of the season previewed the sights we were soon to enjoy.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
                                                            The Song of Solomon 2:12

The rhododendrons were accenting the fence which nicely framed the view of Roan Mountain.

The Trail is at this point a wide gravel path that winds through a wonderful evergreen patch of woods before emerging again into the grassy bald.  As we entered the woods, we looked back and received our first glimpse of the Grande Dame of the mountains-Mt. Mitchell.

                                 The mountains are the beginning and the end to all natural scenery.
                                                                       -John Ruskin

On the way up to the summit of Round Bald, I passed a family of hikers led by their patriarch Walter Pitts.  I turned to take a look at Roan Mountain and took a picture of this fine gentleman. He is from Valle Crucis and having made him famous in this blog, his life will never be the same!

From the top of Round Bald, the panorama of the beauty of the surrounding mountains was unveiled nicely adorned by various colors of flowers.  Leaving Round Bald, we began to see the orange Flaming Azaleas intermixed with the lavender rhododendrons.
 "People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us."-Iris Murdoch

Leaving Round Ball, we trudged through Engine Gap on our way up to Jane Bald.  To the left we observed the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee and to the right were the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Every vista was accented by the colorful flowers of the day.  While the rhodies were past peak on Round Bald, as we trudged up Jane Bald we began to see that the higher elevation had preserved  peak blossoms for us to enjoy.  We began to see painted on the slopes of Grassy Ridge Bald, a lavender hue.  Talking to a member of the conservation staff, we learned that the flowers a top this bald were indeed at peak!

At Jane Bald we met a great couple, Mark and Kristie who agreed to pose for a picture. They were two of many really nice folks with whom we shared the trail.
Leaving Jane Bald we chose to climb Grassy Ridge Bald.  The trail up is much narrower and we soon found we were enveloped by rhododendrons. 

On one section of the path we entered a rhododendron tunnel and found the path strewn with lavender petals.  No bride walked on a path so elegantly adorned with flowers!

As we emerged from the trail onto the lower slopes of the Grassy Ridge Bald we were greeted with more rhodies as well as a scene of endless sea of blue mountains in the distance.
The trail leads up to the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald and along the way, we took in the first of many great views of nearby Grandfather Mountain. At a similar evelation, the distinctive features of the Grandfather reminded me that we were hiking on Father's Day weekend.

                                                    "My father considered a walk among the mountains equivalent of churchgoing"
                                               -Aldous Huxley
From the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald, we looked back on the summits of Jane Bald and Round Bald as they laid out before Roan Mountain.  But our destination for the day was a peak to the south of Grassy Ridge Bald summit which we understood was covered with blooming rhododendrons
On our previous trip to the Roan Balds we saw that the trail extended to another small peak that though it was a bald had no grass but instead was covered with rhododendrons.  We were excited to see that this peak was covered with lavender-pink blossoms.  The trail was narrow but the experience was amazing. It was like waking up in the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz!
"All across the meadows, many poppies blossomed, and they were so hypnotic and brilliant in color they nearly dazzled Dorothy's eyes..."  - The Wizard of Oz

The trail led up the ridge to a rocky peak from which there were several outcroppings to sit and take in the views.  Unlike the previous part of the trail there were only about six other people on this ridge.  My Faithful Hiking Companion decided to rest her dawgs and I proceeded on to the end of the trail.
Spread before me was a scene from the imagination of a painter.  Green mountains seemed to melt into a blue sea of more distant mountains.  From this small cliff there was a 180 degree view with Mt. Mitchell framing the scene to the right and Grandfather Mountain framing the scene to the left.
This was a perfect end to a magnificent trail.  Each peak bringing forth increasingly more beautiful scenes. 
Backtracking up the trail, I paused seeing a small rock a top a large boulder.  Not seeing any other rocks to make a cairn, I nonetheless paused to consider the majesty of God's creation and to offer my thanks for the day.  Doing so I set the stone on its edge hoping to give reason for others to pause and do likewise.
There may not be a perfect trail but there are certainly times when ordinary trails become extraordinary.  The Carver's Gap section of the Appalachian Trail during June is truly an extraordinary experience.
Note the bee in flight!
The trail is moderately difficult depending on the weather. We had a day in the low 70's with a nice breeze. Most folks limit their hike to Round Bald which tends too be a very sociable one mile hike...others trudge on the Jane Bald which is another mile...the more adventurous take the three mile hike to Grassy Ridge.  Today we added another mile to experience the Rhododendron Knob and this made all the difference! 
I hiked a total about 8 miles and the scenery a 10+ hike;  access is good but parking is limited on a busy day - 9; the trails are well marked and maintained - 10; the effort to view ratio is near perfect as the harder you work the more you see!  This is a buck list experience!
"I thank you God for this amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of the sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes!" - e.e cummings

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