Scanning the Horizon from the Black Balsam High Country – A Photo Essay

When looking for some WNC high country scenery and perhaps refreshing cool air on a warm day, one of the first destinations I think of is the Black Balsam area at milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are half a dozen mountains here that stand above 6,000 feet, with encompassing 360° views from their treeless summits. This land that lies between the Shining...

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Trail 12 at Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a 13.7-mile wide volcanic bowl in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico near Los Alamos. About 1.25 million years ago, a spectacular volcanic eruption created this circular depression now known as the Valles Caldera. The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000, signed by President Clinton, created the National Preserve. The preserve is known for...

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve protects the tallest sand dunes in North America, and a whole lot more. From the San Luis Valley floor to the crest of the 13,000 foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains — the park and preserve contains ecosystems ranging from sand sheet to dunes to tundra — each supporting specially adapted plant, animal and...

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County Road 2 from Hoosier Pass, Pike National Forest

There’s a reason they call it Summit County. An old mining road climbs from Hoosier Pass above 12,000 feet and is surrounded by several of Colorado’s famous fourteeners. The first half of the road meanders through a spruce and fir forest with occasional views of the massive mountains that envelop the region. The rest of the way is above treeline, offering...

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Spraddle Creek Trail, White River National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service has done a nice job of building trails up the watersheds that drain into the Town of Vail. Included among these is Spraddle Creek, located across I-70 from Vail Village. The reward at the top of the ridge is a mountain meadow that overlooks Vail, Beaver Creek ski mountain, and the Holy Cross Wilderness far, far away. Hike in late September for an...

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Mountains to Sea Trail Near Old Bald, Nantahala National Forest

Love the high country in summer. It’s like getting an extra month of spring. For much of its length through the Western North Carolina mountains, the Mountains to Sea Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is an area near mile marker 434 on the Parkway, beneath Old Bald, where the MST winds through mixed forest and high mountain meadows teeming with...

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Hemphill Bald Trail from Polls Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have hiked to Hemphill Bald from the east along the Cataloochee Divide many times. However, this was the first time approaching from the west on the Hemphill Bald Trail from Polls Gap. This made my second foray into the Heintooga region of the Smokies in recent weeks, another beautiful piece of the national park that doesn’t get enough attention. This trail would...

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Appalachian Trail from Yellow Mountain Gap to Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains

You can see them from Roan Highlands. They appear when viewed from Linville Gorge and Grandfather Mountain too. The long, green balds that comprise Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains stick out like limes in a grapefruit basket. And, you can see all those other landmarks from the Hump Mountains. The iconic Appalachian Trail (AT) arrives from the Highlands of Roan to...

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Appalachian Trail to Mt. Kephart and The Jumpoff – A Photo Essay

The Appalachian Trail splits the states of North Carolina and Tennessee through most of the breadth of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hugging the state line as it traverses the rugged and remote ridges, the AT is a favorite destination for day hikers and thru hikers alike. There is a three and a half mile stretch from Newfound Gap to the summit of Mt. Kephart, and...

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Walking the Pisgah Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway in winter is a great way to get a slow-motion view of the wonderful vistas that whiz by at 45 mph in your car. The Parkway is closed so you don’t have to worry about traffic. The only concern really is perhaps slipping on snow or ice. This latest in the Photo Essay series looks at a 4-mile stretch of the BRP between mileposts 412 and...

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World’s Edge at Chimney Rock State Park – A Photo Essay

August 2005 saw the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy purchase a 1,568-acre tract of land south of Lake Lure known as “World’s Edge” for $16 million with the intention of transferring the land as the first to be added to the new Chimney Rock State Park. World’s Edge contains a mile-long set of steep slopes on the eastern edge...

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Waterrock Knob Across the Plott Balsams Range, Blue Ridge Parkway

Sometimes things just don’t go exactly as planned. But making the most of what’s available is what sets hiking apart. Everything doesn’t have to go perfectly to still enjoy the day. Such was the case with this hike across the Plott Balsams mountain range from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’re in rarefied air here, with the entire...

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Black Balsam to Silvermine and Chestnut Balds on Mountains to Sea Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking for a short, easy, serene getaway in the high country that offers outstanding long distance views of the Blue Ridge Mountains? This is the trail for you. This little stretch of the famous Mountains to Sea Trail will take you from Black Balsam Road, through a dark and deep balsam spruce forest, across Silvermine Bald and on to Chestnut Bald to a splendid overlook...

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Blue Ridge Parkway High Country – A Photo Essay

Leaf peepers head to Graveyard Fields in late September for the annual ritual of Autumn color in the high country. Located at mile 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields is one of the earliest locations to begin the chromatic display, as well as one of the most intense. From the bright red of the blueberry and sumac bushes, to the multi-colored hues of the maple...

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A Day on the Cataloochee Divide – A Photo Essay

Two of my favorite places in the eastern section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are Purchase Knob and Hemphill Bald. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I volunteer every 10 days or so at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center on Purchase Knob. And Hemphill Bald simply has one of the most outstanding views in the eastern Smokies, overlooking Cataloochee...

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Road Prong Trail to Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Chimney Tops is one of the more popular destinations in the Smokies because of its central location, rugged beauty, and challenging access. And challenging it is. While short in distance, the trails that lead to the summit of Chimney Tops are steep and strenuous. Accessible from two trails, one below that climbs from Hwy 441 to the top, and one above that drops down from...

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Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob Summits, Pisgah National Forest

There is a notch between two wildernesses in the Pisgah National Forest high country. Shining Rock Wilderness is to the northeast, and Middle Prong Wilderness is to the west of this pie-shaped cut in the topology. In between are two bald mountaintops that exceed 6,000 feet elevation. To the locals the area is called simply… Black Balsam. The air is fresh (usually),...

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Ivestor Gap Trail to Shining Rock, Shining Rock Wilderness

Deep in the heart of Shining Rock Wilderness is the namesake, a mountain made of quartz, standing more than 6,000 feet. On bright sunny days you can see the white quartz “shining” from miles away. The Cherokee called it Datsu’nălâsgûñ’yĭ, “where their tracks are this way,” that refers to a white rock that is said to have tracks of Tsul...

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Roan Highlands Redux – A Photo Essay

When the Southern Appalachians are your home, the month of June simply isn’t complete without a visit to Roan Highlands for the annual rhododendron and azalea bloom. Like Julie Andrews sang years ago, “these are a few of my favorite things.” From the first time I set foot on Round Bald, I knew this was someplace special. The grassy ridge of the...

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Clingmans Dome Area Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the state of Tennessee, and along the Appalachian Trail. Standing 6,643 feet, it is also the third highest peak in the East, only 41 feet lower than the tallest. Several hiking trails surround the summit of Clingmans Dome, including the Forney Ridge Trail that heads south to the picturesque...

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Appalachian Trail to Lover’s Leap, Pisgah National Forest

Hot Springs, NC is an Appalachian Trail Community that sits along the French Broad River in the Appalachian Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The Appalachian Trail was built through Hot Springs more than seven decades ago, and today white blazes still mark the path through town and over the bridge across the river, before heading north up to the vista, Lover’s...

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Elk Mountain Trail, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

Wild, rugged, and weathered — the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in central Oklahoma is a symbol of the old west standing at the threshold of modern times. The natural attractions of the refuge are many and varied. In addition to viewing and photographing wildlife in their natural setting, visitors find the lakes, streams, canyons, mountains and grasslands ideal...

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument

The labyrinth called Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’SHAY) comprises several canyons that include Canyon de Chelly, Monument Canyon and Canyon del Muerto. At the mouth of the canyons near the tribal town of Chinle, in northeastern Arizona, the rock walls are only 30 feet high. Deeper in, the bright red sandstone bluffs rise dramatically to stand more than a thousand...

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Blue Ridge Parkway Maintenance Trail, Milepost 420

There are lots of little maintenance trails alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway that don’t show up on any trail maps or have any signs to let you know they are there. One of those is a hidden gem in the high country at milepost 420 directly across from the Black Balsam spur road. It’s great for an hour stroll to brighten you senses, or if you’re looking...

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Trombatore Trail to Blue Ridge Pastures, Hickory Nut Gorge

Blue Ridge Pastures is a grassy knoll northwest of Bearwallow Mountain along the Buncombe/Henderson County line. With terrific views of Hickory Nut Gorge, and on clear days The Great Craggy and Black Mountains, the reward for your hard work pays off. The Trombatore Trail will make you climb twice for your reward, once before and once after, but keep that reward in mind...

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Lathrop Trail, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Located on the east side of the Island in the Sky District, Lathrop Canyon drops off the mesa to the White Rim, then dives all the way to the Colorado River. The Lathrop Trail enables a short, medium or long hike, depending on the level of the canyon you wish to tackle. The first couple miles are a sandy straight and level shot through prairie-like grassland. As you...

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Upper Muley Twist Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park

Perhaps the best hike in all of Capitol Reef National Park, Upper Muley Twist Canyon is a full-featured Utah adventure that includes narrow canyons, expanses of slickrock, large arches, and dramatic vistas from the top of the incomparable Waterpocket Fold. There are opportunities for side trips to slot canyons and other exciting off-trail experiences, as well as perilous...

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Bright Angel Point Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Located on the very southern tip of the Kaibab Plateau, and the prime vista location for the North Rim of Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Point offers a bird’s-eye view of the meeting of Roaring Springs Canyon and Transept Canyon at the Bright Angel Fault. It is 4/10 mile from Grand Canyon Lodge to the point on a paved trail that offers several overlooks along the way....

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North Kaibab Trail on North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon doesn’t get nearly the traffic as its more touristy neighbor to the south. For one thing, it is a lot more remote. The North Kaibab Trail is the most difficult of the three trails that dissect the canyon, but it also holds the most varied ecosystem. Somewhat surprisingly, it is forested. With fir and aspen and scrub oak, along with...

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Angels Landing and West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

Angels Landing is a unique fin sandstone monolith that erupts 1,500 feet from the floor of Zion Canyon. The trail to the top is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, certainly the most thrilling. For someone like me with heights and edges phobia and vertigo, it’s a little too much excitement, but there is a compromise. You can still enjoy most of the...

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