Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NC Mountains Fall Foliage Report Week 3

Into week 3 of our fall color reports we go, on this rainy Tuesday! While not very common in October around these parts, the rain is actually doing a bit of good "clean up" duty, sending some of the early, dull-colored leaves to the ground and making way for the stars of the fall color show that are just starting to shine.

This week, the maples have begun changing at our elevation (2,300 feet), along with sassafras, hickory, birch and beech trees. Golden yellow appears to win the color war this week thanks to already-in-progress color changers from previous weeks, but orange and red aren't far behind. Right now, the ridges look very velvety, with lots of light orange and yellow. Many maples and oaks are still holding out on us, though, so we can't wait to see what the next two weeks brings!

[Point Lookout Greenway near the Inn on Mill Creek, Oct. 13]
We like to say that fall is like a slow-motion waterfall down the mountains each year - we are fortunate to have a gradual color change thanks to so many different tree types and varying elevations - so you can see color in different areas over a 6-8 week period.

Currently, at higher elevations, especially along the Blue Ridge Parkway, color is dominating the ridges between 3,000 and 4,500 feet in many places. Just look at this outstanding photo of fall foliage taken by WNCOutdoors and posted to their Facebook page a few days ago:

[Photo Credit: WNCOutdoors.info]
Chasing fall color in our neck of the woods over the next week? Try these spots:
  • Craggy Gardens - located on the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville, the Craggies are between Asheville and Mt. Mitchell State Park and overlooks and hiking trails offer expansive views like the one above of elevations below 4,000 feet.
     
  • Linville Falls and Linville Gorge - about 45 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek is Linville Falls and nearby Linville Gorge with great trails. Grandfather Mountain is right up the Blue Ridge Parkway as well from Linville. What we like about Linville Falls is that 1) it's a pretty drive up Highway 221, and 2) you can see the falls from several vantage points along the trails. Thanks to our friends at RomanticAsheville.com for this photo of Linville Falls taken a few days ago, beautiful even in the fog! Color is progressing nicely there and will only get better:
[Photo Credit: RomanticAsheville.com]
  • Crabtree Falls - when we do get rain, the waterfalls hikes are great options. Just remember to be careful on the trails and at the waterfalls themselves that will have an extra amount of water. Crabtree Falls is accessed via the Crabtree Falls Campground at Milepost 339.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Check our recent post on waterfall hikes for more details on this waterfall and others.
     
  • Graybeard Trail and Lookout Mountain Trail in Montreat - just five minutes north of Black Mountain is the little community of Montreat, known for being where Billy Graham has his home, but also known for an outstanding set of well-maintained hiking trails along the Black Mountains. Two of those hikes, Graybeard and Lookout Mountain, allow for great fall foliage viewing.
We have trail maps for all of the above places, so be sure to check with us when you stay at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. And stay tuned for next week's fall color report...we expect color to really start speeding up at our elevation over the next 7-10 days as we approach peak color.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

NC Mountains Fall Foliage Report Week 2

Fall colors are beginning to show at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
We're in the second week of the "fall foliage" season here in Western North Carolina near Asheville, and the best color so far remains at high elevations, including peaks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In particular, we recommend checking out Graveyard Fields, a valley that's more than 5,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by tree-covered mountains. It's a neat landscape that's unique to the area. Graveyard Fields is named for tree stumps that dotted the valley after a devastating storm many, many years ago. The tree stumps are no longer there, but the fields are covered in early-changing shrubs, which you can traverse using boardwalks. The trails, which underwent upgrades this year, are pretty awesome at Graveyard Fields, with a waterfall hike included.

Graveyard Fields is off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 418, south of Asheville and about 50 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. Here's a scene at Graveyard Fields as captured by our friends at RomanticAsheville.com. Be sure to visit the Graveyard Fields section of their website:

Photo Credit: RomanticAsheville.com
Other locations for viewing early fall color continue to be Mt. Mitchell State Park and Grandfather Mountain, which has the bright red berries of mountain ash trees adding to the fall foliage. Both are located northeast of Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Here at our elevation of 2,300 feet, birch and beech trees are just starting to add gold tones against the green. The tulip poplars are having a tough year once again (for the 4th year in a row) and are mostly muted yellow. However, the sourwood trees have also started to really turn, and their scarlet leaves are really bold this year!

Across from the Mountain Laurel Room at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Sourwood tree across the pond at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Shine on, Sourwood!
Dogwoods, sweet gums, and sumac are working red into the landscape as we continue to watch for the big changers -- the red and sugar maples, sassafras and beech trees -- which should begin to show off toward the middle and end of the month.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

NC Mountains Fall Foliage Report Week 1

Early fall color at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Exciting news! Fall has most definitely arrived in the mountains of North Carolina. You know what that means...time to begin our annual tradition of weekly fall foliage reports for our area around Asheville, Black Mountain, Old Fort, Pisgah National Forest, and the Blue Ridge Parkway between Mt. Pisgah and Grandfather Mountain! Each Tuesday through the fall season, we'll let you know which trees are changing and the best places to capture great fall color.

Late September and early October are when the colors begin to change at the higher elevations, above 5,000 feet. This includes the Blue Ridge Parkway. Below that, green is still the primary color near Asheville and points further south. Take note that above 5,000 feet, you will see many evergreen trees and shrubs, such as fraser firs and rhododendron, and so the color of the deciduous trees really pops out against that green.

We are actually seeing an early start to the fall color season this year, compared to the past several years, even at our elevation of 2,300 feet. With so many trees surrounding us here in Pisgah National Forest, we always look forward to this time of year. It's definitely shaping up to be a pretty fall.

Color just starting in Pisgah National Forest near the Inn
The sourwood trees are starting to show off their red leaves, along with the dogwoods, and the walnut and butternut trees have that crisp yellow to their leaves now. In addition, the burning bushes, forsythia, asters and goldenrod are adding to early fall color at our elevation, along with migrating monarch butterflies!

Monarchs migrate through the area in the fall
This week and into next week, September 29-October 7, we recommend venturing north on Highway 221 to Grandfather Mountain to see the start of fall in the mountains. Check out this view from Grandfather Mountain's Facebook page on September 29:

Photo Credit: Grandfather Mountain Facebook Page
Another recommended spot for viewing early fall color is Mt. Mitchell State Park along Highway 128 off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the eastern United States at almost 6,700 feet, and five of the other ten highest peaks are in the same range. Good hikes at Mt. Mitchell include the two-mile hike from the ranger station to the summit, as well as the one-mile hike from the summit of Mt. Mitchell to Mt. Craig. Here's the view from Mt. Mitchell in early October of last year:

Mt. Mitchell, October 7, 2013
If heading up to Grandfather or Mt. Mitchell on a weekend, prepare for serious leaf peeping crowds. You may want to try Linville Gorge instead, which is close to Grandfather Mountain, if you want to avoid large numbers of people. Or go late in the afternoon to Mt. Mitchell, when the chance of crowds is lessened.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the Inn on Mill Creek
September marks the end of summer here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and what better way to bid farewell to lovely summertime than feature one of our lovely summer residents before he flies to his winter home in Central or South America? Therefore, we introduce you to the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, our September 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on our blog.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, especially the males, are pretty easy to spot. Males have black heads, white chests, and black and white patches on their backs. They also have a rich red V-shaped patch from their throats to their chests.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male [photo credit: Audubon]
Females are mostly shades of brown, with a long, white eye stripe. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also have large beaks, which is not a surprise for a bird with "grosbeak" in its name, and their beaks are triangular in shape.

One great way to attract Rose-breasted Grosbeaks is to have sunflower seeds, which these birds loooove. They also eat other seeds, as well as fruit and insects.

The most appealing characteristic of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak may be its song - a long string of cheerful whistles. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "Present-day bird watchers have variously suggested it sings like a robin that has had opera training, is drunk, refined, in a hurry, or unusually happy." If you know what an American Robin's song sounds like, imagine an American Robin in a really good mood and you have the Rose-breasted Grosbeak's song. With a pleasant tune filling the trees around the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, our summers are definitely happy with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak around.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Arrowhead Artists Battle of the Brushes 2014

The Arrowhead Artists and Artisans League (A3L) in Old Fort, NC, recently held its 2014 Battle of the Brushes, a plein air art competition, where nearly 20 artists painted scenes of the Old Fort area. Judges chose Judy Meyler's depiction of the Thomas Wolfe Angel statue in the Old Fort Cemetery as the first place winner. Love the colors!

Work by Judy Meyler [photo credit: A3L]
Judy's work also garnered her the Arrowhead Award, which honors the painting that best captures the essence of Old Fort, as well as the Mayor's Award.

You can view all of the artists' works on the A3L Facebook Page and in person at the Arrowhead Gallery & Studios on Catawba Avenue in Old Fort.

Arrowhead Gallery & Studios
 A3L will be awarding a People's Choice award in October, chosen by the public, so you can vote for your People's Choice winner until October 27.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Waterfall Hikes Near Black Mountain, Marion and Old Fort

Roaring Fork Falls
A lot of our guests like to hike to waterfalls, and while choices are limited east of Asheville and involve a little bit of driving (scenic routes, of course), the quality of the waterfalls near Black Mountain and in McDowell County near Old Fort more than make up for it. Here's a short list, in order of drive time from the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast to each waterfall hike's trailhead:

Catawba Falls - Located just south of Old Fort, the trailhead for Catawba Falls is about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. The Catawba Falls trail meanders along the headwaters of the Catawba River, on forested land. Prepare to get your feet wet as you cross the river at a couple of shallow spots along the way. The trail is about 3 miles round trip, and leads to the base of Catawba Falls, which cascades hundreds of feet over large rocks. Note that this waterfall hike can be rather busy on the weekends, and is very popular with hiking groups and families.

Catawba Falls
Roaring Fork Falls - The trail for Roaring Fork Falls is actually an old Forest Service road, just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway off Highway 80, approximately 40 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek. It's an easy trail, about a mile in length one way. The waterfall does a zig-zag down to a pool at the base of the falls where the trail leads. Moss-covered rocks and trees placed perfectly by Mother Nature add to the appeal of Roaring Fork Falls, as well as the fact that it sees fewer people than most waterfalls in the area. Want a quiet hike to a peaceful spot? This one's for you.

Toms Creek Falls - Just a few miles off Highway 221 north of Marion and 40 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek is the trailhead for Toms Creek Falls, a nice 80-foot waterfall inside Pisgah National Forest. The trail is a little more than 1.5 miles round trip and is considered one of the area's easier hikes. You can see a description of the trail and photos via our friends at RomanticAsheville.com.

Douglas Falls - Craggy Gardens, about 45 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek and north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is an area of the North Carolina mountains known for its gorgeous rhododendron blooms in the springtime and its stellar views looking down on the Black Mountain range as the leaves change color in the fall. A lot of people don't realize there is a waterfall hike there as well. With an elevation gain of 1,300 feet, switchbacks and stream crossings, plus a distance of 6 miles (round trip), the strenuous trail to the 70-foot Douglas Falls is suited for avid hikers. For a description and photos, check out www.ncwaterfalls.com/craggy1.htm.

Linville Falls - Easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Highway 221 north of Marion, NC, Linville Falls is close to Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge, making it great for a day trip to that section of the mountains, which is about 45 minutes northeast of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. Linville Falls is quite dramatic and in a beautiful area. For a description of hikes around the falls and photos, check our Linville Falls blog post.

Crabtree Falls - Approximately 60 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek is the Crabtree Falls campground and the trailhead to Crabtree Falls, a favorite hike of guests who are exploring the portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Mt. Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain. The campground is at Milepost 339.5 on the Parkway. There are two trails to Crabtree Falls: an easy out-and-back hike of 3 miles, and a more strenuous 3-mile loop trail that incorporates the first 1.5 miles of the easy hike and continues beyond the falls back to the parking lot. Check out this video from Blue Ridge of Crabtree Falls:



We have maps for guests of all waterfall hikes, so be sure to ask when you stay with us if you're interested in seeing a waterfall during your stay in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Eastern Wood-Pewee


Eastern Wood-Pewee [photo credit: Phil Fowler]

Adding a dash of adorable to the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast in the summertime, the Eastern Wood-Pewee gets the nod as our August 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog.

As a flycatcher, the Eastern Wood-Pewee's diet is mostly insects, including flies, crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies and moths, and even bees and wasps. You can often find the Eastern Wood-Pewees perched on branches of trees and rhododendron that line the pond at the Inn on Mill Creek, waiting for a little snack to fly by. They are amazing to watch when they catch insects in mid-air! They also eat small berries and seeds.

It can be a challenge to identify the Eastern Wood-Pewee since a lot of flycatchers look similar, especially the Eastern Phoebe, another mainstay at our B&B. Some differences to watch for:
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee is more olive-gray, while the Eastern Phoebe is more brown
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee is slightly smaller than the Eastern Phoebe
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee has strong wingbars (lines of contrasting color on its wings)
  • The Eastern Phoebe has a serious tail wag while perching, flitting its tail up and down

Another way to single out the Eastern Wood-Pewee from other birds is by identifying its song. They tend to sing, loudly and often, during the day. Listen for three sliding notes that sound like "pee-a-weeeee" and you'll know who the afternoon's performer is: the Eastern Wood-Pewee.