Clear Fall Day on Wayah Bald

Photobucket
Franklin, NC from Roundabout atop Wayah Bald

Saturday, October 25th, the Nantahala Outdoor Center was the host of the Tour de Nantahala Cycling Event. The event consists of an Octoberfest Carnival at the Nantahala Outdoor Center with Beer, Bratwurst and Fixins, a Sale at our Outfitter's Store, Pumpkin Hunting on the Nantahala River, Whitewater Rafting, Kayaking and a Band; but the highlight is the bicycle road race. There are three events: a 45 Mile ride; a metric 100 ride, or 65 Miles; and an English Century, or 100 Mile Ride. I was stationed at the last refueling station on the Metric and English Century Route before the steep climb up to Wayah Bald.

Photobucket
Yours Truly with Franklin, NC in the Backround from Wayah Bald

Wayah Bald is a high-altitude treeless open area in the Nantahala National Forest, north of Franklin, North Carolina. The area takes its name from the red wolves that used to lived there; wa ya is Cherokee for wolf. The Wayah Bald Observation Tower is located at the area's highest point at 5,385 feet. The stone observation tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 for fire detection. The Appalachian Trail (AT) and Bartram Trail cross at Wayah Bald, so Wayah Bald is a popular destination for hikers, especially during Spring, when the rhododendron and azaleas are in bloom. And this time of year, some of the last AT hikers that started at Mt. Katahdin in Maine in late spring are passing through the area on their way to the southern terminus of the AT Trail at Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia.

Photobucket
Franklin, NC from the Observation Tower atop Wayah Bald

These photos were taken with my Blackberry atop Wayah Bald. The photos are reduced for the web as the originals are 1600x2000 pixels. However, if you look closely, you can see the white splotches of the town of Franklin deep in the valley in these photos. That's where my refueling station was on the Tour de Nantahala.

Photobucket
Franklin, NC and North Georgia from the Watch Tower

From the top of this Watch Tower, there is a view of almost 360 degrees of the high mountains and valleys that make up the landscape of this southwestern part of North Carolina.

Photobucket
Oak Leaves and Sky--Looking Straight Up from atop Wayah Bald

The day was perfect for the road race, cool and clear. It was in the 60's most of the afternoon down in the valleys, but on Wayah Bald at over a mile up, it was in the upper 40's. The cooler and drier climate at the top of the ridge line is ideal for hearty oak trees. While they appear slightly stunted from the poorer growing conditions, their wind-blown twists in their trunks give the impression that the trees enjoy dancing when there aren't any people around to catch them in the act.

Photobucket
Clingman's Dome in Great Smokey Mountain National Park from Wayah Bald

It's kind of strange how distances are twisted in this area with all the mountains. Clingman's Dome, at over 6,000' is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and from the top of Wayah Bald, is only 23 miles distant. However, to drive there from Wayah Bald takes the better part of four hours as you descend Wayah Road to Highway 19, go east through Bryson City and the Cherokee Indian Reservation, north into Great Smoky Mountain National Park along Hwy 411, and travel the various switchbacks and roads inside the Park to Clingman's Dome. The view was more stunning than the picture shows, but again, it's a highly compressed shot for the web; and in the picture the peak inside the National Park blends in easily with the clear blue sky.

Photobucket
The Auto Roundabout atop Wayah Bald with Franklin, NC

This area and these awesome views are accessible to anyone. You can drive up here. You can ride a bike up here. You can hike up here following either the Bartram or Appalachian Trail. And if you're in the area and interested, the hike up to Wayah Bald from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, is 25 miles long and usually made in two days. There are great camp sites at the top of the ridge, restroom facilities, picnic tables, and above ground metal grills ready for charcoal and lighter fluid. I have been to a lot of scenic places in the United States, but I wasn't prepared for how beautiful this spot was with its 360 degree views so close to home, especially this time of year with fall color just past peak.

Photobucket
Nantahala Lake

Heading back down along Wayah Road, you will pass Nantahala Lake. It's not really a lake, but a dammed reservoir. Daily releases from the reservoir just below the headwaters of the Nantahala River allow for reliable family rafting from March through the beginning of November deep down in the Nantahala Gorge. Because of maintenance on the dam, today will be the last release of 2008. I'm getting out there in just a couple hours. I wish you all could join me.

Thanks for reading.

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52 comments:

Anna said...

Love the photos! We sold our camper a while back and I do miss taking a weekend off to camp in the fall!

October 26, 2008 11:41 AM
Amy Lilley Designs said...

Matt, how beautiful...you have been living the life!!! I wanted to comment on your 4 day event, but my brain was fried taking care of my Mom after she came out of the hospital w/ pneumonia...she's much better...but, it looked like a GRREAT, GREAT time...

October 26, 2008 5:19 PM
hope said...

Finally, we have something in common that makes us both smile! No paddles necessary. ;)

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway to Cherokee a couple of times over the years...I've always loved Native American culture and for some reason, the Cherokees are my favorite.

Your pictures bring back good memories. Thanks!

October 26, 2008 5:50 PM
Ken Armstrong said...

"...today will be the last release of 2008"

Yes, I'm worried about that too. :)

Great post.

October 26, 2008 7:18 PM
PaulsHealthBlog.com said...

I used to live in eastern North Carolina and drove through Franklin many a time. I loved the scenery, especially this time of year.

Great pictures.

October 26, 2008 11:03 PM
Grandy said...

Calgon...take me with you!! I love the pics and wish to run away.

When you come back to reality, I do have an award for you over at my site. :)

October 27, 2008 1:02 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Anna--Thanks for the kind words....where do you live now? You don't need to have a camper to drive around in search of beautiful fall color.

Amy--I'm glad your Mom's better...I didn't know she was sick. Yeah, It's been a pretty terrific fall, lots of fun, festivals, and awesome river time with friends. I'm looking forward to the quiet time of the off season though, these last couple months I haven't had much time for anything else.

Hope--anytime...I'm glad you like the photos. Cherokee is just around the corner. The next time you come up to this area you'll definitely have to give me a heads up.

Ken--thanks for the compliment on the post, but WHY are you worried that yesterday's release was the last release for 2008?

Paul--Franklin is typical of this section of western North Carolina. It's all beautiful, from Hot Springs and Boone south to Asheville and Hendersonville and West all the way to Cashiers, Bryson City, Franklin and Murphy. The area is simply stunning.

Grandy--thanks for the compliments, and this area is really beautiful, but come on, you're in NORTHERN CALIFORNIA! I know for a fact your area of the country is breathtaking. How would you like to trade for a month or so?

October 27, 2008 8:52 AM
The Fitness Diva said...

North Carolina really has a whole lot of beautiful going on. I never got to go to this area you have pictured, but I spent many a summer down there with my grandparents and cousins.
Plenty of good fishin' down that way! We'd drive for a few miles and find the best fishing streams, lakes and holes.
Just the drive through most parts can be breathtakingly beautiful, and calming.

You're making me miss NC! ;)

October 27, 2008 9:50 AM
Ken Armstrong said...

Hey Dude, it's yet another attempt at a slightly-subtle-but-nevertheless-ultimately-just-rude-joke. It's didn't quite come off I guess. Never mind. :)

October 27, 2008 9:51 AM
Anna said...

I'm in Ohio and we do have beautiful color even in our own neighborhood! We have a nice little lake and woods surrounding it, so just taking the dog for a walk is beautiful!

It's the getting away from home part...no phone, no TV...just me and my DH and the dog!

October 27, 2008 11:03 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Fitness Diva--thanks for visiting and commenting so frequently lately...it's much appreciated. I didn't know you were from NC. Whereabouts? The Nantahala River is one of the Southeast's best trout fisheries. We have fishing here year-round for Brown Trout and for Rainbow Trout. The river is cold and clean, with sufficient current that the trout love it. Yeah, floating the river yesterday was great....even with the Class II and III rapids, my heart rate was like 55-60 all the way down the river. The sky was perfect Carolina Blue, the sun was out, the fall color breathtaking, and leaves floating in the water were like colors in a Monet painting.

Ken--Lost in Translation strikes again. And BTW, I didn't like that movie.

Anna--I lived in Portage Lakes (Akron) for two years, Marietta for one year and Columbus (Westerville) for three. The color is nice. Living down here is much different as it is AWAY from everything. Not to mention the mountains. It's also warmer than Ohio. Depending on where in Ohio you are however, this part of NC is only 8-10 hours away--perfect for a long weekend.

October 27, 2008 11:12 AM
The Fitness Diva said...

My parents and grandparents are from Carolina...I'm a New York girl, born and raised, but I get the little bit of country I have in me from those summers spent with the grands. I went to elementary school down there for a year and a half, too.

Family is from a little 10 minute town called Kannapolis, which was built around the now defunct Cannon Mills. I also have fam in Charlotte, Concord, Salisbury, Shelby, Albemarle, Rocky Mount, Raleigh and Bethel...and a few other places I can't think of... Yep. Tons of people down that way! ;)

Always good memories of NC! And people down there are always so NICE! ;)

October 27, 2008 11:56 PM
Anna said...

We're about 30 minutes north of Portage Lakes! You were in a beautiful area there! We have family in Mooresville, NC and would love to visit them! We had a lovely long weekend at their place and cruising around Lake Norman on their houseboat!

October 28, 2008 12:41 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Fitness Diva--I'm from Detroit so I don't think you can count me with the people that are always so NICE! Those of us from the North have ...er...shall we say a way about us? Hehehe.

I've been to NYC just once, but upstate New York quite a bit. NYC was way too big and fast-paced for me. Chicago and Toronto are more in my comfort zone, but since I've been in the mountains of NC, my heart rate and blood pressure sure have taken a plunge.

Anna--yeah, that whole area of Suburban Cleveland is beautiful. 30 minutes north sounds like you're near I-80 and the Cuyahoga Gorge? Beautiful. Lake Norman is nice, but I'm 3 hours west of Charlotte. And if I have to drive three hours, I prefer Atlanta. But it is a small world, isn't it? Especially in the blogosphere!

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