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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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