Monday, October 14, 2013

Friday: Grandfather Mountain

In grade three my class did a unit on The United States of America in social studies. That was the first I'd ever heard of the Appalachian mountains—an ancient range of mountains half the size of "ours" and covered from head to toe in deciduous trees. At the time I was living in British Columbia, with the ocean to the west and the Rockies to the east. The conifer-heavy temperate rainforest I was living in seemed always green—those evergreens—and I remember pouring over those pictures of autumn in Appalachia, imagining what it would be like to walk through a forest surrounded by colour like that. It seemed so foreign.

Our western autumns are colourful enough, but there was just something magical about those Appalachians. I don't think I'm alone in this. Here in the east people engage in something called "leaf peeping," which is essentially just a trip into nature to enjoy the dazzling display of the forests shedding their foliage for the winter (confession: the first time I heard that term was when we were watching The West Wing last year). It seems, actually, that it's mostly a New England phrase. I don't know why that term isn't used throughout more of the world because I know that leaf peepers are everywhere. It's not uncommon to take a drive up Provo Canyon in the fall simply to look at the leaves...but there is no term for that strange autumnal behavior in Utah. And I'm sure people in other places do the same thing. I think we should expand the use of the term leaf peeping, so all you westerners reading this, here's your challenge: start using the phrase "leaf peeping" today!

Our little weekend excursion of extreme leaf peeping (ie. camping in the fall) was like bringing a twenty-year-old dream to life. We arrived when things were still green, but turning yellow, with a few ambitious trees bordering on yellow, and by the time we left the mountains were brilliant hues of scarlet and amber and gold. It was magical!

One of the benefits of camping in the fall, rather than in the summer, is that you don't wake up in a stifling hot tent at six in the morning. Or perhaps that's simply a benefit of camping in the woods rather than in the middle of the desert. Either way, we all managed to sleep until the sun was filtering through the trees.

The kids wanted to go to the playground right away—before breakfast, before getting dressed, before anything—so we did. Here are the girls in their jammies (it was rather chilly so they slept in their hats and gloves, which helped them stay roasty-toasty):

Benjamin also slept wearing mittens, though I put them on him after he had fallen asleep. He was quite concerned about them when he woke up in the morning!

And here are the kids on one of the swing sets in the campground:

The actual playground was all wet with dew so although the girls were a little disappointed, we headed back to camp for breakfast. We boiled water for oatmeal. Even though it wasn't even cold enough to frost we were cold enough and were grateful that we'd planned some warm breakfasts!

Our main destination on Friday was Grandfather Mountain, so named for the profile of a face you can see as you approach the mountain. It's not a cheap park to visit—it's a combination non-profit/state park—but it was open (unlike all the national parks) and boasts one of North Carolina's wonders: the mile-high swinging bridge, which we'll get to later. When we bought our tickets we asked for two adult but only one child ticket since children three and under are free.

"Two children!" Rachel piped up from the backseat.

"Just one," we said. "Miriam's not four yet and you only need a ticket if you're four or older."

That statement is very, very true...for about two more weeks. Miriam was very upset about this and started howling about wanting to come, too!

"I am a child!" she wailed. "Just look at me! I am not a baby! I am a child! I need a ticket! I want to hike the mountain, too! Please let me come! I am a child! Please!"

The lady at the ticket booth gave us a sticker to pass back to Miriam to reassure her that she was going to be allowed into the park. She also handed us a packet of information about Grandfather Mountain, including an audio tour on CD. We loved it. The man's voice was just perfect, with a soft souther accent, and in the background they had some nice bluegrass music going (courtesy of Bryan Stutton, who I've never heard of before but who is a rather famous bluegrass artist from Asheville, North Carolina). We learned a lot and it kept us all entertained.

Here we are at our first stop (Half-moon Overlook):

One of the first things we noticed was how the audio-guide pronounced Appalachia. I grew up hearing and saying "App-uh-LAY-shuh," but apparently that's only how outsiders say it. The people who know call it "App-uh-LATCH-uh." We looked it up on Andrew's iPhone just because we'd never heard that pronunciation before and found a decent answer on Yahoo (which is rare and which we verified on Wikipedia) that had Rachel worried all day long. The answerer said:
Technically, it depends on where you're from. If you live in or around the Appalachian Mountains, especially the central and southern section, you pronounce it App-uh-LATCH-uh. Anyone who pronounces it differently will immediately be seen as an outsider or someone being pretentious.
However, in most places in the United States, it is pronounced App-uh-LAY-shuh, even though this is a deviation from the historical pronunciation and enough to make most Appalachian natives (include me!) irate. 
So basically, say it however you want outside of Appalachia, but if you go there, say it like the locals—unless you want spit in your grits and sweet tea.
I read it aloud because I thought it was funny and because Andrew was driving and couldn't read it for himself. Rachel listened intently, as she usually does, and then fretted about whether we were pronouncing it correctly and whether anyone was going to spit in our food. To help her know how to say it (without risking saliva in her victuals) I told her to think of throwing an apple at someone, as in, "I'm going to throw this apple atcha," (where "at you" becomes "at ya" becomes "atcha").

Our next stop was at Split Rock and Sphinx Rock. Here we were told that these rocks were older than the mountains themselves, pushed up when Africa collided with America way, as Miriam likes to say, "in the back of the days." The narrator also told us that we might've already noticed a drop in temperatures and assured us that it was going to get colder—and that by the time we reached the top of the mountain it would be about the same temperature as Newfoundland, Canada. This also piqued Rachel's interest and for the rest of the day when she wasn't worrying about whether some local Appalachian was going to jump out from behind a tree to spit on her food she was asking me, "Is this as cold as Canada, Mom?"

I told Andrew that now we don't need to take that drive up to Newfoundland like he suggested we try (though we still want to). Anyway, we enjoyed climbing around these rocks. One is split in two (from freeze/thaw, a phenomenon that was explained on the CD and which I thought everyone just inherently knew about (but they might not because the mountains are so different here—there's no tree line and no rain shadow and they're not very rocky at all (you can tell because the rocks are famous rather than and the other kind of looks like the Sphinx in Egypt (at this point Miriam exclaimed, "I was born there!"). That's who these two famous rocks got their names.

I already gave you fair warning about how many pictures we took on this trip, right? Here are some of the pictures...there are plenty more...

Andrew and Miriam by split rock
Andrew on Split Rock
Miriam and Rachel holding up Split Rock
Benjamin didn't care as much about the famous rocks as he did about the gravel
Benjamin and Rachel exploring the split of Split Rock
Andrew on top of Split Rock
Rachel was terrified of climbing this high but we eventually got her on the lower part of Split Rock
Here is the view from on top of Split rock:

Miriam wasn't interested in climbing the rocks at all. And we didn't do much at Sphinx rock since it was closer to the road and didn't have a good place to safely stand.

Because it's prime leaf-peeping time, we went straight to the top of the mountain after this so that we could hit the swinging bridge before it got too crowded, resolving to do everything else on the way back down the mountain. While I was nursing Benjamin, Andrew took the girls down to the elevation sign that we passed, telling us that we'd hit all of 5000 feet!

The average elevation of Orem—where we moved from—is 4756 feet. And Orem is in a valley. Here we were near the top of a mountain at only 5000 feet.

Timpanogos, the mountain which towers over Orem, is 11,752 feet above sea level (but has a "topographic prominence" of only 5,270 feet (while Grandfather Mountain at 5,946 feet has a topographic prominence of a puny 2,444 feet). While the Appalachian Mountains are dwarfed in comparison to the Rocky Mountains of the west, they're still majestic.

We chose to hike from the parking lot to the swinging bridge, which was a short 0.4 mile hike (you can also drive to an upper parking lot and take an elevator to the bridge but we figured we were capable of a short hike). Andrew (with Benjamin in the backpack) and Rachel led the way while Miriam (with her clunky winter boots) and I brought of the rear.

Miriam found the trail quite difficult. It was almost like a series of stairs, but since the stairs were made of rocks they were uneven and rather tall. She needed a lot of help. At one point she put her hand on her head and said, "This hike was hard for me when I was little—like this tall." And at another point she let go of my hand and said, "I don't need help anymore! I can just hold onto a tree or a rock or a log!" before promptly losing her footing and tumbling down the path. We held hands most of the way.

We actually didn't see hide or hair of these three for most of the way up. Rachel was too busy practicing her bat/monkey/mountain goat skills, clambering up rocks, leaping over logs, and flying up the trail. She's trying to decide which animal behaviour she's most adept at—and that will be the animal she'll morph into when she learns to be an animagus.

Here's Rachel with one of the "springs" of the swinging bridge. Apparently the bridge used to be wooden and really would swing quite a bit in the alpine breeze (I mean gusts) but now it's made of metal and is anchored to the ground (which I rather appreciated).

Here is Miriam with The Mile High Swinging Bridge behind her:

I was a little worried about this "mile-high" business and was relieved to learn that the bridge isn't just floating a mile up in the sky. Rather, it's simply one mile above sea level and only "spans an 80-foot chasm." We know people who have survived falling that far (he's home now; though still recovering); though, frankly, I agree with the narrator, who said that 80-feet is "high enough!"

I still remember crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge as a child (460 feet long and 230 feet from the canyon floor). That was simply dizzying and I still can't believe that my mom let us cross (though I think I remember her saying that she didn't "let" us; we simply did it). The Mile-High Swinging Bridge is 228 feet long and 80 feet from the canyon floor, but, honestly, with the wind blasting us, that was high and long enough for me!

Grandfather Mountain has clocked winds—at this very canyon—of over 100 miles an hour. On this particular day, the winds were relatively calm at around 30 mph. This was strong enough to blow Miriam right over. I accidentally let a giggle slip when a blast of air knocked her off her feet; she looked up at me and shrieked, "It isn't funny! I almost blewed away!"

Here we are on the far side of the bridge:

On a clear day you're supposed to be able to see for about 100 miles from the top of this peak:

There were so many dogs around—both at the sites and at the campground. This made Benjamin so happy because he loves puppies. It did not please the girls quite as much since they don't love puppies.

It was so windy up there that our hair was blowing around like crazy and our eyes were watering.

Benjamin was not a fan of the wind.

Miriam wanted to get back over the bridge to the safety of the other side much sooner than Rachel and Daddy were ready to call it quits.

I started back with her but also had to keep an eye on those daredevils of mine for various reasons (including the fact that I'm a worrywart and Andrew had the baby strapped to his back and we've had more than our share of tragedy in the wild lately, don't you think? (re: Dorothy's death, Clark's fall, Trevor's mountain bike accident)). Here's Miriam at a safer part of the mountain:

And here are Andrew and Rachel climbing on the peak:

Those two just can't stay away from the edge. Fortunately, for earning the title of "most rugged mountain east of the Mississippi," Grandfather Mountain is a grassy knoll compared to...well, The Rockies. That doesn't mean I wasn't worried about them at the edge of the cliff. An 80 foot drop is an 80 foot drop no matter what mountain range you're standing on.

Here we are picking our way over the rock, back to the bridge:

Miriam almost got brave enough to pose on the bridge for a picture but she chickened out at the very end. She prefers to just make it all the way across without pausing.

Here's the view from the middle of the bridge, which is about the same view as the top of the mountain...

Here's Daddy and Benjamin posing on the middle of the bridge:

And here are Daddy and Rachel getting close to the cliff's edge once again:

Here is Benjamin trying to be happy in spite of the wind:

And here are my cute boys right after I embarrassed them by yelling, "I is a Newfoundlander!" to placate Rachel's incessant questioning about whether or not we'd reached Canadian temperatures yet. They didn't need to be embarrassed, really, because the wind just swallowed up my words.

Ready to follow us back down the trail? It was mostly the same as it was the way up, but in reverse. Rachel did a whole lot of climbing up rocks and then sliding down on her bum.

I'm not entirely sure at what point in the day it happened, but the seat of her pants split at the seam and had several holes elsewhere by the time we got to the trailhead. Silly goose!

Here's me with my hiking buddy:

We stopped for lunch on our way down the mountain at the Cliffside Picnic Area. Miriam actually got brave enough to do a little rock climbing.

These two pictures didn't really turn out but I wish that they had (even though I have hundreds of other pictures from this day):

After this, Miriam retreated to the car to eat her lunch in solitude (and without the breeze). Here's Rachel enjoying her bagel in a more adventurous location, the top of the hill:

We had a good, but blustery, lunch. Rachel was enjoying the view from the parking lot; I took her picture.

Then she asked if she could take our picture:

Then she turned the camera around and snapped this selfie:

I had to call these two off the cliff so that we could continue our excursion:

We all enjoyed the Nature Museum, though it was a lot smaller than I expected. I think the museum store was larger than the museum itself. There was a statue of a mother bear with three cubs at the entrance of the museum. All the kids liked the statue but Benjamin adored it.

Outside the museum we got to see a black bear, a bald eagle, and a deer. The cougars and otters were no where to be seen.

Benjamin loves animals right now. Real animals, stuffed animals, animal noises, animals in books, animals in videos. He finds animals fascinating. After the Nature Museum, we figured we were about finished for the day—a couple of kiddos were ready for a nap and the one who wasn't said she didn't want to hike anymore—so we said goodbye to Grandfather Mountain and started heading back to the campground.

On the way we decided to stop at Mast General Store, which "is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places a one of the best remaining examples of an old country general store." It opened in 1883 so this year marked its 130th anniversary (save the three years it was closed from 1977 to 1980). It was fun to wander around the store. They had old-timey things for sale, such as rocking chairs (these particular chairs are Amish rocking chairs), hand-woven baskets, and horehound candy. They also had new-timey things for sale, such as plastic spoons and fleece blankets, and skittles.

They even had a coffin set up in one corner since general stores sold everything "in the back of the days." It was really part store/part museum.

We bought the cups and the spoons; we did not buy the coffin
They had merchandise upstairs and downstairs and behind the counter and in the back room. They even had the mailroom open to see—and it actually functions as a working post office box room to this day!

At one counter the girls found a bin full of Mexican Jumping Beans and were quite intrigued. The lady at the counter began telling them about how little caterpillars crawl inside and then eat all the inside of the beans (which is what makes them jump). When the little caterpillars have eaten their fill they spin a little cocoon, which means the bean will stop moving. "And then," the lady said, "They'll come out of the bean just like a chick coming out of an egg!"

"Or," said Miriam, casting an erudite glance at the lady, "Like a butterfly coming out of a chrysalis."

"Yes," the woman gulp, slightly taken aback. "Like a butterfly coming out of a chrysalis."

"Can we try?" Miriam asked.

"Well, it takes a long time," the lady admitted. "And I've never actually seen a moth come out of any beans and I've worked here a long time, so..."

Pity. She almost had made a sale before she told us that all (or at least most) the caterpillars die inside the beans rather than making it out to the wild. At $1.50 per box, they were priced low enough that I might've told the girls they could get one.

Adjacent to the Mast General Store is The Little Red School House.

It's mostly store now but also had a cute little classroom area set up.

We were all ready for dinner by this time, so after waving goodbye to the farm we finished the drive to our campsite.

Andrew succeeded (after several attempts (and borrowing an axe from a neighbouring camper)) in making a roaring fire.

Meanwhile the girls played in the creek (which has a name, I found out out: Laurel Creek). Rachel took off her shoes and went wading in the river, though Miriam was too timid to try.

Benjamin threw rocks and leaves down to the creek.

Here is Miriam telling me that she wants to go potty (after she throws the handful of rocks she has into the creek, that is).

Here's Rachel scrambling out of the creek after wading in to her ankles. The water was pretty cold!

I took Miriam to the bathroom and on the way she asked me what would happen if she were to fall into the creek.

"Oh, we'd fish you out and wrap you in a towel," I said. "And then we'd change you into some dry clothes because you'd probably be pretty wet!"

After she finished going potty, I allowed her to walk back to the campsite by herself while I helped Benjamin with his potty needs. Benjamin and I finished up in the bathhouse, and started walking back to the campsite, where Miriam was sitting at the picnic table, wrapped up in a towel and crying. She'd fallen into the creek.

"I just wanted to see what would happen," she said.

Turns out she got cold and wet. No one pulled her out of the creek because she climbed out herself. She did, however, get wrapped in a towel and then helped into some dry clothes. 

I'm still not sure if she did it on purpose or by accident; either way she learned her lesson.

For dinner we had roasted hot dogs.

Rachel doesn't like when smoke gets in her eyes.

Rachel does, however, like s'mores! She prefers her marshmallows burned.

Miriam chose to have apples for dessert.

Here is a picture of Rachel laughing so hard she has tears in her eyes. I can't remember what she thought was so funny.

It might have been that we informed her that she had been walking around with her pants split open all day but I'm not sure.

Here's Miriam all ready for bed; we thought she looked like a three-headed monster:

Here's a smiley Benjamin:

My arms got so tired of wrangling him this weekend! He can climb up and balance his tummy on the bars of his pack'n'play so we can't just leave him in there anymore (he'll tip right out of it) and we couldn't just let him wander around with the creek and all the open fire pits and vehicles. He had to be physically restrained nearly the entire weekend and it was exhausting!

Bedtime was always very welcomed so that I could stop worrying about my kids falling into rivers and getting hit by cars and merely worry about our campsite being ransacked by bears.

On this particular evening, Andrew and I sat by the fire after the kids had gone to bed and read. I am reading Rebecca and Andrew is reading whatever it is he's reading for school (he brought along a bunch of articles and things to read).

It was about five degrees warmer Friday night than the night before (so around 50 rather than 45) and those five degrees made all the difference in the world. We all slept much more comfortably (at least, I did...but then again, I also stole those sleeping bags from the girls, so...)


  1. I really enjoyed this. Very nice pictures by you and Rachel (cute selfie). If you ever go back to Valle Crucis, there is a nice park right near the Mast General Store annex. I know your children have playgrounds at home, but it has some cool play houses and wide open spaces to run and play. They do have a river - kind of like your campsite creek - in the back part, and it's fun to wade in in the warmer weather, but it's not so close that your kids would fall in.

    And I'm jealous that you had blue skies since it's been so cloudy and drizzly here thanks to that stubborn coastal low.

    Thanks for sharing all about your trip. So interesting, as always!

  2. Lovely! And weird, I've always pronounced Appalachia(n) the insider way, of course, I do like food so I probably just didn't want anyone to spit in mine.

  3. Capilano Suspension Bridge--yes, you brave souls just trotted across. I took like three steps and already had motion sickness so bad that I could not go forward. I had to go back to solid ground and just worry about you kids going back and forth and looking over the edge. Made me sick to watch you; made me sicker to try to go after you!