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Monday, April 08, 2013

Up the Chimney Rock

Had a totally busy day off today. Began by attempting to visit the Biltmore Estates but once there, decided we didn't want to spend the $59 each necessary to access that hallowed ground. We did see a quick movie on the Biltmore in the ticketing building, that didn't tempt us, and then we moved on.

Next we headed over to the Asheville Visitor Center, where we bought tickets for a trolley tour of Asheville at what now seemed a bargain price - comparatively - just $19.  Must admit, I am now in 'full to the jowls' mode for history of southern cities, so only intermittently paid any attention to our tour guide with his North Carolina accent. The trolley took us up one street and down another, many places we'd driven through on our own last week. I enjoyed myself, sitting in the back row of the trolley, enjoying the cool Spring breeze & birding along our route.

After our trolley tour of Asheville we peaky, so we headed to  "Piggies" BBQ. On the tour we learned it was a great place for BBQ so we dined there. Our verdict, as out-of-towners was 'just tolerable'.  On the plus side, I learned all about the southern staple called  'Hush Puppies'; round, deep fried cornmeal balls. Perhaps as there are no noisy dogs about to lob the greasy dough balls at, I fail to get the point of them and left most of mine behind on the plate as the flavor didn't seem worth the heart-attack-on-a-plate calories or fat content. Sorry south - If it's is any consolation, I loved the BBQ at Cheddar's Restaurant where we took ate several meals this past week.

Next after a brisk round of  'where do you want to go next?', 'I don't know, where do you want to go?', I pushed for a visit to Chimney Rock State Park - good choice. The route there wound along a pleasant country road. As we sped down the road both of us caught sight of a woman - she was dressed in shabby old clothing, that would have been familiar in 2013, as easily as 1913 or come to that, 1813. She stepped out of a small cabin, no more than 500 square feet to it - as caught up in time as it's occupant. I muttered some explitive under my breath, just as Ila was muttering something similar.  That woman was stuck in my mind and Ila's all day. I think that glimpse of that woman's life is as close as I'll ever come toward proving Einstein's theories on time travel.

Soon we reached the tiny town of Chimney Rock and in the center of the main drag found the park entrance. It wound up hill to a big parking lot, at the end of which was a towering spiral of rock, on top of which we could see the namesake chimney rock. It kind of looks like something else too, but happily it was the name Chimney that stuck.

Chimney Rock from below

The top of Chimney Rock
To the left of the gift shop above we found a daunting tunnel, cut through solid rock.

Looking back to the tunnel entrance
At the end of the nearly 200 ft tunnel, is an elevator
The rocky walls would make anyone with claustrophobia go ballistic. There were informative signs along the rock path to let you know you were surrounded by Henderson Gneiss (a rock type). My first thought was how long ago must the tunnel have been put in to avoid the b'jillion environmental impact statements that must be necessary to complete these days, to destroy/burrow into natural bedrock. I think the tunnel was put in way before the place became a state park. 

At the end of the tunnel was an elevator! I would not have hated to have to walk up the 26 stories the elevator traversed. The elevator was operated by a twenty year old guy whom I bet was a bit claustrophobic himself after a bit. He - and the elevator - took us up to where we exited the elevator into another gift shop. Crossing the gift shop, I stepped out onto a patio and a long walkway.

26 stories UP!
I looked over the edge to see where we had come up from and thanked heavens I don't have the least trace of acrophobia. I decided as long as I came up so far, I might as well climb the final forty-odd steps up to the top of the Chimney Rock overlook.

The climb up to the Apex of Chimney Rock
The View from the Top - Lure Lake in the distance
It was an impressive & sweeping view from the top of Chimney Rock. I spent maybe ten or fifteen minutes up top of Chimney Rock, taking photos of the scenery & assisting other tourists in getting pictures of themselves against the backdrop of what seemed to be all of Appalachia.

Chimney Rock platform up top
View from the Chimney Rock stairs
GAK! There are stairs to the top of Chimney Rock after all!
When I was done taking in the views from atop Chimney Rock, I decided I might as well dig into a nice cup of Blue Bunny Ice Cream that was sold in the sky high gift shop. While I ate my ice cream on the patio, I watched a Black Vulture - only the second I've seen on this entire trip - circling the sky. It is fun getting to look down on a bird one normally only sees up above.

How often does one get to look down on a vulture in flight?
Puffing up his red pouch for 'the ladies'

I wasn't quite done with my yummy butter pecan treat when I noted there was something a bit unusual, slinking about on a pine tree above my head. Lizard! Not just any lizard, but an Anole - lots of them. They're the little 'chameleons' I used to buy at Ringling Brother's Circus for pets when I was a kid. I've seen wild Anoles in Florida and had no idea they occur as far north as North Carolina.

As I tossed my ice cream cup into a bin, I spotted a bird flashing up into the lizard tree, but it was gone before I could get more than a glimpse of it. Rats! 

I'd been hearing a bird calls all the time we were in Chimney Rock Park. I could make out the calls of the usual American Robins, and the ever-present 'Peter! Peter! Peter!' of the Tufted Titmouses. There was one call though that I couldn't quite place - then it hit me - The Mikado! I was hearing the Spring song of the Black-throated Green Warbler, which always sounds to me like the opening notes of Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado. I now had my long lens at the ready and was not too disappointed.

A curious Black-throated Green Warbler
Awww! This fellow sang for me, but his perch was too shady for much of a shot
I chased after Black-throated Green Warblers for a good bit before Ila and I decided to head in the general direction of home - downhill. Along the way we stopped briefly at a 'Grady's Animal Den', a place for scout troups and other kiddie groups to gather for instruction. I found out Grady himself is a lovely & fat woodchuck who dwells at the cabin with several of his fellow woodland creatures on display.

On the way out of Chimney Rock Park I was teased by an elusive Eastern Bluebird that momentarily sat on a road post. I also spotted a small flock of ground feeding Chipping Sparrows. I listed the birds in eBird. Was disappointed I couldn't find any Blue Jays or Thrushes at all. Oh well. I should be happy for finding the lovely little Mikado soloists.

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