Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.
~Edwin Way Teale
We made a pilgrimage back to the mountain this weekend – Mount Mitchell. I first visited the mountain as a child while on vacation with my parents as we drove down the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. I still remember walking the trail up to the summit and being fascinated by the shiny flakes (mica) sparkling on the ground along the way. There was a large gap in my visits as I studied in college and then finally took a job with NC State Parks as a naturalist for the eastern parks. I was sent to the mountain on a busy holiday weekend early in my career to help provide interpretation to the throngs of visitors. I remember being chilly on the 4th of July and thinking…Can this be real – am I still in North Carolina?
Over the years, I have returned many times, in many seasons. I love the campground at Mt. Mitchell – only nine sites, scattered along a short trail on a ridge. I especially like it as an escape from the heat of summer in the Piedmont. If you are in some of the first few camp sites, the western sky is your living room wall; the sunset, your window on the world.
Our site was facing the earth’s other wall, that of the sunrise. Our first night was clear and cool. We stayed out late, hoping to catch a few shooting stars from the early stages of the Perseid meteor shower and were rewarded with several nice ones before a light cloud cover obscured the sky. The next morning was beautiful, but windy.
After breakfast, we drove up to the summit and walked to the top of the observation tower. Fast moving clouds obscured much of the horizon, but the morning was alive with sights and sounds. The regenerating Fraser Fir trees near the summit seemed lush, many with noticeable batches of their distinctive upright cones. Will these soon fall victim to the Balsam Woolly Adelgid and other stresses of life at these high altitudes (winter storms, acid deposition, etc.)? Perhaps only the mountain knows.
Mt. Mitchell was North Carolina’s first state park, with land purchased in 1916 through the efforts of Governor Locke Craig, in response to local citizens’ concerns over the logging near the summit. A century later, it is one of the premier state parks in the nation, and a destination for thousands of visitors from all over the world.
We spent our first full day on a leisurely hike along the ridge line trail that leads from the summit over to Mt. Craig, Big Tom, and Balsam Cone – a beautiful day to walk across the top of North Carolina.
Our trip ended with the mountain reminding all of the campers that you should be prepared for witnessing the power of nature when you visit her. The wind got up and it started raining shortly after dinner (and the initiation of a nice campfire). The rain and wind intensified throughout the night and finally slacked off at daybreak. The view out the east window was quite different on the morning of day two.
It was a brief visit, a respite from the heat back home (daytime highs on the mountain on Monday were about 65 degrees) and the hustle and bustle of life. We had hiked, splashed in the rain, watched, smelled, and listened on the mountain, felt the wind in our faces and breathed in the crisp air. I had also thought more about why it is so important to have places like this to get away from it all and get recharged. I truly appreciate the work of people like Governor Craig that had the foresight to set aside the crown jewels of our state so that we can now feel the magic of the mountain and so many other special places. And thank you to all those people that work in and for our parks to make these visits possible, to provide us with these sanctuaries in an often too-hurried world.
Here are a few more images from two days on the mountain…