Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Land of the Locked Gates

The Land of the Locked Gates
Jack and Amy's Weekend Getaway
Franklin, NC and surrounding areas.
Saturday, January 17th and Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Amy and Jack at Ranger Falls

There are several waterfalls listed in the Franklin Hub of Kevin Adam's North Carolina Waterfalls book that I had never been to.  So when my wife Amy mentioned that she wanted to get away for the weekend, I suggested Franklin, NC.

Since it is the off season, there are plenty of accommodations available for last minute bookings and Amy had no problems finding a nice 1BR lakefront Villa for under $100 a night.  We have had very good success finding nice places to stay on VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) , and this one was no exception!

 Our Lakefront Villa for the Weekend

Inside the Villa

We left Spartanburg early Saturday Morning and made the drive to Franklin in just a little bit over two hours.  Since the Villa was not rented the previous night, the owners said we could check in as early as we wanted.  After unpacking and settling in to the Villa we hit the road for our first hike of the weekend.

I had planned to do (3) short "Amy Approved" hikes located off of FR67 in the Nantahala National Forest.
1.  Big Laurel Falls
2.  Mooney Falls
3.  Pickens Nose

About (5) miles from the trailhead, just past the Standing Indian Campground, the gate for FR67 was closed and locked.  I felt like Clark Griswold arriving at the gates of Walley World!  I really didn't feel like hiking the five miles of road (one way) just to get to the trailheads, so we went with plan B.

Rufus Morgan Falls, located just a few miles down the road from our Villa.  Guess what we found after turning off Wayah Road onto RF388?  Another locked gate!

It was a beautiful day, and the locked gate was only two miles from the trailhead, so we decided to hike the road to the trailhead.  It was a pleasant stroll, but nothing really noteworthy along the road .  It is a gradual uphill for the first mile and gentle downhill for the second mile before reaching the trailhead.

 Me at the Rufus Morgan Trailhead

The half-mile trail was much more interesting than the road and we had Rufus Morgan all to ourselves.

 Jack and Amy by some cascades downstream from Rufus Morgan Falls

Rufus Morgan Falls is a nice 65-foot sliding cascade.  Nothing spectacular, but it still felt good to get to my first waterfall of 2015!

 Rufus Morgan Falls

Just as we were getting ready to head back, two other hikers showed up.  We also ran into one more group on the two mile trek back to our vehicle.  So we were not the only ones that decided not to let the locked gate get in the way of visiting Rufus Morgan!

Next on the Agenda was Wayah Bald!  Guess what we found as we turned off of Wayah Road onto FR69?  Another Locked Gate!  Hiking up FR69 to Wayah Bald was out of the question.  That would not be "Amy Approved" and it was getting too late in the day for me to attempt it solo.

Nothing in any directions said anything about these roads being closed in the winter.  However, I did do a bit of after the fact research and found the following post on the Nantahala National Forest Website:

 FRANKLIN, N.C., Dec. 18, 2014 – The Nantahala Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest, will seasonally close the following roads from Jan. 2 - April 1, 2015. During this period these roads are susceptible to freezing and thawing, and they become very soft and easily damaged by traffic. The roads to be closed are Boardtree (#388), Upper Nantahala (#67), Deep Gap (#71), Shingletree Branch (#713), Shope Fork (#751), Ball Creek (#83), and Connelly Creek (#86 through Alarka-Laurel), Wayah Bald (#69), Winding Stairs (#422), Little Yellow Mountain (#367), Big Creek (#4567), Cold Spring Gap (#4663), Moses Creek (#4651), Old Bald Rd (#4652), Sugar Creek (#4665), Gage Creek (#4648), Wolf Mountain(#4663C), Charley Knob (# 4654), and Beech Flats (#4668). In addition, the Wayehutta Off Road Vehicle area will be closed Dec. 15, 2014 - April 1, 2015.

By now, Amy was ready to do a little shopping!  So we headed into downtown Franklin to check out some of the shops.  I also wanted to check out the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company.  Unfortunately, just like all the locked gates, the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company was closed until April!   So a return to trip to Franklin is definitely in our future!

 The Lazy Hiker Brewing Company - Downtown Franklin, NC

After a bit of shopping, I was definitely ready for a beer!  So we made the 20 minute drive up to Sylva, NC to visit two local craft breweries.

First up was the Heinzelmannchen Brewery.

 Me outside the Heinzelmannchen Brewery

I got a flight of all (7) of their current offerings.  We also had some authentic German Soft Pretzels with authentic German Mustard, which made for a great appetizer!

Enjoying a flight at the Heinzelmannchen Brewery

We spent most of our time there chatting with Dieter, the brew-master and owner of the establishment!  While talking about photography, he led me out the front door and pointed out an owl that lives in an exhaust vent two stories above the front door of the Heinzelmannchen Brewery.

An Owl above the Heinzelmannchen Brewery

We decided to grab dinner before heading on to the next Brewery.  For restaurants, Amy and I like casual and unique places with good selections of draft brews.  The Mad Hatter definitely hit the spot!  It is actually a movie theater/restaurant combo.  We were a bit too early for the movie showing, but the food was excellent as was their selection of draft beers!

After dinner we visited the Innovation Brewery.  They had a huge selection of over (20) different beers all brewed on site.

Some of their offerings like the "Gingerbread Brown" and the "Smokey the Beer" were a bit too funky for my tastes.  However their "Dark Day Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout" was one of the best beers I have ever tasted!

 Cell Phone Selfie at the Innovation Brewery

After having more than my fill of FABs (Frosty Adult Beverages), we headed on back to our Villa.  There was a nice starry sky, so I experimented with some long exposure night photography.

 Starry Sky above Mint Lake

Sunday morning started out with a little bit of Freezing Rain and patches of Black Ice on the roads.  Fortunately by the time we finished breakfast, the rain had stopped and an arsenal of salt trucks had hit the roads.  We had no issues on the 20 mile drive along US64 towards Highlands.

We made the obligatory stop at Cullasaja Falls to snap a few photos before continuing on.

 Me at Cullasaja Falls

 Cullasaja Falls

Next up was Dry Falls.  I have been to this one several times, but never without crowds of people.  This is the first time I had ever seen the parking lot empty and we had Dry Falls to ourselves.

Amy and Jack at Dry Falls

But of course, the gate leading to the path underneath and to the other side of the falls was closed and locked!  So I was only able to get photos from one side.

 Dry Falls

 Dry Falls from the new Handicapped Accessible Overlook

After Dry Falls, we backtracked about a mile to the Cliffside Recreation Area to visit Ranger Falls.  This is one that I had never been to and just recently found out about.  Guess what we ran into about a half mile from the trailhead?  Another locked gate!

So we just had to add a little bit of road walking to our hike. 

Upon arriving at the trailhead I was surprised to see that Ranger Falls was only 0.5 miles  (note: we would later learn that this sign is not correct.)

 Inaccurate Trail Sign

The first 0.3 miles is all up-hill.  There are various interpretive signs along the trail giving you excuses to stop and catch your breath if needed.  At "The Big Intersection" the trail to Ranger Falls heads off downhill to the left.  At about the half mile mark the trail arrives at Skitty Creek.  According to the sign at the trailhead Ranger Falls should be right here.

So we continued on another quarter mile or so upstream and still no Ranger Falls.  I knew we were well past the half mile mark.  I decided that it must have been just downstream from when we first arrived at Skitty Creek, so we backtracked.  I figured we must have just missed some sort of side trail.

Still no luck finding Ranger Falls.  So I pulled out Waterfall Rich's directions and realized that we should have continued upstream.  So that is what we did and we eventually got to Ranger Falls which turned out to be nicer than I was expecting!

Amy and Jack at Ranger Falls

Ranger Falls on Skitty Creek

Ranger Falls

Apparently the sign at the trailhead saying 0.5 miles to Ranger Falls is just there to confuse people.

Here are the correct directions/mileage from the Ranger Falls Trailhead.
  • 0.3 miles uphill to "The Big Intersection"
  • Turn Left
  • Next 0.2 miles is mostly downhill.  Arrive at Skitty Creek at about the 0.5 mile mark
  • Turn Right and head upstream for about another 0.5 mile.  The trail parallels the creek but at times heads slightly above and away from the creek.
  • At the 1.0 mile mark the trail arrives at the base of Ranger Falls.
Rather than walk the road back to the locked gate where our vehicle was parked, we decided to hike the Cliffside Lake Loop Trail.

 Cliffside Lake

Amy spotted a wooden swing set and we just couldn't resit going for a swing!

 Jack and Amy Swinging

 Up-Side-Down Amy

For my next hike, I decided on Glen Falls.  By now the sun was out and temperatures had warmed up considerably.  Amy decided she would sit this one out and instead find a sunny spot to relax with her book.

The Glen Falls Trail runs for about 1.5 miles alongside the East Fork of Overflow Creek.  The trail and creek drop about 900-feet in elevation over this distance.  Along the way are (2) Major Waterfalls and numerous other smaller waterfalls and cascades.

You can hit the highlights by skipping the last mile and just hiking about a half mile (1.0 mile round trip) to the base of the second drop.  I chose to hike the entire 1.5 mile trail (3.0 mile round trip).

 view from the top of Glen Falls

 The Upper Drop of Glen Falls

 The Middle Drop of Glen Falls

 The Lower Drop of Glen Falls

Below the 3rd drop is an nearly continuous series of small waterfalls and cascades.  Most of these would require some serious scrambling and/or creek walking to get to.  I decided to save that for when I have someone to join me.  It might make an interesting trip to hike down to where the trail crosses the creek and bushwhack/creekwalk upstream from there.

After the the Glen Falls hike, I was ready for a beer!

We headed on over to the Satulah Mountain Brewing Company in downtown Highlands, NC

 The Satulah Mountain Brewing Company

This brewery has only been opened for a few months and they currently only have the equipment in place to brew one batch of beer at a time.  Therefore they only had one of their own beers on tap, a nice Irish Stout.  Fortunately they had about (10) other regional brews on tap, some of which I have never tried before, so I was able to create a flight.

For Dinner we chose The Ugly Dog Pub where we enjoyed some excellent burgers, and watched a bit of the Green Bay / Seattle NFL playoff game.  After dinner we drove back to our villa in Franklin and spent a nice relaxing evening together.

Amy had planned to do a little school work in the evenings, but we forgot to pack her bag with all her school books and notes.  Therefore, we did not plan anything along the way on our drive back to Spartanburg as Amy was really needing to catch up on some of her school work.

Despite all the locked gates, it was still a very enjoyable weekend getaway.  And because of all the locked gates, we have reason to plan another trip to the area sometime after April 1st.

The complete set of photos from the Land of the Locked Gates is posted here:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

Christmas week started with a few days at my in-laws in Rutherfordton, NC

 Christmas photo with Amy's Family

 The girls opening up some Christmas presents

From there it was off to my brothers house in Chantilly, VA for a few days.

 Liam and Marielle (and Puff)

We took a trip to visit the Oatlands Plantation, which was kind of like a much smaller version of the Biltmore House.

The Oatlands Mansion

 Foggy Morning at the Oatlands Plantation

Liam and Marielle running laps

Cool tree at the Oatlands Plantation

Goats at the Oatlands Plantation

We also visited the Lost Rhino Brewery to enjoy a few flights!

The Lost Rhino Brewery

Me enjoying some flights with my Brother Bill and his wife Michelle

After a few days at my Brother's house we finished up Christmas week at my Sister's house in Sterling, VA

Michelle and Marielle

My Mom and Liam

Conner, Mary, and Scott

Katie and Linda

Liam and my Dad

Katie, Conner, and Mary with Sammy

Scott showing off Das Boot!

It was a very enjoyable Christmas Week with family!

The complete set of photos is posted here: