Crepuscular Rays on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Crepuscular Rays stream down through the clouds from the sun and create heavenly landscapes.  I use to believe that angels walked down these rays and if you stood within them, you were blessed by God, I still do on some occasions.  While driving back to Asheville from Crabtree Waterfalls, I encountered several of these.  The elevations present different weather conditions.  It could be cloudy at one point, then 10 miles down the road sunny, then cloudy again after 7 miles.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is amazing.  All these photos were taken within an hour’s drive (on the same day) along the Blue Ridge Parkway driving back home.

When I was driving there was a hawk flying, but I did not get a picture of it.  By the time I pulled over, it had flown off.

How the heavens touch the earth.

I think this one is my favorite because the Blue Ridge Mountains look surreal. 

Then it got cloudy.

Then another few miles sunny as the sun was getting closer to setting.

Then another few miles the clouds started hanging low again.

And at Mount Mitchell Dome parking area, I could not see the mountains due to the heavy fog. 

Then after descending the Blue Ridge Parkway the clouds got thinner.

Until the sun started coming out again in a few more miles. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway is filled with many surprises.  It is a living ecological area, not only in the flora, fauna, and wildlife, but also in the atmosphere. 

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Crabtree Falls

I am elaborating on my original post months ago.  Crabtree Falls is situated between Mount Mitchell and Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.  It is located in Little Switzerland in Yancy County off mile post 339.5.  I took Loop A down to the falls, then Loop B on the return trip.  Loop B provided a little more strenuous hiking as I had to hike up rocks and uphill during a decent percent of it.  A Whitetail deer crossed the trail ahead of me as I was hiking.  It was only 3 to 3 1/2 miles to do the round trip, which is not bad.  I took several pictures of the waterfalls and the day was perfect for picture taking. 

You will pass Mountain Vistas again on your way up to Crabtree Falls.

Once you park, you will see signs for Loop A and Loop B.  I took Loop A which will take you past an outdoor amphitheater

You will be hiking through the woods past the flowers and butterflies.

Onward through canopy of trees.

Beside rolling streams of water.

Until you get to Crabtree Falls, which you will hear before you see it off to the left if taking Loop A to it.  The trail gets rocky so if you have any problems walking or hiking you will need  help. 

Crabtree Falls

And for that close-up …

I can’t imagine what it’s like for birds and wildlife to live around the falls each day of their lives.  Waterfalls almost appear to be alive – wise, old mystical beings placed deep in the woods for us to go seek. 

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Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the Appalachians and also the highest peak on the East Coast.  It peaks out at 6,684 feet.  It is located in Yancy County near the town of Burnsville and can be accessed via the Blue Ridge  Parkway at mile marker 355.4.  You will want to go Spring, Summer, or Fall but due to its high elevation it is colder and has more ice during Winter months, thus is closed.  It is approximately 35 miles Northeast of Asheville. 

We are going to continue our journey from the last post (Craggy Gardens) and enter the tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway that will take us up to Mount Mitchell.

You will past overlooks for Mountain Vistas on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

You will eventually come to the road that will take you up to Mount Mitchell.  You can park at the very top (which has a refreshment cafe). 

The day I went it was cloudy up at Mount Mitchell.  The weather kept changing from cloudy to rainy to sunny depending on the elevation I was at.  What is really interesting is not only the peak at Mount Mitchell but all the native plants and the hiking.  I only got to do a brief hike that day due to the fact I was on my way to Crabtree Falls. 

When you cross the road from the parking area, you will see a picnic area with a shed. 

Busy around this shed will be several insects pollinating the flowers.

A Black Swallowtail.

Bumblebees.

You will also see different wildflowers.

When you walk further, you will enter into the Pisgah Forest. 

Mount Mitchell trees.

There are several neat finds in here.  For example, this lichen growing on quartz rock. 

The paths will take you through the trees.

Some of the paths have rock stairs.

The day I was there, I was in awe of all the different species of wild mushrooms. 

Fly Agaric which has lichen growing around it.

Melanoleuca maritima

Russula

I believe this is False Turkey Tail.

There are more species of mushrooms but this is a taste of them.  We are going to continue our journey up the Blue Ridge Parkway through more Mountain Vistas leaving Mount Mitchell behind.

Past unique trees.

On our way up to Crabtree Falls. 

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Craggy Gardens

Craggy Gardens is at mile post 367.6.  Craggy Garden’s visitor center is located further up the road at mile post 364.5.  If coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway access East Asheville, Craggy Gardens picnic area is approximately a 24-mile drive.  Craggy Gardens is recognized by the state of North Carolina as a Natural Heritage Area.  The views on the way up to Craggy Gardens are beautiful as well as at Craggy Gardens.  Peak time is the month of June.  These photos were taken in July and a couple in August. 

The day I went it had finished raining and the water was flowing good in the streams and off the rocks that line the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Not soon after they had to close the Blue Ridge Parkway for repairs due to a crack that had opened up in the road, most likely due to all the rain we got last summer and it coming down the rocks onto the road.

The mountain vistas are beautiful.

Off to the right in the middle of the folds of mountains is a waterfall but I’m not quite sure which one it is.

You will drive through a series of tunnels that have been built into the rocks and have foliage growing surrounding them and upon them.

Another Blue Ridge mountain vista. 

This is the picnic area.

And these little buggers call it home. 

And they like to know what is going on at all times.

And don’t even think about getting near their coveted prize or they will squawk at you, proclaiming their territory … yes, they are the Red Squirrels of Craggy Gardens.

The coveted prize – a leftover hamburger bun from a picnicker. 

So on to why people come here – the Rhododendrons. 

Pink, purple, and white rhododendrons fill the area up in early Summer. 

This is how they look after peak times and the buds have fallen off.

Further up the road is the Craggy Garden’s visitor center and more mountain vistas.

There are also other native wildflowers and plants.

And Mockernut Hickory trees as well as other native trees.

And you can look up the road and see the tunnel that will lead you to Mount Mitchell.

On to Mount Mitchell for my next posting.  : )

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Princess Snow

I’m going to digress today on my blog to where it all started for me, turning from an occasional hiker to an avid hiker and from a fine artist to a nature photographer/passionate birder.  It’s a good topic also, since the Winter of 2013/2014 has seen a Snowy Owl invasion unlike any since the Winter of 1926/27 (according to North Jersey.com article, “North Jersey birders delighted by snowy owl invasion”).  According to the article, when lemmings peak, the Snowy Owls produce larger clutches, then force their babes out to fly South to find food.

The Winter of 2011/2012 sent one of those darlings down to Merrill Creek Reservoir about a half-hour from where I was living at the time in New Jersey.  We all ‘flocked’ (no pun intended – well maybe ; )) to see her.  I nicknamed her, Princess Snow.  There she was that first day I saw her, sleeping in a tree.  A hiking group had already exhausted her.  I know because I overslept and was suppose to be with them.  By the time I got to visit her, she was tuckered out. 

Princess Snow in the flesh. 

I am a friendly sort, so I started talking to the ‘birders’ there and found them to be very friendly also.  I went back to see Princess Snow several times that Winter and started hanging with the birders and an older wildlife photographer who let me look through his scope (because she liked to fly up on the rocks and hunt from there) and he would tell me different birder stories.  I thought to myself, these birders are great people so I became one. 

Princess Snow departed in the Spring.  I believe it was sometime in April 2012.  I like to believe Princess Snow made it safely back up to the Arctic, found a handsome and good provider of a mate, and had little Snowy Owls herself.  I know for a fact, she left a lasting impression on me as well as other birders and spectators.  So here’s to the Snowy Owl invasion – may they all safely make it back home.  Those whom are being rehabilitated (like the one here in WNC) may they recover fully and be released to fly safely home also and have babes (yes, I know that’s not the technical term). 

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Grandfather Mountain

This is one of my favorite places.  I am a member here and come at least once a year but now I live closer so I will visit more often.  Grandfather Mountain is situated in Linville, NC.  It is North of where I live right now, so it gets more snow and ice than I do.  Grandfather Mountain is not only a great place to hike, but it also has wildlife habitats.  Also, it has a little shop and a FUDGE SHOP!  That’s right.  There’s chocolate on that mountain.  : )

Depending on how you travel there you may hit Brown Mountain first.  Brown Mountain is famous for ‘lights’.  Apparently at night you can see lights or orbs around Brown Mountain.  There may be a geographic reason for this though.  Years ago I saw a show that reported on lights near where I grew up in NJ.  We natives refer to it as “the Hooker Man” but it may just be the way the quartz electromagnetically reacts to atmospheric changes.  If you want to know the story of “the Hooker Man” I suggest reading Weird NJ.

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Brown Mountain.

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Brown Mountain.

After we pay our admission or flash our membership card, we will enter the gate and head up the mountain.  On your way up on the right is a picnic area.  This also has a little loop for hiking also. 

There is also a wood shop where you can purchase hand made plaques and items and watch the woodsman work.

Here we are.  Great elevation but we are still on our way up. 

We have to stop off at the Sphinx Rock, because everyone does and right around the corner (within a short walking distance) is the FUDGE SHOP!!!

Fudge shop.

Next we will go up and then round the bend and stop off at the Wildlife Habitats.  Lets stop at the Deer Habitat first.

Then the Cougar (or Mountain Lion).

Then the River Otters.

Next the Eagles.  The first photo is of Wilma (God Rest Her Soul).  Wilma died in 2010. 

The next is a Golden Eagle that is no longer there unless used for an educational raptor.

I Love Golden Eagles. 

This is the current Bald Eagle at Grandfather Mountain.

Around the Wildlife Habitats and the Gift Shop building you will see flowers.  These are Day Lilies. 

Instead of driving all the way to the top where you can park, I always park at the first level parking and hike up through the trails so I can see the floral and fauna and yes I have seen wild animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and white-tailed deer.

And the beautiful Rhododendrons. 

So I made it to the top and here are the magnificent views. 

This photo below with the tower on is actually Grandmother Mountain or so I was told.  I guess you don’t want a bachelor mountain.  : )

There are viewers on the mountain for you to look through. 

And you don’t want to miss walking on the Mile High Bridge.  They close the bridge if the winds are too strong. 

So we are heading back down the mountain so I can show you the best part of Grandfather Mountain and that is …

The Grandfather Mountain Bears. 

And they look forward to seeing you, especially if you have nuts, seeds, and honey.  : )  Something nutritious please. 

I Love the Bears. 

I will be writing more about Grandfather Mountain when the weather gets warmer.  I am a member so as soon as the weather gets warmer I will head up the mountain. 

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Lehigh Valley Zoo – Part Two

In part two I am going to begin with one of my favorite residents of the zoo and that is Cranky.  Cranky (the name they gave to him) is an African Spurred Tortoise and he has the most expressive face of any reptile I have seen.  When it is winter he stays inside with the Kookaburra.  In Spring and Summer you may see him sash-saying around the grass eating by the Guinea Hens. 

A little ways down from Cranky with have two more smaller Tortoises, Kangaroos, the Aoudads, Camels, Wallabies, Onyxes, and Zebras. 

Next come three of the animals I also love which are the Gray Fox (up there with Cranky), the Canadian Lynx, and the Bobcat.

Louie (his name) the Gray Fox.  Louie came to them from a smaller zoo within past few years and is adjusting well.

Lexi was someone’s pet for a year before they realized they could not raise her and she has been at the zoo over 10 years.  I found a kindred spirit in Lexi.  She’s a good girl. 

Shitz-pa (spg?) hangs on usually on her branch in the front unless too many visitors are there and she wants privacy.   I saw her eying one of the Peacocks who was sitting close to her pen one day. 

These are the beautiful Palominos at the zoo who once lived out on the Trexler Game Preserve.  They were moved in so the zoo could take care of them and they are getting older.  I believe my friend at the zoo told me that they are around 30 years old each.  They don’t look a day over 19.

Then there are the Mexican Wolves, whom last I knew were on the endangered list along with Red Wolves.  Why do people kill animals they don’t understand?  These wolves are at the zoo for their protection and to eventually be used in breeding.  They offer a wolf feed where you can watch them devour a deer (most likely road kill).  It’s interesting to watch because you can witness the ‘pack’ mentality.  I may decide to post my photos of it at a later time here.

There is a Porcupine and several Raptor habitats and you will round out at the Lemurs.  This little pair (one male and one female) like to hang out in their tree.  I believe the male has the reddish face.  Anyway, you may witness the Lemur feed also which will allow you to get better photos of them, because they tend to be reclusive. 

Since I’ve been there (almost a year ago) they have added some new animals.  I believe they got a Raccoon and a Skunk.  Their map can be found here.  http://lvzoo.org/zoo_map.cfm

On your way out don’t forget to cross the fjord, so you can get a glimpse of the elk herd. 

I nicknamed him King Wapiti.  He has a harem of females.

And the herd of Buffalo.  My friend, Kelly, at the zoo fought to allow the Buffalo to breed and so there are babies now.  I can’t wait to go up and see them again.  Hopefully this Easter. 

The Lehigh Valley Zoo is one of the nicer zoos I have gone to.  Also you can hike on the Trexler Game Preserve.  It is well worth the trip and every visit helps the birds, animals, and reptiles get fed, have shelter, and veterinary care.  Please do not boycott zoos because you think you are helping the animals because you are not.  Many of these animals come to the zoo because they are endangered, suffer from a medical condition, or have been imprinted upon and can not survive out in the wild.  Please support your zoos.  : )

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