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The Color of Fall
Published Tuesday, November 03, 2009 2:03 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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I hate being late to a party yet we are never on time. I will not point fingers -- I have learned that is rude. The problem with being late -- you are always at the tail end of a conversation or at the end of the food line. The night is spent playing catchup.

That is how I felt as I drove out down I26 towards Asheville, NC. As I drove, I could see the wind briskly blowing through the trees and carrying away the few leaves left. First I cursed the wind, then I started driving faster.

Climbers cross the face of Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard.

In reality it was my fault, I waited too long to experience the changing of the leaves. All year I have been told of the glorious colors of fall along the Blue Ridge Parkway -- it was the must see event! Too many things got in the way and I frantically drove to catch the last of the season.

The parkway, which passes through Asheville, extends from Virginia to North Carolina and is one of the most scenic routes in the country. A friend of mine said he tried to drive the entire 469 miles of the parkway one summer but couldn't bear to drive 40 m.p.h. behind RVs for the entire trip.

A view up through the canopy of trees in Pisgah National Forest.

Looking Glass Rock

I started my search for fall colors in Pisgah National Forest, specifically Looking Glass Rock. The Rock is actually the remnant of a long dormant magma plume that never made it to the surface to become a volcano. Time and erosion exposed the large plume of rock which is popular to climb but also offers a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The trail to the top of the mountain is just over 3 miles and a map said it takes 4-6 hours to complete the journey to the top and back. Even with the sun quickly setting and a large pack full of camera gear on my back, I figured this was still feasible.

Trees of different colors surround a pond at Biltmore Estates.

Armed with only camera gear, I headed to the top. At the juncture I would like to point out I am not the most experienced hiker. I know this because an experienced hiker would have taken water, food, maps, a compass or even a watch as they made the journey. Nope, that would have made sense, I live life on the wild side.

The sun shines through the leaves.

Off I went and the first part of the hike was fairly easy. I was blazing trails up the mountain and passing other hikers who needed water and a break. Not me of course -- first because I had no water and would have looked silly just standing there staring at them and also I was on a mission to see the summit.

At one point, after eyeing the position of the sun on the horizon, I thought about turning back but ran into a great group of people coming down the mountain carrying a dog who said I was half way there and it was worth the hike to see the view. They were old and carrying a dog, how hard can this be?

Leaves collect in The Lagoon near the Biltmore house.

Sometimes I really wish I had a point and shoot camera. You know, the type that weighs less than my smallest lens and fits easily in the pocket. That backpack was murder on my shoulders and legs... they still hurt as I type.

The top seemed to never come until I encountered another gentleman who said I was almost there but this last part of the climb was the steepest. Wonderful because I was looking for a real challenge and my backpack only felt like a small car on my back. Sure would be nice had I thought to bring water.

A drive through the Biltmore Estates.

I won't lie, the summit was beautiful, I really don't think pictures do it justice. Standing on the edge of the rock plume, I had an unobstructed view in almost every direction. I could see the Blue Ridge Parkway, a large portion of Pisgah and, to my surprise, many trees still covered in gold and red leaves.

I sat there for probably an hour taking pictures, relaxing and taking in the view when I realized the sun was quickly making its exit.

A brick bridge over the Bass Pond at the Biltmore Estates

I quickly put on my backpack, took a drink of water... no wait, I mean I wanted a drink of water. Oh well, I headed down the mountain thinking how cool water would have been.

If you pay attention to no other part of this blog, I can't believe you are still reading by the way, pay attention to this -- DON'T LEAVE THE TRAIL! I utter this statement from experience, I am notorious for leaving the path to find my own way. Never has this really served me well but it is a hard habit to break.

The view of the Pisgah National Forest from Looking Glass Rock.

As I headed down the trail and noticed I was in a race with the sun -- a small path presented itself to me. It called, I answered and before long I was making great time down the mountain. I entered the marked trail once more and was on my way. Instead of counting myself lucky, I searched for another path to cut down my time on the mountain. Sure enough, the trail that would suck every last drop on energy out of my body was perfectly lit by the sun as I approached... I still feel the sun was taunting me.

About 300 yards down this small path I ran out of trail. Thinking how silly it would be to turn back, I forged on and traveled deeper into the woods. I meandered through the woods for what seemed like 20 minutes before I heard the sound of a stream. I headed toward it thinking it would lead me in a straight path down the mountain at least to a road or another trail.

The path I took got steeper and before I knew it, the ground gave out under me. Me and one heavy backpack filled with expensive camera gear went sliding down the mountain. Frantically trying to stop, I reached out and grabbed a branch.

The last of the leaves wait to fall.

I stopped, only after I was covered in mud and leaves. It was a good look on me. The river did cross the trail and I did finally get to the car. Bruised and beat up, I headed to Asheville for the night.

Moral of the story -- obey the signs and DON'T LEAVE THE TRAIL.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (4)

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All about color...
Tuesday, November 10, 2009 2:49 PM

Great job in capturing these breathtaking photographs of our beloved mountain here in NC

Posted by: Teuschler
Too much fun
Monday, November 09, 2009 12:17 PM

Don't get off the trail - you had me cracking up! The photos were gorgeous but the narrative was the best. I can see you sliding down that mountain now. Thanks for starting my Monday off with a laugh.

Posted by: Joanne
Asheville Visit
Wednesday, November 04, 2009 2:18 PM

Great pictures and post. Glad to hear it all turned out for the best :)

Posted by: @h0zae
Wednesday, November 04, 2009 12:58 PM

Beautiful pictures but I've got to say this blog cracked me up! Sounds like an adventurous trip! haha

Posted by: Marketing Assistant

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