Leaf-peeper trip to the mountains

  • Chairs behind the Pisgah Inn in Canton, N.C., on the Blue Ridge Parkway provide comfortable viewing of seasonal colors. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    Chairs behind the Pisgah Inn in Canton, N.C., on the Blue Ridge Parkway provide comfortable viewing of seasonal colors. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

I know I wrote in my last column there is a lot of fall color to see here in North Florida, but I couldn’t resist dragging Bucko on a leaf-peeper trip to view the leaves this season further north. 

And dragging Bucko is what it took, for sure. Bucko is a flatland, coastal person who grew up on flat Long Island, N.Y., close to the bay. Hills, mountains and winding, steep roads are not his thing. And to make matters worse, he is severely colorblind. Red and green look the same to him, all various shades of something I can only guess is more like gray.  

So, here we were, finally, along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina near the peak of fall colors, and all he could say, patiently, “Is that tree red?” “No, Honey, it’s orange.” “What about that one?” “Still green.” But I loved every minute of it, except when Bucko got fed up, which he tried to postpone as long as he could for my sake. That’s what a long-term marriage is all about, I guess.

Nonethe-less, this brief trip away was a fun change of pace, mostly, for both of us. On the way to the mountains we enjoyed some time in the coastal plains of South Carolina, but that’s another story.

Approaching the mountains we first visited Pearson’s Falls, a strong flowing waterfall in a nature reserve in Saluda, N.C., with only a quarter-mile hike to reach it. It was encouraging to see family groups with young children and people who looked like a quarter-mile was their limit of endurance, all having a great, albeit socially distanced, time admiring the falls. The day was sunny and warm. Shrubs with purple flowers were blooming along the trail, and on our way back down, we had a fun interaction – at a safe distance – with a young mother and her two children who thought they found a snake. It was only a stick, but what the heck, it was fun talking to them all.

Even though our hotel reservations were made at the last minute in the prime season in this region, I found us a good place in Flat Rock, N.C., at a lakeside resort about 30 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The pandemic has kept the tourist numbers down, and on the two weekdays we were there, we often had stretches of the parkway all to ourselves. 

Each overlook attracted a handful of cars, but there was plenty of room to social distance. The Pisgah Inn restaurant was only open for guests at the inn and by advance reservations, but their chairs facing the valley were open for one and all to sit and admire the view. Perfect.

Descending the mountain on a back road was an adventure too — twisty turns and not another car or human habitation in sight most of the way. Luckily, we had no problems, or we would have been in trouble as there was no cellphone or GPS access all along the route.

But maybe our most fun was in the little town of Flat Rock itself. At the end of a day of looking at breathtaking (for me) or boring (for him) trees, it was time to reward ourselves with a cold beer. Nothing much was open in Flat Rock, it seemed, until we parked our car and walked behind the main street. And there we found it — the Hubba Hubba Smokehouse — complete with outdoor seating in a courtyard on this perfect fall day.

As we savored our beer, a spectator arrived to watch us. A silky rooster! This mop-top fowl strolled right on over to us and pecked at the ground, picking up tidbits of whatever and seemed totally unfazed by our presence. Of course, I inquired about him and learned this was “James Brown,” a resident of the patio and environs for years along with four hens, including one guinea fowl, that seemed to get along with the group, too. So, as animal lovers to the core, we enjoyed watching James Brown and were amused by the reactions of other diners who noticed him, too.

I’m not sure Bucko and I will make it to the mountains next fall, but who knows? And between you and me, I’m already lobbying to get him back up there in the spring to see the azaleas and rhododendrons. Wish me luck!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.