Gorge-ous North Carolina

Thursday, August 09, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

A High Country High, Day 1:  Linville Caverns, Falls, and Gorge

After converging in Charlotte for lunch with Grandma (Ken's mother) yesterday, we all reconvened in Blowing Rock at our mountain home away from home.  This marks the ninth summer we have shared a week of family vacation in North Carolina's High Country— Marion, Ryan, Heather, Emma and the two of us.  Until 2010, Grandma joined us each year, too, but she has curtailed her travel activities and prefers to stay home.

Tasker Cabin
Though they are located near Blowing Rock, we had never visited Linville Caverns, active limestone caverns discovered by fishermen in 1822.  Privately owned, the caverns have been open for tours since 1930, and today we joined in the line of tourists paying for a 30-minute guided tour— reasonably priced at $7.50.  

The temps in the mountains this morning were a nice relief from the searing summer we've been experiencing, but the caverns were even cooler— 52 degrees and quite damp and drippy.  Our tour guide was a local young woman with a charming mountain accent, who educated us on the history of the caverns (formed 22 million years ago), the resident critters (blind trout, bats, spiders, salamanders, centipedes, and a few others), and the formations that decorate the cavern walls and ceiling.   

Algae-covered stalactite
We also learned about Civil War deserters, both Confederate and Union, who camped out in the cavern during the war, leaving behind evidence of their presence including a cobbler's bench.  Though the formations were fascinating, one of the most revealing features of the tour occurred when the guide extinguished all lights to demonstrate the true meaning of total darkness.  As we stood in the black world, beginning to understand why animals who live there become blind, our guide told us the story of a couple of local boys who skipped school in 1915 to go caving, carrying one lantern.  When the light-bearing boy lost his balance, the lantern snuffed out and they had no way to re-light it.  Groping their way by following the current of a stream, they crawled out of the blackness in two days, forever disavowing any further underground exploration.

Linville Falls (upper falls)
Leaving the caverns, we drove to nearby Linville Falls, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch before checking out the upper falls, where Emma met a young pup named Charlie.  With a genuine affection for all things canine, she eagerly greets every dog she encounters.

Emma chats with Charlie and his owner
From the upper falls area, we hiked up to Chimney View Overlook, which provided us a view of the lower falls as well as a letterbox nearby.  After stamping in, we retraced our steps back to the caverns, where we had missed a box hidden near the entrance drive.

With nothing else on the agenda, we began our homeward journey to the cabin.  Rather than returning on the same familiar track, Ken took a turn onto County Line Road to see where it might lead.  A few miles in, the smooth gravel surface turned into a rutted, washboard carnival ride, but we pressed on, hoping it might soon lead to a paved road.  

Linville Gorge from Wiseman's View
Eventually, we stumbled upon Wiseman's View, a rock outcropping near the center of Linville Gorge.  The overlook afforded a stunning panorama of the gorge nicknamed the Grand Canyon of North Carolina, as well as the Linville River 1,400 feet below.

Rather than continuing on County Line Road, we followed the guidance of some fellow visitors to the overlook and returned the way we had come, emerging back onto NC-183 and headed to the local Harris Teeter supermarket for dinner supplies.

Back at the cabin, Heather cooked up a delicious tajine, a dish with Berber origins, served over rice.  A friendly game of Pictionary after dinner capped off an excellent day.  We made plans to visit Roan Mountain tomorrow and headed off to our respective bedrooms.

DAILY STATS:
  • Weather:  Hazy, clear, rain, 61° to 81°
  • Letterboxes found:  3
  • Blind fish in Linville Caverns:  56
  • Stalactites:  3,582
  • Stalagmites:  2,904
  • Potholes on County Line Road:  297
  • Trees in Linville Gorge:  457,101
 More Photos from Today
Inside the caverns
Cavern formations
More limestone formations
Rainbow and brown speckled trout inside Linville Caverns
Information cabin near Linville Falls
Linville River near falls
Stamping in near Linville Caverns