We don't get out much during the busy season between Labor Day and Veteran's Day, so it was a real treat to finally find ourselves with the time to take a short hike on a small, relatively unknown part of an otherwise popular trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway near The Windover Inn. Even though most of the fall color is gone from the mountains, I think this less colorful canvass is still spectacular, maybe even more so, in revealing the contours and textures of the terrain, itself, just days after the trees have bared their last leaves.
We access the trail from the Black Balsam Knob road which turns off the parkway near mile marker 420 and park at the spot where the famous Art Loeb Trail crosses this road. The Art Loeb is a scenic hike that can take you all the way up to Cold Mountain. Backpacker magazine rates this 30 mile trail as the second most scenic 'big alpine' hike in the US. We head the other way down toward the Devil's Courthouse on the Mountain-to-Sea trail.
Immediately upon leaving the road we find ourselves in the middle of a mystical pine forest which even on a cool fall afternoon imparts a calming warmth to this hiker. The forest floor is composed of packed down pine needles which create a soft 'thud' as our guide's energetic boxer dashes back and forth in his frantic love affair with the great outdoors! We emerge from this primeval forest onto an open area with steep drop offs to our left toward the Parkway below and the occasional escarpment left behind from the last Ice Age. Soon we are enveloped by a similar pine forest. Further on rhody canapes allow daggers of sunlight to create a contrasting maze of shadows through the gnarly trunks, branches, and rhody leaves all around us. The trail rises and falls gently along narrow rivulets that, today, are puddled from recent rain, but still easily traversed. The trickiest part of the hike is to navigate between the exposed rhody roots and rocky outcrops that trip me up every now and then. But, overall, this hike of about two miles round trip can be rated as 'easy'.
After about a mile the trail opens to a rocky outcrop that provides stunning views of the entire mountainous region across and to the south of the Blue Ridge Parkway which meanders along below carrying the occasional vehicle and playing 'peekaboo' between the undergrowth. This is as clear a day we are likely to find, and we can easily see the town of Brevard about 15 miles away beyond the big rock in the foreground better known as Looking Glass Rock. It's too easy to use the word 'spiritual' in this part of the country, but that is certainly the feeling one gets here. The mile hike back to the car is spent thinking about how wonderful this part of the country is, and how I wish we could get out more!