JARS v47n3 - Come and See Us in the Bonnie Blue Ridge Mountains, Part 1

Come and See Us in the Bonnie Blue Ridge Mountains, Part 1
August E. Kehr
Hendersonville, North Carolina

The annual meeting of the American Rhododendron Society will be held at Asheville, N.C., in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains on May 4-8, 1994. This article is a preliminary bit of information about these mountains, the nearby areas, the people and the plants that are characteristic of the Blue Ridge region. The Scottish slogan is in recognition and honor of the many Scots that first settled in the area and still continue their native customs in annual highland games and Scottish Folk dances.

Form of R. calendulaceum found at 
Jane Bald
An unusual form of R. calendulaceum found at Jane Bald on
Roan Mountain with staminoid petals and fluorescent color pigment.
Photo by August Kehr

Sights and Sounds of the Blue Ridge
What can you expect when you visit the Bonnie Blue Ridge? Here are a few of its earmarks:

Moonshiners: The Blue Ridge once was full of them. The site and remains of one still can be visited on one of the garden tours (Kehr & Larus Gardens).

Ghosts: They have been reported, but I have not seen them. You can visit "Bugger Branch" which runs through the above gardens where a ghost searches for his buried money along a mountain stream - we provide you with the stream. You provide the ghost for yourselves.

Legends: They abound everywhere, similar to "Barbry Allen" and the Hatfield and McCoy feuds.

Scenic Wonders: These also abound everywhere, but especially on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we will travel by bus.

Wildflowers: The Blue Ridge boasts of one of the richest flora in the world. "The Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas" lists about 2,500 species of plants. Where else can you see that many different flowering plants? The family of Ericaceae alone fills 24 pages in this manual.

Frescoes: I am told that the only frescoes existing in America are those in two small churches on the Parkway located at Glendale Springs and nearby West Jefferson. These are not on the tours, but are easily reached by car. A North Carolina young man, Ben Long, studied this art in Italy. These are said to be the most beautiful frescoes since Michelangelo.

Battlegrounds: None exist closer than Kings Mountain (American Revolution), but Indian battles occurred throughout the area.

Indians: Cherokee Reservation at western end of the Parkway is home to 3,000 Cherokee Indians. Several museums and attractions display this culture and history.

Crafts: Crafts abound everywhere. Try the Farmers Market in Hendersonville, where they are sold by genuine mountain people, also the more sophisticated Folk Art Center at Asheville on mile 382 on the Parkway, operated by the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild.

Early Industry: Visit the above Folk Art Center for demonstrations, also Biltmore Industries and Museum on grounds of Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

Explorer Trails: Hundreds in the Great Smokies. The entire Blue Ridge Parkway is itself a glorified explorer trail.

Pioneer Villages: Try Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There is none better anywhere.

Hiking: Try the above, or join in a hike on Friday during the convention with the Carolina Botanical Club. (Check with the registration desk.)

Camping: Grounds abound everywhere. Just make your choice. Check at registration desk.

Native Dancing: You will be entertained by real Scottish Cloggers. North Carolina has many such groups.

Grassy Mountain Balds: The most famous are Wayah Bald and Gregory Bald. However, the azaleas are at their peak in mid June. There are about 15-20 balds of which no one knows the origin, and why there are no trees there.

Rhododendron trusses from Gregory 
Sampling of trusses from Gregory Bald, where there is a hybrid swarm
of R. calendulaceum , R. bakeri , R. viscosum and R. arborescens .
Photo by August Kehr

Motoring: Nothing can beat the Blue Ridge Parkway, but don't try to hurry. There is a 40 mph speed limit.

Elizabethan English: Listen for it when you visit a place like the Hendersonville Farmers' Market.

Historic Sites: Carl Sandburg home. (You will pass it on some of the garden visits.) Many ante bellum homes in Flat Rock, such as Tranquility which we will pass on one of the garden tours into Tranquility Place.

Stately Mansions: None better anywhere than Biltmore House in Asheville where 1,000 workmen labored for five years to build it.

Farmers' Market: This market in Hendersonville has been in operation for over 50 years, and is operated by good mountain folks with hand-made crafts, foods, plants, walking sticks, and items too numerous to mention. I enjoy this market and its people fully, and I know you will, too. Open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

The Blue Ridge Mountains
The name of these mountains comes from the characteristic blue color of the countless distant peaks. It has been said the blue color comes from an interaction of the pure mountain air with volatile substances that arise from the pines and firs which are the predominant vegetation on the mountain sides. In my own opinion, the blue color of the mountains is a function derived from the characteristically intense blue color of the sky. On a clear day the sky is a deep, deep blue. It is not by accident that this area is known as "The Land of the Deep Blue Sky," author Christian Reid, 1876.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the Appalachian Range that extends for 1,575 miles, starting with the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec to Alabama and Georgia. The Appalachians are the oldest mountain range in North America, and one of the oldest anywhere. When they were first formed there was probably no life on this planet except some primitive plants. It is believed, with some degree of substantiation, that the hoary and ancient peaks, before they were reduced in size by the various weather factors to today's worn-down remnant peaks, towered higher than any peaks known today. Furthermore, they are so old that fossil remains are rare because the rocks were laid down in a period that pre-dated life itself. Geologists have discovered layers of rocks called the Ocoee Series believed to be 600 million years old.

An excellent description of the mountains given by the geologist Philip King pretty well characterizes these mountains: "The Appalachian chain is the most elegant on earth and structures persist virtually from one end to the other - from the first appearance from beneath the sea in Newfoundland, to its final disappearance under the Gulf Coastal Plain in Alabama. What a contrast to the twisted and contorted mountain chains of middle Europe, or to the confusion of superimposed rocks and structures of our own western 'cordillera'."

Part II of "Come and See Us in the Bonnie Blue Ridge Mountains" will be continued in the Fall 1993 issue of the Journal.