Waterfall Hunting in the Blue Ridge

Bubbling Spring Falls

Bubbling Spring Falls, 2018

Holli and I discovered this waterfall last fall maybe a mile or so off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Waynesville, NC. We were actually on our way from Bryson City to check out the Sierra Nevada brewery that had recently been built in Asheville, taking the back roads in order to enjoy the fall colors. I wasn't necessarily planning on going waterfall hunting that day, but the opportunity just happened to present itself. I didn't even know it had a name until I looked it up on Google Maps when we got home. I expect to find that the locals actually call it by some different name than what The Google spit out. But for now, I'm calling it Bubbling Spring 'cause that's all I got.

A Friend of the Devil

Bubbling Spring Falls is located in the Pisgah National Forest in Haywood County, NC. It sits in a valley below a popular overlook called Devil’s Courthouse that you can hike up to from the Blue Ridge Parkway. But we didn’t climb it that day. Actually, we never do the Courthouse hike, because it’s always too damn crowded. Sometimes when you drive past it on the Parkway on a particularly nice day, the line of hikers strung out between the overfull parking lot and the summit looks like something you'd see in those old photos of the Klondike gold rush, where there was that endless line of hopeful prospectors climbing the Chilkoot Pass in search of their fortune.

Devil's Courthouse is also the name of an awesome Belgian ale from Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City. I drink one (and only one - 9.5% ABV in a well crafted brew has a way of sneaking up on you!) pretty much every time I'm there, but always with a twinge of guilt because I've never actually climbed its namesake rock. Someday...

Anyway, while the views from outcrops like the Devil's Courthouse are certainly breathtaking and worth the slog, some of the best of nature's treasures are found in the valleys below. There's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of oh, around a billion-and-a-half waterfalls in the creeks and rivers that drain the Blue Ridge, and it usually feels like whichever one you happen to be viewing at the moment is without a doubt the most beautiful of all. Which is totally what feeds the waterfall hunting addiction!

Leafs and Rocks

I mentioned above that we were doing some leaf peeping as one does when one is in the mountains in the fall, but as it turned out, the colors in Western NC were just meh in fall of 2017. They were also pretty underwhelming in New York before we started driving south, but we figured that if the fall colors sucked up north, they would hopefully become more vibrant the further south we traveled since NY was supposedly "past peak" at the time. But no. Even the Shenandoah was relatively lackluster in the color department that year when we passed through. although you gotta admit that the Shenandoah is flat-out gorgeous even on the dreariest day of the year.

Finally, since I'm also a bit of a geology geek, I like to know exactly what kind of rocks I happen to be looking at. Not that I necessarily try to paint the rocks to look scientifically accurate - for example, I exaggerated the reddish-orange colors in this painting just for visual effect. But while many folks like to make note of the flowers and plants they see along mountain trails, I'm usually marveling at the rocks:

Holli: "Oh, look - a Jack-in-the-pulpit!"
Me: "You mean that plant right there next to that ledge of muscovite-biotite gneiss?"
Holli: "NERD!"

Yes, my handy-dandy NC Geologic Map (of course I just happen to have one of those lying around – doesn’t everybody?) says that the surface rock in the area is "part of the Ashe Metamorphic Suite: Muscovite-biotite gneiss – locally sulfidic; interlayered and gradational with mica schist; minor amphibolite and hornblende gneiss.” What that means in English is that it's a pretty typical, extremely old (~500 million years) type of Appalachian Mountain rock which in this area tends to contain a lot of the mineral mica, which gives the rock a nice sparkle.