Experts: potential for great fall foliage in Carolinas (copy)

It won't be long before the fall foliage will start in Western North Carolina. It's a quick drive up 1-26 to reach the base of the mountains. 

It’s good that we, for the most part, still have five-day workweeks. Otherwise, we’d all use three-day weekend opportunities this time of year to zip up I-26 to a spectacular part of the world that remains a relatively quiet and unspoiled sanctuary. Because that’s what western North Carolina is, and it both amazes and horrifies me that I hadn’t visited in at least two years, particularly since Saluda, our usual destination, is readily accessible at 240 miles and a comfortable 3½- to 4-hour drive.

Yet after a full day of work on Friday it’s easy to talk oneself out of that kind of thing — particularly when you’re going to have to turn right around and come back a couple of days later. But sometimes one just has to pack up and hit the road, which is exactly what my daughter and I did earlier this month, leaving about 6 p.m. and getting in about 10. We encountered rain in Sparkle City and later in Tryon while beginning the beautiful and timeless ascent up Highway 176, which was shrouded in mist and raindrops.

I’ve never fully understood the geography of the area, the streams, springs and so forth, but there have always been a couple of small waterfalls that cascade down the rocky face of the mountain between Tryon and Saluda and practically splash onto 176, adding incredible visual charm and the feeling that one is entering a completely different world. We noted at least four extra small waterfalls along the way this trip, an obvious consequence of all the rain they’ve been having, and were amazed by the damage from a landslide that took out what was one of the most attractive and presumably historic log cabins en route.

By the time we got to Saluda the temperature was a cool and refreshing 72 degrees, the cicadas were chanting in pulsatile rhythms back and forth as bullfrogs added intermittent bass notes, the air was pure and fragrant and we knew we were in the midst of classic Appalachian nocturne.

The whole area is just so hypnotically refreshing — if that makes any sense — and the trip well worth the effort even with those time constraints (or at least well worth it a lot more than once every two years). We had a great weekend and are talking about going back up — just need to make it happen.

Speaking of I-26, there’s an interesting aspect to its design near Orangeburg, right near mile marker 154 and just northwest of where Highway 301 crosses over, which I’ve never understood. For some reason, the interstate divides and encloses a fairly large and elliptical-shape piece of land for no apparent reason other than nice visual aesthetics. Perhaps there’s an old abandoned cemetery or some such in the middle of it that engineers didn’t want to disturb, but that’s just a guess.

Solving a mystery

And further speaking of the great outdoors, a friend of mine who manages property on the South Santee had installed an automated feeding device that dispenses corn at specified time intervals. It stood well out of reach height-wise of feral hogs that are known to wander the area and even the largest boars hadn’t attempted to disturb it or knock it over.

One day, he went out to inspect the area and restock the corn supply and was shocked to find the feeder knocked to the ground and essentially mangled beyond use. This was a most extraordinary finding and the question was what massive woodland beast would be capable of such destruction? He decided to install a camera with night vision to solve the mystery.

Expecting to find hogzilla, the camera instead very clearly revealed a large black bear — a first on that property to anyone’s knowledge that I’m aware of during my lifetime, although I have heard of occasional sightings on the North Santee in recent years. Another question therefore is whether the black bear population is overall rising and/or are they simply reclaiming prior ranging areas?

Upcoming ‘Indigo Girl’ exhibit

My friend Madge Hallett is pleased to help promote an upcoming special exhibit at the Powder Magazine Museum located at 79 Cumberland St. on Saturday, Sept. 15 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday, Sept. 16 (1-4 p.m.).

The exhibit, titled "In Her Own Words: Eliza Lucas Pinckney," explores excerpts of a letter written by Mrs. Pinckney, an 18th-century agricultural icon who introduced indigo to South Carolina, and additional articles of intrigue. The weekend will also include an indigo demonstration and conversations with Natasha Boyd, author of "The Indigo Girl: A Novel."

For more information, visit www.Powder Mag.org

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@comcast.net.