The Mountain Region of North Carolina
Appleton’s Journal, March 1877
By Christian Reid
It is safe to assert that there is no part of that vast extent of country, which lies between the St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Mexico, that is so slightly known, and so little appreciated as the mountain region of North, Carolina. While the White Mountains and the Adirondacks are yearly thronged with tourists and the mountains of Virginia have been for half a century known to pleasure-seekers, these wild and beautiful highlands are to-day less visited, less writ ten of, and less talked of, than the defiles of the Sierra Nevada and the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Comparatively speaking, indeed, there are few persons who are even aware that the grandest sce nery east of the Mississippi is to be found where sire to enter a land where the great Appalachian system reaches its loftiest altitude, in North Carolina.
With the majority, this ignorance will probably continue so long as palace-cars do not penetrate into the country, and hotels with all the luxuries of civilization are not to be found there. But to those who love Nature well enough to be able to endure some inconvenience in order to behold here in her most enchanted phases; to those who have any desire to entere a land where the manners, customs and traditions of by-gone generations still linger; to those, above all, who can feel the loveliness of pastoral valleys, and the grandeur of cloud-girdled peaks, and who appreciate these things the more for a spice of difficulty and adventure, Western North Carolina offers a most attractive field, and is, after all (even from a nineteenth-century point of view), very easy of access.
Geographically considered, no one can fail to perceive the incomparable advantages of the region. Touching Virginia with its upper corner, and Georgia with its lower, bounded by Tennessee and South Carolina, this table-land possesses a climate which cannot be equaled in the Atlantic States. Its height -” for,” says an excellent authority on the subject, “nineteen-twentieths of the land is found between the elevations of eighteen hundred and thirty-five hundred feet above the ocean “-renders the atmosphere delightfully pure and bracing, while its southern latitude preserves it from harshness. It is at once invigorating and balmy, cool in summer, yet so mild in winter that it is very unusual for the ground to be covered with snow for a week at a time. Especially in the valleys, sheltered by the lofty mountain-chains, there is an equability of temperature so remarkable that it does not require the gift of prophecy to foresee that the country must in time become the greatest health-resort on the eastern slope of the continent.
That it has not already become so can only be attributed to the fact that it is still very much a terra incognita to invalids and tourists. Asheville and the Warm Springs enjoy a certain measure of fame-the first having of late come prominently into notice as a place of residences for consumptives; the last having for fifty or more years possessed in the Southern States a wide popularity as a watering-plase. Situated within three miles of the Tennessee border, on the banks of the rushing French Broad, where that river cuts its way through the Smoky Mountains, these healing springs are peculiarly accessible from the Gulf States. Mobile and New Orleans, as well as Nashville and Memphis, send representatives here every summer, who form a very agreeable society; but they are, as a rule, people who like the gay routine of wateringplace life, and who rarely penetrate into the moun tains, though the scenes of wild loveliness around might allure them to farther quest of the treasures which Nature hides in the folds of the great hills. On the high plateau of Henderson County another place of noted resort is found at Flat Rock, where, long before the war, a number of wealthy planters from the sea-coast of South Carolina erected sum mer residences, and where their beautiful homes still form a delightful neighborhood.
Within these limits Western Carolina may be said to be known-partially, at least-but beyond them lies county after county, rich in the most wonderful gifts of Nature, of which even Carolinians-” I speak this to their shame “-know less than they know of the Alps or the Yosemite. Let us take a glance at the map, to assist us in forming some idea of the extent of the region. We perceive that it is encircled by two great mountain-chains-the Blue Ridge forming its eastern boundary, the Great Smoky the western-within which lies an elevated land, two hundred and fifty miles in length, with an average breadth of fifty miles. It is also traversed by cross-chains, that run directly across the country, and from which spurs of greater or lesser height lead off in all directions. Of these transverse ranges there are four-the Black, the Balsam, the Cullowhee, and Nantahala. Between each lies a region of valleys, formed by the noble rivers and their minor tributaries, where a healthful atmosphere and picturesque surroundings are combined with a soil of singular fertility.
The Blue Ridge is the natural barrier dividing the waters falling into the Atlantic Ocean from those of the Mississippi Valley, and its bold and beautiful heights are better known than the grander steeps of the western chain. It abounds in scenery of the most romantic description. The streams that burst from the brows of the mountains leap down their sides in unnumbered flashing cascades, while cliffs and palisades of rock diversify the splendid sweep of towering peaks and lofty pinnacles, where
“A’wildering forest feathers o’er
The ruined sides and summits hoar.”
Especially when approached from the eastern side, the grandeur of this range is most perceptible, and along its entire course, from Virginia to Georgia, it is broken by gaps which in picturesque beauty cannot be rivaled. The most magnificent of these gateways is Hickory-Nut Gap, where for nine miles the traveler winds upward to the realm of the clouds along a narrow pass of inexpressible loveliness, hemmed before, around, and behind, by stately heights, the road no more than a shelf along the mountain – side, and far below the Broad River, whirling and foaming over its countless rocks amid a wilderness of almost tropical foliage. Then, when the top of the gap is reached-where for forty years has stood an excellent house of entertainment known as “Sherrill’s “-what a view of the land which one has entered is spread unto “the fine, faint limit of the bounding day!” Mountains, mountains, and yet again mountains, fading into the enchanting softness of azure distance, with a paradise of happy valleys lying between! From crested hill to level meadow, a greenness which is like a benediction clothes all the nearer prospect, while afar the swelling heights wear tints so heavenly that no artist’s pigments could reproduce them. A subtle sense of repose seems borne in every aspect of the scene. One feels that if any spot of earth holds a charm for a weary body, or disquieted spirit, that charm is here.
On the western side of this “land of the sky” runs the chain of the Great Smoky — comprising the groups of the Iron, the Unaka, and the Roan Mountains-which, from its massiveness of form and general elevation, is the master-chain of the whole Alleghany range. Though its highest summits are a few feet lower than the peaks of the Black Mountain, it presents a continuous series of high peaks which nearly approach that altitude-its culminating point, Clingman’s Dome, rising to the height of six thousand six hundred and sixty feet. Though its magnitude is much greater than that of the Blue Ridge, this range is cut at various points by the mountain-rivers, which with resistless impetuosity tear their way through the heart of its superb heights in gorges of terrific grandeur. Scenery grand as any which tourists cross a continent to admire is buried in these remote fastnesses, utterly unknown save to the immediate inhabitants of the country, and a few adventurous spirits who have penetrated thither. For the wild magnificence of the scenes along its water-ways, Western North Carolina cannot be surpassed. The fame of the French Broad has somewhat gone abroad, but who knows anything of the Pigeon and Tennessee, the Tuckaseege and Hiawassee? The beauties in which the lesser streams abound are scarcely heeded by the people themselves, and one finds glens in which the silver flush and rainbow-spray of tumultuous cataracts make the forest glorious, where one feels that the spot, as far as sightseers are concerned, is virgin indeed.
The most famous of the transverse ranges is that of the Black Mountain, the dominating peak of which is now well known to be the loftiest of the Atlantic summits. One is surprised to consider how long the exact height of these mountains remained undetermined, and Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, was esteemed the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains, while, in truth, not fewer than thirty peaks in North Carolina surpass it in altitude. The Black Mountain is a group of colossal heights, which attain their greatest elevation near the Blue Ridge. With its two great branches, it is more than twenty miles long, and its rugged sides are covered with a wilderness of almost inaccessible forest. Above a certain elevation, no trees are found save the balsam fir, from the dark color of which the mountain obtains its name. It is not likely that any one who has ever crossed the Blue Ridge by Swannanoa Gap will forget the first impression which the outlines of this range make on the mind. Sublimity and repose seem embodied in the sweeping lines of its massive shoulders, and its dark-blue peaks stand forth in relief, if the atmosphere chances to be clear, or wear a crown of clouds if it is at all hazy. During the season, parties of excursionists constantly visit it from Asheville, ascending the highest peak, and returning within three days; but to make the acquaintance of the mountain in a satisfactory manner a longer time is required.
Nevertheless, a great deal can be seen in even one visit to the summit of Mount Mitchell; and, although nothing is more uncertain than the weather of the Black, if the visitor is fortunate enough to find a clear day, he will obtain a view which is almost boundless in extent. All Western Carolina lies spread below him, together with portions of Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. He can trace across the breadth of the Old Dominion the long, undulating line of the Blue Ridge, which, entering North Carolina, passes under the Black, and thence runs southerly until it reaches South Carolina, when it turns to the west, and, making a curve, joins the Smoky near the northeast corner of Georgia. Overlooking this range, from his greater elevation, he sees every height in that part of North Carolina which lies east of it. Far away on the border of the two Carolinas stands a misty mound, which is King’s Mountain, of Revolutionary fame; and from this point the eye sweeps over an illimitable expanse, returning to where the spurs of the Blue Ridge cover the counties of Rutherford, Burke, and McDowell, with a network of hills.
Chief among these is the range of the Linville Mountains, through which the Linville River forces its way in a gorge of striking grandeur. This gorge is fifteen miles in length, and the heights which overshadow it are in many places not less than two thousand feet high. The river plunges into its dark depths in a beautiful fall, and then rushes forward over a bed of rock. Cliffs worn by the ceaseless action of the water into the most fantastic shapes lean over it, detached masses of granite strew its channel, and the tumult of its fretted water-only ceases when it falls now and then into crystal pools of placid gentleness. Along its course the Table-Rock rises with perpendicular face, the Hawkbill stands with curved beak of overhanging rock, and Short-off Mountain looks down on its dancing water.
Returning to the region west of the Blue Ridge, we find the Black diverging into two chains, one of which stretches northward, with a series of cone-like peaks rising along its dark crest, and ends in a majestic pyramid, while the northwestern ridge runs out toward the Smoky. Another branch is the range of Craggy, which trends southward, with its lofty peaks the Bull’s Head, the Pinnacle, and the Dome-in bold relief. This chain is noted for the pastoral character of its scenery, and the myriads of gorgeous flowers which cover its slopes. Here the rhododendron- especially its rare, crimson variety-grows to an immense size, and makes the whole range in the month of June a marvel of floral loveliness.
Northward of the Black Mountain stand two famous heights, which Professor Guyot calls,” the two great pillars on both sides of the North Gate to the high mountain-region of North Carolina.” These are the Grandfather Mountain in the Blue Ridge, and the Roan Mountain in the Smoky. Both of these command a wide view, but the Roan is specially remarkable for the extent of territory which it overlooks. The traveler on its summit is always told that his gaze passes over seven States-to wit, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina-but, since States are not laid off in different colors, like the squares of a chess-board, he may be pardoned for perceiving no great difference in the imaginary lines which divide the vast expanse. The mountain itself, and the immediate view, are better worth attention. On one side it commands the apparently infinite diversity of the North Carolina highlands, on the other the rich valley of East Tennessee and the blue chain of the Cumberland Mountains, stretching into Kentucky. Like many of the Smoky and Balsam heights, its summit is bare of timber, and forms a level, verdant prairie, ending in an abrupt precipice on the Tennessee side.
Next to the Black, in the order of transverse chains, comes the Balsam, which, in point of length and general magnitude, is chief of the cross-ranges. It is fifty miles long, and its peaks average six thousand feet; while, like the Blue Ridge, it divides all waters, and is pierced by none. From its southern extremity two great spurs run out in a northerly direction. One terminates in the Cold Mountain, which is more than six thousand feet high; the other rises into the beautiful peak of Pisgah, one of the most noted landmarks of the country. Among the mountains which, seen from Asheville, lie in blue waves against the southern horizon, this commanding pyramid stands forth most prominently, and from its symmetrical outline, not less than its eminence, attracts the eye at once. Nor does this attraction end with the first view. Its harmonious lines are a constant source of delight, and the robes of soft color which it wears are constantly changing and ever charming. To see it, as it often appears, a glorified crest of violet, against a sky divinely flushed with sunset rose and gold, is one of those pleasures which custom cannot stale.
It follows, naturally, with all who have the true spirit of mountaineering, that they desire to stand on that uplifted eminence. Those who carry this desire into effect are gratified by a view less extensive than that of the Black or the Balsam, but hardly less worth beholding. The summit of Mount Pisgah forms the corner of the counties of Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania, and Haywood, and over the outspread face of each-broken by unnarratable hill-waves and smiling valleys-the gaze passes to where the tall peaks send their greeting from the borders of South Carolina and Tennessee. Near by rise the Cold Mountain and Shining Rock, with the wooded heights of Haywood rolling downward to the fertile valley of the Pigeon-a beautiful stream, which finally cuts its way through the Smoky and joins the French Broad in Tennessee. The course of the latter river is plainly to be marked by its width of cultivated lowlands, as it passes through Transylvania and Henderson, to where Asheville lies,- surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills. Among these hills the river enters, and pours its current along a constantly-deepening gorge, narrow as a Western cafion, and inexpressibly grand, until it also cuts a passage through the Smoky, and reaches Tennessee. For thirty-six miles its waters well deserve their musical Cherokee name-Tahkeeostee, “the Racing River “-and the splendor of their ceaseless tumult fascinates both eye and ear. A journey along this gorge is something which no lover of Nature should forego. I have known those who have not looked on its beauty for thirty or forty years, in whose memory still remain–fresh as if they had been seen but yesterday-the great overhanging cliffs, the verdure-clad mountains, the giant bowlders that strew the channel-tokens of Titanic warfare, round which the triumphant water whirls and surges in tossing rapids-and the fairy islets which it holds in so gentle an embrace. Over the heights which hem this gorge Pisgah looks, and sees the distant mountains of Mitchell and Yancey mingling their forms and colors with the clouds.
There is a greater attraction in the unknown than in the known, however; and the traveler who has followed the French Broad to where it surges around Mountain Island and sweeps beneath Paint Rock; who has stood on the hills of Asheville, and admired the gentle loveliness of the valleys which encompass it; who has tracked the Swannanoa to its birthplace in the ice-cold springs of the Black Mountain, and climbed to the summit of that Appalachian patriarch-it is natural that such a traveler, turning his back on these places made familiar by exploration, should look with longing at the dark chain of the Balsam, forming so lofty a barrier between himself and the still wilder, still more beautiful region that lies farther westward.
If he possesses courage and resolution, if he does not shrink from trifling hardships, and if he can endure cheerfully a few inconveniences, let him resolve to scale those heights, and gaze at least upon all that lies beyond. There is very little difficulty in executing such a resolution, and nobody who can appreciate the sublime in natural scenery, or who likes the zest of adventure, will ever regret having executed it.
Should he be able to do so, let him descend Mount Pisgah on the Transylvania side, for in all this Eden of the sky there is no spot which wears the crown of sylvan beauty so peerlessly as that fair county. Other counties may boast mountains as high, and atmosphere as pure, but no other has in its aspect such a mingling of the pastoral and the grand, no other possesses such graceful alternations of landscape, which, with the strong effect of contrast, charm the beholder at once. It is with a thrill of positive rapture that one sees for the first time the matchless valley of the French Broad serene with golden plenty, and held in the soft embrace of encircling heights. In the midst of this valley is situated the pleasant village of Brevard, where the traveler will do well to establish his headquarters. He will find most comfortable lodging and most admirable fare, together with that cordial hospitality which is everready to oblige the wayfarer and stranger. Should he possess that mountaineering spirit to which allusion has been made, he need not fear that time will hang heavily on his hands. There are speckled trout in the streams; there are deer in the coverts of the forests; and there are countless places of picturesque interest, many of which are within the easy range of a day’s excursion.
This queen of mountain-valleys lies twenty-two hundred feet above the sea, and has at this point an average width of two miles. The three forks of the French Broad-two of which rise in the Balsam, and one in the Blue Ridge-meet at its upper end, and the united stream flows, with many a winding curve, down the emerald plain. Framing the broad fields and grassy meadows are forest-clad heights, and yet beyond rises the blue majesty of the grandest peaks in Western Carolina.
To fully appreciate the charm which fills every detail of this picture, it should be viewed from the summit of a cliff on its eastern side known as Dunn’s Rock. The elevation of the hill, which rises abruptly in this castellated crag, is probably not more than five hundred feet above the level of the river; but the river is one which lingers in the memory in colors that no lapse of time can dim. While it is easy to find more extended views, it would be impossible to find one of greater fairness. The pastoral valley lies spread in smiling beauty for fifteen miles, with every curve of the river plainly to be traced throughout that length, the shining water fully revealed in many a mile of undulating stretch-no longer a coy nymph of mountain-glens, but a gracious, though capricious, queen of the sweet lowlands, carrying her crystal current in endless yet most bewitching vagaries around the fertile plantations, and trailing her silver drapery about the base of the green hills. Belts of shadowy woodlands stretch across the cultivated expanse, roads like yellow ribbons wind here and there, dwellings gleam out, half hidden in trees, and Brevard nestles at the feet of the bold elevations which rise behind it.
It is difficult to say whether the eye lingers with greatest pleasure on the idyllic softness of this scene, or on the magical distance where peak rises beyond peak until the most remote melt into blue infinity. Farthest toward the west stands the sharp crest of Chimney-Top and the massive outlines of Great Hogback – a noble mountain, deserving a better name. From these well-known summits the waving line sweeps onward in azure beauty until it culminates in the peaks of the Balsam. The loftiest of these stand in full view, together with the whole length of the range of Pisgah. Symmetrical as ever, this familiar pyramid appears, among a multitude of lesser heights, while through the soft-hued gap, where the Arcadian valley curves around Fodder Stock Mountain, one discovers faint and far the mighty dome of the Black.
Besides Dunn’s Rock, there are many other eminences around Brevard which repay a hundred- fold the exertion of ascending them; while down the glens of the hills impetuous streams come rushing in Undine-like cascades. Such are the lovely Falls of Conestee, of Looking-Glass, and Glen Cannon. Into these enchanted recesses the lances of sunlight are scarcely able to pierce to find the laughing water, so luxuriant is the forest-growth which forms depths of twilight obscurity, where ferns, and mosses, and unnumbered bright, sweet flowers flourish.
From Brevard the way to the Balsam is plain and short. Following the north fork of the French Broad into what is called the Gloucester Settlement, the traveler will find himself at the foot of this range. Here he can readily secure a guide, and make the ascent of the peaks, which attain their highest elevation at this point. Professor Guyot has recorded his opinion that, “considering these great features of physical structure” (the Balsam heights), “and the considerable elevation of the valleys which form the base of these high chains, we may say that this vast cluster of highlands between the French Broad and the Tuckaseege Rivers is the culminating region of the great Appalachian system.”
It is at least certain that their appearance impresses one with a deeper sense of grandeur and sublimity than even the Black Mountain. Immense ridges rise on all sides; lofty peaks life their heads into the dazzling region of the upper air; escarpments of rugged rock contrast the verdure of the forest which clothes all other points; while trackless gorges and deep chasms where the roar of unending cataracts alone breaks the silence of solitude are characteristic features of the region. Leaving the domain of Gloucester, a traveller of faint heart and wavering courage may be struck with dismay at the wildness of the scenes into which he is led. A part is a trail only visible to the eyes of a mountaineer, which plunges down precipitous hill-rides, winds along dizzy verges, where a single false step would send horse and rider crashing into the abyss below, and mounts ascents so steep that the saddles threaten to slip back over the straining animals, and a cau tious rider will look well to his girths. Knob after knob is climbed, and yet the dominating heights-as one catches glimpses of them now and then-seem far away as ever. Nevertheless, it is evident that one’s labor is not in vain. The air grows more rare, the horizon expands, the world unrolls like an azure scroll, and over it spreads the marvelous haze of distance.
It was the good fortune of the writer to be one of a party who made this ascent during the past summer, and it is little to say that all difficulties and perils were forgotten when we stood at last on the summit of the highest peaks, and felt that we were in the centre of the great system of diverging heights spread around us, far as the gaze could reach, to the uttermost bounds of land and sky. There is an intense exhilaration of mind and body consequent upon attaining such an elevation, and we were exceedingly fortunate in having two days of perfect weather -days of the radiant softness which only September gives.
The spot where we found ourselves was a treeless tract of several hundred acres on top of the Balsam range. The Cherokees believe that these open spaces are the footprints of the devil, made as he stepped from mountain to mountain, and this largest prairie they regard with peculiar awe as his favorite sleeping-place-probably selected because he likes now and then a complete change of climate. On maps of the State this point is marked “The Devil’s Old Field,” and, apart from the association with his satanic majesty, the title is not altogether inapposite. So peculiar is the appearance of these openings, where grass and bushes of all kinds flourish luxuriantly, that one is almost forced to believe that at some remote period man had his habitation here. Like the Black, the Balsam takes its name from the fir which grows upon it, but, unlike the Black, these trees, instead of covering the whole upper part of the mountain, are found only on the north side. On the southern slopes the deciduous forest grows to the summit, and there-as if a line of exact division had been drawn-the latter growth ends, and the sombre realm of the balsam begins.
Having been bold enough to pitch our camp in the midst of the Devil’s Old Field, we were probably punished by finding ourselves next morning wrapped in mist at the time that we should have been. witnessing the sun rise beyond a thousand peaks. By eight o’clock, however, the clouds lifted, the mist dissolved away, and seated on the rocky crest of a high knob, with air so lucid and fresh that it seemed rather of heaven than earth fanning our brows, we were truly “girdled with the gleaming world.” On one side spread the scenes over which we had journeyed-every height south of the Black clearly visible, and distinctly to be identified-while on the other the country on which we had come to gaze stretched westward, until its great ridges, like giant billows, blended their sapphire outlines with the sky. Overlooking this immense territory, one felt overwhelmed by its magnitude, and the imagination vainly strove to picture the innumerable scenes of loveliness that lay below, among what seemed a very chaos of peaks, gorges, cliffs, and vales.
That the face of this part of the country should appear especially covered with mountains, is not strange when one considers that five great ranges traverse and surround it. Looking west from the Balsam, we saw on our left the Blue Ridge, on our right the Smoky, and in front the Cullowhee, with the Nantahala lying cloud-like in the far distance. Countless intervening chains spread over the vast scene, with graceful lines blending, and dominant points ascending, forming a whole of wondrous har mony. Near at hand the- heights of the Balsam, clad in a rich plumage of forest, surrounded us in serried ranks-a succession of magnificent peaks, infinitely diversified in shape, and nearly approaching the same standard of elevation. What exquisite veils of color they drew around them, as they receded away, wrapping their mighty forms in tenderest purple and blue! The infinite majesty of the great expanse, the unutterable repose which seemed to wrap the towering summits in their eternal calm, filled the mind with delight and awe. No words seemed fitting save the exultant ones of the canticle: ” O ye mountains and hills, bless ye the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever!”
On the summit of the height where we sat, the counties of Haywood, Jackson, and Transylvania, meet. Of these Jackson is the most westwardly, and is rich in scenery of the noblest description, being bounded by the Balsam, the Blue Ridge, the Cullowhee, and Great Smoky – the innumerable spurs of which cover it in all directions. Yet here, as elsewhere, the pastoral joins hands with the rugged. These mountains are nearly all fine “ranges,” where thousands of cattle are annually reared with little trouble and less expense to their owners; and through the midst of the county the wildly-beautiful Tuckaseege flows. Rising in the Blue Ridge, this river forces its way through the Cullowhee Mountains in a cataract and gorge of overwhelming grandeur, and, augmented at every step by innumerable mountain-torrents, thunders, foams, and dashes over its rocky bed, until united to the Tennessee-which comes with headlong haste down from the Balsam-and, losing its name in the latter, it cuts a cation of inexpressible majesty through the Smoky, and pours its current into the valley of East Tennessee. In Jackson, on the southern side of the Blue Ridge, the head-waters of the Savannah River also rise. The Chatooga, which washes the base of the great Whiteside Mountain, flows into Georgia, and, with the Tallulah, forms the Tugaloo, which is the main head of the Savannah.
At the southern end of this county is Cashier’s Valley, famous for its salubrious climate, and so accessible from South Carolina that many gentlemen from the low-country have erected summer residences there. It is more of a table-land than a valley, lying on the side of the Blue Ridge, so near the summit that its elevation above the sea cannot be less than thirty-five hundred feet, and hemmed on all sides by splendid peaks, among which Chimney-Top stands forth conspicuously, while in full view, only four miles southwest, Whiteside lifts its shining crest, as a beacon and landmark. At this point the Cullowhee Mountains join the Blue Ridge. There are few parts of the country less visited, and there is none that repays exploration better. White side, alone, is worth traveling any distance to see, for it is undoubtedly the grandest rampart of this picturesque land. Standing more than five thou sand feet above the ocean, its southeastern face is an immense precipice of white rock-the constituent parts of which are said to be quartz, feldspar, and gneiss- which, rising to the height of eighteen hundred feet, is fully two miles long, and curved so as to form part of the arc of a circle. A more impos ing countenance never mountain wore, and it is im possible to say whether its sublimity strikes one most from the base or from the summit.
To reach the foot of the stupendous precipice, it is necessary to climb upward, for probably a mile, through a bewildering world of green woods and massive rocks. When one has fairly entered into these vast forests their tangled depths of sylvan shade and sheen form a region of absolute enchant ment. On every side are graceful forms of trees and clusters of foliage, draping vines and delicate tendrils, velvet mosses and ferns, in plumy profusion. Starry flowers lift their sweet chalices, the massive trunks of trees “fit for the mast of some tall admiral” lie buried in verdure. Under arches of cloistral greenness the crystal streams come glancing, like
…. a naiad’s silvery feet
In quick and coy retreat,”
and the music of their swiftly-flowing water alone breaks the woodland stillness. Through such scenes one ascends to the mighty cliffs of Whiteside and pauses beneath them with a sense of amazement and awe. The first precipice rises six or seven hundred feet in sparkling whiteness, with an outward inclination of probably sixty feet. At one or two points it is practicable for an expert climber to scale this cliff, and stand on the second and even grander ledge. From this shelf-where a narrow belt of trees runs, presenting from a distance the appearance of a verdant zone across the mountain’s side -the higher precipice rises in majestic ascent for more than a thousand feet. It is not altogether smooth of surface-as one fancies when approaching it-but is worn by the great forces of Nature, concerning which we can only vaguely conjecture, into numerous escarpments of wild and inexpressibly picturesque form. Cave-like recesses abound, and the largest of these is known as ” the Devil’s Supreme Court-House.” It is an enormous cavity in the face of the precipice, where, according to Cherokee tradition, the prince of the powers of darkness will on the day of doom erect his throne, and try all spirits who fall under his jurisdiction. The approach to it is along a ledge so narrow and dangerous that few people are sufficiently cool of head and steady of nerve to dare its passage. Pending the session of the court the cave is a favorite haunt of the bears which still abound in the neighborhood. Hunters sometimes go thither to seek them; but there is a story told of one hunter which might dissuade others from undertaking such an expedition. This man, hoping to find a bear in the cave, was proceeding cautiously along the ledge which led to it, when he suddenly, to his dismay, found the bear sooner than he wanted him. Bruin had left the cave, and was leisurely taking his way along the narrow shelf, when he, too, was unpleasantly surprised by the appearance of a man in his path. Both came to a dead halt. To the hunter it was a moment of trying anxiety. To turn was impossible, even if it would not have been ill-advised to do so. He had his gun, but dared not fire, for fear of only wounding the animal, and thereby rendering it desperate. Fortunately, it was one of the occasions when inaction proved the best thing possible. After they had steadily eyed each other for some time, the bear decided to retrace his steps. He made an attempt to turn, but the effort sealed his fate. His weight overbalanced him, and down the precipice he went, a crashing mass in which there was not a whole bone when the hunter descended to it.
But if the cliffs are grand, what can be said of the view when the bold brow of the mountain is gained? It is readily ascended from the rear, and when one advances to the verge of its splendid crest the infinite beauty of the prospect thrills one like noble music. The smiling valleys and green depths of forest far below, the azure fairness of distant heights, the misty sweep of ocean-like plains, the fleecy clouds which drift across the radiating skyall combine to awaken emotions of absolute ecstasy. “From the orient to the drooping west,” mountains on mountains rise, cloud-girt, blue-robed, soft as the hills of paradise. Southward the plains of South Carolina fade away into glimmering haze, while west of the Cullowhee lies the domain of Macon and Cherokee-a territory abounding in lofty ranges and fruitful valleys, rushing streams and immense forests-extending to where the cloud – capped peaks of Georgia are defined against the distant horizon. Turn where one will, an infinity of loveliness meets the sight, and the delicious purity of the atmosphere makes one dream of a sanitarium which may be some day established here. It is impossible, however, to regret that such a day has not yet come, that multitudes of tourists have not yet invaded these fair solitudes, and-engraved their names upon the shining rocks!
It may be confidently asserted of this whole region that if it belonged to another country its fame would long ago have been heralded abroad; but it is only lately that Carolinians themselves are waking to a knowledge and appreciation of the wealth of beauty hidden in these wonderful fastnesses. Toenumerate briefly the advantages which the country possesses sounds almost as if one were describing a fabulous E1 Dorado. Yet they belong to the order indisputable truths. To its unsurpassed climate especially many prominent medical men are beginning to call attention, and year by year the number of renewed health to it waxes greater. It is said that there is no place between the two oceans where the sufferers from that autumnal catarrh known as “hay-fever” or “hay-cold” can find such complete relief as at Caesar’s Head-a bold and beautiful headland of the Blue Ridge, jutting over the South Carolina line. An excellent hotel on the summit of the mountain provides all necessary comforts, and those who desire a dry yet balmy atmosphere, without the least suspicion of dampness or harshness, will find it here. Persons who, if they descend even as low as Asheville, suffer from hay-fever pitiably, can spend weeks on this mountain with perfect immunity from their tormentor. Those who are suffering in any degree with throat or lung disease also find the air beneficial in the extreme. How invigorating and delightful it is to one fresh from a debilitating climate, words can hardly express. Health and strength are borne on every breath of the breeze which comes to the great cliff of Lookout. Seated on this rocky point, the world seems little more than a dreamland far below, and one feels an intense satisfaction in being exalted so high above the vast, shadow-dappled expanse, over which a magical blue light ever hangs, yet where, despite its heavenly seeming, one knows so surely that now in course of construction the chrome-ores and the manifold troubles and cares of life are active as ever. Since the features of the region are usually discussed with regard rather to invalids and tourists than settlers, it may not be amiss to add a little practical information on the subject of its agricultural capabilities. No country in the world is better timbered or waters, and few possess a more fertile soil. On this point I cannot do better than to quote a writer (General T. L. Clingman) who has devoted time and labor to preparing accurate accounts of the climate, character, and products of Western Carolina:
“There are few of the lands too steep for cultivation. They produce good crops of Indian-corn, wheat, oats, and rye. In contests for prizes in the agricultural fairs in Buncombe, from one hundred to one hundred and fifty bushels of the former grain have been produced. No region surpasses it for grasses. Timothy and orchard-grass, perhaps, do best, but clover, red-top, and blue-grass, thrive well. This region seems to surpass all others for the production of the apple, both as to size and flavor. The grape is thrifty, and grows abundantly. Besides the Catawba, a native of Buncombe, there are many other native varieties, some of which are of good size and delicious flavor.
“All kinds of live-stock can be raised with facility. Sheep in flocks of fifty to sixty browse all winder in good condition. I never saw larger sheep anywhere than some I noticed in Hamburg Valley, Jackson County, the owner of which told me that he had not for twelve years fed his sheep beyond giving them salt to prevent their straying away. He said that he had on his first settling there tried feeding them in winder, but he observed that this made them very lazy, and therefore he abandoned the practice.
“Horses and horned cattle are usually driven out in the mountains about the first of April and are brought back in November. Within six weeks after they have thus been ‘put into range” they become exceedingly fat and sleek. There are, however, on the tops and along the sides of the higher mountains, evergreen or winter grasses on which the horses and cattle live well through the entire winter.
“Very little has yet been done with the minerals of this region. Iron-ores exist in great abundance in many places. The magnetite is found in quantities at many points, and where it is being worked in Mitchell it yields an iron equal to the best Swede. There is in Cherokee County a vein of hematite which runs by the side of a belt of marble for forty miles, and is in many places from fifty to one hundred feet thick. It is easily worked, and affords good iron. Copper ores are found in many of the counties, and where the veins have been cut in Jackson, they are large and very promising. Gold has been profitably mined in Cherokee, Macon and Jackson; and lead, silver, and zinc, are found at certain points. After the completion of the railroads now in course of construction the chrome ores and barytes may acquire value.”
Notwithstanding these varied natural advantages the country, taken as a whole, is very sparsely settled. That the inhabitants of its remoter parts-especially in certain localities–are too frequently ignorant and lawless there can be no doubt; but the majority of the population are intelligent, industrious, and eminently good citizens. If their modes of living are still somewhat primitive, no one can question the warmth of their hospitality, the cordial readiness which they exhibit to oblige–sometimes to their own inconvenience–the stranger who halts at their gates. In the course of many journeys I have often had occasion to test this natural courtesy, and it is a simple matter of justice to record that I have never known it to fail. Secluded from the fret and tumult of the world, life among these hills is reduced to a very simple conditions, and the student of human nature will find many a quaint custom, hear many odd provincialisms, as he pauses where the comfortable farm-house stand in the shadow of the great hills.
There is still another class–a minority everywhere and always–of people whose culture make their life, in all save material aspects, wide as the world. Such people are charming, meet them where one will, but they seem especially charming when Nature, in her most winsome guise, forms a background for their graceful courtesy of manner, their cordial warmth of heart. Of the land in which their pride is equal to their love, one may say, as Moore of “Sweet Inn is fallen:”
“May calm and sunshine be thine!
How fair thou art let others tell,
While but to feel how fair be mine!”