Yesterday I attended my first meetup.com group event: a morning tour of Craggy Gardens in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. If you're not familiar with this site, I recommend checking it out to find and connect with people that share your interests.
It took an hour and a half for me to get to the Craggy Pinnacle trailhead, but was totally worth it. You have to travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is one of the most scenic, slow & winding roads I've ever traversed. I happened to have my phone set up to get some video footage of this journey and couldn't believe I saw a baby bear cub climb a guard rail and sprint across the pavement in front of me as fast as his bear legs could carry him, let alone that I got it on video.
I also like long drives because I get more uninterrupted time to listen to audiobooks. In this case, I listened to Jung by Anthony Stevens which explains in four hours the basic life and philosophy of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, which was fascinating.
I arrived a bit early and admired the vast, blue rolling landscape swirling with mist. It dawned on my why this area is referred to as the Smoky Mountains.
Altogether there were about 15 in the group (all older than me) led by Jennifer (my age), who just finished a Phd related to botany and biology. She dropped some serious knowledge on us about the natural and cultural history of the area and identified & discussed lots of native (and non-native) flora.
The trail itself was a really easy hike. I saw lots of families with small children and/or dogs doing the 1.4 mile roundtrip trek. Tip: Use the restrooms at the visitor's center BEFORE you hike.
Y'all don't even know how excited I am for the annual autumn foliage since I was stuck in a Fall-less Florida for the past decade. I fully intend to visit the mountains as often as I can and immerse myself in the natural beauty. I swear some of the leaves had changed just during the few hours between when I drove and drove back down. It's cool to get reacquainted with the general vicinity of where I grew up.
If you haven't been up Asheville, NC, the Blue Ridge Parkway or explored the myriad trails therein, I highly recommend it, especially now!