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Sunset on the Balsam Range

Jason and I have a thing for wide open views, especially ones which are 360 degrees. There is just something special about being able to see such a vast amount of earth with mountains stacked like waves. I guess it would be similar to what an ant may feel when standing on the tallest anthill; something so small has the ability to see what normally goes unseen in such amounts, and it is amazing to take in!

When I was younger my parents took me on an iconic backpacking trip. They would often take me hiking and camping, but that trip always stuck out in my mind as my favorite. As we were driving to the location where we would start our journey, I remember passing a spot where people were rock climbing. I was mesmerized and knew that one day I would have to try that. I had never seen rock climbing in person and I remember thinking at that moment that it was going to be an amazing trip. We backpacked in several miles and set up camp under a canopy of trees with a clear floor and a gorgeous view. On the way in we passed what seemed like thousands of blueberry bushes packed full of berries, eating handfuls every few feet. It was in August and while the towns below us were stifling hot that day, it dipped into the lower forties for us that night. While some may say that sounds miserable, we stayed warm & comfortable suited up in winter-like gear with our roaring fire. We sat around the campfire that night talking and playing card games and woke up and cooked a full breakfast that we had somehow managed to carry with us. For a kid, especially one who loved being outdoors, it was like Heaven on earth being up there. I will forever hold that memory, as well as that place, in my heart. That place is in the Balsam Mountains in Pisgah National Forest, in the area close to milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, in western North Carolina.

So when Jason and I were searching out potential hiking and camping spots, ones with spectacular views, I was beyond thrilled when we decided on taking the Art Loeb Trail to Black Balsam Knob. I knew that spot was in the same area as my famous camping trip of my younger days. We had hiked up a few weeks back and decided that we were definitely coming back to camp when the weather becomes more cooperative. It is just perfect!

The Great Balsam Mountains is a group of mountains that are a subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, all of which exceed six-thousand feet in elevation. Included in those mountains are a few balds that have an almost alpine-like feel to them with their grassy summits that have wide-open views of the surrounding area: Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and Sam Knob. They're unique in the fact that one can hike about three miles without the cover of trees, which is something that is unusual in our Southern region. The three balds surround Graveyard Fields, the valley below, which itself is over five-thousand feet in elevation. Graveyard Fields is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Western North Carolina with two beautiful waterfalls. There are a couple of theories on how Graveyard Fields got it's name; either from a windstorm that toppled over hundreds of trees or from logging that took place in the early 1900's, either way, the moss covered tree stumps looked eerily like moss-covered graves. The origin of the treeless mountain peaks of the Balsam Mountains were a result of extensive tree-cutting and fires back in 1925 and 1942. It is said that the fires burned so deep into the mineral-rich soil that is stopped the process of growth. I guess they are examples of how something beautiful can come from something tragic.

My parents were staying at the Pisgah Inn for the last night of the season and invited us to stay with them. How could we turn that down?! Pisgah Inn is one of our all-time favorite places. We packed up and headed out for an overnight adventure. We immediately knew we wanted to hike up to Black Balsam Knob to watch and photograph the sunset. After arriving at the Inn and gathering my parents, we made our way to the Art Loeb Trail, which National Geographic Adventure listed as one of the thirty best trails in North America and with good reason. The first quarter mile or so passed through a Balsam Grove that looks like something out of a movie, then breaks out into a wide-open grassy ridge that we followed to the summit. We passed over rocks, taking notice of the almost sandy-like dirt we were hiking in. The hike is not too bad at all, a little steep in areas, but the hike itself is only around a mile. Jason is the one who has it the worst, since he carries all of his camera equipment with him. He carries his tripod, which is heavy due to its need for stability, without even stopping. Actually, with this trip he practically ran ahead of us in order to not miss the opportunity to catch the falling sun.

After we met up with him we took it all in. We had that 360 degree view we both love so much. At first, we thought the sunset was going to be rather disappointing due to some haziness and a few clouds on the horizon that looked as if it might block the view too much. When I say disappointing, we are certainly never disappointed that we take the time to do stuff like this no matter what. It's just a matter of conditions being favorable for Jason to photograph. There hasn't been one time we have gone out for him to take photos that we have regretted, even if he didn't get anything he was satisfied with. Being out there, on top of that summit is like medicine. There is never anything wasteful about seeing all that beauty while taking in fresh air. So, we just figured it was going to be one of those evenings; while gorgeous, it wasn't going to turn into anything spectacular. After the sun finally dipped down and we were getting ready to head back down to the car, the sky lite up. It turned out to be incredible! One of the best sunsets we had ever seen!

Pretty sure Jason and I will be making many journeys to this place. There has always been something special about it for me, and now Jason and I get to share it together. We will certainly be coming back in the late spring or summer to camp. We are looking forward to waking up, unzipping the tent and enjoying a cup of coffee while gazing over the fog that spreads over the valley below. It is in moments like those that we feel most alive, most connected with each other and our surroundings. It is moments like those that remind us why we have Souled in Appalachia.

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