Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com. You are here, at the top of the massive Fontana Dam in Graham County, a monumental structure that towers 480 feet above
Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com.
You are here, at the top of the massive Fontana Dam in Graham County, a monumental structure that towers 480 feet above the reservoir below, taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza, wider than Mount Rushmore. From the observation deck, you get a breathtaking view of the dam’s concrete wall, 376 feet thick at its base, that holds everything back. The dam’s size is significant, memorable, and that’s why you come to places like this: to be awed by the impressive scale, to marvel at the extreme.
Maybe you’ve come to this area, also, to fish, and if so, you’re in the right place. The mountain waters of far-western North Carolina — Graham, Cherokee, Clay, Swain, Macon, and Jackson counties — swell with record-size brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout. Odds are good that you’ll go home with a souvenir: The state record for brown trout — a whopping 24 pounds, 10 ounces — belongs to a catch from the Nantahala River, about an hour south.
Superlatives abound in all 100 counties in North Carolina, from the tallest brick lighthouse in the country (Cape Hatteras, of course, on the Outer Banks) to the highest point east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell), and it’s easy to admire the grandest things in our landscapes. The panoramic view of Hickory Nut Gorge from the top of Chimney Rock. A dramatic sunset from Jockey’s Ridge. The thunderous plume of water cascading from the mighty Whitewater Falls in Cashiers.
You are here, too, among the smallest things.
Sprightly sanderlings scurry on their toothpick legs away from the ocean’s edge at Carolina Beach, and thumb-size fiddler crabs burrow into their holes at Oak Island. At Grandfather Mountain, a light posse of fireflies awakens, readying for their upcoming emergence above the forest floor, miniature floating lanterns that have been illuminating the night long before there ever were campfires, before there ever were LED lamps.
At the Yellow Creek Falls trailhead in Graham County, a short out-and-back hike starts right across the street from the Cheoah River, where, on the marshy banks, the tiniest spring peepers, creatures no bigger than a pebble, trill with their fullest voices. On the trail, you are here among coveted wild morel mushrooms, another harbinger of a North Carolina spring, and the path is thick with wildflowers that seem to have sprung up overnight. Edible wood violets no bigger than dimes; fire pinks with their eye-catching red flowers popping underfoot; delicate pink lady’s slippers; multitudes of trilliums.
Here is spring in North Carolina, when nature is at its most generous, its most plentiful, when, amid the tallest trees in our forests and beneath our expansive blue skies, we revel in small wonders — a burst of buttercups from a patch of earth, the brightening yellow of a goldfinch on a backyard feeder — and behold a new season of miracles.
Editor in Chief