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Storms, violent, fast-moving storms were forecast for the western NC mountains on Saturday, so I put off plans for a camping trip to Tellico Plains and headed down to Chimney Rock State Park instead. I like being there when I can sneak in ahead of the the big thunderboomers - it's a great place to kick back and watch the show. The park is centered around the high cliffs and of course, the towering Chimney, a huge granite outcropping that has attracted tourists from around the world for decades. The park has been in private hands until just recently, but the owners wanted to preserve the area that had been such a huge part of their family. Working with the state, thousands of acres have been moved into the state park system, with more lands being added from surrounding holdings. It's a great place for a riding destination, especially when he weather gets nasty.
Arriving at the parking area below the Chimney, you see that the park has provided designated parking just for bikes - great idea! The parking area is right in front of the gift shop/elevator area, and it provides a pretty secure area to leave your bike and gear while exploring the trails and sights of the park. By the way, if you go, take comfortable shoes along - you want to be able to check out the myriad of boardwalks and flights of steps that carry to some incredible viewpoints out on the cliffs high above Hickory Nut Gorge and the little town of Chimney Rock.

View from right below the Chimney of the parking area below - you can barely make out KawasiMoto waiting patiently while I ramble around the cliffs.

Chimney Rock, as seen from below near the Subway trail.

One of the boardwalk-accessed overlooks on the cliffs below the Rock, looking to the west up Hickory Nut Gorge.

Another of the walks that provide access to another incredible view from the cliffs of Chimney Rock. The movie, Last of the Mohicans, used the cliffs along the top of the Gorge for some dramatic scenes. That part of the park is currently closed while the trails are brought up to park standards. They should re-open by sometime in August.

From the top of the Chimney, looking up the Gorge towards the approaching storm. This is a grandstand view, but a hairy place to be in an electrical storm. You're on a high pinnacle of stone, reaching hundreds of feet into the air. The rock is surrounded by a heavy iron fence, with a tall steel flagpole in the center of the area. Just where you want to be when lightning is dancing along the walls of the Gorge. I couldn't believe how many people were out there during the storm with their kids, calmly taking photos of the youngsters leaning up against the flagpole while the storm raged around them. Darwinism at work, I suppose...

A restaurant is located on the edge of the precipice, nearly 300 feet above the parking area below. It's accessed either by hiking up the trails beneath the Chimney, or more popular with most visitors, by using a 285 ft. high elevator that was carved out of the solid granite of the cliffs. When you emerge into the restaurant, you have a grandstand view of the cliffs, Chimney Rock, the little town of Chimney Rock in the valley far below, and Lake Lure, a bit further to the east. Sitting at the windows, your knees are p against the glass, with a 300 foot drop right in front of you. It's a hell of a place to sit and enjoy watching a big storm roll through.

The Chimney, as seen from the Opera Box, a little overlook beneath a ledge higher up on the cliffs.

There are some more pix and some links to the park's site here:

If you happen to be in the area for a visit, this park is well worth a look-see. There is an admission price, but it's not that much. I keep an annual pass so that I can ride down during the week if there's a good storm passing through. It's a pocket park that's close enough for frequent visits and was well worth the $25 for the annual pass.
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