As I write this my computer monitor is framed by a dreary, cold, rainy view out the window behind it in our office at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our Asheville, NC Bed & Breakfast. So it is a pleasant task to review the pictures from our glorious Autumn outing on Thursday to Max Patch and remember the golden sunshine and bright display of foliage we enjoyed there.
Usually James and I choose to hike in the mountains on our day off but this time we decided to try a drive through the country to one of the better known “balds” in the Appalachian mountains. A bald is a large grassy area at the top of the ridges and mountains in southern Appalachia. Balds are below the timberline so are not related to
climate and it is a bit of a mystery how they came into being. The mostly commonly accepted explanation seems to be that the early settlers grazed their livestock on the tops of the mountains and ridges thus leaving the valleys free for farming. The trampling of the undergrowth along with the consumption of plants rendered these areas “bald”. The resurgence of the forest on many of these balds in the past 50 years or so seems to bear this out.
Max Patch is one such bald. Located at 4600 feet it consists of a 350 acre clearing which affords 360 degree views of the surrounding Great Smokey Mountains. It seems that perhaps the name “Max Patch” comes from Mac’s Patch as the land was originally farmed by Scottish immigrants. There are only a few published reports about Mac’s Patch, one of which is about a Mrs. McMahon, an early Western North Carolina settler famous for her flower garden called “Granny Mac’s Patch”. Not definitive by any means but as close as we are probably going to get! In any case, we do know that the land on top of Max Patch Mountain was used as grazing land in the 1800’s. Shortly after WWI, there was a landing strip there and the area was even home to a few airshows. It is now a part of Pisgah National Forest and the forestry department mows the grass in order to maintain the “bald”. One tragic event took place on Max Patch in June of 2010. A young woman was hiking with her boyfriend who was taking her there to propose to her when she was struck by lightening. It is a cautionary reminder that our mountains can be cruel as well as beautiful.
On this particular October day, James and I decided to forgo our long hike in order to drive out into the mountains and enjoy some of the fall color. Here in Asheville things are just beginning to turn but guests had told us that the color was good up in the higher elevations. There are two ways to get to Max Patch: the quick way by the highway and the longer route on back roads. Since the point was to enjoy the valleys and mountains of our area James and I chose the slow route and drove on NC 63, also known as the Leicester Highway, past farms and small villages until we came to the gravel road which took us to the top of the mountain. Multiple switchbacks as we drove over Doggett
Mountain gave us breathtaking views of Asheville and Weaverville in the valley below and Grandfather Mountain behind them. This drive alone was worth trip. The gravel road up Max Patch Mountain is fairly well maintained but we met no one going up or down so we were surprised when we arrived at the parking lot to find a number of cars there. But as I mentioned, Max Patch consists of 350 acres so in spite of the cars we found ourselves alone for most of the afternoon.
There are two basic trails on Max Patch, a short mile long hike which takes you to the summit and a 2.4 mile hike which takes you around the perimeter. We began by hiking to the summit where we ran into just about the only people we saw the whole day. After enjoying the Sound-Of- Music-like view we walked a short distance away. The people disappeared and we talked about life and ideas while munching on Greenlife sandwiches in the warm sunlight. Afterwards we took the gentle hike around the perimeter before returning to our car and the drive home.
What’s lovely about this drive and hike is that it is relatively unused by the tourists who come to see the foliage in the Asheville area in October. Even those who decide to drive to Max Patch will generally take I-40 and will arrive at the mountain without crossing Doggett Mountain. Max Patch and the drive to get there will certainly be one that we will recommend to our guests.
(n.b. For more pictures, visit our Facebook page)