Winter in Graham County holds secrets for lovers of beauty. Bring your cameras and dress warmly! Wear long underwear. For those of you who have never experienced the mountains in winter, you are in for a delightful discovery. There is little that compares to a winter walk in the woods. To begin with, quite often the temperatures of the air, water and earth differ greatly. When that happens, fog, mist and ice do unusual things.
Cheoah Lake, Lake Santeetlah, Calderwood Lake and Lake Fontana will consistently have “smoke on the water” and the views from Stecoah Gap in the winter are outstanding. From October through January you have the added bonus of being able to view the moon rising from Stecoah Gap. On some winter days you can watch fog creep down the mountains, twisting and turning as if stretching long tendrils out to capture you.
My favorite winter drive and hike starts at Wolf Laurel Trailhead. If you hike to the Hangover from the trailhead, you will be treated to a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. To reach Wolf Laurel when there is snow and ice or the potential of snow falling, you must have a four-wheel or all-wheel drive car. U S Forest Service Road 81-C begins at the intersection of the beginning of the Cherohala Skyway and Joyce Kilmer Rd. Follow 81-C and bear to the right on what is called Wolf Laurel Road. Wolf Laurel Road will end at the Trail Head. The drive in the snow is exquisite, hiking up the trail into the Wilderness holds wonders. This hike is not for the faint hearted. Make sure you bring warm blankets, food and water in case of emergencies.
For everyone, whether hiking the wilderness or strolling along the lake shore, there are visions of beauty. On a day when the ground is covered with pristine snow everything seems brand new. Close up or far away, the trees show their bones. The infinite variety of the textures and color of bark catch your eye and the rocks that are usually hidden by leaves and vines in the summer are laid bare. All is not white, grey and brown, however.
In the winter, greens pop. This is the time of year when perennial ferns and mosses really shine. They are so easily overlooked at other times of the year. Running Cedar, Club Moss and Partridge berry can be seen contrasting with the fallen brown leaves. The green mosses that cling to the rocks of streams just beg to be photographed. Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel keep their green leaves throughout the winter months and provide wonderful backgrounds for pictures of the mountains and hillsides.
The winter birds can be easily photographed as they forage for tiny insects in the bark of trees. Animals can be spotted miles away and they leave clear footprints in the snow. Best of all, you need have little concern about snakes or stinging insects. They aren’t out!
Take advantage of the special gifts a cold, winter day brings. Stretch your legs, capture pictures of ice crystals and hoar frost, and then reward yourself with some hot chocolate in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace.