Highlands • Franklin • Macon County • Western North Carolina
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Sapphire Valley is sizable valley of pristine beauty surrounded by high mountain peaks of bare granite. Money pays for mountain dreams here, roughing it is what the other guy does. Regardless of what you might think about material wealth, this particular high mountain country is impressive.
The Highland's area of Macon County is a 4,000 foot plateau with dominating mountain peaks of bare granite and heath balds summits. Two mountain tops in the area offer stupendous views, Whiteside Mountain and Satulah Mountain. Both mountain summits are accessible by short easy trails. You can reach Whiteside Mountain off US 64, between the town of Cashiers in Jackson County and the town of Highlands in Macon County. Satulah Mountain can be reached by going south on State Highway 28 at the intersection of US 64 and State Highway 28. Satulah Mountain is unique because it is classified as a heath bald. The dwarfed white oak and dwarfed white pine on the summit can be as old as 200 years and no bigger then 10 inches in diameter.
Highlands: you'll find the town to be top drawer, a beautiful town, door to door from one end of the street to the other. A multitude of antique and specialty shops, galleries, dining and lodgings.
In picturing the town of Highlands you'll have to imagine numerous daily visitors strolling up and down the streets in their designer wear. The business day ends and the town is still full of visitors, vehicles parked on both sides of the street with a double isle of vehicles parked in the center boulevard. Now imagine 90% of these vehicles as luxury sedans, foreign sports cars and top of the line Sport Utility Vehicles. The town of Highlands and surrounding communities have set precedence in luxurious mountain living. Ample parking is available, park and stroll the town, do a little shopping and take in good meal.....bon-appetite.
US 64 follows the northeastern banks of the Cullasaja River, along the river's pre-historic rock formations. The engineering feats that laid the path for this road's construction is extraordinary. The necessity of connecting the plateau of the upper Highlands with the low valley town of Franklin, North Carolina had only one conceivable route, the gorge. The road wasn't built for beauty sake, that is a secondary benefit. The natural wonders themselves were the real obstacle. At times, US 64 literary portages around huge waterfalls while skirting the rivers edge. The road clings to the sheer granite walls of Cullasaja River Gorge, as an enormous waterfall plunges below the road. All the while being surrounded by the beautiful hardwood Nantahala National Forest.
Bridal Veil Falls is a natural wonder, this waterfall is approximately 1 1/2 miles west of Highlands. On the northern side of the road, you'll see a thin veil of water about 15 feet wide, falling 120 feet into a depression in the earth. A pull off from US 64 takes a vehicle directly behind the falls giving the illusion of a vehicle being under the falls, a real photo opportunity.
If you continue down the Cullasaja River Gorge for less than a mile, and you will come to Dry Falls. There is limited parking on the river side of the gorge. A short hike down a well paved trail, takes you to a stunning view of a wide waterfall pouring 75 feet down the Cullasaja River Gorge. A large cliff overhang is located directly behind the waterfall, with the trail passing behind-under the waterfall. The trail continues up a short distance for what I consider the best position for photographing Dry Falls. From behind the falls you can look through the waterfall and down the gorge into steep, rugged river country. The experience and accessibility of a waterfall of this magnitude is surely a blessing to bestow.
Leaving the gorge, US 64 pours into the basin of lower Macon County, or more notably, the valley of the Cowee Gem Region. This area is a popular retreat for rock hunters throughout the world. Macon County is known as one of the world's three main locations for hunting gem stones, along with Burma and Thailand. This region of North Carolina produces Corundum and gem-quality rubies and sapphires from many mines scattered throughout the valley and mountain slopes.
Franklin: known as the, "gem capital of the world," is a sizable town by mountain standards. It is located at the crossroads of US 64 and US 23/441. US 23/441 is also the corridor route north to the Great Smoky Mountains.
The wealth of Macon County is not only in its mineral and logging yield, it also has a wealth of history. The earliest notable migration into the Southern Highlands by white settlers were the Scots. The Scottish Clans first migrated into the northeastern United States, and then began migrating into the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the Scots that influenced the name, "Southern Highlands." The Scottish Tartan Museum is located in Franklin and can provide you with insight into the lives of the original "Highlanders."
Mining began here in the 1800's with progress following. Franklin was a rail town of substantial commerce. The downtown district is lined with old architecture and an impressive white marble Civil War Monument. Shopping, dining and a variety of lodging can be found in Franklin and surrounding Macon County. Several large chain stores and eateries are also located in the Franklin area.
Macon County to the east, completely surrounded by high mountain knobs and balds averaging over 5,000 feet above sea level. The mountains to the far east are the high peaks and balds of the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the north is the back bone of the Great Smoky Mountains. Our journey takes us west into the high remote tops of the Nantahala Mountains.
The cliffs and rock outcrops are botanical treasure houses showcasing the southernmost distribution of numerous rock-loving plants which need a combination of altitude, bare rock, and high rainfall to survive. These cliffs are excellent places to see peregrine falcons, ravens, and wintering golden eagles.
This region encompasses the headwaters of the famed Chattooga River and is the major northern access to the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. Streams such as the Cullasaja fall off the plateau in steep gorges. Waterfalls are frequent. Vistas of the Rabun Bald country and Blue Valley, now an experimental forest, are visible from NC 106, especially at the Osage Mountain, and Blue Valley overlooks.
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Highlands North Carolina - Weather.com
Franklin North Carolina - Weather.com
Highlands • Franklin • Macon County • Western North Carolina