- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

BREVARD, N.C. — The waterfalls are well-hidden behind 30-foot-tall thickets of wild rhododendron and mountain laurel, but the sound of water cascading through the mountain treasures is impossible to ignore.

It’s only a gentle hissing sound — nearly imperceptible in the distance — that guide Craig Miller and his tour group hear as they approach a narrow path leading to their destination. After a short hike, the torrent of water that’s falling hundreds of feet through a rocky gorge announces its presence with an overpowering roar.

“It’s a peaceful noise,” Mr. Miller says. “Sometimes my people catch me yawning. It’s not because I’m bored. It’s just that I could easily lay down on that rock over there and fall right asleep.”

That’s the greatest compliment he could give to a waterfall.

Mr. Miller, 45, has been exploring western North Carolina’s rich waterfall country for more than a decade, offering tours for four years. On this day, he has taken a group to visit Transylvania County’s Boren Mill Shoals waterfall, where crystal-clear water bursts over large granite boulders as it drops 110 feet to the cliff’s base.

Aptly named the “Land of Waterfalls,” Transylvania County is home to about 250 falls within just a few square miles. They range from the massive 411-foot Whitewater Falls, one of the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains, to the cozy 50-foot Moore Cove Falls. Some of the most popular are located off major highways, including Dry Falls and Looking Glass Falls — a handicapped-accessible 60-foot cascade that can be seen from U.S. 276.

Dozens of others — with quirky names such as Laughing Falls, Turtleback Falls, Courthouse Falls, Slippery Witch Falls and Sliding Rock Falls — are a little harder to find. All have evolved from the formation of the Blue Ridge Mountains millions of years ago, says Steven Yurkovich, a geology professor at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

“The streams want to follow the path of least resistance, and waterfalls occur where the rocks do not erode,” Mr. Yurkovich says. “So we have these particularly magnificent waterfalls as a result of the way nature is working.”

There’s plenty of water headed down the mountains.

“Transylvania County receives the highest rainfall total of anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains,” says Beth Carden, director of the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority. “We don’t need a water park here because we have plenty of natural ones.”

Mr. Miller prefers to take his groups to places that aren’t necessarily on the must-see list put out by local tourism officials, including some on private property. One of his favorites is Eastatoe Falls, a 110-foot cascade secluded behind lush trees.

Another is Boren Mill Shoals, where on a recent day some visitors posed for photographs while others cooled off from the hot and humid weather by frolicking in pools of brisk water.

“I think about the majesty of nature,” says Hart Haugen, one of several members of Mr. Miller’s tour group.

As he leads his group up the narrow mountain path that leads to the falls, Mr. Miller points out such native plants as wild ginger and a tiny hosta locals call the “rattlesnake plant” because its foliage resembles the markings of the poisonous snake.

“You just don’t get the same kind of feeling when you visit one of these waterfalls in its natural setting compared to the ones with parking fees and walkways,” Mr. Miller says.

Lynn Brandon, a program director at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee, recently took 24 public schoolteachers from across the state on a waterfall tour as part of a teaching seminar. They visited Whitewater Falls, Dry Falls and Bridal Falls, among others.

“The power of the water is just awe-inspiring,” she says.

• • •

From Charlotte, take U.S. 85 south to U.S. 74 west, which meets up with U.S. 26 north. It will lead to U.S. 64 west at Hendersonville, which goes directly into Brevard and Transylvania County. To get to Dry Falls from Brevard, take U.S. 64 west about 2.5 miles west of Highlands. To get to Looking Glass Falls from Brevard, take U.S. 276 north about 5.5 miles.

Late fall and early winter is an ideal time to tour waterfalls because there is less undergrowth to interfere with views and no insects.

Craig Miller offers daily tours of waterfalls in and around Brevard. Tours begin at 8 a.m. and conclude between 2 and 2:30 p.m. Call 800/809-1401 or 828/884-8982 for rates.

Mary Berrier operates Waterfall Walkabouts. Tours begin about 9 a.m. and last half a day. The cost is $30 per person and $15 for children. Call 828/862-5845.

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