There is no better place to be on a hot day than up in the mountains, the higher up the better. One of my favorite places to escape the heat is the last picnic spot around the loop at Cliffside Lake. When my son was younger, I would lay out a blanket under a tree by the beach area so I watch him swim. Now that he is grown I can hide from civilization and watch the grill while everyone else spreads out around the lake to drown worms. I have learned not to comment on the lack of fish at the end of the day since I took up frog hunting.
I’m not talking about old-fashioned frog giggin’ here. I mean a high-tech, multi-gadget photo safari to capture that elusive shot of a bullfrog taking a flying leap from the tuck position. If I had a few thousand extra dollars floating around I could invest in an extreme telephoto lens, but what’s the fun in that? Sneaking up on a frog takes as much preparation as walking on the moon. Camouflage is an option – at my size I could just wear a tent and pretend to be camping. Snorkeling might work if the water was deep enough. Then again, if a bullfrog saw me coming out of the water he would probably fall over dead and I’d lose the shot.
Get an early start if you plan to spend a day on the lake. The gates are open 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset. In the early morning, the mist rises off the lake and reflects the sunrise color. A walking trail winds around the lake and past the fishing deck. This is a great place to take the kids fishing safely (NC fishing license required). The water sliding over the dam makes a good backdrop for portraits if you use flash to get correct exposure on the faces. There are several hiking trails, including one from the lake to nearby Van Hook Glade Campground.
The main attraction at Cliffside is the beach area and sandy swimming section of the lake. Everyone will enjoy the cold water even if they just wade in with the kids. Flotation devices are not allowed, but sand toys are. Small children can play with the sand while older kids dive off the platform and grandparents sit on the benches or glide on the swing. We who live here are so lucky to have places like this to take our families and instill in them an appreciation of creation rather than a dependence on electronic entertainment.
After a hike around the lake, I am ready to resume the frog hunt. With burgers on the grill and no one watching me make a fool of myself, I stretch out in position with camera ready. Sometime later, the burgers are ready to be flipped and I need to take a walk to the little girl’s outhouse, so I abandon the hunt once again. As we packed up to leave for the day, Bubba Bullfrog sits back on his rock and grins at me. I hear him laughing as we drive away. It’s hard on the ego to be outsmarted by an amphibian.
Directions from Franklin: Hwy 64E about 14 miles to Cliffside Lake turnoff on the left