Have you ever started a tradition? We all love to do something on New Years that reminds us of our childhood, and somehow connects us to generations before and to those yet to come. In New York a tmidnight, we all went outside in the street and rang bells. Down here, fireworks or bonfires cheer in the year and good food gets you off to a lucky start. When I first moved to the South, I got my first taste of collard greens, black-eyes peas, and hog jowls in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. She was probably one of the best country cooks in Macon County, but I just can’t seem to acquire a liking for pig cheeks!
I have unwittingly begun a tradition of sorts at our house. It all started with Halley’s Comet. Like most photographers, I will go to some lengths to get a certain picture, especially if I can get someone to go with me. In the summer 1986, we were on top of Wayah Bald before dawn with a pretty good sized group of other people to view the comet. Since then I have been drawn to mountaintops at dawn, especially on New Years morning. The first dawn of the New Millennium found me on top of Wayah Bald, after catching the sunset and a cold from Pickens Nose the night before. Some religious groups start the New Year on Wayah to pray for Franklin and the surrounding area. For me, it is a connection to the past and a hope for the future.
At 5,385 feet, Wayah Bald is one of the area’s highest peaks. “Wayah” is the Cherokee word for “wolf.” Red wolves were common in this area until they were wiped out by a bounty on them in the mid-1800’s. The summit is only bald in a small area, with stunted and twisted trees scattered among the rhododendrons. The stone tower was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a roof was added in 1983. A reconstruction and newer was was done in the last few years. The view is almost 360˚ from the tower, but the parking area has a magnificent view of the east if you don’t want to get out of your car when the temperature is lower than your shoe size. The Appalachian and Bartram trails intersect near the tower, and Trimont Trail begins here.
If you go up there before dawn, you can see the lights of Franklin and the communities west of town. Moonrise is another great photo opportunity if the mountains are still reflecting the red from the sunset. The US Forest Service leaves the road open all year, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle is advisable in the winter. You should really go in a group and carry a cell phone if you plan on a nocturnal visit. At least let someone know your travel plans.
Look around for other photos beside the rising sun – there was a man viewing Halley’s Comet for the second time, and I wish I had taken a picture of him and the other people gathered on Wayah that morning. Take your camera out its bag and let it adjust to the cold, or the lens will fog up. I keep a small flashlight in the camera bag to read the camera settings once it is set on the tripod. You should probably take several pictures at different exposures, especially if you are experimenting with very long (over 2 seconds) shutter speeds. Watch for bears and don’t forget the coffee!
Directions from Franklin: 64 west 4 miles; right across from brick church; left at Wayah Rd; 9 miles to gravel road; 4 miles to parking area; tower is a short walk
May 23,2018: The forest fire in the fall of 2016 burned up one side of the mountain and the roof of the tower. The new roof was completed in spring 2018.