Roads Less Traveled: 36°03’02.7″N, 81°51’40.1″W

There's a spot on the Blue Ridge Highway where I love to watch sunsets. I've been to it hundreds of times. (photo by Tyler Penland)

36°03’02.7″N 81°51’40.1″W are some very special coordinates for me. If you ever visit them, you will find a wide expanse of exposed quartzite with embedded veins of hard white quartz sticking out in the middle of an otherwise very green forest. Off the end of this rock is a spectacular view that I have visited in every season in nearly every weather condition. I haven’t seen it covered in snow, but that will change soon enough. It is by far the best spot for a sunset in its area that doesn’t require a multi-mile hike in and out.

The common name for this area is Flat Rock, and it is located right on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

You have no doubt seen me share shots from here over and over, and that is because I visit it a lot. I have probably seen over 200 sunsets from here, if not more. My favorite time to visit is during the spring when the wildflowers bloom.

The image above features early season wild irises. These are generally the first to bloom, although they often put up a race with the blackberry and blueberry bushes.

The weather on this exposed face is very rough, with strong winds and cool/cold temps persisting well into May most years.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

In most years, by mid-May, this spot is covered with my second favorite bush: Catawba Rhododendron.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

This pink, flowering cousin of the azalea is common in the higher elevations of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. It prefers cooler temperatures during the summer, so it struggles at lower elevations, but I have seen them growing sporadically there too.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

I have visited this outcrop enough to know which bushes tend to bloom first, and I’ve shot the same ones in different years. There is some variation in the color from bright pink to deeper pink.

A little later on in the month of May, the Mountain Laurels will bloom. In a good and lucky year, you can catch both of these beautiful plants side by side. I managed to catch them last year during a spectacular sunset.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

Mountain Laurel is a beautiful plant. It can be found all over North Georgia and blooms anywhere from late April to early May, depending on the weather. It grows from the lower elevations to the higher and blooms in a wave that moves uphill through the seasons.

The latest laurels above 6000ft in the TN/NC mountains don’t bloom until June!

(photo by Tyler Penland)

I would be remiss if I left out how absolutely beautiful this outcrop can be in the fall as well. Good weather sunsets are a bit harder to come by, but this past fall, I snagged one phenomenal one on a hike my 18-month-old joined me on. This spring, he has come out for a lot of them, and it is another reason why I love this spot.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

Have a great week, and if you are ever nearby, be sure to visit Flat Rock at Milepost 309 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I’ll see you on the road…..

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