I was excited to visit Craggy Gardens. Gardens I have visited in the past, like Biltmore Gardens and Bellingrath Gardens, shaped my expectations. But, I assure you it was not what I expected. Craggy Gardens is located on the Blue Ridge Mountains, just past the turn to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. I expected manicured gardens designed by a Master Gardner, but I got much more than I expected.
Craggy Gardens is a beautiful mountain trail on the Blue Ridge Mountains that takes you through the snarled trunks of magnificent, fragrant Rhododendron and elevation dwarfed birch, ash and beech trees up to a peak that affords a 360 degree view. Besides the spectacular blue vistas that are available at many twists and turns along the parkway, May to June offers the glorious display of both Mountain Laurels and Rhododendron. The tall bush-like trees are covered with blooms. The color palettes range from light pink to fuchsia.
We had already walked about four miles through a lush canopied trail at Mount Mitchell, so Karyn wasn’t really interested in one more trail. But this area was covered with Rhododendrons, so I encouraged her to join Brayden and me. I have never seen so many of them. The sweet fragrance of the Mountain Laurels and the thick green canopy made the walk a sensual delight. Twisted and gnarled tree trunks were works of art in themselves. I wanted to continue, but I wasn’t sure they wanted to make the trek.
I asked Karyn, “Do you want to go back to the car?” Ashlyn was taking a nap, and Wayne waited with her in the car. We weren’t sure how long the trail was or where it would take us or what we would see when we got there. We just knew this was a place people said to visit, so here we were.
“No, Nana. This is something you want to do. Let’s go on.” (Isn't she precious! She gets that from her Nana!) I didn’t need any more encouragement. Brayden wanted to lead the way; he loves to lead. After a battle of the wills, it was agreed that Brayden would lead this leg of the trail and Karyn would lead coming back.
We met a park ranger on the trail who said that the trail was not too difficult and encouraged us to take the Upper Summit to get the best view. We made our way through the canopy of Rhododendron. Both sides of the trail was lined with lush green ferns, tall blueberry bushes, moss covered rocks, sprays of yellow and blue flower and white raspberry blooms. As we twisted and turned along the easy to moderate trail, climbing over tree roots and stair step boulders, we were taking a steady, but gradual climb to the top. There was so much beauty to experience as we moved along the trail that we didn’t realize we were climbing until the last short distance, which was pretty steep. Then we stepped out of the overgrowth into the clearing of the pinnacle. It was spectacular. We could see for miles and miles. Brayden and Karyn moved from side to side of the viewing platform to see everything. We found Wayne’s parking spot below. We looked out on the Asheville Watershed that supplies 30 million gallons of water daily to Asheville. Then Karyn led us back to the parking lot where we hurried to a museum at the Vistors Center. We climbed out of the car and Karyn looked straight up the mountain where she spotted a lady wearing a red top. “Look, Nana, that’s where we climbed.” Then she realized that she was looking at the lower vista, not the Upper Vista that we had climbed.
“No, look, we climbed to the top. Look. Look what we did. Man that was so cool. We climbed all the way to the top.” I don’t know where my camera was, but that would have made one incredible picture. She had the most amazing smile on her face. She just glowed from the realization of what she had just accomplished.
That’s what we do when we encourage children to enter into the presence of God. They have no idea where we are trying to take them. They have no idea what they are going to experience, or what God will share with them until they experience His presence for themselves. That’s why we need to be like the Park ranger that met us on the trail…guiding and encouraging. That’s our job as children’s ministry leaders; just to guide and encourage. Jesus has already made the way. Because of His death on the cross and because Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, we can experience the presence of God in amazing ways. But the choice has to be made to go after God. We must choose to pursue His presence by worship and prayer, and by listening for His voice. Children can experience Him, but we need to help them find the trail that will take them there, and then encourage them to go there themselves.