Yesterday Governor Bev Perdue signed legislation making Grandfather Mountain North Carolina’s newest state park. Hugh Morton (1921-2006) inherited the 2500-acre property and developed part of it into a tourist attraction, including a famous “mile-high” swinging bridge. Morton’s family will continue to operate the tourist site and nature center there.
My family vacations as a child were often in the mountains around Boone and Asheville. I’ve hiked Grandfather Mountain countless times. One of the most memorable, though, was when I must have been six or seven years old, and our family had gone to Grandfather to watch hang gliders take off from a cliff on the edge of the mountain. Getting to the official festivities required crossing the “mile-high” footbridge, and this editor-child was terrified of heights. The bridge really does swing a little, and it really is a loooong way down to the two-lane highway road below. The cars were so small! (Go feel the vertigo by visiting the insanely awesome 360-degree photo tours at the website! Scroll down to #8, “From the Center of the Mile High Swinging Bridge.” Ugh. Feeling queasy again….)
I forced one foot in front of the other, so slowly, afraid that any slight misstep would send me — and who knew? maybe everyone else on that footbridge, too! — hurtling down to the pavement with a fading whistle a la Wile E. Coyote. Splat.
I made it halfway across the bridge and froze in sheer terror, paralyzed by the audacity of our position, suspended in mid-air where it seemed no human belonged. I calculated that even if I made it to the other side, had a jolly time witnessing humans take flight like birds, I would in fact only be half-way done: there would have to be a return trip if I expected to ever go home again.
Besides Grandfather Mountain, among the many other treasures Hugh Morton left behind for the state he loved so much was a trove of exquisite photographs of some of the people, places, and things that define the state’s history, culture, and environment. He could capture the quintessential beauty of North Carolina in a photograph worthy of billboard advertising. Indeed it was billboard advertising — the tourism department made great use of Morton’s images. You’ll see them in nearly every highway rest stop in the state.
We published two collections of Morton’s iconic photographs: Hugh Morton’s North Carolina in 2003, and Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer in 2006. If you’ve ever driven through North Carolina, you’ll find images here you recognize.