The AAC's Fall Festival
Updated: Sep 21
What is The AAC's Fall Festival all about?
As fall approaches, winter’s call back to hearth and home is heard loud and clear around these hills and hollers. The first tinges of fall color are illuminating our upper ridge lines, the yellow and purple hues of fall flowers have carpeted our fields and meadows, and the days have grown noticeably shorter. To celebrate the changing of the seasons and the fleeting beauty of fall, we are throwing a mountaintop festival to reflect on the year that was and ready ourselves to endure the cold days and dark nights of winter.
This tradition runs deep in the Appalachian area of North Carolina where our founder, Steven Reinhold, was made and raised. Fall Festivals, like the annual (40+ years running) one at his elementary alma mater, Jonathan Valley Elementary, are cherished and celebrated by the entire community. At these autumnal events folks would come from all over Haywood County to celebrate fall and solidify the fact that one of the most heartwarming things on Earth is a sense of community. That sense of community and the accompanying feeling of contentment seem quite fleeting in our post pandemic days, but the folks who attend our Fall Festival will not only leave full of those feelings, they’ll go home with full stomachs from our feasts, full spirits from our shared experiences, and with memory cards full of fall photos!
What makes this a distinctly Appalachian event?
The AAC’s Fall Festival is rooted in Appalachian tradition. The Cabins at Sandy Mush Bald, where we host the event, are a living homage to the homesteads from yesteryear. No power, spring-fed water, porch swings, antique wood stoves and authentic hosts all combine to give guests the quintessential Appalachian experience. This set of cabins remind us of Appalachia’s version of the hut systems found in Colorado and New Hampshire. Swap out a Trailhead full of Subarus, though, for pastoral parking and a tractor powered gear shuttle and you’re more on brand!
Taking the mile and a half walk-in up the trail, errr better yet, tractor road, to the cabins has begun to feel like going home. We tend to walk side-by-side on the wide path, always lost in conversation. Half way up we finally cross the creek, always taking time to cool down and recharge our positive vibes with the creek's negative ions. Three quarters of the way up the mountain we come to a fork in the road which signifies we’ve completed 90% of our elevation gain and are nearing the cabins -- a place to celebrate. And once we finally make our way out into the meadow the real homecoming begins! Aside from the authentic Appalachian structures we’ve come to love, we are warmly greeted by our equally authentic hosts, Doug and Lucy. At this point, those two, and the cabins owner, Lisa, feel like family to us at The AAC. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed warm meals, cold beverages and enchanting conversations with them during our stays on their mountain!
What can guests expect at The AAC's Fall Festival?
Shared experiences create fast friendships and cabin trips are a cultural vibe all of their own. Perhaps it’s the lack of wifi and digital distractions or perhaps it’s the glimpse into Appalachia’s agrarian past, but time just seems to move slower at the Cabins at Sandy Mush Bald. Daily duties up there include catching sunrise on the front porch, engaging in intentional conversations on said porch after breakfast while sipping countless rounds of coffee, enjoying warm meals together beside the wood stove and chasing sunsets up on the "Big Bald." And when the day comes to an end up on the Big Bald — with a view overlooking and outshining the one from neighboring Max Patch — the night finally begins as we gather around the campfire to enjoy a warm dessert and hot beverage before diving into local folklore and nighttime photography lessons! A day in this life is a dream. The best part? We get to wake up and do it all over again!
What’s for Dinner?
We have a heartwarming and Appalachian inspired menu ready for this year’s Fall Festival. We are stoked, as always, to partner with Food For Adventures to make sure everyone eats well and enjoys themselves during the experience. For this autumnal celebration were cooking up all kinds of warm meals, and also bringing in a few local favorites like coffee from Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters, and hot cider and mountain pies from the famed Barber Orchards!
Takeaways from Fall Festival.
This experience was designed as a low-key photography workshop disguised as a Fall Festival. During the trip we’ll cover the ins and outs of adventure photography starting with its foundational principles and expanding into the intricacies of light, composition, equipment, strategy and approach. Unlike most photo workshops, though, we aim to provide a memorable experience outside of the technical instruction. So, even if you’re not overly ambitious about photography, and just want to show up for the experience, it will be a memorable event. And either way, you’ll walk away with a new set of friends and at least 10 pro photos of yourself from the trip!