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May 20th, 2009
Cheoa Lake, Todd Knaperek
As Memorial Day signals the beginning of the annual vacation season, North Carolina’s tourism communities are happy to note that the soaring gasoline prices of the summer of ’08 have settled back down to reasonable. More families should be “getting away from it all” this season, seeking the comfort of natural beauty and feeling close to the land to leave behind for a little while the stresses of normal life in uncertain times.
The mountainous western region of the state is among the most popular destinations for out-of-state visitors, and not all of them are among the millions who populate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hike the highland portions of the Appalachian Trail, or cruise along the lush peaks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are many rural and somewhat city-fied attractions in western NC to tempt the family vacation planner.
WLOS Channel 13 in lovely Asheville offers a total of five (5) mapped day-trips in the western counties that look to be great fun to the inveterate sight-seer. There are viewable and printable maps, photos from each trip, lists of attractions, activities and goodies to keep an eye out for along the way. The drives are loops and do not take more than a couple of hours if driven straight through, though they can easily last all day at a leisurely pace with some stops planned-in. There are also hints for making the trip more pleasant, and even some detail about where to pay special attention to the speed limits.
Most of these day-trips meander through wilderness, occasional towns, and rural byways that, depending on when you visit, offer all sorts of agricultural goodies. There are farms where your family can pick your own fresh produce, fruit and berries straight from the fields, and others that maintain convenient off-road market stands for what’s fresh. Some offer delicious mountain delicacies such as sourwood honey, apple and cherry ciders, fruit and pumpkin butters, exotic jams and compotes, and often there will be a fine display of regional crafts as well. Bird and bat houses make of gourds, various styles of hand-painted decorative and/or musical gourds, yard and garden ornaments and scarecrows, even textile offerings destined to become heirlooms.Adventure, Agriculture, Blue Ridge, Family Activities, Hiking, Lakes, Nature, NC Living, North Carolina, Tourism | Comment (0)
January 21st, 2009
My family watched the movie National Treasure the other night, in preparation for Tuesday’s historic inauguration ceremony swearing in Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
The film stars Nicholas Cage as the last in a long family line of treasure hunters seeking the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar-turned-Freemasons, said to have been brought to this country before its beginnings and carefully hidden by the Founding Fathers beneath Trinity Church in New York and found only after following a trail of clues long thought to have been lost to time.
But there are other, less obscure treasures in our nation that we can proudly protect and gratefully enjoy. Some of them are included in Brainz’ scenic post about 16 Incredible North American National Parks, though most of those are out west or up north, including that ‘other’ North American nation, Canada. What was not included is North America’s most beloved, most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border and includes some of the tallest peaks and most folded landscapes east of the mighty Mississippi.
Whether your family pitches a tent in one of the well-kept campgrounds, makes use of the rustic shelters along the park’s portion of the Appalachian Trail, stays in luxury hotel accommodations in one of the nearby towns or cities, or rents a cabin or chalet nearby or in the park, there’s plenty to see and do that keeps millions of visitors coming back year after year. 2009 is the year of the park’s 75th Anniversary, so be sure to make your plans well in advance if you’re planning to stay for awhile.
Hike some of the 800 maintained trails, take in some beautiful scenery along the Parkway, play some golf in a landscape that harkens back to the Scottish Highlands where the game first began. Take up mountain biking or engage in a leisurely horseback ride. Attend a festival in a nearby city or get good and wet at an area ski resort, most of which offer summer activities for the whole family. Take a tour of area organic farms or artists’ studios, hit some of the westernmost hotspots on the Mountain Music trail and get to know some of the best fiddlers, banjo pickers and washtub base pluckers anywhere!
You’ll love our beautiful National Treasure nearly as much as we who live here do, I promise. See you there during the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 75th Anniversary year!
Links:Adventure, Blue Ridge Parkway, Family Activities, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Nature, North Carolina | Comment (0)
October 9th, 2008
It’s Official Leaf-Looker Season
Western North Carolina, showplace of the Southern Appalachians, the Great Smoky Mountains and the venerable Black Mountains is a favorite destination for autumn leaf-lookers far and wide. The crisp mountain air – still warm in the day and jacket-cool at night – combines with cobalt skies and flame colored trees to provide a feast for the eyes and seasonal connections between the earth and the soul. Put that together with our many fine restaurants, local festivals and attractions, and fine accommodations, and pretty soon you’re talking about some of the best vacation getaway experiences the world has to offer.
The spectacular colors of autumn arise in hardwood tree leaves, which contain several different color pigments that appear as chlorophyll production shuts down and the tree prepares for winter by pulling the remaining chlorophyll/sugar energy out of the leaves. Brilliant reds, yellows and flame-bright oranges blanket the hills and valleys. Frost, which has already hit the high country, serves to break down the chlorophyll all at once, resulting longer lasting fall foliage. The result is a feast for the eyes and the heart that keeps visitors coming back year after year.
There are well-planned drives, whether you’re traveling by car, motorcycle or bicycle, well-worn hiking trails and fall festivals all over the region. Western North Carolina’s many beautiful resorts and golf courses beckon as well, with rest and recreational exercise in the clear mountain air. Check out some of the links below to find just what you’re looking for, and take some time off from the rat race to enjoy our natural beauty, talented artisans and musicians, fun family festivals and activities, and fine Southern hospitality. You won’t believe what our leaves can do!
MSNBC: Autumn is in the NC air
Leaf-Lookers Guide: Perfect Drives
High Country Outdoors
GolfNorthCarolina: Best Courses
High Country Reservations
High Country Attractions
Carolina BalloonFest 35
Crossroads Pumpkin Fest
July 15th, 2008
When my brother and I were children, we got to spend a couple of weeks every summer visiting our grandparents and aunt in Eastern Kentucky. They lived in town, but our aunt was a social worker who often traveled into the hollows and onto mountaintops to check on her clients, many of whom lived so far back in the woods there wasn’t an actual road into the homestead. Instead, there was often a mule path we’d follow, sometimes with fine limestone cliffs she’d let us climb just for fun. We learned about the plants, the animals, and had great fun helping at harvest, then got to sit at the crude picnic tables in these homestead yards and listen to the stories of the old folks.
A frequent topic for those old men was a legendary mountain man named Big Tom Wilson. He became a hero to my brother and I, and we often played in the woods pretending we were Big Tom-like mountain folk, seeking deer trails or following bear hollows through the rhododendrons to the mountain peaks, blazing trails and knowing everything about everything these abundant mountains have to offer.
Decades later my own family moved here to Western North Carolina where Big Tom is more than just a legend – he was a real man who played a significant role in the history of this region. He’s still got descendants here, I taught one of them in junior high a few years ago.
Big Tom was born Thomas David Wilson in 1825. He got his nickname by being a lanky six foot two in a time when most men were much smaller in stature. They say he killed 114 bears in his lifetime, and he knew the Black Mountains (the Seven Black Brothers) better than anyone alive. He married Niagra (Polly) Ray in 1852 and they lived in a 2-room cabin on the upper Cane River while he earned a living as a gameskeeper for a hunting preserve, as a farmer, hunter, fisherman and a mountain guide. It was as a guide that he played his strongest role in the history of the region.Adventure, Bears, Blue Ridge Parkway, Carolina History, Hiking, North Carolina | Comments (2)
July 11th, 2008
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] reported this week that it will lead a research expedition through July 26 to study the wrecks of three German U-boats sunk in 1942 off the North Carolina coast during the infamous Battle of the Atlantic. The battle was not just the longest engagement in the ‘Great War’, it was also the most important.
North Carolina’s rich military history includes this great battle for control of the Atlantic shipping lanes linking Great Britain, the United States and Canada, which allowed the Allies to take the ground and air war to Europe and the heartland of Germany itself.
The NOAA expedition is part of a larger, multi-year project to survey a number of historically significant shipwrecks during WW-II, including British naval vessels and merchant marine ships. Partners in the expedition will be the Minerals Management Service, the National Park Service, the State of North Carolina, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute.Adventure, Carolina Coast, Carolina History, Lighthouses, Military, North Carolina | Comment (0)
July 1st, 2008
Bloomberg reported last week that according to MasterCard, demand for gasoline has fallen 2.7% from the same time last year as consumers cut back on vacation plans. The Greater Triad Area Business Journal also reports that vacation house rentals along the NC coast are down 5-8% from last year, with more available houses staying empty. There are no current reports on the number of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, but those figures are expected to be down significantly this season as well.
The Raleigh News & Observer reports that North Carolina’s tourism office is responding by putting more money and effort into getting in-state residents to stay closer to home this year for their vacations, and that other states are doing the same thing.
Luckily, North Carolina is so rich in natural beauty and fun family events as well as attractions, that North Carolinians can always find fun things to do on their vacations without having to drive far at all. Even better, a good many of the summer festivals, rural attractions and outdoor opportunities cost them little to nothing!
So no matter where in North Carolina you live, there are things to do, places to go and fun to be had within 100 miles of your residence. You can take the family camping on any of our beautiful lakes, at our many state parks, or even in the nation’s most popular national park. You can go boating at the coast, tour some lighthouses, do some surf-fishing and collect seashells from our beaches. You can tour organic farms and orchards, attend a small town festival, enjoy great music of all varieties, and learn new things about our state without going far from home.
So, all you proud North Carolinians… discover something wonderful about your own region this summer, and don’t worry that it’ll cost you an arm and a leg. We never have to go far from home to have a wonderful time with our friends and families, to learn and experience new people and new vistas and new things. Don’t give up your necessary vacation this year just because gas prices are high. Just don’t drive so far! In North Carolina, you don’t have to!Filed under Adventure, Family Activities, Family Events, Holidays, NC Living, North Carolina, Tourism | Comment (0)
May 12th, 2008
…for Boys and Girls
Many families who consider North Carolina to be the bet vacation spot in the nation will be thinking right about now, what plans can we make for the kids this summer? A fine answer to this question is to book those kids at one of NC’s great summer camps, to coincide with a full family vacation to any of NC’s wonderful summer festivals and events when the camp period is over!
There are literally hundreds of choices, and camps located in every region of the state offering a regular smorgasbord of activities and skills to learn and adventures to enjoy for kids of all abilities and ages. There are some good web sources listed below this post, where I’ll highlight a few of North Carolina’s best special-purpose camps.
Teen Overnight Surf Camp in Wrightsville Beach. Money Magazine named the southern NC coast as one of the top vacation spots in North America. The week-long overnight camps offer instruction in the art of surfing the Outer Banks’ gentle waves, improving your surfing skills, and exploring different coastal ecosystems while you’re at it! Enrollees stay in air conditioned suites on the campus of UNC-Wilmington and the staff of professional instructors are well qualified to deal with both beginner and intermediate surfers. The $1495/week fee includes lodging on campus, meals, 24-hour adult supervision, shuttle transportation from Wilmington’s airport, equipment, instruction with a 3-1 camper to instructor ratio, daily transportation to the beaches, admission and private tour of the Fort Fisher Aquarium, surfboard factory tour and extras.
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