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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
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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April 14th, 2008
Disc Golf Takes Off in NC!
We once got to take care of a wonderful old Border Collie after his kids went off to college and he got arthritis. He’d been “The World’s Best Frisbee Dog” in his day, and still made a valiant effort to chase down the stray discs our grandchildren would toss in the yard. Unfortunately, our property is seriously up-and-down, and poor old Angus had almost as much trouble with his eyesight as he had with his joints, once rolling halfway down the hill before we could rescue him.
So we quickly learned not to let him outside when playing the first 9 holes of our newly-installed disc golf course, complete with metal poles, bicycle wheels and swing chains as ‘holes’. Now we’ve 20 holes along with plans for another nine on the flatland at the top of the driveway. Hold an informal tourney every January called the “Kudzu Open,” and have a big basket full of pro discs – Archangels and Orcs, putters and drivers, most bright enough in color to be readily found even if they go off the side of the fairway and end up 200 feet down the mountain in a pile of leaves.
The garden sits squarely in the fairway of the 2nd and 4th holes, lose a stroke if you land on anything growing (compost pile doesn’t count). Still have 4 broken windows in the library from when my nephew’s shot went wild and managed to break every single one of the panes one right after the other (he got extra credit). Still, it’s fine exercise, it’s fresh air, and it’s something to do with a disc if your frisbee dog can’t jump anymore.Development, Family Activities, Nature, North Carolina, Sports | Comment (0)
March 13th, 2008
Part 4: Reasons 16 – 25
The cultural and educational offerings in the State Capital area will appeal to even the most sophisticated of visitors. Excellent history and natural science museums, the North Carolina Symphony, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Duke Gardens at Duke University and more great outings can keep interested visitors busy for weeks!
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March 11th, 2008
There are literally hundreds of great places to go and things to do in beautiful North Carolina, but for this series I’m just going to highlight 25 of the best reasons to visit. Starting in the lush mountains of the west and meandering through the state toward the storied Outer Banks, this quick tour of our state offers something for everyone!
Part 1: Reasons 1 – 5
The most visited of America’s National Parks, the Great Smoky Mountains hosts more than 9 million people a year on its Blue Ridge Parkway and in its forests, creeks, coves and hollows along 900 miles of trails. Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina boarder, the park is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site.
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January 22nd, 2008
North Carolina visitors who harbor dreams of living ‘green’ have a host of great opportunities to indulge their interests while enjoying North Carolina’s stunning rural scenery, from mountains to sea. There is much to see, do, learn and enjoy on our active organic farms, many of which offer learning programs, hands-on work programs, pick-your-own fruit and produce opportunities, recreational facilities, lodging and home-grown, home-cooked meals your family will love!
North Carolina’s history as a tobacco growing state could have spelled disaster to farmers and farming communities as that crop has become untenable in the modern marketplace. Yet instead of giving up, the necessary change has engendered a strong commitment to innovative alternatives. Family farmers have invented new ways to keep their farmland productive while at the same time leading the movement toward sustainable practices, new income-producing crops, and clever private-business-government partnerships that add to NC’s important tourism industry.Agriculture, Education, Family Activities, Green Living, Nature, NC Land, North Carolina | Comments (5)
December 10th, 2007
The Ultimate in Vine-Covered Cottages
When my daughter was earning her theater technical degree at UNCA, she designed a set for a rather bizarre theatrical production of “Hansel and Gretel at Auschwitz” or something like that, which I never saw and didn’t really want to see. She brought home the ugliest of creepy metal trees made out of welded rebar and promptly installed it out by the footed bathtub from her production of “Hair,” which we now use as the final hole for the top nine disc golf course.
Now, we live in a lovely chestnut cabin on some seriously ‘graded’ acreage next to the Pisgah National Forest. So it’s not hard to imagine that I’ve no particular use for an ugly rebar tree. Yet that was six years ago, and today that ugly metal tree is one of my favorite lawn sculptures. The English ivy she planted around the base has grown up to cover the trunk in variegated dark and light green lushness. Wild pink roses and Japanese honeysuckle now compete for sunlight over the entire top and branches, trailing almost to the ground in places and spectacular in bloom.
So I’m not all that adverse to ideas about how to combine modern, recycled materials and technology with real natural greenery and flowers to make interesting homescapes. The eastern wall of this cabin is half rock, and when we moved in it was covered in ivy. Made for a really pretty picture, but we had to pull it all down when we discovered it was rotting the siding, providing shelter for a variety of stinging pests, and crumbling the rocks.Art, Gardens, Green Living, Log Homes, Nature | Comment (0)