Take the Moonshine Express run of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
After booking our tickets online, we picked them up at 9:30 the morning of the trip and boarded the Carolina Shine car around 10 AM. Before we even started rolling, we were served three of the seven moonshine flavors we tasted. Starting with the basic White Lightening, we moved quickly on to Apple Pie and Cherry. Our second flight featured Peach, Blueberry, Pina Colada, and Salted Caramel. Peach and Apple Pie were my favs . . . and I did try them all. Heartier souls can order all sorts of shots and/or moonshine-laced cocktails in addition to wine or beer from the well-stocked bar. It was a happy train car.
We rolled out of the Bryson City, NC trainyard under diesel power about half an hour into our five-hour experience, on a route along the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Our energetic, funny host, Steve, kept us entertained with all sorts of historic facts and trivia as we chugged along about 20 miles per hour through forests, around lakes, and over rivers.
A tasty BBQ lunch was served before our hour-long stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. At the Center, you see some beautiful (and scary-looking) class-5 rapids, as well as a kayak training course used by Olympic athletes. There are ample restrooms, a restaurant/bar, and a shopping area focused on active outdoor clothes and accessories (think wetsuits and paddles).
In the North Carolina High Country, I have never seen so many hummingbirds flying in and out of the trees to the feeder and nearby flowers. Dipping and diving too fast to get a good still photo. They were magical.
The Toe River Studio Tour has become a tradition to kick off my summer season in the mountains. The twice-a-year event (first weekend in June & December), features the work of artists and craftspeople in what is thought to be the longest running studio tour in the country. The tour traverses Mitchell and Yancey Counties in Western NC, and with more than 90 featured artists and galleries, offering something for every taste and pocketbook.
Start at the TRAC Gallery in Spruce Pine to pick up a Tour Program/Map. It never ceases to amaze me the talent that has found a home in this area. Artistic people attract like-minded folks, and the Penland School of Crafts has long been the center of this talent-pool.
We headed directly to Jenny Lou Sherburne and her whimsical clay art that is a personal favorite. This year’s stops ranged from the One of a Kind Art Gallery in the quaint Micaville Country Store, to the glass-blowing studio and showroom of John Geci Glass.
I love meeting the artists in their studio settings, it really rounds out the meaning and inspiration, as well as attention to planning and detail, behind their work.
A new find was spotted off the tour at the Fine Arts Gallery at The Crossnore School. The incredibly lovely combination of pottery and pewter seen in the work by artist Ann Melton was stunning. The Crossnore School and Gallery have quite a story and will have to be another post all their own.
Most of the local galleries show work by many of the local artisans and can fill you in on studios to visit throughout the year. Some are always open, others by appointment.
Jenny Lou Sherburne: www.jennylouclayart.com
John Geci Glass: www.jgeciglass.com
One of a Kind Art Gallery: www.ooakartgallery.com
TRAC & Gallery: www.toeriverarts.org
Crossnore School: www.crossnoreschool.org
Penland School of Crafts: www.penland.org