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).
A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying a painting at a fundraiser for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, a group dedicated to documenting historic barns in this part of western North Carolina.
My husband and I decided to take one of their self-driving tours and visit the barns of Walnut Township in Madison County. Once in Madison County, we followed winding country roads for about two hours to nine different barns the preservation group researched, including the one featured in our painting. There were many other old barns and farm buildings along the route, turning our drive into a sort of barn-treasure-hunt.
A few of the barns were not exactly where we thought, but the directions got us close enough to figure it out. Most of the structures were eventually used for tobacco drying of some sort, and many were originally built to house livestock. The history of each barn was as interesting as its deteriorating appearance and we could soon spot the distinctive monitor roof and gambrel roof designs. Along the way, we learned about many used as flue-cured tobacco barns and converted in the 1920s to air-cure burley tobacco (used primarily for cigarette production). Many early barn-owners sold (or bartered) their barn roofs for advertising . . . maybe our first billboards? Does anyone else remember those “See Rock City” barn ads?
The group has several self-guided tours. guided van and private tours, and other special events you can read about on their appalachianbarns.org website.
It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day.
St. John’s Episcopal Church is a little gem tucked away in the woods down a gravel road in Sugar Grove, NC. Not far from its parent church The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal* in Valle Crucis, St. John’s was built in 1862. It came about through the fortitude and aspirations of William West Skiles who gave his life to the church and was deaconate in Valle Crucis. He served the people of this mountain region from 1847, often on horseback, until his death in 1862, just after the new church opened. Read the rest of this entry
You can’t drive through the green, pastoral country roads of Western North Carolina without seeing barns. It’s always fun to see a barn. Barns of all types and styles. Barns mostly in a state of disrepair. Barns that aren’t going to be in existence for the next generation to enjoy. I can’t imagine these mountain landscapes without barns.
The Appalachian Barn Alliance was created to preserve the memories of these barns and document their significant role in the history and development of this rural region. Through architectural drawings, photographs, and data collection the group has documented about 90 historic barns in Madison County, North Carolina. Read the rest of this entry
See unparalleled views of the Linville Gorge from Wiseman’s View, near Marion. NC. Looking down across the deepest gorge in the eastern U.S., you can clearly see the Linville River snaking through the forest 1500’ below. The trail itself is an easy, paved, 0.4-mile, handicap accessible path that even has a permanent port-o-potty-style bathroom at the trailhead. But, oh boy, the ride there is an adventure. It’s only four miles on a gravel road, but with the washouts and potholes around most turns, it seems much longer. You will need a 4×4, high off the ground, with good wheels. A Jeep, Range Rover, or F-150 will do the trick.
Wherever you find yourself it’s always interesting to tap into the events going on in the local community. Some of the most rewarding experiences are because you find out what is going on when you are in an area. Case in point – I recently attended my first Horse Pull, in the mountains of North Carolina.
We watched six beautifully groomed and well-cared for two-horse teams pull a cart filled with cement building blocks. Pull weight started at 3,000 pounds and blocks were added in increments of 1,000 or 500 until only one team was able to pull the cart the required 27.5’. The larger heavyweight teams didn’t have to start until the cart held 5,000 lbs. Some of these draft horses are working farm animals and watching them you could see why having a good team would have been essential for early settlers.
Thanks to Hurricane Florence, New Bern has been in the news lately and not because it was the Colonial Capital of North Carolina. This charming historic town is not only the birthplace of yours truly, but also of Pepsi Cola.
It’s a lovely place, founded in 1710, by Baron von Graffenried from Bern, Switzerland and jam-packed with history. Four historic districts include more than 160 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are parks, gardens and about 2,000 crepe myrtles (the city’s official flower), a thriving sailing community, and the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers. The setting for homes along the wide riverfront is absolutely beautiful. It is that unique and wonderful location that has caused them so many problems with this recent storm.
Keep everyone from New Bern in your thoughts as they clean-up and recover from Flo. Then, be sure to visit sometime in the near future.
In Western North Carolina, just a few miles south of the Virginia border is a little slice of mountain life that is good for the soul (and the stomach). Shatley Springs is a ramshackle collection of metal-roofed buildings and cabins, some dating as far back as 1923. Décor leans to early-barn, with colorful flowers planted in re-purposed kitchen pots and old equipment.
Built over springs reported to have medicinal powers, a typical Sunday finds a huge after-church crowd and (without being rude) lots of folks who appear to have very healthy appetites. If you don’t have a reservation you may have to wait, but just sit back in the porch rockers and enjoy the live music or wander around the grounds, check out the spring, buy some Ashe County fruit and bread, browse the shops, or chat-up some new friends. NASCAR is a popular topic I overheard being discussed during this most recent visit. The shops have an eclectic variety of items including jewelry, candy, and locally handcrafted goods.
Lunch and dinner are available after 11:30 and feature fried chicken and sugar-cured country ham. This was our first time trying the breakfast menu and we had a delicious meal. I like that you can forgo the trademark large family-style meals and order exactly what you want, including eggs made to order. The biscuits are amazing, and as long as I can get good country sausage gravy I am happy (a treat my Yankee husband just does not understand).
When you can’t eat another bite, your waitress will add “God Bless You” to your check and wish you a blessed day – and she will mean it.
If you drive over from Boone the Railroad Grade Road between Todd and Fleetwood is a beautiful drive along the New River.
Once at Shatley Springs, you will need to check in at the office; they will call your name to be seated. You return to the same area at the end of the meal to settle your bill. Keeping up with the times, they now take credit cards. Open daily 7 AM til 9 PM. Call for reservations.
407 Shatley Springs Road, Crumpler, NC 336.982.2236
For more details check out: www.shatleysprings.com
We returned to Lake Toxaway this year, at the invitation of good friends (thanks!) and once again had some wonderful new adventures. Who doesn’t love a mountain lake? And we enjoyed the hospitality of another Florida friend when he gave us a first-rate boat tour. It was interesting to learn about the history of some of the beautiful lake-front estates and even more interesting to hear current neighborhood tidbits. We even saw a bear scouting for food just below the deck of the house.
As a preservation advocate, I’m always up for anything historic and we visited the Cashiers Designer Showhouse, Fox Tail, presented by the Cashiers Historical Society. I wasn’t that thrilled with the showhouse, but enjoyed the 1920 cottage on the 42-acre property that was also open to tour. The Historic Lawrence Monteith Cabin was open as a joint venture with the Glenville Area Historical Society.
The three-bedroom house still has the original doors and windows with rope pulleys. The sawmill that provided the boards to build the house and the original farm fields were covered by Lake Glenville in 1941. Although electricity and plumbing were added in the 1940s, the three-bedroom home never had an indoor bathroom.
It was a nice glimpse into past mountain living.
My family loves games and puzzles and are always up for an escape room adventure. This week, we tried Boone’s first escape room – Mysterium, and were not disappointed.
The Boone property is a completely local, original venture; not part of a franchise like so many others. Owner-creator Shaun has done a masterful job. His video, recordings, clues, and special effects are top-notch. The hour was packed with lots of interesting special effects – really the most we’ve ever experienced. Of course, I’m not going to give any hints, but don’t be daunted if you have to ask for help and get a few extra clues along the way. You are connected to the outside by walkie-talkie and can ask for assistance at any time.
The theme of the room was “The Inheritance” and we were looking for the fortune left by mischievous adventurer/explorer Uncle Ambrose. The room is not large and play is limited to no more than six participants at a time. Our team of four joined the mother-son duo Vicky and Andy (pictured above, on the left) for this quest.
Shaun is currently creating his next room and we can’t wait.
We did escape, with 8 seconds to spare.
828.865.0009 * 743 W King St. * $25 per adult; $15 students with ID * Must be 12 and, if under 18 with an adult.