A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10 - Asheville, North Carolina

Public Art Walking Trail, Beer bikes, unexpected rain, Bernie Sanders supporters, Thomas Wolfe

semi-overcast 24 °C

Distance traveled; 120 miles (200 k) Total trip 2,218 miles (3,195 k)

Asheville is a lovely western North Carolina city, with a population near 100,000. It is also called the craft beer capital of the eastern United States. There are 25 craft breweries in this small city and another 20+ in the outlying communities.

We thought it might be a good day trip for us, something a bit different than the mountains and hiking trails. It was interesting, to say the least. We parked at the Visitor Center, just off the main part of downtown. We had driven through downtown and it was packed with people, mostly young people and there was a definite party atmosphere to the place. It might be the beer bikes that transport drinkers around the downtown area from brewery to brewery.

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Imagine 14-16 beer drinkers pedaling this thing around city streets and you get the idea.

The city also features an Urban Art Walking Tour. We decided to see how many of these sculptures we could find during our city walk. Many of the art pieces feature things and places from the life of Thomas Wolfe(1900-1938). He was an author famous for the book 'Look Homeward, Angel" a story detailing the lives of characters that closely resembled those of real Asheville residents. We are likely going to see if we can find this book to read in the future.

It was while standing in front of what had been Wolfe's mother's boarding house that it began to rain, and hard. We took shelter on the front porch where we chatted with Matthew and Valerie, a local couple with vague thoughts about moving to Canada...should a certain person win the White House this fall. It turns our they are passionate Bernie Sanders supporters and we had a lovely conversation about the mysteries of US politics. In the end, I think we offered to sponsor them to move to Canada. It was a fun encounter. Hopefully, we have convinced them that Nova Scotia would be the best province for them to immigrate to!

Back to the walking tour. Here are some of the sculptures:

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Personally, I was quite taken with their iconic garbage and recycling bins...a very nice presentation:

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We spent about 3 hours wandering the downtown core, getting lost a few times. We finally settled down for a beer at the Lexington Avenue Brewery, where Jenny had a stout and I had a brown ale. We wandered back to our car, discovered that Asheville has several branches of the TD Bank, where we have our US $ account, so searched our an ATM to replenish our cash supply without having to pay a non-bank ATM fee...always nice to save a $ or two.

We considered eating in Asheville before heading home and then decided, instead, to head back in the direction of our cabin and just pick out a brewery from the "Field Guide to Breweries in and around Asheville", to stop at on the way back. We settled on the Boojum Brewing Company, in Waynesville, about half way back to our cabin. Why? We liked the name:

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The beer was fine, the atmosphere great and our server, like most of the people we have met in this area, young and enthusiastic. We shared 6 Jamaican Jerk seasoned chicken wings and a flatbread pizza, plus, of course, a pint of brown ale for Jenny and a pint of stout for me. We arrived back to our cabin and crashed for the night shortly thereafter.

Sunday, our last day in the Smokies, will be spent getting ready to head onward south tomorrow. We have laundry to do, and a car to clean. We will take a bit of a look around in the morning before settling in to our travel preparation chores in the afternoon.

Monday will see us travel to Birmingham, Alabama, where we have booked a room at the Comfort Inn. Tuesday night will be in Jackson, Mississippi, before we make our run into New Orleans on the 25th, which will likely be the date we make the next installment in our blog.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 05:41 Comments (1)

Day 9 - Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Giant trees, Yellow, (or tulip) Poplar, Winding roads.

rain 20 °C

Distance traveled Today - 150 miles (250 k) Total Trip 2,098 miles (2,995 k)

We decided yesterday, after learning of the clear cutting of the Great Smoky Mountains 100+ years ago that we would try to find some old growth trees to see what might have been here in the past. We had learned a couple of days ago about the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which is part of Nantahala National Forest, which borders the National Park.

Joyce Kilmer was born in 1886 and was killed in France in 1918 during WW1. In 1913 he wrote and published this poem:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

We have been told by locals that it was a requirement that they memorize this poem in Elementary School. So, seeing the forest memorialized in his name became the thing to do. Roads here do not travel in straight lines, they curve and zoom up and down slopes, along rivers wide and narrow across bridges, with every changing scenery. Really great driving if you like that kind of thing. The Honda CR-V handles these roads very well so it is not a chore to drive here.

We traveled along the Nantahala Gorge, home to multiple river rafting companies. Even on a weekday, the parking lots were busy and we saw a number of rafts on the river, as well as kayackers. We turned up into the Nantahala National Forest and began the 20 mile drive up into the area of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. We stopped at the Ranger Station to get some local maps and performed a wildlife rescue in the parking lot:

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We arrived at the parking area early afternoon, and had lunch before departing on the 2+ mile hike up into the memorial forest. For such a place, the parking lot is small and there were only two other vehicles there, compared to the hundreds going to hiking trails in the National Park. Of course this is a bit off the beaten path, and it takes a bit of work to find.

The first thing you notice as you head up into the woods is the quiet, just a bit of babbling from the brook and the chirping of birds in the trees. It is also damp and humid in here. We are reminded of our journey into the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island. It isn't long before we come upon the large trees. These are Yellow Poplar, also known as the tulip poplar because of its tulip like bloom.

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Half way up to hike is the memorial to Joyce Kilmer:

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These are the trees of which we speak and they are yellow poplar, about 150 feet tall, and 20+ feet around the butt. They are between 4 and 500 years old. Imagine, if you can, the smoky mountains covered by these trees. In addition to the poplar, the most abundant species were oak, chestnut.

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Our drive back to the cabin involved many more mountain roads, some very narrow, with minimal guardrails. Caution is the watchword should you ever travel these roads in search of giant trees.

Tomorrow, which is Saturday, will see a slightly different mission for us. The City of Asheville, NC is just 50 miles away and is considered the craft beer capital of the eastern United States. Well, we will have to see that, as well as checking out this city of about 90,000, which also has a vibrant arts scene. The weather promises to be sunny and in the mid 70's.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:45 Comments (3)

Day 8 - Exploration of the Great Smoky Mountains

Cades Cove, Clingman's Dome, Townsend BBQ, Moonshine, Gatlinburg

semi-overcast 20 °C

Distance traveled, days 6, 7, 8 - 300 miles (500 k), Total 1,948 miles (3,250 k)

Our day started early as our goal was to drive across the park to Cades Cove, a small valley on the Tennessee side of the park, as well as to have a look at Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

As we have been learning since we got here, the Great Smoky Mountains are not natural, not as they have been for centuries before man came here. This was all first growth forest, mowed to the ground by logging in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Virtually none of the trees here now are more than 100 years old. By the 1920's these mountains were a wasteland, scarred by railway lines to carry out the logs and by equipment to pull the logs up or down the mountains to train landings. Then rivers were fished out, or used as sewers for waste.

A concerted effort was made to rehabilitate this area, and in the 1930's during the depression, the park was built from scratch by hand labour as part of Roosevelt's plan to provide jobs during the depression. Buildings, roads and bridges, rockwalls, campgrounds, were all constructed during this period, The forest began to regrow and the park today is a magnificent sight, green as far as the eye can see, and open enough to allow access for recreation and sight seeing. The rivers teem with fish and fly-fishing is a major pass time here. Wild turkeys seems to be everywhere:

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The road across the park climbs steadily along the Newfound Gap Road, which reaches an elevation of 5,046 feet. The top of Clingman's Dome, at, 6,643 feet is just a few miles away and is the highest point in the park. Clingman's Dome is accessible by a path from a parking lot and features a lookout. Even though the trail was easy to travel, our aching muscles from our hike yesterday did not want to handle the 550 foot elevation gain from the parking lot, so this photo will have to suffice.

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We continued on across the park and decided to pick up a coffee in Gatlinburg before heading off on the 3+ hours needed to explore Cades Cove. Well, Gatlinburg is full out resort town...motels, hotels, bars, an aquarium and as many attractions you can cram into one town exist here. The town starts right on the border of the park. We drove down the main strip, picked up a Starbucks for our drive and headed back out. It would take more time than we had for the day to even walk about town... besides, they wanted $8 flat rate to park the car.

Onward...the road from the visitor center just to the entrance to Cades Cove is 33 miles and takes just about an hour to navigate, twists and turns galore.

Cades Cove alone receives more than 2 million visitors a year, and the 11 mile one way road through the area is essentially a traffic jam in the summer time. We are lucky that we are in the off-season and on a weekday doing this tour. Today it is simply great to be able to continue to move along, albeit at a very slow pace.

The cove (what a valley is called here) was first inhabited by the white man in 1820, and, by 1850 was home to about 700 people, who cleared land and farmed. Of course, the land was the home of the Cherokee Indians, who ceded rights to the land in the Calhoun treaty of 1819. The land was very fertile and crops including corn, wheat, oats, rye, flax, sorghum and vegetables thrived. In the 1940's the land was purchased to add to the park and many of the houses and farm building razed. A selected segment were retained to show the way of live now being abandoned. There are some original homesteads here, like this house from 1820:

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Here you can see the amount of work that went into fitting the logs together and chinking them, as well as the amount of work to build a chimney:

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There are several churches, each with its own cemetary and at the visitor center there are great examples of cantilever barns. The overhang was to provide shelter for farm animals, as well as to store tools out of the weather.

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This grist mill, currently under repair can still be used today. All of the grain grown locally was milled into various flours right here.

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I've always been curious about the eating of corn grits...a southern dietary staple. It is only after seeing the size of the corn cribs on these farms that you realize that corn was a most valuable crop when you were growing it to eat all winter long. Corn cobs were stored in large cribs and turned into meal either manually at home, or at the grist mill. You then had grits to eat at almost every meal.

Although we did not hike today, we estimate we walked about 3-4 miles through the exhibits, farm properties and churches in Cades Cove. As we were passing out of the cove, this fellow passed right behind our car, causing a brief traffic jam:

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We headed out of the park to the town of Townsend, Tennesee where we stopped for a bbq brisket lunch. The owner provided me with many tips about cooking a beef brisket, which I plan to put to use once we get home to Nova Scotia. Brisket, when smoked, is amazing.

We worked our way back towards our rental cabin, checking out, and then buying Mooshine from this place:

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The road to the top of the park is steep and we noticed, as we were headed down towards the North Carolina side, this difference in gas usage on our Honda:

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Our day was long...we left at 7:30am and arrived back at the cabin at 6:00pm. For supper, back at the cabin, we made chicken fajitas, and relaxed with a couple of beers. Tomorrow, we explore the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which features old growth trees like those that were mowed down 120 years ago. We wanted to get a sense on what that looked like.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 04:17 Comments (1)

Day 6, 7 - Intro to Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Our cabin in the mountains. the road to nowhere, Bryson City, Craft Beer, Hiking,

sunny 26 °C

Day 6 - Our first day in the Smokys gets off to a very slow start. For the first time on this journey we have emptied out the car and set ourselves up to stay in one place for a full week. The cabin is great, and we are early enough in the season that the place is empty except for us. There are 8 cabins here and we are just far enough above the highway that it is quiet. The hot tub is full and operational.

So we just relaxed for much of the morning. The weather looks like it will cooperate, at least for a few days, so we have lots of options open to us. We head over to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. To get there you pass though the town of Cherokee, which is part of a large native reservation. It features the obligatory casino, plus numerous shops selling native wares like moccasins, dream catchers and the like.

The Visitor Center features a replica of a local farm and we did the tour, as well as picking up brochures on Auto Touring, Waterfalls, and Hiking Trails in the park.

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This is the busiest National Park in the country with more than 9 million visits last year, but it is still early in the season and much of the park is just opening up. This is the way we like things anyway; a chance to see nature without having to see through a throng. After taking a look at the maps and consulting a ranger, we decide to head over Bryson City way, where there is an entrance to the park known as the Road to Nowhere that features a tunnel.

First though, we need a frying pan. The ones in the cabin are scarred and not very nice and we are planning a stir-fry for supper. We stop in downtown Bryson and check out the local hardware stores without success. After wandering around for the better part of an hour, we come across the local micro brewery:

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We each had a local brew...while there the server told us there was a grocery store on the edge of town that could likely solve our frying pan problem.

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After the beer we headed up the Road to Nowhere, started in 1943, which runs 8 1/2 miles into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and there it ends. A half mile long tunnel leads to just a hiking trail or two. We stretched our legs with a 2 1/2 mile hike from the parking lot through the dark tunnel and along the hiking trails beyond.

The locals have tagged the tunnel

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The views along the road are spectacular:

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We returned to our cabin and tried out the hot tub. We still are the only ones here. After the hot tub, we had our stir fry with the new pan we picked up on the way back, did our laundry and settled down to read and watch tv for the evening.

Day 7 - We planned a more extensive hike for this day, once again back at the Bryson City side of the park. After so much time traveling we needed a good longer hike to see what condition our condition was in. The Deep Creek trail offered us the opportunity to go as much as 6 miles on up and down trails, along a beautiful stream with a series of waterfalls.

We took our lunch with us, planning on being out for much of the day. The hiking trails were good, although rocky and filled with tree roots, but we managed 5.6 miles over 3 hours. The waterfalls were nice:

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Jenny came upon this mess of butterflies, on a patch of horse manure:

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After the hike we were feeling a bit spent, so we headed to the town of Sylva, a few miles from our cabin to check out the Innovation Brewery. The lovely beer these people make mellowed out our tired muscles and was a nice way to end our excursion.

Steak and asparagus, on the grill for supper. Yummy

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We have so much exploration to do, and just 5 more days to do it in. Life is great!

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 16:34 Comments (2)

Day 4, 5 - The journey south

Historic Houses in Strasburg, Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter Lodge, Expressway travel to the Great Smoky Mountains

rain

Distance traveled, Day 4, 336 miles (560 k)
Distance traveled, Day 5, 340 miles (570k), Total distance 1,648 miles (2,745 k)

These two days are about getting south to our rental cabin in the Smoky Mountains, where we plan to spend a full week exploring.

Day 4 - We left our rental cabin early, for it was to be somewhat longish day to get to the Peaks of Otter Lodge, our stopping point for the night. We paused in Strasburg to take some pictures of houses. The town dates back to the early 1700's and many of the houses are still in use today.

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We headed south on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Drive (National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, page 80). This route passes through many of the major battlegrounds of the Civil War. Neither of us are Civil War buffs, but the drive along these roads is far more interesting than the Interstates. We passed through Gettysburg, and passed Civil War battlegrounds of Antietam, Ball's Bluff, Mannassas. The drive is pleasant, most of it at right around 60 miles an hour.

Our ultimate goal for the day was to get onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile long scenic road in Virginia and North Carolina. (National Geographic Guide, pages 102-105) Built in the 1930's as a make work project during the depression, the road winds up and down. We stopped at the Parkway's Visitor Centre, which features a replica of an early farm from the area. It may be hard to believe, but farmers could eek out a subsidence living on the sides of these mountains, farming just enough to keep the family alive.

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The viewpoints along the Parkway provide vistas of the Valleys below. This one is from 3300 feet above sea level.

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Our day ended at mile post 86.2, at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, built back in the 1960's. The rooms are pretty decent and restaurant well priced and the food enjoyable. It was so cold and windy upon our arrival that we did not get to enjoy a hike around the lake. By early evening the temperature had dropped into the high 30's...brr!

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Day 5 - Once again we woke to an almost frosty morning, cold and windy. Our plans for an early morning hike were dashed. We have limited cold weather gear with us as the normal temperatures for this area at this time are in the 50's to 70's. We decided, due to the cold, to forego the long winding drive along the Parkway in favour of getting to our rental cabin in Whittier, NC. If the weather was not going to cooperate, we should just take that as our cue to get on down the highway.

We expresswayed along the I-81 and the I-26 to Ashville, NC, where we stopped for groceries to stock up for our stay. We have full facilities at this cabin and plan to cook most of our meals. We arrived late afternoon and were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of this cabin. We are paying arount $100 a night for this place and it is just fine. We settled in for the evening, had a North Carolina shrimp dinner with a Caesar Salad for supper.

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The forecast is for rain for Tuesday, and, as I write this blog entry on Tuesday morning, it is raining, but the temperatures are up in the 50's, we have rain gear with us, so we will begin our exploration of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park today.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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