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Heart's in the Highlands
There's something exhilarating about standing on a mountain peak, one mile above sea level. A light covering of April snow made for a palate of blues, whites and grey. Surrounding peaks were covered with a thin, gauze-like veil. The air was crisp. The only sounds were those of dripping water and the wind. Birds soared overhead and reveled in mountain updrafts. I was reminded of Grace Ellery Channing-Stetson's words - "And the deep-breathing heart grows faint, to be so near to heaven". Granted, Grandfather Mountain at 5,964 feet, can't match the west coast peaks, but it is the highest point in the Blue Ridge and the vista from the pinnacle is stunning. As a matter of interest, the lowest point in the area is 1,800 feet at the Lowlands of Elk.
Grandfather Mountain, on Highway #221 south of Boone, North Carolina offers everyone the opportunity to experience a little bit of heaven on earth. Owners make it easy for visitors to reach the peak. You can drive up to the Visitor Centre, then walk the short distance to the mile-high swinging bridge that leads to the pinnacle. Throughout the year and changing seasons, the International Biosphere Reserve, as declared by the United Nations, beckons visitors to explore and enjoy its black cliffs and gorgeous vistas.
It was while standing at the summit of Grandfather Mountain, when I realized that I was going to leave part of my heart in the High Country of North Carolina. The view was overwhelming in its beauty and serenity. Although difficult to pull myself away, there was some comfort in the fact that hubby was snapping posterity-pictures.
A visit to Grandfather Mountain should really begin the Nature Museum where a lot can be learned about area flora and fauna, including at least 47 rare and endangered species that call the mountain home. Outside, bear, deer, panthers, otters and eagles live in natural settings in a special animal habitat. Bring your camera. Photo opportunities present themselves everywhere. Don't forget appropriate footwear if your vacation includes high country hiking. Bring a picnic lunch or enjoy a meal in the museum complex.
Grandfather Mountain is known for the largest Highland gathering in the U.S.A. This is appropriate in an area renowned for its Scottishness. Themed businesses include a Scottish gift shop, Scottish restaurant and the Shoppes at Tyneside that are located in structures built in a distinctive Scottish architectural style. Other events include "Singing On The Mountain" and annual Photo Workshops.
High Country comprises Watauga County, a great area for back country roads, hiking trails through magnificent Appalachian scenery, caves, mountains to climb, off-road biking trails, white water challenges, at least seven golf courses and four ski resorts. Depending on what native North American language is used to translate, the word "Watauga" means "Whispering Waters" or "Land of the Beyond" There are lots of interesting retail outlets including two Mast General Stores, a branch in Boone, the original being at Valle Crucis; and the Wilcox Emporium that features 240 merchants under one roof. More than four hundred artists and writers call the area home. Galleries, shops and showrooms make High Country, a great location to purchase fine arts and crafts. Cheap Joe's Art Stuff is the place to buy art supplies. The firm manufactures their own line of supplies and operate a huge retail outlet. Art workshops are held in a state-of-the art facility. Visiting the place, made me want to run for my paint brushes, palate and canvas. A fascinating art collection hangs on the walls at Cheap Joe's. Check it out!
Boone, named for U.S. folk hero, Daniel Boone, is one of those charming, vibrant communities whose population swells during the summer months when city folk head for the mountains. It has consistently been on the list of 100 Best Small Towns in America and is known as the "Heart of High Country". The area also advertises itself as the "Firefly Capital of America.
Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the area and because of its natural beauty, this expanse explodes with visitors during leaf season in October. There's hardly a room to be found and popular roads are clogged with leaf-peepers. If you can, choose shoulder-season for your visit. April is a good choice. Roads are less traveled, local folk less harried.
Blowing Rock, sister community to Boone, might seem familiar to those people who have read the novels of Jan Karon. Her mythical "Mitford" has a lot in common with Blowing Rock, perhaps because the author lives in the area.
One of the most unusual retail outlets is located on Highway #321 between Boone and Blowing Rock. Roger E. Reedy Trading Post is the ultimate destination for twig furniture, bird houses and natural wood "sculptures". Their fairy houses are charming. Eclectic collection! Great place to shop for decorative, whimsical lawn and conservatory items.
Area events are held throughout the year. Some of the more popular are Boone's Friday afternoon "Concerts On the Lawn" in May; Blowing Rock's Art In The Park; a Rhododendron Festival in June; the Firefly Festival in August. October's festivals, held under the most magnificent "Carolina Blue" skies, feature cranberries, apples, pumpkins, Halloween and woolly worms. Banner Elk's famous Wooly Worm Festival is great for its uniqueness. Visitors are encouraged to get involved; to buy a worm. $2.00 could get you a winner. The fastest worm to climb a string is the winner. Its "woolly look and striping" are used to predict the severity of the coming winter. Don't worry. No harm comes to the worms.
The valley in which the village of Valle Crucis, lies was once the site of a monastery. Valle Crucis in fact, means Valley of the Cross. Because the valley is well protected by mountains it has a moderate climate, compared to other area valleys. Take the pretty drive up the valley past Mast Farm Inn, famous for wonderfully prepared organic meals, you'll see the sprawling Mast General Store in the middle of the tiny village.
store comprises at least three original buildings and is a National
Historic landmark. The store, billed as "a long time ago is just
a short drive away," you can spend several hours browsing rooms
full of hard-to-find items, traditional goods, old-timey, useful, seasonal
things for mountain folk, and flatlanders too. There's an old-fashioned
post office, pot-bellied stove around which checker-playing locals tell
tall tales. Look for old fixtures, a chicken coop trap door in the floor,
other trap doors leading to under-store storage and creaky floors.
A number of artisans have shops in Valle Crucis, including J & S. Pottery, located in a building just behind Mast General Store. Valle Crucis is also a great place for birding. More than 200 species have been identified. Take a free Wednesday morning walk with Chris Smalling to see birds in their own habitat. Chris is so knowledgeable that you will forever see your fine feathered friends in an entirely different light.
For an excellent grounding in history, Horn In The West is the complex to visit. The attraction includes Hickory Ridge Homestead and Daniel Boone Native Gardens, Powder Horn Theater and during the summer, Watauga County Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. During June, July and August, an award winning drama, based on the story of U.S. frontier days and the westward push by Daniel Boone, is staged in the outdoor theater.
Appalachian Cultural Museum on the Campus of Appalachian State University features exhibits of local artifacts, special events, educations programs, specialty publications and gallery space.
Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock began its life as a c1846 Manor House Estate. Today, the complex comprises an 87 acre resort. The 1846 restored Manor House houses a restaurant, serving excellent cuisine in pleasant surroundings. It's a great place to celebrate special occasions or to enjoy a relaxed well-prepared and presented meal. The resort's gorgeous grounds and amenities are popular with brides.
Hungry? You have a choice of at least 80 area restaurants. Good places to eat include Our Daily Bread Deli & Café and Caribbean Café on West King Street. Daniel Boone Inn is a good place for family-style meals and serves a wholesome, plentiful breakfast. Broyden Inn, at Appalachian State University has an excellent breakfast buffet. You might also want to check out Old Hampton Store & Grist Mill, south on #105 where it is reputed that the best B.B.Q in Watauga is served on the best ever homemade buns in High Country.
Depending on your interests, a visit to High Country could include Mystery Hill entertainment complex in Blowing Rock, Linville Caverns, south of Boone near Marion; Tweetsie Railroad, a fun park in the Wild West theme; The Blowing Rock a natural geological phenomenon with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge; Moses Cone National Park & Folk Art Center and the Linn Cove Viaduct Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Although this bit of information has nothing to do with Watauga County, it is relevant to to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Traveling south toward Cherokee and the Great Smoky Mountains, the Parkway is a pleasant diversionary drive around the city of Asheville. Depending on driving skills, choose your "exit" road carefully when you decide to leave the Blue Ridge Parkway. Highway #151 leads "down and west" but is not a road for the faint-hearted. Make sure your brakes are in good working order. Don't attempt the route on rainy or foggy days. Twisting down-mountain can be exhilarating and a little frightening for some drivers and passengers. On the way down to #19, the road passes through the tiny communities of Dinsmore, Gladys, South Homing and Candler. They are familiar with "white-knucklers" coming "off the ridge". Wave as you drive by. They like to know you're still breathing.
IF YOU GO:
Boone, NC, 28607
Linville, N.C. 28646
Valle Crucis 26891
Boone, NC 28607
North Main Street
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
Boone, NC 28607
University Hall Drive
Boone, NC 28608
Boone, NC 28607
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