Lovely Cadiz

Lovely Cadiz
Cadiz - my favorite place so far in the trip to Southern Spain

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bloggo Piccolo Day-Trip-o-lo: Into the NC Mountains with Brother Phil

Ciao Tutti! Dottore Gianni has finally taken another day trip with his brother Phil, and is ready to report. 

The trip has been in the planning stages for some time, and in fact was aborted by Phil getting rather ill just before heading out into the wilderness. This time, happy to say, neither the good doctor (who could never have cured his brother anyway - he's not that kind of doctor, stupido!) nor Phil were indisposed, and so, at a little after 7 am on Wednesday 5 March, off the two drove in Phil's sharp red truck, towards the mountains of North Carolina.

They were headed to Boone, NC, specifically, but as that mountain/college town is nearly three hours away from Phil's house in Taylors, they/we (yes, switching to first person - when do I not, at some point in these posts?) had agreed beforehand that if they didn't quite get all the way to Boone it didn't much matter, as the sights they wanted were on the way to Boone, not in the city itself.

The trip up was easy enough, except that large, slow-moving trucks had a habit of pulling out just in front of us, eliciting curses from both brothers and shakings of the fist from the larger of the two. Otherwise not that many people were charging up north on a Wednesday morning in early March, when there was no foliage to speak of, neither spring-like or autumnal. At one point Phil expressed some concern that parts of the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway might be closed, thus thwarting at least some of their planned stops.

Our first stop was not on the Parkway at all - it was only chosen because Phil had to answer a call...not of the phone variety, but instead of nature. Dottore Gianni did not feel the need until about 9.3 seconds after he stepped out of the truck, when he realized that his brother was wise to have turned off the main road. We found ourselves in what appeared a brand new facility, in fact there were workers moving soil and placing handicapped parking signs in certain spaces in the lot. 

The North Carolina mountains from our rest stop
The first thing I noticed upon descending from the truck (apart from the urgent need to...take the the British say, though they don't mean it literally) was that there were rather nice views of the distant mountains. We had chosen a very nice day, indeed one which proved even nicer than we had imagined and than the weather channel had reported. So even before racing to the john, I took several shots of said mountains. After "taking the piss" Phil and I thought we'd look into the shop. Alas it was closed, but a young woman, as kind as she was plain, opened up early just for us. We bought not a thing, but she offered coffee (declined politely) and brochures (accepted readily) and a little advice, including her thought that she did not think the parkway would be closed.

Alas for her and for us, she was sorely mistaken! Phil had  planned our first major touristic stop at Linville Falls, described in one of the brochures provided as the "most popular waterfall in Blue Ridge!" and we did see signs pointing towards it, but the only road was made of dirt that recent precipitation had turned to mud, and Phil was dubious, quite rightly, about attempting it. He knew another way, however, and we headed for that, just beyond an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. What did we see when we arrived at said road but barricades in either direction. Too bad, as the description of the trail to the falls is"1.6 miles roundtrip, easy." That's the kind of trail Dottore Gianni approves of - of course there ARE bears to bear in mind heh heh...

Dramatic pause (in the style of Chekhov, even of Pinter, which can be portentous in the darkest sort of way): Would all of the planned lovely spots of natural beauty be closed to us? (Pause) Would our trip have been completely in vain (Long Pause) Had we in fact wasted our day foolishly??? (Silence)...

And so "we penetrated deeper...into the heart of darkness" (apologies to Joseph Conrad - a great novel by the way - Dottore Gianni recorded it for the blind and physically handicapped many years before. He does one put it accurately? Brilliant!) BUT!

The rustic entrance to Grandfather Mountain
Actually it wasn't very dark at all - as I already noted, it was a beautiful day - and our moods brightened considerably when Phil came across one of the first sights he and I had talked about in planning the trip: Grandfather Mountain. We debated a bit at the entrance: it was pricey (North Carolina State Parks seem to be...), $20 per person, but I was excited to see it, and treated us both to the entrance fee (amazing, as Dottore Gianni is notoriously tight with his money). The friendly fellow who took my credit card gave us brochures and a packet that included a cd-rom narrating us all the way to the top of the mountain. 

The peaks of Grandfather Mountain from near the entrance
On the way up the mountain

There are several options at Grandfather Mountain. I suppose one could spend a full day there as there are picnic areas, a nature museum that shows films about the place, a cliffside and several trails for climbing and hiking, and also animal habitats. We limited our stops to two main areas: first, the two gigantic rocks called Sphinx and Split, millions of years old. The rocks themselves were impressive, but I went mad for the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond them. Simply stunning! 

Split (on the left) and Sphinx (on the right) Rocks, Grandfather Mountain
Spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from near Split & Sphinx Rocks
Dottore Gianni as mountain man
Phil, not to be outdone as mountain man
Second, the mile-high swinging bridge, which had attracted me to the mountain in the first place. Let's be clear. The name connotes a mile high drop below the bridge, but that just ain't necessarily so. If you are foolish enough to nose-dive off the bridge, you'd very likely hurt,
Mile-High Swinging Bridge
 possibly even kill yourself, but the drop is not much at all. The bridge IS exactly 1 mile high, however and the views from it are enthralling. It probably swings in the wind, but we had picked a very calm day to visit. My only "fear" and it really exaggerates the feeling I had to call it that, was a sound that the bridge made. I noted to Phil that it sounded a bit like the music from Hitchcock's great film Psycho and also like a sci-fi film - short high-pitched sounds (not nearly as staccato as those in Psycho), but somewhat eerie, for anyone who wants to feel nervous traversing the bridge. I was delighted, Phil was delighted, even Dottore Gianni approved! 

Mountain foliage at Swinging Bridge
View from Swinging Bridge with Pines
Another lovely view from the Swinging Bridge
Looking down from the bridge
There is a shop near the bridge, where in fact you can take an elevator up to the bridge itself, but there are only 20 or 30 steps to climb to get to it, so Phil and I braved those instead. 
marker on the bridge - exactly one mile high
Do NOT brave the steps to Chimney Rock, which Phil and I had attempted on a previous trip into the mountains, a climb of hundreds of steps that left us gasping and clutching for air, not just at the end of the climb but at two or three spots on the way up! Anyway, we easily got to the mile-high bridge via the stairs, but we did visit the shop after - it's called the Top Shop, as it is near the top of the mountain. Nice place, t-shirts, caps, other sorts of souvenirs, two friendly, chatty guys running it the morning we were there.

the top of Grandfather Mountain from the bridge
Light snow on the mountain
Icicles on the mountainside
World War I flying ace near the bridge
The "grandfather" at the bridge
Then we headed back down, not stopping at, but hearing our narrator discuss a very deep curve, called Forrest Gump curve - a bit too precious for my taste, as was the story our audio guide told about it - it is featured in the film, in which Tom Hanks acts dumb and traverses the country. Seems Tom was shooting nearby, and the cinematic powers-that-were drafted his brother to be Forrest Gump for the shooting of this particular scene, but Tom really wanted to see his brother, so he surprised everyone by showing up! Wow.

One last look at the Blue Ridge Mountains from Grandfather Mountain
So, yes there is a bit of hype about the mountain, but it is worth $20 and more just for the breathtaking views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

The mountains from Pilot Ridge Overlook
Lake Price
The Lynn Cove Viaduct (why a duck?)
From Grandfather Mountain we drove, via a brief photo opp-stop at the Pilot Ridge Overlook, and two state parks, one of which is home to the lovely Lake Price, and the Lynn Cove Viaduct, to Blowing Rock, a very charming little place that is quite conveniently located for said mountain, Linville Falls, and several other tempting places to explore. In fact 
Main Street, Blowing Rock - if you look down the sidewalk
you can see the red sign that marks the Six Pence Pub
Dottore Gianni has it in his mind to book a room there for a night or two and leisurely explore more of the area than can be managed on a one-day trip. Phil and I strolled up and down Blowing Rock's Main Street, our primary purpose to choose the right restaurant for lunch, as both of us were very hungry. We narrowed the field to three, and landed, very happily, on the Six Pence Pub, as authentic a publick house as I've seen in these here parts, offering several kinds of beers and ales found in English pubs, as well as typical pub fare, enhanced by several other kinds of food to appeal to many tastes. Phil had a local IPA, with the colorful name Lauganitas Sucks (actually he had two, but who am I to tattle?), and I had a pint of Smithwick's (a darkish ale I had first tasted in a Dublin pub in the fall of 2005). Phil ordered what turned out to be a gigantic club sandwich on pumpernickel - not your usual pub fare - and I chose a grilled salmon sandwich (as atypical of pub fare as was Phil's selection) - as usual I ate only the salmon, not the bread and trimmings, and it was very good - also very large - I regret (slightly) not taking half home with me for a salmon salad. 

Interior of the Six Pence Pub
My Smithwick's, the pub placemat and the Union Jack, a newspaper about the U.K. (name has a ring to it, dontcha think?) published monthly in the U.S.
- who knew? Not Dottore Gianni...until now!
Two mountain men at the Six Pence Pub

We strolled just a bit farther, as Phil wanted to pick up a souvenir of sorts for Kara, then hopped in the car and left the area, well satisfied with our morning, well nourished by our lunch.

Before Dottore Gianni will let me leave Blowing Rock, he insists that I offer a little history of the place, which I discovered on two websites closely allied about Blowing Rock. It will interest some of you at least (and if it doesn't take a long walk off a short pier, please).

I'm going to quote directly the first paragraphs on the city's history in both websites, as they are identical - thus closely are they allied:  

"Before 1752 when Moravian Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg visited the Blowing Rock area, the windy cliffs of the area were home to the Cherokee and Catawba Indian tribes, hostile to each other, and the basis for the story of "The Blowing Rock". Two star-crossed lovers, one from each tribe, were walking near The Rock when the reddening sky signaled to the brave that he must return to his tribal duet, and the maiden urged him to stay with her. His desperation in choosing between duty and love caused him to leap from the edge of the gorge toward the rocks below, while the maiden beseeched the Great Spirit to bring him back to her. The famous winds of the John's River Gorge blew her lover back into her arms and this legend about The Blowing Rock is still told today."

Touching fable, don't you think? Dottore Gianni does! Except for the rather feebly engineered happy ending. Interestingly paragraph two leaps about 100 ahead of 1752, without further mention of the Moravian Bishop's visit. 

Short (maybe) aside: Moravians settled in different parts of the U.S., some in Pennsylvania - Moravian College in Bethlehem PA was the choice of two uncles - Ed and Bob - on the Pastir side of the family. I knew that North Carolina sheltered many Moravians as well, and was happy to see mention of it in the first paragraph...even if it was not again mentioned in the identical histories of the city that I read.

My God, it WAS a short aside!

After that charming paragraph the history gets somewhat more mundane - it does point out that between 1752 and the mid-1800s mostly Scotch-Irish hunters, trappers, farmers and the like gradually peopled the area, but the first family to settle in what would become Blowing Rock built, in the mid-nineteenth century, on land that would become the Green Park Hotel (opened in 1891). People from surrounding areas became aware of the location's charms shortly thereafter, and by the late 1800s other hotels and guest houses sprang up.

The Martin House, on Main Street
The narrative leaps back (a rather poor choice in the writing style, but then we can't all be Dottore Gianni, can we?) to the Civil War era, mentioning that many who wanted to get away from the fighting took refuge in the mountains, and many soldiers sent their wives and children there to be protected. Thus, by a combination of adventurous mountain men, the attractive location and these Civil War refugees, the town of Blowing Rock was chartered in 1889, and a fellow named Uncle Joe Clarke (hmmmm...), became the first mayor of this sprawling metropolis of 300 people.
Municipal Park on Main Street
From that time until now, Blowing Rock was dependent on tourism in order to thrive, and apparently it thrived mightily. While there are only 1500 permanent residents in what both articles call the "Crown of the Blue Ridge" today, the population swells to 8,000 in the summer, many fleeing from the steam heat of Florida (Florida residents in the family, read this and weep!). In the last decade a major restoration effort was put into effect in order to preserve the heritage of Blowing Rock.

A tiny seating area on Main Street - I love that it's called Gossip Park!

"Nice town, y'know what I mean?" (phrase lifted from Thornton Wilder's Our Town, spoken by the stage manager after he "returns to his place by the right proscenium pillar and looks at the audience for a minute.")

IF you can afford it, which Dottore Gianni certainly cannot - except perhaps for a night or two...

The minuscule Blowing Rock Museum, on Main Street
Well! After the charm of the first part of the day comes the long ride home - and boy was it long! Or so it seemed - it wasn't helped at all by three (I think it was three) LONG halts caused by inept road crews. After you've sat in your car for ten minutes waiting for the "stop" sign an idiotic looking fellow is holding to be turned to "slow" and you realize that for the entire ten minutes there hasn't been a single vehicle coming from the other side, it's time to acknowledge that the enterprise is flawed. When we finally started clipping along (and Phil knows how to clip along, believe me) the ride still seemed to take forever, even with good music from Sirius and good chat betwixt brothers. Phil got us home by four, and I almost immediately, after answering another call from nature, hopped into my car and got back to my place around 4:30 pm. A long, somewhat tiring, but ultimately very rewarding trip - and I'll remember those blue ridge views for a long, long time!


  1. Beautiful pics Jack! Looks like a lovely day

  2. Thanks Christina! It was - heading to Ireland in mid-May for more beautiful views, and of course will blog on that as well! Cheers!