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|
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 was...how does one put it accurately? Brilliant!) BUT!
|The rustic entrance to Grandfather Mountain|
|The peaks of Grandfather Mountain from near the entrance|
|On the way up the mountain|
|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|
|Mile-High Swinging Bridge|
|Mountain foliage at Swinging Bridge|
|View from Swinging Bridge with Pines|
|Another lovely view from the Swinging Bridge|
|Looking down from the bridge|
|marker on the bridge - exactly one mile high|
|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|
|One last look at the Blue Ridge Mountains from Grandfather Mountain|
|The mountains from Pilot Ridge Overlook|
|The Lynn Cove Viaduct (why a duck?)|
|Main Street, Blowing Rock - if you look down the sidewalk|
you can see the red sign that marks the Six Pence Pub
|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.")
|The minuscule Blowing Rock Museum, on Main Street|