Posts Tagged ‘Waynesville’

North Carolina: Variety vacationland indeed

May 9, 2011

1965 tourism brochure

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “Where are you off to next?” That’s, of course, because I write about travel, along with a lot of other things (food, sustainable agriculture, the environment, artisans).

My answer a few years ago might have included Lombok (Indonesia) or Lofoten (Norway). But these days, I’m more apt to mention Laurel Springs or Lumberton, both towns in North Carolina. I spent much of 2008 and 2009 driving some 23,000 miles researching my guidebook “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” and this year I’m back on the road promoting it.

While some people seem disappointed and even sympathetic that I’ll be traveling around the Tar Heel state, as if my very life had been downgraded from first class to cargo hold, that assessment is far from the truth.

Cold Mountain in Haywood County in western NC

Absolutely, international and cross-country trips are fascinating, fulfilling, and fun. But so are adventures in your own backyard. I felt almost as giddy in 2009 exploring downtown Saluda (south of Asheville) as I did in 2006 walking around downtown Salta (northern Argentina).

So as my NC friends are contemplating their summer travels, I’d like to put in a plug for North Carolina. And, no, a trip to the same beach every year does not count, although it’s a lovely tradition and you should keep it up.

Outsiders have already figured out how great we are. Almost 37 million people visited last year, and we’re ranked an impressive sixth in the nation for tourism. Americans’ keen interest in our state has helped me sell dozens of NC travel stories to newspapers and magazines since returning to the Triangle in 2003. (I grew up in Raleigh in the 1960s, back when the state’s license plate read “Variety Vacationland.” Now I live in Durham, which, you might have heard, the New York Times listed among its worldwide “The 41 Places to Go in 2011.”)

Colorful ceramic wall at Penland School of Crafts

Here are some of my past travel-writing destinations in hopes that they’ll give you ideas. West of us: Waynesville and Cold Mountain, Asheville, Penland School of Crafts, Black Mountain, the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, The Edible Schoolyard and Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, and the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

And of course I’ve written about my hometown, both its renovated downtown and the Duke Lemur Center. Heading south and east, I’ve done articles on Pinehurst, Manteo, Bald Head Island, New Bern, and Red Wolf Howling Safaris and hang gliding on the Outer Banks. One of my favorites was a story about camping on a platform over a swamp while following the Roanoke River Paddle Trail, which has been reprinted in several publications. And I visited hundreds more places for the book, which includes write-ups of 430 farm-related destinations.

Camping platform along the Roanoke River Paddle Trail

Next up, I’m doing stories about the eclectic offerings in Saxapahaw (go soon before the word really gets out) and “No Taste Like Home,” a series of “forage and eat” dinners in Asheville.

Even when I’m not writing, I’m exploring. While I’m in Charlotte on my book tour in May, I’ve set aside time to check out the new Levine Center for the Arts, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum Uptown, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I don’t care much for car racing, but I’m still eager to check out our state’s hallowed hall of horsepower.

Tourism will be in the news on May 10, NC Travel and Tourism Day, when state travel leaders congregate in Raleigh to tell legislators and the public how important the travel business is — visitors in 2010 spent a record $17 billion here.

Lemur at the Duke Lemur Center

But you’re not going to tour North Carolina because it’s good for the state. You’re going to travel our some 78,000 miles of blacktop because it’s good for you. Because it’s fascinating, fulfilling, and fun, no matter which of our 100 counties you venture into.

As for where I’m off to next, the list includes Southern Pines, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Flat Rock, Hendersonville, Wilmington, Asheville, Black Mountain, West Jefferson, and Boone.

Can’t wait!

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A joy ride, complete with pain

July 23, 2009
See why it's called Blue Ridge?

See why it's called Blue Ridge?

At 74 years old, our beloved Blue Ridge Parkway has its problems. But it is still a glorious 469-mile joy ride along the Appalachian Mountains, from Virginia to North Carolina. Next year, during the 75th-anniversary hoopla, there will be the usual long list of media events and celebrations, but the best way to appreciate the Parkway is in silence from an overlook or during a hike or, for Wessel and me, a bike ride.

Diane races downhill during a ride in 2007

Diane zips downhill during a ride in 2007

Recently, near Waynesville, N.C., we took our 10th ride together on the Parkway, since moving to North Carolina in 2003. (But don’t forget, y’all, that I’m a native, which is why I can say y’all.) 

Though Wessel and I are woefully out of shape, with me sitting on my derriere in the car half the summer while researching “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” we rose to the challenge. And I do mean rose. During only 20 miles of riding, we climbed a total of 2,900 feet!

View on parkway from the Waterrock Knob Overlook

View of Parkway from Waterrock Knob

I’m glad I hadn’t known that ahead of time. The only thing I insisted on, because I did know from our elevation map in “Bicycling the Blue Ridge” that this would be a grueling-up and screaming-down ride, with no in between, was that we would end the ride going down. That’s just a little obsession of mine.

Wessel at the Waterrock Knob Overlook

Wessel at the Waterrock Knob Overlook

It was July Fourth, and the weather was perfect. Surprisingly, the car traffic was very low. As always, the “other” biker traffic was quite high, as the Parkway is a magnet for motorcyclists. Only at the end of our ride did we see other bicyclists. The highest peak we reached was Waterrock Knob Overlook at 5,718 ft (milepost 451.2). We could have walked half a mile to the summit lookout, at 6,400 feet, but we didn’t want to tax our legs even further.

The Parkway is famous for native flame azalea

The flame azalea is native to this region

While air pollution has diminished the views from the lookouts by some 80 percent since the Parkway first opened, they’re still something to behold. The summer haze, as well as the pollution, gives the mountain ranges a dreamy gray/blue wash. Sadly, some of the overlooks have been closed because they’re totally overgrown, one of the many problems brought on by the park’s $250 million maintenance backlog. (Some of that will be erased by the $14 million in federal stimulus money approved for the Parkway this year.)

Wessel and I still have a lot of ground to cover on the Parkway. We’ve ridden 274 miles on it, but that’s always up and back, so we’ve explored only 137 miles on our bikes. Here’s to the next 332!