NC Backroads Adventure
North Carolina Cabin/Back Roads Adventure
Welcome to North Carolina, the Tar Heel State, where the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight at Kill Devil Hills! http://www.visitnc.com/
Our cabin in the woods, in the Smoky Mountains, is beautiful and not at all archaic. We have electricity and running water, a full kitchen, a laundry, two bathrooms and three bedrooms. The cabin is in a clearing, surrounded by woods of maple, quaking aspen and elm, with a spectacular mountain view. A babbling brook dances its way along the border of the yard. Just beyond the back yard is a little pond. It’s very tranquil here. What it doesn’t have is internet access, but just up the road in Fontana Village (about 20 min.), there is Wi Fi. If this sounds like a good place for you, let us know and we’ll put the landlord in touch with you. Fontana Village is a resort with a restaurant, general store, and post office. http://www.fontanavillage.com/
This area has good hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. There is boating and horseback riding. Jet boat rides, white water rafting, and zip lining are also on the list of things to do here.
In the morning, after a home cooked breakfast feast, we headed off to explore. Fontana Dam was a marvel! The water rushing over was almost deafening, and quite beautiful! The road along the dam is closed to cars, but open for foot traffic. The dam is part of a system built in the 1930s and 40s by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Fontana Dam was built between 1942 and 1945, creating Fontana Lake. It is a beautiful destination for boaters, fishing enthusiasts, and swimmers. We drove all the way to Robbinsville, about 22 miles, savoring the waterfalls, rock cliffs, rushing rivers, and wildflowers. State Rt. 129 is so full of twists and curves, it is known as the Dragon’s Tail. There are 318 curves in 11 miles! Bikers seemed to love it! We saw dozens!
Robbinsville was incorporated in 1893. The Graham County Courthouse, in the town center, is built of native stone. It’s quite imposing. http://www.grahamcountytravel.com/
Lunch in Robbinsville was at Lynne’s Place, an unpretentious family oriented diner. We had a roast beef sandwich and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a side of chips and a side of potato salad, and two cokes. It was good. The total before tip was $16. Other sandwiches ranged from about $4 to about $7, including egg salad, grilled peanut butter and jelly and a veggie plate. Soups and salads were offered, too. On the way back we stopped for more photos and views, at a leisurely pace. Rainbow Falls was showing her rainbow, and a delightful sight it was!
Back home again, we enjoyed sitting on the back porch and rocking before supper. What was supper? Fajitas made in the kitchen by two of the best chefs around – us. Then more porch sittin’ while we watch the sunset.
Another great home cooked meal! This time, a tomato and mushroom omelet with hash browned potatoes. An exploration of Bryson City seemed like a good idea for the day. Bryson City is about 34 miles from where we are in the cabin. The ride was scenic, and so not overlong. http://greatsmokies.com/local.html
Like so many mountain towns, it burst upon us from the forest. Our first stop, as usual, was the Chamber of Commerce for suggestions. There are some fun shops, including antique stores, a bookstore, old time hardware store, and a toy train store. Many restaurants of various types make a good meal selection (Italian, Mexican, Chinese, BBQ)! We ate at The Station, just across the street from the train depot, still used for tourist excursions. We chose two wraps, California Chicken and Mexican Chicken, each with black beans, avocado, and yellow rice. The Mexican had a spicy dressing. Two local beers added just the right touch to a delicious lunch. Total before tip was $26. Without the beers, the price would be $18. The walls of The Station are decorated with photographs of trains and Smoky Mountain views. Other luncheon items include Reubens, Rachels, and Roast Beef Sandwiches ranging between $6.75 and $8.95. Wraps include Fried Fish, Grilled Tilapia, and Veggie between $7.50 and $8.50.
Across the street is a bookstore with many books of local interest, some local music CDs, and many souvenir items.
Our server, Spence, suggested The Road to Nowhere as an interesting site, prompting us to drive up there. The Road to Nowhere began as part of the TVA Plan for Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake in the 1930’s and 40’s. Swain County gave a huge portion of land to the American government. People were displaced. The government promised that because the main highway, Rt. 228 would be destroyed in the dam project, they would build a new road so those displaced people could visit the family cemeteries and traditional sites. It would be called Lakeview Rd. However, in 1943 progress halted, due to an environmental issue. The road was never finished. People were angry, demanding the government either finish or repay them. In 2004, the government gave $52 million to the county. Today a parking lot near the end of the road allows people to walk along the last stretch, through a very dark tunnel, to where the road becomes a dirt path and finally wanders off into the woods. It’s a good hiking trail and we enjoyed it. The trees are turning colors, and quiet spectacular! We did see a bear cub, but it was so quick, it was gone before we could take a photo. Even today, a sign nearby proclaims, “The Road to Nowhere, a Broken Promise.” There are some overlooks that are definitely worthwhile on the way there and back as well as one or two hiking trails. http://www.westernncattractions.com/roadto.htm
The Nantahala River runs right through town, peacefully but becomes friskier outside of town, and offers attractive viewing. Right by the river is the Na-ber Inn, an old fashioned drive in with the speakers. What fun to order an ice cream and have it served by the car hop! A stop at the grocery store for supper supplies, and a picturesque tour back to our cabin to grill burgers. A romantic fire outside, with a glass of wine, is an ideal way to end such a day.
Note: Some counties in NC are dry, so you won’t find any alcohol. If you want some, you’ll have to go to another county to buy. If the grocery store doesn’t have any beer or wine, it’s a dry county.
Another beautiful morning in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina! The towns of Franklin and Highlands are about to be explored by offthetrails. The road to Franklin and Highlands is rich with overlooks, waterfalls, cascades, hardwood forests, glimpses of the past, and views of the mountains. www.franklin-chamber.com http://www.highlandschamber.org/
Stecoah, a tiny hamlet on Rt. 28, is an artisan community. The Stecoah Art and Culture Center has hand crafted items for sale by local artists. Photographs, Native American jewelry, paintings, crocheted and knitted clothing, and wooden bowls are just a few of the beautiful creations for sale. http://www.stecoahvalleycenter.com/
There are some very interesting buildings in the area, such as covered bridges and log structures. It’s worth stopping for! Continuing on, the winding, alternately ascending and descending road showed us beautifully colored rocks, ancient trucks covered by vines, cascading rivers and streams, and the towering Smoky Mountains. Franklin is a quintessential small American town. The streets were decorated for fall and Halloween. Fall leaf wreaths were in windows. People smiled in greeting. We stopped at the Frog and Owl American Bistro and Wine Bar. There is a full bar and a variety of beers. Wines ranged from $5.50 to $8 by the glass. We chose the hummus plate featuring three types of hummus, including a scrumptious black bean, with eggplant salad and toasted pita bread; and a half Genoa salami Panini with potato soup. Greg had a locally brewed beer, and MaryJo a local wine – from the Biltmore Estate near Asheville. Other lunch items included a poached pear salad for $8.50 and a Chef Salad for $9.50; pizzas for $7.50 – $9.50; and sandwiches ranging from $8.75 to $9.25. The price before tip was $28. Everything was tasty and the service was very good. We ambled up and down the street, looking into shops. We found a treasure at the North Carolina Artisans, items all made by local artists. The bookstore had a book MaryJo has been waiting for, and we grabbed it up! Franklin is about an hour from Fontana Village.
The Tartan Museum was a found gem! For anyone with Scottish ancestry, and anyone who is interested in Scotland, this is a must! Housed in the lower level of the gift shop, all known Scots tartans are displayed. The tartan is the pattern on the kilt, or tie, or sash. Each clan has its own. The original kilts – the whole nine yards – are shown as well as more modern ones. The kilt was born in the 4th Century A. D. The history of the Scots, Ulster Scots and Cherokee are focal points. Many Scots immigrated to North Carolina in the mid 1700s, after the Scots were defeated by the English at Culloden, a tragic defeat. Scots traded with the Cherokee, who have lived in that area for hundreds of years. MaryJo is a member of Clan Young, and it was good to see both tartans on display, although the classic is the one she prefers. Admission is $2 per person.
www.scottishtartans.org/museum.html By the way, Scotch is a drink, and Scots is the nationality. Allow at least 2 hours to see Franklin.
Outside of town again, and on that serpentine road, we found Dry Falls, not at all dry, but a beautifully majestic curtain falling into the ravine below. Further on, Bridal Veil Falls charmed us. Cars can drive right under. We found a rainbow, and caught some of the cool water in our hands. At a curve in the road, there were several teen aged boys frolicking in the rapids and cascades. They were having so much fun, we wanted to jump in and join in!
Finally, we reached Highlands, within the Nantahala Forest. It’s about 30 minutes from Franklin. It’s a charming, quaint, artistic village with a history. There are many shops and places to eat; it is worth exploring. We shared a hot fudge sundae from Kilwin’s and it was fabulous! Highlands is more tourist oriented than Franklin. Once we had completed our exploration, we headed back towards Fontana Village, for a dinner out. The round trip will take about 4 hours.
The restaurant offers fine food, and the Bears Den next door is the lounge. Greg chose the Pan Seared Tuna with soba noodles, mandarin oranges, and greens. MaryJo had the grilled trout, a local favorite, with a garbanzo and tomato salad. We were both very happy with our selections. We each a glass of Biltmore wine, also excellent. Our total before tip was $53. Other selections include veggie pasta, ribs, and steaks, ranging from $15 to $30. Salads and appetizers are available. The menu is scaled down in early October.
We enjoyed our bonfire so much last night, we did it again! The fire warmed us and provided a dancing spectacle.
Breakfast this morning was in Fontana Village. We each had an omelet and hash browns. Very good, and plentiful! I brought half of mine back for later.
This was a Lake Day. It seemed to be a good day for a canoe ride, so down to the marina we went. For $25 for 4 hours, we were able to paddle around Lake Fontana. It was warm, sunny, and peaceful. We had the lake to ourselves. What an exhilarating way to spend the day! We looked at the shores, the rocks, the houseboats, and the mountains! Occasionally a fish would jump. Sometimes we could hear ducks calling to each other. It’s a beautiful place. The lake at the marina is about 70 feet deep. Way out in the middle, where we were reveling in the serenity, the water can reach depths of 400 feet.
Later, we drove to Bryson City to get supplies. On the way, we spotted what must have been a tourist attraction. A “wild west” town was just off the road, but clearly a ghost town. It was a fascinating pastime wondering what it was like and what had happened to it!
Supper is at home, prepared by the great chefs MaryJo and Greg, with a priceless view of the Smokies.
This is Adventure Day! After breakfast, we went on a trail ride. It was a very pretty trail, and the first ride of the day is always the best. It’s early and both the horses and the riders are fresh. The trail lead up and around a mountain, through the hardwood rain forest, past a waterfall, along a gurgling brook, and through the hollow (holler). Our guide let us enjoy the ride and the scenery. The horses were the perfect combination of good training and spirit. MaryJo’s horse, Lightnin’, had a real personality, and voiced opinions from time to time. We passed a few relics from the building of Fontana dam. We discovered that Fontana Village was originally built to house the workers for Fontana Dam. Even a school was built so the children of the laborers could have an education. This ride was a beautiful start to the day.
In between Adventure 1 and Adventure 2 was Lunch. Eating at The 13 Moons is a gourmand experience. Small, but elegant, with a lovely view of the mountains, it has unusually delicious food and an appetizing presentation. Greg had the Ahi Tuna and French Onion Soup with a glass of wine. MaryJo had the Grilled Crab Maryland Cake on a bed of greens with hot tea. Our tab before tip was $36. With no wine it would have been $5 less. The 13 Moons is at Nantahala Village on Rt. 19.
The best part of the day was the zipping! Zip lining is an enlivening, elating experience! 11 zip lines and 7 sky bridges give a wondrous view of the canopy while challenging the adventurer. Zipping is like flying! Even a few nervous rookies enjoyed themselves. Crossing the sky bridges could be a real challenge, especially while it was swaying vigorously. Many native and exotic trees cover the ground demonstrating the diversity of plant life here. Zip lines are heavy cables strung from tree to tree, and thrill seekers use carbines, harness, and trolleys to ride along the cables and look down on the canopy. Nantahala Canopy Tours is a new enterprise, part of Falling Waters Adventure Resort, about 12 miles west of Bryson City. The tours have been operating since July 2009. http://www.wildwaterrafting.com/nanzip.php
Something I discovered is that there is no governing body to hold zip line businesses to a standard. So – only zip if the company is reliable. How do you know? If they have been around a long time, or if they are part of an already established business, it’s probably safe. Ask how long they have been around, how many people they take up each day, how long the rangers have been with them, how long they’ve been guiding and what the accident rate is. Stay away from anything questionable!
Supper was at Mountview Bistro. They were out of our first two requests because they have begun to scale down the menu. We settled for the barbecued ribs; Greg a whole rack and MaryJo a half. They were good, and Greg had enough to take away some for a late night snack. Total bill before tip was $ 59.
Porch sittin’ finished the day.
Cherohala Skyway is a 40 mile ride on Rt. 143 and Rt. 165, crossing the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. It is a wilderness area with panoramic vistas, hiking trails, fishing and canoeing, waterfalls, picnicking and photo opportunities. There is even a ½ mile round trip hiking trail that is wheel chair accessible. The name comes from Cherokee – Chero- and Nantahala – hala. The highest elevations are over 5,000 feet. There are no water fountains and few restrooms because it is a wilderness area. We found it a stunning drive, and well worth the time. We hope you’ll enjoy the photos! Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, named for the WWI poet, is near the Skyway. The forest is old growth forest, full of towering trees. Minimum time to enjoy the drive with stops is 1 ½ hours. Depending on length of stops and frequency, a visitor could spend the better part of the day. We spent the morning. http://www.cherohala.org/
After lunch, we toured Fontana Lake with our captain and guide, Dan, on the Miss Hazel. The tour usually takes about 45 minutes, but Dan was picking up campers at Hazel Creek, so we were on the water for two hours. We learned about the lake, the people who had once lived there, the animals and more about the Road to Nowhere. The lake is 33 miles long, making a shoreline of 280 miles. Many people were displaced because of the dam and forced to find homes elsewhere. The government paid them $9 an acre in the late 1930s. Hazel Creek had been a community of about 4,000. Dan takes the families to the 26 cemeteries once a year for ceremonies. One cemetery alone has about 200 people visit. Bears and wild hogs roam the area. Small mouth bass, trout, and walleye swim in the lake, and Dan pointed out a few good fishin’ spots. We could see the old Rt. 228 in a few spots along the bank. There is no way to drive to the north shore of the lake, but hikers tackle it. The ferry service will take over and pick up. The walk between the dam and Bryson City is about 34 miles. Camping is permitted if a permit is filled out. Dan showed us the “redneck diving board” – a dead tree balanced on a rock. He told us kids come out and use it all summer. It looked like it would be fun! The movies “The Fugitive” and “Nell” were partially filmed at the lake and dam. The tour was informative and fun, so the $15 per person is a bargain, we think.
Bryson City has a “Music in the Mountains” program that offers local entertainers on Saturday night June through October. This week the group Rib Tips was playing. Highly entertaining and energetic, they played traditional and ragtime to an appreciative group at the train depot. Just across the street, the Station was the perfect place to have supper. The special was grilled trout, so MaryJo had to have that. Delicious! Greg decided on the rib eye steak, which he pronounced excellent! Two tasty local beers were our beverages.
A big bonfire for our last night here kept us warm while the dancing flames allowed us to reflect on our time here and have quiet conversation. We’ll miss the cabin and the Smoky Mountains.
We left our mountain home this morning, wishing we could spend another day or two. On the way out, we stopped at the Cowee Ruby mine to do some mining. http://www.coweemtnrubymine.com/
We each bought a $5 bucket, but customers can purchase buckets of up to $500! Different size buckets and guarantees of a certain amount of gems. With a spade, we scooped out some dirt and placed it in the colander in the sluice. The water running down the sluice washed away the dirt, helped by our hands breaking up the clumps of mud. The gem expert and proprietor helped us sort the rocks form the gems. We found amethyst, rubies, topaz, garnets, and emeralds, and sapphires. They make a pretty collection, and it was fun!
All the panning worked up our appetites, so we stopped at the frog and Owl in Franklin for lunch. Greg had a Cuban sandwich and local beer while MaryJo had the burger with a cup of potato soup and hot tea. Everything was delicious! Total before tip was $28.50. This was our last activity in North Carolina.
Onward towards Georgia, while appreciating the impressive mountain views of western North Carolina.