Day 14: Roanoke – Durham (July 17, 2009)

We spent the last day of our Blue Ridge Parkway trip in Roanoke. There is a really nice historic farmers market in the center of the downtown that reminded us a lot of the Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. It is open almost every day and is the oldest open air market in Virginia. We also checked out the free museum and art exhibits in an adjacent building that houses the Roanoke Arts Counsel.

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After a bite to eat at the Little Dipper Restaurant, we headed across the train tracks to the St. Andrews Catholic Church, a beautiful church up on a hill overlooking the downtown. Unfortunately the doors were locked; we wanted to go inside because the stained glass windows looked like they would have been a sight to see. We went back downtown for Mexican food at Alejandro’s Mexican Grill which was absolutely amazing! They had a fresh salsa bar with about 10 different kinds of salsa, all of which were unique and tasty! I probably tried them all. After saying goodbye to our friend, we made the long drive back to Durham, taking a few too many curvy back roads and getting home around 1:30 am.

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Day 13: Julian Price – Roanoke (July 16, 2009)

Every one told us that Boone was the place to go in the northern Appalachians of North Carolina. We both felt like it was a bust, having liked the intimacy and slow pace of small town Blowing Rock more. We gave it a shot though and walked through some of the numerous shops along the main street. However, we just couldn’t avoid the feeling of a bustling college town.

Our first stop of the day was Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, which was only 10-15 minutes north of the Julian Price campground. This is an absolutely gorgeous old mansion with an even more beautiful view of the rolling Blue Ridge foothills. What was nice about this park is that the mansion has been turned into a local artist co-op, where only Appalachian artists and crafters are allowed to sell their work. They also try to have a resident artist located in their closed in porch, whom is performing and explaining their work to those of us who take interest. I might have even found my future wedding band here.

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After deciding to not spend another minute in Boone, we got back on the BRP and continued north into Virginia stopping here and there including one of the six locations of the Blue Ridge Frescoes.  is home to “The Last Supper” fresco. It is in a humble old church that doesn’t look like much on the outside, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if it wasn’t in use, except for the nicely manicured lawn. But once inside, this church becomes quaint and beautiful due to the intimacy, natural light and woodwork.

After crossing into Virginia it didn’t take long to get to Mabry Mills. Having been here once before, the previous winter it was nice to see it in a different season. This mill is in total contrast to Mingus Mill from the beginning of the trip. It has a picturesque pond and waterwheel, with a weathered stone foundation. Also the BRP has a small stone arched bridge in the background which compliments this historic mill. There are some nicely paved paths that go to a few other historic buildings, some of which are in their original locations, and others where moved here from a nearby farm. All of which have a small sign board describing what it is you are looking at, so if you go in the offseason it is still a pretty informative stop.

After the mill we continued on the BRP to Roanoke, to meet up with a friend. After a brief reunion we all headed up to the top of Roanoke Mountain for the sunset. Unfortunately most of the overlooks had been fairly grown over so it was difficult to get a clear view of the city combined with the sunset, it almost seem to be a choice of one or the other. After some good hot chocolate and nice conversation we called it a night.

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Day 12: Crabtree Meadows – Julian Price (July 15, 2009)

We woke up at Crabtree Meadows and found that we had fortuitously pitched our tent next to the trail head for Crabtree Falls. This was a semi strenuous hike down into a small gorge. After hiking over the top of the falls we came down a steep hill and around a corner to see a gorgeous stair stepping and drizzling waterfall. Hugged by a tight nit of trees and other vegetation this was a very intimate waterfall. It might have been one of my favorite waterfalls I have ever seen. While it was not the most grandiose, something about being able to see every detail of the water flows made it the most captivating. It was hard to walk away, but we had a steep 1 ½ mile hike back to the tent and car.

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After packing the tent we sped up the BRP to Linville Falls. We did the Chimney Rock Trail out to a sweeping viewpoint of the Linville Gorge. This was a bit of a letdown from Crabtree Falls. Linville is a large powerful waterfall that cuts through a few different walls of rock, unfortunately it is almost impossible to get close, which creates a lack of intimacy with the subject. Also I felt very constrained by the location of the falls and the trails/overlooks, which made it difficult for me to get a photograph that I felt was unique. I do believe that this is a place worth stopping, the trail is easy, but if you are looking for a classy photograph this is really a location where it helps to have a unique environment, such as snow dusted trees or beautiful fall colors. There are a few other trails at the park that allow you to go down into the river basin and up to the waterfalls, however it is a strenuous and almost all day hike to really make it worth it, so we elected not to do it.

The next stop along the BRP was Linville Caverns. Luckily this was included in our Go Card, otherwise we would have regretted spending the money to go in. At the same time, we thought that it was worth the stop. While we waited to go into the cave we noticed some trout swimming in a mountain stream coming out of the cave. Slightly confused we later heard a story about how the cave was discovered. A fisherman and explorer was confused just like us that these fish were swimming into and out of what looked like the mountain, and touched off his curiosity to explore what was behind the small opening. We saw all kinds of interesting cave formations, but after seeing mystery cave in the Badlands it just didn’t compare.  Again though, if you have the time and the Go BR Card this place is worth the stop.

A few hours north of the caverns we stopped at Banner Elk Winery. We go a free flight of wine tasting and tour with the Card. While the winery isn’t much, it was interesting to get a guided tour of the wine making process at a small winery, they do everything and I mean everything by hand, bottling, corking, sealing, and labeling. The wine wasn’t bad either and if we had a larger discretionary budget we would have bought a case or two.

Grandfather Mountain was our last major stop for the day. Our first activity was to tour the wildlife that they were rehabilitating. This included: black bears, cougars, river otters, deer, eagles, and a few other wild animals. After which we headed up a narrow and curvy road to the top, where there was a small trail to an overlook. After crossing a swinging bridge we ended up on this solid rock promontory that had the most amazing sweeping view of the south facing Blue Ridge Mountains. This was a location where we could have spent all day exploring the 12 miles of hiking trails. Unfortunately to maintain our schedule we had to move on, but worth the stop. Again this park has a steep entrance fee but, is included in the BR Go Card.

We finally got to our destination, Julian Price State Park. After setting up our tent we headed a few miles down the road to the cute town of Blowing Rock for dessert at Crippen’s Country Lodge. The Banana Crème Pie and Peanut Butter Pie were out of this world. They also have a romantic garden in the front lawn. This would be an amazing choice for a romantic weekend.

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Day 11: Asheville – Crabtree Falls BRP (July 14, 2009)

We camped at Lake Powhatan Recreational Area, which was a bit of a drive outside of Asheville. However, if you are looking for a great place to escape the residential and industrial feel of Asheville, than this is a great get away.

We caught the first trolley tour (using our Go Card). This was one of the reasons why we bought the card; we knew that at almost $20 a pop we took a large step towards making the Go Card worth the price. 1 ½ hours later we knew the ins and outs of Asheville, this tour took us through the historic residential, industrial, and commercial areas and helped us decide our plan of action for the rest of the morning, including a great Cuban restaurant for lunch.

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After lunch we jumped in the car and headed up to Marshall, NC for a 3 ½ hr white water rafting trip with Nantahala Outdoor Center.  We were informed that the Nantahala River was one of the oldest rivers in the world, the first being the Nile, however the 3rd oldest river is the French Broad which flows through parts of Asheville, NC.

We then headed back towards the Blue Ridge Mountains and camped at Crabtree Meadows, getting there at about 10:00 pm.

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Day 10: Great Smokey National Park – Asheville (July 13, 2009)

After getting up early for our drive from the Great Smokey Mountain N.P. back to Asheville we stopped at Mingus Mill. This is a historic grist mill inside the park. The first thing you will notice about the mill is that it does not have a waterwheel; instead this mill is powered by a pair of turbines that are enclosed inside the structure. The turbines allow the mill to work more efficiently with the low amount of water that flows down the wooden slew. I think that while there is not a photogenic wheel, the slew actually works well, mostly because it is unique. It isn’t a quintessential mill which forces the viewers to ask more questions to fulfill their curiosity.

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After Mingus Mill we left the park and got onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) at the North Carolina Starting Point.  Our goal was to drive along the BRP from here to Roanoke, VA.  Only getting off when we got to Ashville and to see other scenic locations. One of those spots was Sliding Rock which is in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC. It was a sunny day and the park was crowed as everyone from 5-6 year olds up to their Fathers, Mothers, and Grandparents where sliding down this natural waterslide into a chilly swimming hole.  A sight that I had wanted to see 8 months before in the Fall, during another photography trip.

After getting back onto the BRP we got off again in Asheville for the Biltmore. Our breath was taken away by this American Castle and by the grounds that were impeccably taken care of. Amazingly this 200+ room mansion somehow didn’t take away from the beauty of the landscape. Instead it seemed to meld well with the distant mountain ranges. As if this 100 year old beauty complimented the majestic views with its own majestic quality. The gardens while large and flawlessly maintained were not as elaborate as I had expected, although their conservatory was very interesting to walk through. We finished it all off with a tour of the winery and a wine tasting which ended of course with a small purchase.

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Day 9: July-12: Asheville – Great Smokey National Park

July-12: Asheville – Great Smokey National Park (Chartered 1934) Park Map

After a long night photographing a friend’s wedding in Asheville and purchasing a Blue Ridge Mountain “Go Card” we headed west to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  We entered the Park through Gatlinburg, TN. This city came across almost like the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The strip was littered with “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” storefronts, hotels, and casinos…  While it is tucked away in a beautiful forested valley, Gatlinburg left us more than a little disappointed.

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So we made no detours and headed straight to the park entrance.  After getting a few directions from some Mountain Tennesseans with very thick accents we hit the roads of the park. On our way to Laurel Falls from the Sugarland Visitors Center we came around a corner of Laurel Creek Road and saw a train of at least 10 Classic Autos slowly working their way up the grade. It turns out that this is a Classic Trip for those Classic Autos. The Great Smokey Mountain National Park (GSM NP) is at the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway and along the Appalachian Trail which connects Main to Georgia.

After finally getting to the parking lot for Laurel Falls it was quick but steep hike up an nicely paved trail to Laurel Falls. Along which we saw numerous strollers and even a wheelchair. GSM NP is the most visited National Park in our Country, which is probably why the trails are so accessible to the public. While this is good for our Country it was not good for my photography since it was difficult to avoid people being in my photos.

Next we headed a little further down the road to the infamous “Sinks” which is a series of deep swimming holes that offer some nice jumps of modest heights. After which we headed back in the direction of the Sugarland V.C. but headed east along New Found Gap Road. New Found Gap was the location of the Park’s dedication, which was performed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. Then we headed up to Clingmans Dome for the sunset. The hike was again along a steep and paved trail, although a little longer and steeper than the Laurel Falls Hike, on a nice evening this would have been an incredible view, where you would be able to see for miles. Unfortunately the Smokey Mountains “Smoke” was too thick.

After the failed sunset we headed down to Smokemont Campground.

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Day 8: Kitty Hawk – Durham (July 10, 2009)

 

Having to stay at a hostel since the only accommodation in Corolla were resorts, we got up early and headed towards home. Once onRoanoke Islandwe took a detour south towardsWanchese. Wanchese is a commercial fishing village. I don’t think there was a single place for someone to charter a boat. There were oldfishing boatsleft in marshes, while a few blocks away are large warehouses where they are building newer and larger boats. It is blatantly apparent that this is a hard working town. This is a sight that I am sure most people miss.

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After passing throughAlligator River WildlifeReserve, we needed some gas and food. I saw a sign of the Hwy for a lighthouse in Plymouth, NC. Plymouth was a small struggling town along a small river that used to be the main transportation rout. It would seem aswater transportationdeclined so did Plymouth. However, there in their central park was a beautiful and strangely familiar lighthouse. There was a replica lighthouse in Manteo that we saw earlier on our trip and it turns out it was the same lighthouse as the one in Plymouth. After listening to a story about the lighthouse it turns out the one we were standing in is a replica as well! Although, Plymouth’s lighthouse was a replica of one that was about a mile down river that had been purchased by a private individual and it was more cost effective to rebuild it than to purchase and move the original.

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Day 7: Bodie Island to Corolla (July 9, 2009)

Our first stop was to Nags Head and Jockey’s Ridge State Park, this is home to the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast. It wasn’t apparent to us how large these dunes really were until we had parked our car and came around a bend in the trail that opened up to a view that just stunned us. The dunes were at least 60’-80’ tall and 100s of ft long. The Park states that there are 6,000,000 dump truck loads of sand contained in the park!

The next stop was a small café called Front Porch Café, it was amazing! After drinking down some warm/tasty coffee we headed a few minutes up the road to the Wright Brothers Memorial. We listened to a great oration of the Wright Brothers life by a Park Ranger in the replica room of the visitor’s center. The exhibits were great, including some pieces of the actual equipment, including a piece of cloth from a wing that went into space orbit. We then headed outside to look at replicas of the house and hanger, along with a memorial of all the different flights that took place on December 17, 1903.

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After the memorial we had to speed up to Corolla because the lighthouse is only open from 9pm-5pm. We got there at 5:05, but to our surprise on Thursdays the lighthouse is open until 8pm. We were able to take our time and tour Corolla, which is a beautiful little town. There is a nice historic mansion called the Whalehead Club,which is a focal point of the waterfront area. Not only is the building beautiful on the outside but is open for tours and has a beautiful interior. Back at the Corolla lighthouse we climbed up the 214 stairs to get the 158’ tall view. It was incredible and worth every minute of driving to get here. Corolla might be the most beautiful town of the Outer Banks, the difficulty of getting here and being secluded from the other popular sights make it for most a stop not worth making, but for others this is precisely why they come here.

After the sunset we headed back south to Kitty Hawk since Corolla only had resorts for accommodations. We stayed at the Outer Banks International Hostel, it was quite and inexpensive.

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Day 6: Cape Hatteras – Bodie Island (July 8, 2009)

I got up early for the sunrise, with the goal of getting a classic Outer Banks sunrise photograph. Not sure I achieved my goal, but that isn’t always a bad thing. One of the most important things about photography is to just get out there, especially to be out there during the prime lighting hours. The rich green strands of sea oats contrasted with golden sand and blue sky created a colorful palette with which to work.

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After a little breakfast we went back to the lighthouse and climbed the 268 stairs to the top. The view was spectacular; being able to see all the way to the tip of Hatteras Island was not difficult. Unfortunately the original Fernel lens is not being used. Instead they have replaced it with a rotating spotlight. The guide said that currently the Coast Guard owns the lens and is in possession even though the National Park Service maintains the light.

Once we climbed down we toured the keepers house. All of the buildings are not at their original locations (including the lighthouse). This is because the Outer Banks is essentially a large sandbar that is constantly moving due to the pounding waves of the Atlantic Ocean and the large storms. It was deemed that within a few years the Lighthouse and the other buildings were going to be consumed by the sea.

After the tours we headed North across the Oregon Inlet and to Bodie Island Lighthouse. After scoping it out for an evening photo shoot we snuck over to Roanoke Island and Manteo. One of our stops was Elizabeth Gardens; this is a European style garden that is worth a stop on anyone’s road trip. I believe you can buy a pass to get into the gardens, aquarium, Fort Raleigh, and the Elizabeth II (a tall ship docked in Manteo) among other sites.

After a great dinner at Full Moon Café in Manteo we went back to Bodie Island for some sunset photography.

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Day 5: Ocracoke to Cape Hatteras (July 7, 2009)

We woke up early today to get a good start on exploring Ocracoke, NC. This is the home to almost 800 people, but in the summer the population grows dramatically as Ocracoke is a favorite place for vacationers. It is a small, quaint town with a quiet harbor, and a small lighthouse. The slow pace and small streets of Ocracoke lend itself well to bikes and walking. Combine all of this with a nice beach and little history, like a British Cemetery and this being the home of the late Black Beard the Pirate it is no surprise. We sure liked it!

After walking the small neighborhoods, and touring the lighthouse, we headed to the public boat launch.  Here we launched the kayaks to paddle into the harbor and get a different view of the lighthouse/Ocracoke.

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After seeing most of the town we headed north towards Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. There is a free ferry that connects Ocracoke Island to Hatteras Island. Once we got to Hatteras Lighthouse I spent most of the evening taking sunset and night photographs, while Pooja took in a great lecture on the beach from a Park Ranger about the Outer Banks being the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

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