Wise Folks Still Seek Hills

North Carolina Travel Blog

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Ashe County Christmas Trees
As a budding freshman at Virginia’s Lynchburg College, when term papers were still being pounded out on 30-pound typewriters, my fall break was a hitchhike along the entire length of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, the meandering link between the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. I revisited an epic stretch of the winding, quieting two-lane road connecting Northern Virginia and Western North Carolina because this High Country is where wise folks still seek hills.

BOONE (elevation 3,333), was once an inaccessible mountain town in Northwest North Carolina, hence “The best way to get to Boone is to be born there.” Deftly balancing old-timely Southern charm and ecological sustainability, the green movement is here and windmills are beginning to grace the undulating horizon.
Boone Drug Owner, Joe Miller
The former Daniel Boone hangout is home to Appalachian State University, whose football team made global headlines when they beat the University of Michigan in 2007. Thereafter, university applications tripled.

The surrounding region is Mecca for “before ‘lectric powah” archetypal bluegrass music. There’s no need for any folk revivals here, around random corners you’ll meet people picking early American fretless banjos, accompanied by guitars, fiddles or harmonicas. This is also ground zero for hog calling legends and cloggers (a.k.a. country tap-dancers). The high country’s elevation also keeps mosquitoes at bay.

Dining at the Boone Drug lunch counter, a haven for satisfying artery-cement entrees and local color, I overheard two old-timers discussing America’s current economic woes --- quips included:

“As crazy as a duck in a thunderstorm…”

“Like eating crackers through a screen…”

Joe Miller, part owner of Boone Drug and founder of Cheap Joe’s, a global art supply company, was literally born on the sidewalk under the Boone Drug sign (which makes answering ‘what sign are you’ a cinch).
Glendale Springs Holy Trinity Church
The ex-pharmacist and water colorist enjoys “southern style business models” where courtesy wins, not greed.

Travel writer Charles Kuralt called Boone’s Mast General Store the heart and soul of the south. The multi-room store is on the National Register of Historic Places because it’s not budging from its 1884 origins. You can read a book there, or buy everything from molasses to high-tech hiking gear.

ASHE COUNTY, the Christmas tree province that’s frequently supplies the White House’s tree, boasts several gems, including artsy West Jefferson, a sleepy valley town that will likely double in size by 2020 (as urbanites give up on cement), and Glendale Springs Holy Trinity Church, a stop on the Ben Long Fresco Trail that’s open for mediation 24/7.

Grassy Creek’s River House flanks the New River, one of the Earth’s rare rivers, like the Nile, that flows north --- and behind the Nile, is the world’s second oldest river. Set on 160 acres, the River House’s nine rooms include a lavishly renovated chicken coop and a divine space previously used a cattle weigh station. The epic front porch of the main house has eight rocking chairs that overlook the river, and a simpler time. Their kayaking option is a leisurely downriver breeze that earns rocking chair time and a glass of fine wine. Owner Gayle Winston, a tenth generation Ashe County native and Manhattan resident/patron of Broadway from 1953-73, oversees the country kitchen gourmet dining and wine sampling in her living room. The River House defines North Carolina royalty.

The landscape of a county that’s the second largest Christmas tree producer after the entire state of Washington strives beyond native Fraser Firs; deciduous trees are an even match for the rolling rows of conifers. Indian legends survive here because when times are rough, it helps to heed the lessons of an American civilization that survived 11,000 years.
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Ashe County Christmas Trees
Ashe County Christmas Trees
Boone Drug Owner, Joe Miller
Boone Drug Owner, Joe Miller
Glendale Springs Holy Trinity Chur…
Glendale Springs Holy Trinity Chu…
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