Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Asheboro Chili Cook Off - April 2009

My friend Greta sent some more information about the Asheboro, North Carolina Chili Cook Off.

News on the April Chili Cook Off in NC

Even though the Asheboro Chili Cookoff is giving away $1,500 to the lucky winner, the money isn’t what has pulled more than 40 cooks to the event. They just want to have fun at the town’s newest street festival.

The event will be held on Saturday, April 18, 2009 from 1-10 p.m. in downtown Asheboro. The event will include musical entertainment, a Kid’s Zone, a Hot Head Contest and lots of tasting. The winner of a raffle drawing will go home with either $8,000 or up to $1,000 a month mortgage payment for a year.

The slate of cookers ranges from novices who like to cook a pot of chili for their family – to award-winning contestants – to professional chefs. The common ingredient is they all have a passion for cooking. And when any of them throw a dinner party, they never get turned down.

Most have been testing their recipes – thus sparking more fun at home. Paul Stephanacci, of Asheboro, N.C., says the contest has become a family project. His wife, Robin, his mother, Ruth, four children and their spouses have been helping out. “Our chili is going to include the kitchen sink if I can get it in there,” he chuckled. This is his first chili cook-off, but with his neighbors, family and friends, he’s already a winner. “We’ve had rave reviews on our dry runs.” With strong Italian heritage, Stephanacci joked, “Even the Pope called wanting the recipe, but I had to turn him down!”

Neal Allen, from Asheboro, explained, “I’m a scientist and an artist in the kitchen. I love creating flavors and making blends. I love experimenting.”

He’s a graduate from the Baltimore International Culinary College and works at Jugtown CafĂ© in Seagrove, N.C. Like the internationally-renowned Seagrove potters who masterfully create glazes for their pots, Allen works with starches, sugars and complex compounds in food. And old family recipes. Part of his creation is based upon a Southwestern recipe from the 1800s. His chili has won awards at other contests.

The team of Don Johnson and Ricky Jordan, from Asheboro, have won awards for their barbecue, but this is the first time they’ve entered a chili contest. Regionally, they’re known for their ‘Q at the Pinehurst Relay for Life. “But we wanted to do something different,” said Johnson. An avid gardener, his recipe will include preserved produce from his ½-acre garden. “I canned my tomatoes myself, so they have little salt and no preservatives. They’re healthy.”

“Our natural grass-fed beef will come from three local farms,” said Jordan. Their team is called “Country Cooking,” but will be serving “Caraway Fire Chili.”

Ashlee and James Edwards, owners of Off-the-Square restaurant in downtown Albemarle, are blending North Carolina and Texas tastes. “I’m from Texas,” said Ashlee. “You know, we are proud of our food and Texas beef chili. But my husband is from Asheboro, and he knows all about pork barbecue. So our chili will be a blend of both.”

With a combined 22 years of restaurant experience, the couple has learned from one another about cooking. Ashlee reflected, “He graduated from the Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts and taught me some technical tricks in the kitchen. But I tend to be more spontaneous. So on the chili cookoff day, he’ll be tending the meat. But when he turns away, I’ll add a little more spice to it!”

“Mine will be a creative masterpiece,” says Joel Leonard, of Asheboro. Songwriter, professional writer and host of www.SkillTV.net, he just bought a new grill for the event. He’s been testing various recipes, one with beef marinated in Frangelica, a hazelnut-flavored liquor and beans soaked in Belgian beer. “Oh, the meat was absolutely delicious,” he commented. “But I’m still working on the right blend.”

Tourism writer and consultant Greta Lint says her research indicates the primary reason people attend a chili cook-off is for the chili. “It tugs at our curiosity – what will it taste like? Hot? Mild? Sweet? The anticipation is a common denominator that pulls us all together.”

For more information, log onto www.AsheboroChiliCookoff.com or call organizer Bryan Vaughan at 336-302-4968.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Outer Banks North Carolina - Rustic Beauty on the Coast of NC

You'll Find Lots of Creative Art on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Dock on the Outer Banks of NC. You Can Rent Boats and Go Fishing If You Like.

To Hop From Island to Island - Just Take a Ferry. Be Sure to Check Schedules Though.

If You Stay a While or Get Lucky, You Can see Wild Ponies on the Outer Banks.

Cape Hatteras National Park is really a string of islands called the “outer banks”of North Carolina. The park includes land running up three islands off the coast of North Carolina. The park stretches about 70 miles with the average width for the islands being about a mile across.

These islands are called the outer banks, since they provide protection for the mainland coast of North Carolina and serve as a buffer. Since the islands are battered by the ocean and storms, the shape of the islands changes constantly. This is a good area for anyone interested in how the oceans impact our coastlines.

On the flip side, the islands have seen many ship wrecks from the ocean side. If you’re a history buff, then you’ll want to read up on the wrecks during the World War era when German U boats washed up on the shores. Divers should check out Olympus Dive Center to learn about wrecks to visit underwater.

Since the shoreline is rough and ragged with harsh weather at times, each island supports a lighthouse to warn boaters. Lighthouse models are very popular souvenir items to purchase on the islands and on the mainland. This is a fabulous spot to visit if you love lighthouses and lighthouse history.

On to the Park(s) . . .

My suggestion for a trip would be to travel the length of the islands and plan on staying at Ocracoke. You get a better feel for the area and the history by taking your time and hitting all three islands. This is a slow and easy drive with lots of places to stop off and look around.

Bodie Island

The first island starting north and moving south is Bodie. Actually it’s not really an island anymore. As the landscape has changed, Bodie has shifted and connected to mainland NC at Nags Head, NC. Be sure to visit Kitty Hawk and see where the Wright Brothers took their first flight before (or after) you visit the islands.

Most visitors hit the outer banks by way of Bodie. The Bodie Lighthouse has a visitors center and museum. This is the third lighthouse at Bodie. The government wouldn’t put money into securing the first lighthouse, so it washed out during a storm. The second one was destroyed during the Civil War. The current lighthouse built in 1872 is slim black and white striped. Visitors can’t go in the lighthouse, but it is nice for pictures.

From the lighthouse area, you can take an easy trail—Bodie Island Dike Trail. This is a marshy area with lots of water birds. There is a fresh water pond created with a dam, which is the home to many ducks. Easter Seals donated a beach wheelchair with big tires, which can be borrowed so that disabled visitors can go on the trails and down on the beach.

You can pick up a map and information about the park at the Visitor Center, which was the house for the light keeper at one point. Light keepers were no longer needed to maintain the lighthouses after electric lights were added. That’s kind of sad, since lighthouse keeping sounded like a really romantic way to make a living.

Be sure to check out the summer programs offered at all three islands. One program is crabbing where you go out and learn to catch crabs. Another is a beach campfire. Kids can also pick up a Junior Ranger brochure. By taking part in some programs and activities, kids can earn a patch during the trip.

Hatteras Island

To get to Hatteras (the second island) you drive highway 12 across the bridge from Bodie. This is the biggest island and the most touristy though none of the islands on the park line are developed like most beach areas.

Hatteras is the home of the nations tallest lighthouse (208 feet). The lighthouse was almost eaten up by the ocean, but it was moved back in 1999. This is the only lighthouse in the park that you can go inside. It has been closed due to some safety problems with the steps, but it is expected to be open again soon.

Hatteras is the largest of the islands and makes up the biggest portion of the national park. Here you will find the bulk of island visitors. Camping is popular here and also boating. The Park has four campgrounds with low prices, and you’ll also see some commercial campgrounds. Marinas are scattered up and down the shoreline.

Swimming is open on the sound side and ocean side. Water is calm and warmer on the sound side and is good for beginning swimmers. The ocean side has good surfing and wind-boarding. If you don’t have equipment, you can rent or buy on the island.

Fishing is considered some of the best on the east coast. If you fish in the ocean, then you don’t need a license (or not the last time I checked). Fishing from the sound requires a NC fishing license for ages 16 and over.

Ocracoke Island

Okracoke is the isolated and least visited of the outer banks islands, because you can’t drive over. To get to Okracoke you take a 40-minute ferry ride over from Hatteras or from the mainland at Swan Quarter or Cedar Island. The mainland trip over takes about 2 ½ hours.

To get a feel for the island and the history or this sleepy area, be sure to stop at the Visitor Center there on the harbor. You can get information about a walking tour. You cover the town and read about the great history. It takes about an hour and a half to take the self-paced tour. They also have car tour information by tuning in on the AM station.

One of the most interesting stories on the island is about Black Beard the pirate. His head was cut off on this island and sent to Bath, NC. His treasure is supposed to be somewhere buried on Ocracoke.

There are lots of quaint privately owned little shops on the island. They also have two small grocery stores that will remind you of the old time stores on the Little House on the Prairie TV show from a few years back.

When you get hungry, try The Back Porch, which is about a half mile north of town. It’s a small place with a screened in porch. The food is really good, and you can even buy a cookbook featuring the specialties.

About 5 miles outside the village off of Highway 12 you’ll see the Baker ponies. No one is sure how the ponies got to the island, but they have many interesting stories about that. The ponies ran free up until the 1950s when the area was closed in to protect the island from overgrazing and to protect the ponies from traffic. At one point the Boy Scouts cared for the ponies, but now the Park Rangers do that.

You can rent bikes for traveling around Ocracoke, and that is probably the best way to see and enjoy the island. If you drive a car, then you don’t see much water (on any of the islands), and you don’t get to stop and chat with locals and other visitors.

A Different Beach Experience

Cape Hatteras is a very different beach experience from commercial areas like Ocean City or Myrtle Beach. You’ll see natural beaches, marshes, and lots of water birds. It’s quieter and the pace is slower. If you enjoy nature, then this is the beach spot you’ll love.

During the warmer months, this area is fairly busy. During the cold weather, you’ll have the beach almost to yourself. If you visit during colder weather, you’ll need to bring food and supplies. Many shops and restaurants close down during the off-season.

A Few Extra Tips

-Be sure to use sunscreen. Although the sun may not feel as intense on the island, you can easily burn.

-There are lots of bugs on the islands. Mosquitoes and horse flies may eat you up especially if you lotion up. Take some bug spray (or eat lots of garlic).

-Keep a jacket in the trunk. When a storm comes up or when the sun goes down, the temperatures drop a lot.

-Stick a kite in. This is a great area to fly kites. Kites also make good markers if members of your group wander on down the shore.

Want To Hear the Flavor of the Outer Banks? Check out this video. You will the islanders talk about the various terms from the area. You will also hear the interesting dialect from the eastern shore of the Outer Banks. Plenty of humor thrown in too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina - Almost Mayberry

Pilot Mountain Knob - Close Up of the Unique Hump on A North Carolina Landmark

Pilot Mountain is Easy to See From the Highway

Pilot Mountain State Park is one of many parks in North Carolina. It is just off highway 52 between Mount Airy and Winston Salem. Pilot Mtn State Park is about 14 miles from Mt. Airy and about 25 miles from Winston. It's not really in a town. It's off the road as you travel. That may only make sense in NC. But, it is off the beaten track I would say.

You’ve probably seen the Andy Griffith show and remember Andy and friends talking about going up to Mount Pilot. Although Mount Pilot was a fictional town, the name came from Pilot Mountain which can be seen from Andy’s real home town, Mt. Airy.

You’ll know you’re getting near Pilot Mountain State Park when you see the big bump on the mountain as you’re driving down the highway. Actually there are two bumps, but the one you can see and the one that gave the mountain the name Pilot Mountain is the big bump. The big bump looks like the pilot hump of one of those old time airplanes. So that’s why it’s called Pilot Mountain.

There are 2 sections to the state part. One part is the mountain park and the other is the Yadkin River section. Both are primitive areas with lots of wildlife to see.

In NC, we have loads of deer, squirrels, fox, and even brown bears.

In the mountain section, you have look-out areas with beautiful views. One especially good spot to look is near the small bump. Any time of the year is worth a look, but the fall is the best when the leaves are turning all colors.

The mountain section is good for a picnic. They have tables in several spots and one shelter which you can use if it has not been reserved by a group (max number = 35). Grills are available if you want to cook out. They have canned sodas in the park office, but you probably just want to bring a cooler to this park.

The mountain section is great for hiking. There are trails for all levels. You can take an easy one mile walk on up to a 5 miler or go rock climbing. The Yadkin River section adjoins the mountain section, but it is on flatter ground and on the water. This is also a nice area for walking, and you can also ride the horse trails.

If you like to fish, you can fish in the Yadkin River. Cat fish are good catching in the area. You need a NC fishing license over age 16. Many of the community stores sell those as well as some chains like Wal-Mart.

One of the most fun things to do is to canoe and then camp in the Yadkin section. You need to bring a canoe though, as the park does not rent those out. If you can get a canoe, then you can ride in the river and go over to the island and camp there. This is very back woods camping with no water or bathroom, but it is a fun thing to do if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you are not the rough-it sort of person, then you can camp in the tent-camper section near the river. In this section, you do have a nice bathhouse. Pilot Mountain Park is good for a quick stopover from the highway or for a day trip. They are open from about sun up to sun down. Check the times before you go as the gates are locked after hours. You don’t have to pay to get in and look around either.

If you decide to visit Pilot Mountain, then be sure to visit the Horne Creek Farm which is right there on the edge of the Yadkin River park section. You can learn about old time farming. They are opened most weekends and also for group tours during the week if you call and make arrangements.

You’ll also want to stop by in Mount Airy (20 minutes or so). Although Mt. Airy is larger than Mayberry, you still get that small southern town feeling. As I mentioned, this really is Andy’s home town.

Look for the Snappy Diner which was mentioned on the TV show. You can get a pork chop sandwich there and other southern foods.

When you’re driving around in the area, stop at one of the road stands. They are all over the place in the mountains. Those are fun to visit. If you’re hungry, then some of our local products are the apples in season, apple cider, jams, jellies, honey, peanuts roasted, and fried fat back (usually called pork rinds). You can also get garden grown vegetables in the spring and fall. One of my favorites - Cherokee purple tomatoes. Those are mellow and really yummy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

North Carolina's First State Park - Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell - Highest Mountain Peak East of the Mississippi River

Mount Mitchell is the first state park developed in North Carolina. It was taken over by the state in 1915 to prevent the logging of the fir trees. That saved the trees then, but now they are dead from acid rain and aphid bugs of modern times. You’ll see what looks like a tree graveyard up at the top with the evergreens striped down to just skeleton trunks with limp limbs sticking out. That may sound pretty unattractive, but it’s just an eerie kind of look up at the top of the mountain.

The mountain and park are named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell who taught at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mitchell explored the Black Mountain range and is the one who figured out how to calculate heights for the range. He was only 12 feet shy on his estimate of Mount Mitchell. He died when he fell down the waterfall and drowned. He is buried up next to the observation tower where you’ll see a market with some details about him.

When I was a kid, the elementary school used to take classes up to Mount Mitchell. We would spend the day going up and down the observation tower and hiking the trails. Actually we would park in the lower lot and climb up to the peak where the tower stands. That’s about 6 miles and strenuous climbing unless you are in elementary school. Our teachers must have been younger than we thought back then, because they always hiked up that steep incline with us. I can say that it is a work out now with my two boys.

The reason we visited Mount Mitchell with school classes was because it is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. It’s part of the Black Mountain range, which is a small range above the Smokey Mountains. Although the range is smaller than our other mountain ranges with only about 15 miles of mountains in the chain, this one has the highest peaks with Mount Mitchell being the highest of all at 6684 feet.

We also visited, because it was an easy day trip from near Charlotte, NC. Mount Mitchell is a half hour north of Asheville, NC in Burnsville. The only way to get to Mount Mitchell is from the Blue Ridge Parkway on NC 128. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a beautiful drive through the mountains across several eastern states, and it’s a nice drive except during heavy snow.

When you get off the Parkway at Mount Mitchell, you just follow the signs. You can park at a lower level and walk up or you can drive up to the top. At the top, you have a great view unless it’s foggy. You can see for miles and miles. Climb the observation tower for an even better view. Kids really love the tower.

If you’re hungry, the park has a snack bar. It is also the only state park with a full restaurant (May 1 to October 31 only). There are no restaurants on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so this is a nice stop if you want to eat. Of course, you can also take a picnic. They have 40 picnic tables on a first come basis. Two shelters are available with 2 tables each. There are some grills too if you want to cook out.

Camping is available, but there are only 9 spaces. These are tent spaces, and you don’t have bathrooms or hot water. You can also register and park at Mount Mitchell and then hike into the Pisgah National Forest which connects. This would be backpack camping and very back woods.

If you are visiting Asheville or driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a great stop. The views are terrific. You can also learn about our forests and how modern life is impacting and destroying the evergreens. You can check about the educational programs, and school groups are always welcome just as they were back when I was a kid.

This would also be a good park to home base from if you want to do some deep woods camping. I prefer a real bathroom myself and some hot running water, but if I decided to really rough it, then this would be my pick for a first time.

If you want more info or want to contact the park, then call 828-675-4611.

Grand Canyon of North Carolina - Linville Gorge

Sunset Table Rock at Linville Gorge, North Carolina

Linville Falls in the Rocky Area of Linville Gorge

Linville Gorge is often called The Grand Canyon of North Carolina. It’s really a very different kind of “canyon” though. The gorge is covered with hardwoods and has lush undergrowth mixed with massive rocks. While much of the NC mountain area was logged before national and state land was set aside, this area was not. It was simply too wild for loggers to bother with.

The Linville River starts out on Grandfather Mountain then leaks over the edge in spectacular falls (Linville Falls) and cuts a twisting path through the gorge wilderness area. Native Americans called the river Eeseeoh which means river of many cliffs. That’s very fitting. The name Linville was given in memory of an explorer and his son who were scalped by Cherokees in 1766. Actually, some legends say that the son, John, did live through the experience.

This mostly “untouched” area is a favorite with backcountry travelers. In addition to primitive camping, the area is popular for hunting, fishing, and rock climbing. Although a few brave souls have attempted to ride the waters, this is not a white water space.

There are two main entrance areas to the gorge—one on the east and one on the west. Most visitors come in on the east side near Table Rock and Linville Falls. These areas are not inside the park boundaries, but a trail connects over to the wilderness area.

It’s a good idea to drop by the Linville Gorge Information Center first. If you plan to camp, you’ll have to get a permit before you hike in. Since the area is really popular, the limit is 3 nights in the gorge. Even if you don’t plan to camp, you can get maps and the park rangers will tell you great stories and give you tips for enjoying the area. Checking in is important safety wise too. Between 45 and 50 folks are injured each year and many hikers/campers get lost.

The Info Center is located off NC Hwy 183 about ½ a mile. You take Secondary State Route 1238 (also called Country Line Road or Kistler Memorial Highway).

Once you’re ready to go into the area, you’ll drive up steep mostly dirt roads to small parking areas and hike in. You really need a 4-wheel drive to get back into the gorge area especially if you try it from the west side of the park.

Once you’re in, you have some lightly blazed trails scattered with big boulders with a variety of interesting names given by past hikers. The trails are steep and difficult. You often cross over the water. There are plenty of rocks for climbing. Fishing is excellent. Some of the largest trout in the state are in the stream, and you can also catch small mouth bass. You can hunt too though I don’t hunt.

For more information on the wilderness area, call 828-257-4202.

If you just want to see this beautiful area, but you don’t want to rough it, then stop by Table Rock. It is right on the edge of the wilderness area. You can park and see the gorge area and some of the falls or take shorter hikes on trails. The Table Rock Trail is one mile and pretty strenuous, but certainly not the hard hiking in the wilderness area. They have parking, picnic tables, and a bathroom area (no running water) at Table Rock.

Another option is to visit Grandfather Mountain and just look down on the gorge area. This tourist attraction is very user friendly. You can drive right up to the top to the visitor’s center and then walk across the mile high bridge over to the rock area. From the rocks, you can look out over the gorge. They have a gift shop and a restaurant as well as a small animal exhibit. Phone 800-468-7325.

If you’re visiting the wilderness area or one of the view areas, be sure to stop by Linville Caverns located in Linville Valley in Marion, NC. This cave is small with many tunnels. A stream runs through the cave. Local trout swim in the river and are blind from living in the dark. Tour guides are excellent at this cave site. The phone number is 800-419-0540.

Linville Gorge is a beautiful area in North Carolina. If you want a real mountain adventure, then plan to visit the wilderness park. You will be sure to leave with lots of memories and stories. If you want to see this area, but you’re not sure about going totally wild, then try Table Rock. Grandfather Mountain is good if you just want to stop and view. Any option will be fun.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Common Sense Tips - Nantahala White Water River Area - North Carolina

Mountain Wild Flowers in North Carolina

The Nantahala River area in North Carolina is a beautiful and rustic area of the state. Nantahala is known most for the white water rafting, but it’s also a pretty place to rest and look at the scenery. You’ll enjoy the mountain flowers in the spring, the water in the summer, leaves in the spring, and snow in the winter.

Remember that this is small town are and rural even though you will see some tourists and tourist attractions. Locals don’t get in a hurry. You may have to wait in line to buy stuff while someone shows off pictures of grandkids or talks about the weather.

Ask about fun things to do in the area. Many of the sites are hard to find or not listed at all. One of the locals told us about the cave and another gave us directions to rent the pontoon boat. Another loaned us a phone when the phone went out in the cabin. If you are looking for small town charm and kindness, this is where you’ll find it.

Be sure to use the bathroom before you hit the road. You won’t find many rest stops or gas stations. Sure. There are places to see and stop, but you’ll find long stretches of trees and wildlife.

You’ll also want to keep the gas tank filled and carry some food. I would suggest taking soda crackers. The roads are very winding, and both my boys threw up. The crackers helped a lot. Dramamine would be a good idea for those who get motion sickness, but that can make you sleepy. I’d say to try the crackers first.

Picnic supplies are a good idea. There are lots of roadside tables or pretty spots to stop and eat. We carried a cooler with us everywhere and had cold drinks or something to eat when we got hungry. You’ll go long stretches without seeing a restaurant or drink machine in Nantahala. You’ll also save money by taking food with you.

Take warm clothing. Even in the summer, this area can get cool. It also rains pretty often. We kept a change of clothes with us in the trunk of the car . . . just in case. Since I got soaked on the white water rafting trip, I was glad to have dry things to put on. We also bought those reef runner slip on shoes at Wal-Mart. Those are a good idea, since you’ll often get wet feet and walk in mud. You can just rinse those shoes in the creek and set them on the car hood to dry off.

Relax in Murphy, North Carolina - Fishing, Boating, Hiking

Harbor Cove Marina in Bear Paw, NC - near Murphy, NC

My Youngest Son Learns to Drive at Boat on the Lake in Murphy, North Carolina

Murphy is a small town in the very tip of North Carolina, but it is central to the big North Carolina and Tennessee tourist areas. We were a couple of hours from Asheville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. Murphy is also close to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Maggie Valley, and Cherokee (about a hour to any of those areas). If you head back down the mountain, you can also white water raft on the Nantahala or closer – cross the state line into Tennessee and test yourself on the Ocoee.

Right in Murphy off Highway 294, you’ll find a recreation area. Just look for the brown sign about 5 miles or so after you turn off 64. The area is on the lake with a fishing pier and lots of ducks. They have picnic tables and grills under a shelter. You can walk around the edge of the lake to the dam and fish off the dam or along the edge of the lake. We had the best luck fishing in brushy areas before the dam.

Howard’s Bait Shop is on the right before you get to the Park turn in off 294. You can get your fishing license and also live bait there at the shop. They also had frog legs when we were up there. Those were for eating and not for bait. We picked up a box of frog legs on the way home and really enjoyed having some fried frog legs back at home.

If you want to rent a boat to ride on the lake, then go to the end of 294. You have to turn right or left. Go right and then a few miles down you will see a marina sign. Follow the dirt road down to the edge of the lake. You can rent a canoe, fishing boat, or a pontoon. We got the pontoon which was wonderful for fishing and also for climbing in and out of the lake to swim. There is a little island a few miles toward the damn with a picnic table.

This Marina is Harbor Cove Marina. The phone number is 828-644-9310. You may need to call to check the lake water levels as it’s been dry the last few years in North Carolina. They also have a limited number of boats to send out, so a reservation is a good plan too – although we just dropped by and got a boat rental set up. The people renting the boats are very friendly. The people docking there are as well. I climbed up in the boat with some guys to try to rent, and they were just regular guys on their own boat. They just laughed and said we could come along, but I had them point us to where we were supposed to go to rent the pontoon.

There’s a second boat rental company right next to the Hiwassee Dam. The marina is inside the gated community of homes and condos there. You may want to ask someone there at the dam exactly where to turn. Once you get inside the gate, the signs are easy to follow, but we missed the turn in on the first run through. They had more boats for rent. They also have snacks and drinks. It’s more formal than Harbor Cove.

We often stay in Murphy or Bear Paw, North Carolina, because the area is very pretty, peaceful, and we’re still close to all the places the boys like to check out on vacation. We generally rent a cabin for a week and then white water raft one day, boat on the lake another, and then hit one of the big tourist towns one day. Some days or in the evenings, we just grill out and play Scrabble or watch TV. So, we come home actually feeling like we’ve had a vacation rather than like we need one.

Nantahala, North Carolina - Relaxing Area for White Water Rafting and Central to Many Vacation Spots

Relaxing (or maybe rowdy) Family Dinner at Rental Cabin - NC Mountains

If you’ve been thinking about a quiet and relaxing vacation in North Carolina, then the Nantahala River area is a good place to get away from it all.

Nantahala is an Indian word roughly translated as “land of the midday sun.” That’s pretty fitting, since the Nantahala Forest is like a big bowl with mountains cupping up around and blocking out direct sun except for the middle of the day.

The Nantahala Forest is located right below and connected to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park and the Cherokee Indian reservation. In fact, a small portion of Nantahala is reservation. The Trail of Tears (the route Native Americans were forced to walk when relocated to Oklahoma) cuts through the upper edge of Nantahala.

Nantahala is less well known than other North Carolina outdoor areas and is quieter and less touristy. The boys and I walked trails without seeing any other people and had the lake almost to ourselves when we rented a pontoon boat. The only area where we saw crowds was the whitewater rafting area which runs about 16 miles along truck route 74 between Bryson City and Murphy.

If you really need a break from it all, then the Nantahala Forest area is a wonderful place to stay. There are lots of places to camp including right along the edge of the river. If your idea of roughing it does not include sleeping in a tent, there are a few motels (of course) and also rental cabins. We rented a cabin for the week, and that was an excellent choice. The balcony hung out over the Nantahala River, so we could enjoy the water day or night.

Nantahala is also centrally located. In addition to white water rafting, we also visited Cherokee, Dollywood (in Tennessee), and went to the caves near Telico Plains (TN) and saw the ghosty white fish. Those were easy day trips from the rental cabin. So, we had the best of it all – some action and adventure but a homey place when we called it a day.

Rafting on the Nantahala.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

North Carolina Maritime Museum Southport - Uncertain Future

With fewer state dollars to go around, the Southport North Carolina Maritime Museum is struggling to stay open. Friends of the Museum are asking for space in the city park's and recreation building on a lease for $1 per year. City officials are considering this option as well as other possible types of state funding to preserve the rich history of the area.

Getting space in the parks/rec building could be a little tricky. That property was deeded to Southport in 2006 by the federal government with the stipulation that it be used for public recreation. The museum already rents the space for various classes. So, the question becomes: Can they use the space for exhibits and for the collection of research materials?

Materials at the museum are from the Lower Cape Fear River and include artifacts from old ship wrecks. The collection is divided into 12 main stations with a self-guided tour as well as friendly guides on hand to provide more background and answer questions. Those interested in doing research can visit the library. Special films and programs are offered throughout the year.

Southport is a branch of the North Carolina Martitime Museum in Beaufort, NC. The Southport maritime museum is currently located at 116 North Howe Street with rent of $61K per year (which is why they hope to relocate to the park/rec building). The museum has been open for 20 years. Exhibits can be viewed Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission to the museum is free.

Hopefully the Southport Maritime Museum can survive the hard economic times. It provides a wonderful chance to learn about and understand the history of the area and the people who made it the beautiful place it is today. Certainly we all have to sacrifice during lean times, but we don't want to lose our past as we look at building a new future.

Friday, March 13, 2009

North Carolina Symphony - Raleigh - April 2009

Jeannie got in touch to let me know about the North Carolina Symphony show coming up next month in Raleigh. This sounds like a really good one especially for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland fans.

A Crowd-Pleasing Look Back at Mickey and Judy’s Hollywood with the North Carolina Symphony

Great songs from the Golden Age of Hollywood live again in “I Got Rhythm! Mickey and Judy’s Hollywood” in the North Carolina Symphony’s final Pops Series concert of the season. Performances are Friday and Saturday, April 17 & 18 at 8pm and Sunday, April 19 at 3pm, at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh’s Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Assistant Conductor Joan Landry conducts all three performances.
Timeless movie musical icons Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland are the inspiration for this charming and loving tribute to the great Big Band sound that became the hallmark of Hollywood musicals.

As in all the Mickey and Judy films, the orchestra takes center stage as the third star of the show. “I Got Rhythm” takes full advantage of the symphony orchestra with all new orchestrations and newly arranged pieces designed to showcase the conductor and orchestra. Whether or not you’ve seen a Mickey and Judy film, their treasure chest of American standards like “Embraceable You,” “Strike Up the Band” and “Where or When” makes for an evening of charming, heart-warming, old-fashioned “feel good” entertainment.

Broadway veterans Sauna Hicks and Jeff Harner bring out the best in the music. Show Business magazine calls them “two gifted entertainers in a warm and affectionate tribute happily buoyed by can’t-miss material.” The Chicago Sun-Times praises the whole show as “a smart and sophisticated celebration of the MGM music songbook of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.”

For tickets and more information, please visit the North Carolina Symphony website or call Audience Services at 919.733.2750, Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm.

13th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Charlotte, NC Postponed - 2009

The 13th annual St.Patrick's Day festival and parade in Charlotte, North Carolina has been changed from Saturday, March 14, 2009 to Saturday March 21.

If you live in the area, you'll know why they've postponed this yearly day of Irish fun. It's cold and rainy in North Carolina currently. After a week of summertime temperatures, a cold front rolled in with predictions of temperatures in the 30s. That's pretty typical of weather in North Carolina at this time of year. Spring can be hot or cold and change from one day to the next.

The delay does give everyone an extra week to make plans to enjoy the St. Patrick's Day festivities in downtown Charlotte which include Irish music and dancers, bagpipes, yummy food, and drinks.

The St. Patrick's Day Festival is from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. next Saturday on South Tryon Street between 1st and 3rd Streets.

The parade begins at 11 a.m. at Tryon and 9th Steet and goes south to Tryon and 3rd Street.

These are non-profit events, and admission is free.

There were 40,000 visitors last year, so expect a crowd - especially if the weather clears and we get back to sunny NC days again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina - Hidden Treasure on the Outer Banks

Beach at Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks North Carolina

Lighthouse at Ocracoke Island

Harbor at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

One of the prettiest places I've ever seen (and I have lived overseas) is Ocracoke, North Carolina. It is a barrier island on the Outer Banks of NC. Since it's at the end of the string of islands and can only be visited by taking a ferry, many people miss this little gem in North Carolina.

I first saw Ocracoke when staying at a beach house on Cedar Island (another secret spot - not often found by tourists). The ferry to Ocracoke Island was on the tip of Cedar Island, so my family decided to take a day trip.

Wow! We basically had a beach to ourselves. How amazing.

Don't think Ocracoke is a deserted island. It's not. There's a really wonderful village right at the dock. But, we have a 4 wheel drive and went down the beach and pretty much had an isolated island experience.

I loved the clean sand and the big waves coming in.

After we enjoyed a very private time on the beach with the boys playing football in the sand and in the water, we visited the town and had a great time. We had seafood right on the water at Jolly Rogers and enjoyed local crafts at various shops.

It does take some extra time to get out to Ocracoke. The Cedar Island ferry is a couple of hours. It's not that long coming up the north end from the Outer Banks. But, it's still kind of out of the way. That is what makes it special though. You don't have all the crowds and the typical beach tourist traps.

If you really want to relax on vacation and get away from it all but still have access to some entertainment and people, then Ocracoke just can't be beat.

For more information on Ocracoke, I would suggest that you visit Mary's site. She lives at Ocracoke, and you get great information when you check with a local rather than looking at some of the general travel sites. Those just lack the heart of a place and the details.

Ghost Town in the Sky - Struggling But Will Open for 2009

When I was a kid, our family would go to the mountains of North Carolina. We usually camped in Cherokee, NC near Mingo Falls. Along with fishing and tubing down the cold mountain stream, we would spend a day at Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley.

There were not many amusement parks around in the 1960s, so it was a big deal to get to go to Ghost Town. Today there are loads of amusements parks with each one bigger and better than the next, so Ghost Town has struggled. In fact, the park closed down for five years and now is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy after two years. The tough economy, high gas prices last summer, and the bank failures combined to make it hard to get the refurbished park back up and running.

The current plan is to open as scheduled at Ghost Town on May 15, 2009. So, even as the park struggles, they are working to keep part of the history of the mountains of North Carolina alive.

If you’re headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, then Ghost Town in the Sky is a great trip especially if you have younger kids. It’s a smaller park with very friendly employees and visitors.

The park is on the side of the mountain, and you ride a chair lift up. That was what I found really thrilling when I was a kid. The ride up the mountain was great and would have been a treat even if they hadn’t had an amusement park at the end of the ride. There’s an inclined train ride also for those afraid of heights and dangling feet, but that is still under construction. So, a bus ride option is available in the meantime.

As far as the rides, they have a roller coaster. What makes it stand out is that it’s up high on the mountain and close the edge. So, while it may not be the biggest and newest, it’s a neat ride. The chair swings also benefit from being on the side of the mountain if you or the kids are thrill seekers. There are a variety of other smaller rides and a old fashioned train that circles around the park.

My favorite things at Ghost Town are the shows. The have a mock street shoot out with all the visitors lined up watching the good guys chase down the bad guys. Over at the saloon, you can see dancing girls and some comedy, and the big arena showcases Native American dancers from Cherokee.

I took my boys when they were really little guys and then again shortly before the park closed down for a while. They enjoyed Ghost Town a lot. It was not an all day affair like so many of the parks now. They rode the rides and saw the shows and had some snacks. There were not 2 hour lines to get on a 5 minute or less ride. It really was perfect with younger kids. They went and had fun without getting totally worn out.

Ghost Town in the Sky probably would not appeal as much to teens. They don’t have multiple mega roller coasters and other big thrill rides. The shows would be a little old fashioned for those 12 and up. I’d suggest driving a little further into Tennessee and Dollywood if you have older kids.

I’m really glad Ghost Town will be opening this year and hope that they are able to make a go of it. I have wonderful memories of visiting as a child and then again with my boys. I hope they don’t change it too much. There are a lot of the overwhelming amusement parks out there now, and it’s nice to have a little laid back park when you can get a photo with a cowboy and where the bumper car man lets you ride longer, because the line isn’t that long.

Here's a video of Ghost Town in the Sky, so you can see some of the fun things for yourself.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yes. You Can Buy Beer, Wine, and Mixed Drinks in Asheboro Now.

Asheboro, North Carolina was dry for 58 years, but last summer the alcohol issue went to a vote. Sixty percent of voters cast for alcohol in the largest dry town in NC, so if you're passing through Asheboro or decide to vacation and see the Asheboro Zoo, you can now have a drink with dinner or pick up a six pack at a local convenience store. If you want harder spirits, you can buy a mixed drink, but you won't find an ABC store in town.

North Carolina is a pretty conservative state, depending on what area you're visiting. Laws do vary across the state. If you see a little bar or convenience store with lots of beer signs right next to a county line, it's likely that you're entering a dry county.

I remember the emotions running high here when they had a vote to have beer and wine in the convenience store. That did pass, but we had a Blue Law. You could not buy beer or wine on Sunday, so they put a broom handle through the handles on the beer cooler on Sunday. You could, of course, drive 12 miles up the road and get beer and wine - but only after 11 a.m. on Sunday. I suppose that was to encourage people to go to church first. We no longer have the Blue Law here, the ABC store was blocked.

Chili Cook Off and Festival in Asheboro Next Month (April 2009)

One of my friends, Greta, sent me information about a fun festival in Asheboro coming up April 18, 2009. Asheboro is the home of our North Carolina Zoo, so if you're from out of town, you may want to stay the night, so you can visit the zoo as well.

New Asheboro Festival Seeks Vendors, Chili Cooks; Giving Away $10,000+

Once the largest municipality in North Carolina to be dry, the town has turned wet with gusto! A brand new festival, Asheboro’s 1st Annual Chili Cookoff, will be held on Saturday, April 18 from 1-10 p.m. in downtown. The street festival will include craft and art vendors, musical entertainment, lots of chili and Asheboro’s first legal beer tent. Organizers are seeking chili cooks, art, craft and other food vendors. More than $10,000 is up for grabs.

Organizer Bryan Vaughan, owner of The Bagel Shop in downtown Asheboro, says he’s excited about the prospect of combining food, beer and music together for the first time in an Asheboro festival. “I’ve got people coming from several states to cook in this event. And they’re all anxious to take home the grand prize.”

Winners of the chili cook-off will take home a hefty $1,500 cash prize.

The owner of the winning raffle ticket will have his mortgage paid for one year – up to $1,000 a month. Raffle winners with no mortgage are eligible for $8,000 in cash. Prizes are not transferable.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Randolph Heritage Conservancy and Muscular Sclerosis.

The festival will be held between Worth, Fayetteville and Sunset streets.

Raffle tickets may be purchased on April 18 and in advance at The Bagel Shop located at 103 North Fayetteville Street in downtown Asheboro, North Carolina. For more information, see Asheboro Chili Cook Off or call Vaughan at 336-302-4968.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dragon Boat Racing in North Carolina

Sharada tipped me off about this interesting North Carolina event taking place in May 2009.

The World’s Fastest Growing Water Sport Returns to Charlotte

The Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce (CAACC) and The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation announce the Fourth Annual Charlotte Dragon Boat to be held on Saturday, May 16, 2009 at Ramsey Creek Park, Cornelius. As usual, this will be accompanied by the Annual Asian Festival, which will be celebrated for the tenth year running this year.

Like every year, this year’s festival will feature entertainment, including performances of traditional dances from the different Asian countries, the talent-filled Miss Asian Festival Scholarship competition, regional exhibits, ethnic foods and merchandise, creating a fun-filled multi country fair-like atmosphere.

Dragon Boat racing is the fastest growing water sports event around the globe. The event embraces and promotes competition, fair play, team building, community cohesiveness, culture and history. Organized competitions are held in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, culminating in World Cup Championship races annually. In Charlotte, this event has succeeded in bringing together the Asian community and all the various other ethnic groups as they all enthusiastically embrace this sport from the East.

A Dragon Boat typically weighs about 600 pounds, measures 40 feet long in the shape of a canoe at 3.5 feet at its widest point. A wooden dragon head is attached to the bow and a tail at the stern. The hull is typically decorated with a design of red, green and blue scales edged in gold. Boats are crewed by a team of 22, with 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steer-person. You will hear competing teams propel their boats in sync with a furious rhythm pounded out by onboard drummers. All the noise and pageantry creates an atmosphere of excitement.

The festival and races were enjoyed by about 6000 -8000 people over the years from all over the greater Charlotte area with racing teams from the business community, non-profit organizations, high schools, colleges, citizen groups and breast cancer survivor teams coming even from Atlanta and Charleston, SC. For more details, please visit Dragon Boat Com.

Registered teams will have 2 free practice sessions, with coaching, 2-3 weeks before the event in the Lake Norman area, and the team is guaranteed to race at least two times on race day. Because of the time constraint, the number of teams will be limited to 40. Team registration fees received before April 17 are $600 for nonprofits and $700 for others. After April 17, it is $700 and $800 respectively. For more details, please contact Lina Waty at linawaty@yahoo.com.

Admission is free. Satellite parking areas are posted for all visitors, with shuttle bus services to the park.