“"The lake was discovered by Ben Sands, a 13-year-old boy who had actually crawled through a tunnel that was the size of a bicycle tire for 40 feet before he dropped down into the lake itself.”— Savannah Dalton, tour guide
Deep in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, about 50 miles south of Knoxville, sits an American wonder 140 feet below ground.
Inside, a narrow tunnel leads to an intricate cave system drenched in history. Cherokee Indians used it as a shelter in the 1820s. And during the Civil War, Confederate soldiers used the cave's minerals to make gunpowder.
Tour guide Savannah Dalton is part of that rich history. Her grandmother and great aunt played down here as children.
"I was actually six years old the first time I came down here with my grandmother and older brother," Dalton said.
Few places encapsulate Appalachia like The Great Smoky Mountains. From the stunning views at Cades Cove to the rich history found in Cherokee, this unique range also represents the nation’s most visited national park.Here’s your chance to tour the Smokies on your own terms. The folks at RVshare have this terrific contest—The Smokies Summer Giveaway.
The grand prize winner receives a free RV rental for four-days, a free three-night campground stay in the Smokies, and $1,000 in cash for spending money. The prize package would give you the flexibility to go where you want and see what you want, all while bringing your lodging with you!
But be sure to enter soon. The contest ends July 1, 2019.
And once you enter, don’t forget to increase your chance of winning by taking some of these social media actions:
Refer friends to enter
Follow RVshare on social media
Retweet the giveaway on Twitter
Answer one of RVshare's bucket list question
Finally, we want to hear about your Smoky Mountain experiences and aspirations. Be sure to leave a comment below and tell us—what’s your favorite spot in the Smokies or what spot do you most want to visit?
This post has been sponsored by the folks at RVshare, where RV renters connect with RV owners.
Maybe your boss asks what you think of her new top, and though it looks like it's made from fishing nets, you say, "It's really fun!"
Or the tub is clogged, and there's no way the plunger will fix it. You tell your significant other, "Yeah, I already tried that."
White lies sometimes get us by, and that apparently holds true on the Appalachian Trail. Greg and Jen Seymour started their thru hike on Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 22, 2017 and finished on Mount Katahdin, Maine on September 16, 2017. Along the way, they heard enough fibs to make this handy list, which originally appeared on their blog Appalachian Trail Tales. Maybe some are familiar. Maybe you even have your own to add. What's the best lie you ever heard in the great outdoors? And what's the best you ever told?
Most Appalachian Trail thru-hikers start the trail as a neophyte and end it as an expert. Along the way they learn that some of the things they had been told about the trail just aren’t true. These are five of those things for us.
1. Virginia is easy/flat
Before we left on our thru-hike, we heard several times in several ways that the miles in Virginia were easy or at least flatter than those experienced in the preceding states of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
If you compare the elevations in the guidebook of Virginia against any one of the first three states, it does appear flatter. Don’t be fooled. Virginia has plenty of challenges for the thru-hiker and it is neither flat nor easy.
I believe one of the contributing factors to this fallacy is that in Virginia many hikers begin busting out serious daily mileage. That means it’s easy right? Uh, no. It means by Virginia, a NOBO hiker has earned their trail legs. They have also dialed in their gear and their packs are at an optimal weight. In this way daily mileage increases in Virginia, certainly not because it’s flat!
2. You should cut your toothbrush handle off to save weight
There is a trend in long-distance backpacking to be as light as possible. New backpackers are admonished to cut off tags from clothing, remove extra length from straps, and yes, cut the handle off a toothbrush. However, focusing solely on weight causes problems. Have you ever tried brushing your teeth with a toothbrush with a short shaft? I’ll carry an extra half ounce to have a product that is more comfortable. Another example is frameless or ultra light backpacks. They may be a pound or two lighter than their counterparts with support, but if they cause shoulder pain because they can’t support the weight you are carrying, it’s not worth it. So, when considering gear choices you have to weigh not only weight, but comfort, utility, durability, and cost.
3. Anything they say going down a mountain when you are going up
This is actually true of ANY hiker you meet descending a mountain you are climbing up. They will want to help … to be positive, but whatever they say, it’s a lie!
“You’re almost to the top, maybe a tenth of a mile.” Thirty minutes and half a mile later you reach the summit.
“It’s just a gradual climb up.” Translation? Rock scramble most of the way up.
The truth is everything is experienced differently by those coming down the mountain, plus they were just up at the summit hanging for an hour, they are refreshed. You, on the other hand, have been climbing all morning and are fatigued.
4. You can’t smell the stink on your self
Wrong. Lie. You can!
5. It’s only about the journey not the destination
It sounds good and it makes a great poster, but is it true? For the prospective thru-hiker, I think not. The two words, journey and destination, are a team and while you can have a journey without a destination, it is unlikely you would complete the entire Appalachian Trail if you didn’t have the destination in sight.
My assumption is that your goal is to do just that, to be a thru-hiker. If that’s the case, you must have a destination. Something to work towards. To walk to. A culmination of your hard work and aching bones. An end.
And that destination is your purpose.
Yes, over the course of five or six months you will meet incredible people, see unbelievable sights, commune with nature. And yes, the journey can change you and feed your soul for years to come. But, if the objective is to be a thru-hiker, focusing only on the journey will set you adrift.
Instead, focus on the destination and enjoy the journey.
Weekend getaways keep me sane. There's something liberating about throwing clothes in a bag and skipping town, saying goodbye to the office, to bushes that need trimming, to the mail pile I've ignored for weeks and, within a few hours, finding myself in a totally different space.
Often that space is west of my Alexandria townhouse. I drive past the D.C. metro's long arm, out where roads get curvy and the land rises up. Brave hills defy Virginia's Piedmont and make way for true mountains, which is where I'm usually going.
I'm no fan of motels. Those land gobbling, cookie-cutter eyesores just rile me, so before heading out, I usually find a good vacation rental. Over the years, I've stayed in cabins, bungalows, converted barns, and farm houses. Some are people's residences, vacated in a rush with little hints about them left behind like family photos, a stray hair bow, clothes, and toiletries. In other houses, every last drawer is empty.
Personal belongings or not, I feel the same—transported, immersed in an actual home where I can make a pot of coffee and pour whiskey into a real glass, where I can admire the landscape from a porch or patio or second story window. At dawn or dusk, I'll stare across rolling blue silhouettes and pretend that I again live among the mountains. You could add a pleasing look to your house windows for which you have to Buy Blinds Online roller blinds.
Long story short. Everyone knows about windsor westside, but here is the list of some unit places. Enjoy.
This rustic charmer is both affordable and secluded. Owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, it's a third of a mile from the nearest road. Reaching it requires a hike past barns and stone fences through what was once a mountainside farm. By the time you see the cabin itself, you feel decades away from the modern world. Inside, the newest amenities are electricity and hot water. No telephone. No internet. No mobile service. At Vining, you're left to enjoy unspoiled views and imagine the people who plateaued its steep hillside, old timers who downed chestnut trees by hand to construct their home more than a hundred years ago, carving a farm from this wilderness, one you can still enjoy today.
Not all mountain retreats are rural. This charming little bungalow rests on a quiet West Asheville street where cars are infrequent and big porches are the norm. Since North Carolina is a longer haul, I stayed for a week, cooking old family recipes like wild rabbit hash and lounging in the hammock out back. Arts and craft touches like wide posts and vertical-paned windows reflect a period when working class Americans could still buy a quality, thoughtfully designed home, knowing it would bring pleasure for generations.
I wrote this post here, alternating between the house's sunny front porch and a tufted leather sofa. This remodeled farmhouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as a beautiful example of Appalachia's sophisticated side. With double parlors decorated in lush patterns, shining floral wallpaper in one and fake fur throws in the other, it reminds visitors that mountain folk can clean up real good. Though it has shimmering touches, including one magnificent gold ceiling, the house remains country at its core. Bailed hay is within sight of every window and wood is still hauled from the paint-chipped shed in a rusty wheelbarrow. High quality painting for home interiors in Central PAassists with getting such houses ready for sale or rental.
Most people like to visit Appalachia in spring, summer, or fall, but I'm also a fan of wintertime mountains. Harpers Ferry is uniquely pretty with a dusting of snow, and you can't get a better view than from the charming Bed n Biskit. This hillside house overlooks tin rooftops and brick storefronts, which stretch to the trestle-crossed Potomac. I suspect its stone patio would be a lovely place to sit on warmer days, but snow kept me inside, sipping whiskey and catching up with friends by the fire.
Some years ago, I spent Thanksgiving at this 1920s cabin. Nestled in one of Virginia's most charming counties, it fronts a wide creek and is surrounded by pastureland. With a stone fireplace large enough to stand inside, it was warm and inviting, the perfect spot for a celebration. In addition to a generous patio and shelves filled with books, it sports an unusual feature. The ceiling fans atop its soaring main room are mounted through long, rustic tree limbs, a design quirk that makes it feel like you've rented not just a cabin but an entire lodge.
Situated on Appalachia's eastern edge, Charlottesville tends to eschew the hardscrabble ways of mountaineers for the more aristocratic air of Virginia's Piedmont, but in the Belmont neighborhood, the town's mountain ties are undeniable. Chickens cluck there, and you can eat a meal sourced from mountain farms at The Local, a popular restaurant. You can also stay in a big old house, one that mixes vintage finds and modern furnishings. The space is at once classic and funky, down-home and sophisticated. Whether you're knitting in this house or reading Nietzsche, you're bound to feel right at home.
On the shuttle ride from Biltmore’s parking lot, I knew I should have been paying more attention. The estate’s legendary grounds, designed by the father of landscape architecture Frederick Law Olmsted, lay on either side of me, native plants looking as if they’d sprung from the earth perfectly spaced. I glanced out the window but mostly studied our driver, a retirement age woman who transfixed me the minute she said, “We’re fixin’ to drive up to the house.”
Her mountain drawl was telltale. I knew she was a North Carolina native and couldn’t help but wonder what this home meant to her. The largest in the United States, it was built by an outsider more than a hundred years ago, when George Vanderbilt II swept into the Blue Ridge, purchasing 125,000 acres and transforming it into his great estate. In doing so, he redefined this part of Appalachia, carving an economic path for the area around Asheville, one that leads directly to this shuttle bus driver’s paychecks, which she receives from George’s great grandson, the current president of The Biltmore Company.
“What’s that like?” would have been a strange question, so I simply told the driver to have a real good afternoon as I stepped from the shuttle and faced Biltmore. Some 250 rooms encased in tooled limestone, the house was too large to take in without scanning left and right. This close, it was disorienting, so I let my eyes settle on the darkened interior and inched past massive lion statues, arriving in an entry hall built to impress.
To the left, stone stairs wound around a four-story chandelier. To the right, a solarium overflowed with leaves, and beyond it, I could see a wood-paneled room with hulking pool tables.
I was traveling with my friend Neil, a North Carolinian who’d visited Biltmore before. He nudged me toward the billiard room, and I walked in silence, awe struck by marble and silk; by soaring 16th-century, Flemish tapestries; by three side by side fireplaces, each so large I could have easily stood inside. Stopping next to a dining table designed to seat thirty-eight, I found myself wondering Who lives like this?
I’d been in mansions before, places like Marble House and Monticello, and while these estates were large and elegant too, I could picture people residing in them, working in them. It wasn’t difficult to imagine them full of life, but barely any homes exist on Biltmore’s scale. Fewer boast its grandeur. The house is at once impressive and somehow inhuman. Even when we reached its most personal quarters—his and her bedrooms on the second floor, which were once occupied by George Vanderbilt and his wife Edith—I struggled to connect the home to living, breathing people, other than us tourists who craned our necks and shuffled along the carpeted path laid to protect the floors.
And those floors do need protecting. About one million people visit Biltmore every year, spending more than $140 million locally, according to a 2012 report on the estate’s economic impact. In addition, the house employees about 2,000 people, ranging from our twangy shuttle bus driver to a rosarian—yes, that would be a rose expert—who cares for the house’s historic rose garden.
Any Appalachian area would be lucky for this infusion of capital, but I wonder if it came at a cost. Did Vanderbilt’s landgrab displace many families, and were they well compensated? How did his mansion sit with other mountaineers? We are a notably down to earth people, and this was wealth at its most flaunted. Were locals bitter about the Vanderbilt’s or just happy to see cash flowing into the region?
With docents stationed in most rooms, I had ample opportunity to ask, but, again, my questions seemed uncouth, especially in the face of such opulence. Walking through a Louis XV inspired bedroom, complete with silk velvet wallcoverings imported from France, I imagined myself alive when the house was built. The person I am today would have enjoyed knowing Biltmore was my neighbor even if I was never invited to visit, but how would I have felt as a 19th-century mountaineer, the kind who fell trees himself to build a one or two room home?
Indoor plumbing and electricity would have been exotic to me, so this house, with 43 bathrooms and electric buttons to summons help, would have seemed like a fairy tale, as mythical as Camelot, simply unbelievable.
Were it not for Neil, I would have missed the house’s best part. As we returned to the lobby, he said, “This way,” pointing to a discreet doorway, and within inches, everything took a turn. Downward stairs were lit with simple sconces, a kind I’d seen in many older homes. The walls were unadorned, and where the stairway ended, a brick-lined tunnel began. It led to an unassuming cellar, a large room with bare concrete floors that would have been unremarkable were it not for an amateur mural, painted in grotesque yellows and greens, that encompassed all four walls.
Neil pointed to our brochure: “In April 1924, Cornelia Vanderbilt [George and Edith’s sole child] married the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil, a British diplomat. In 1925, the young couple, joined by family and friends, spent several weeks painting these unusual wall scenes for a New Year’s Eve party.”
Unusual was an understatement, more like menacing. A creepy village filled with cats climbing on rooftops and bizarre flowers towering over the houses—this was the kind of graffiti I’d expect from teenage stoners but not American royalty. It was so unlike any of the art upstairs—John Singer Sargent’s formal portraits and Anders Zoran’s depiction of a Victorian ball—beautiful but staid paintings, art built to impress. This messy mural was something else. It showed whimsy and a dark humor. Instead of obfuscating personality, it revealed it, leaving me gawking, entranced. For the first time I could picture people living in Biltmore.
I saw the young couple dabbing at the walls with friends, all in paint splotched clothes. I imagined cooks and laundry boys cutting through the room, laughing at this messy scene. Even their long ago New Year’s party seemed possible. It was surely an elegant affair. These were Vanderbilts after all. It must have extended beyond this humble room to the entire mansion with guests dressed to the nines, yet I could envision their hugs and toasts and kisses, their flirtations and loud children. I could see an older couple retiring early and a sullen loner studying his champagne in the corner. This silly mural transported me to the jazz age, a time of frivolity, of great change, when Victorian pretense began to give way to modern pragmatism, a time when even the extremely rich began to act more human.
Wind gusted too hard to tour the grounds, so Neil and I bought hot cider in the stables-turned-shops and took shelter behind a stone wall to watch for the shuttle bus. If we had the same driver, I told myself, I’d sit right behind her and find a way to ask about her Biltmore experience. We shivered and sipped as dusk faded to pure darkness, until the shuttle arrived. Other tourists poured out of porticos and doorways, having taken shelter just like us, and many reached the vehicle first. Interior lights revealed their huddled but orderly silhouettes, filling seats near the front, and a new driver, this time a man. I greeted him, hoping to hear some twang in his response, but he replied, “Hello,” with an accent as plain as a newscaster’s.
Neil and I took the only seats, near the back. With bus-mates chattering about the tour and the cold around us, my disappointment over the driver faded and was replaced with a question: if Anderson Cooper ever visited, would he arrive and leave like this?
He is a Vanderbilt after all. Since his family still owns the estate, maybe he’s allowed to drive right up to the door. Maybe he can even tour the house during off hours.
Small luxuries, I thought, knowing that none of the Vanderbilts could afford to live in Biltmore now. Their name does not even appear in Forbes’ annual review of America’s Richest Families. That list is now topped by, the Waltons, who’s retail empire is based in the Ozarks, making them well-healed hillbillies.
Time has a way of leveling things, I figured, like the navy blue peaks I saw in the distance, rounded over millennia, or the quality of life for mountain people, who have enjoyed plumbing and electricity for decades now.
When you mention Biltmore around them today, most locals get excited and ask if you’ve been. Whatever discord their ancestors felt is long gone, leaving only enthusiasm for this great estate, for the mansion that must have been a mile away when I stepped onto asphalt in Parking Lot C. Just as the shuttle began to roll again, snowflakes landed on my nose, a complete surprise, and I wanted to run, to catch the bus and go back to the house because, like anyone, I knew Biltmore would be breathtaking in the snow.
*Acknowledgements to Humans of New York, a column in The New York Times with a title that begs for imitation.
The end of November is a great time to go to Europe. Flights are cheap. Tourists are scant. And one of the continent's best traditions—Christmas markets—are in full swing. From Hamburg to Zürich, town squares are transformed into winter wonderlands with every imaginable ball and bauble on display in greenery draped stalls and the Euro-version of state fair food making everything smell truly scrumptious.
Sidenote: At a Christmas festival in southern Germany, I once ate some kind of sausage patty on a bun that still infiltrates my dreams. If you can find one for me, I'll declare you my new best friend.
With Germanic origins, you'd think these kriskindlmarkts, as they're called in their motherland, might have made their way to Appalachia. Germans poured into the region throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, settling in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and further south in North Carolina. In fact, the first European known to have seen Virginia's longest valley was John Lederer, a German who, at the behest of the colony's governor, crested the Blue Ridge Mountains in March of 1669.
While German immigrants aren't as well-remembered as their Scots-Irish neighbors, they did leave their mark on local culture. Anyone who has seen a v-notch in an Appalachian cabin or listened to a dulcimer can attest to their influence, and now German-Appalachians can add their beloved kriskindlmarkts to the list.
In November of each year, a lumber mill in Clifton Forge, Virginia is transformed into a traditional kriskindlmarkt, complete with Christmas wares — everything from handmade gifts to holiday decor — and German food.
If you're in the area, swing by. While browsing the stalls you can swig a little gluhwein, a traditional mix of red wine and cider with spices, and get some quality time with Father Christmas, who will be decked out in old world garb to entertain the kiddies.
Like dragons in miniature, hellbenders crawl across the craggy floors of Appalachian creek beds. They feed and rest. They fight for mates. The ones that remain, some fraction of their once booming population, enchant the humans who are lucky enough to spot them.
"When you see one underwater you're just blown away," says Jeff Humphries of North Carolina Wildlife Resources. "You'll see a hole. You'll see a hellbender head sticking out, and that's that guy's home. He might have that rock as his little home for years and years."
Among the largest species of salamanders, these remarkable creatures grow up to two feet long, and they have lived in Appalachian streams, serving as an important predator and pray, for some 65 million years.
Today, Jeff explains, hellbender populations are seeing a steep decline. "I think it's safe to say that we've probably lost 80-90 percent."
Two problems endanger these animals, and both are man made. First, run-off has filled the precious cracks and crevices they call home. As Jeff explains in the below video, "All that mud and silt just builds up in these rivers over time, and it fills in all these little spaces."
Just walk along your favorite creek or river and look closely. If you see a lot of dirt, sand, or silt, there's a good chance you're viewing a run-off problem. It probably also means that hellbenders are long gone, and as Jeff points out, "Once they're gone they're gone."
While improving land use and urban planning is essential, it's also daunting. Regular folk aren't typically involved in those decisions. We are, however, in a great position to help tackle the other challenge hellbenders face. All we need to do is leave river rocks where they lie.
You see, moving rocks around puts these animals at risk. While it's fine to skip rocks with your child, says Lori Stroup of the U.S. Forest Service, "it's another thing when you're starting to move hundreds of rocks to build a damn or build some kind of shoot to get a tube down."
By disturbing bigger rocks, we can take away this animal's shelter and feeding ground, and once we do that, they're as good as done. Jeff says he sees the sad results of river bed disruption all the time. "We find hellbenders quite a bit that are dead because of people lifting rocks."
I, for one, had no idea I'd been endangering giant salamanders, and I'm a changed man. From today forward, I'm leaving river rocks alone. How about you? Do you have this unique species in your neck of the woods, and will you do your part to help them?
Been enjoying cool, bright days lately? They may be a delight for longer than you think. According to biologists and climate scientists, the kind of weather we've had in recent weeks is the perfect mix for vibrant leaves this fall. "Cool, clear sunny days of late summer will bring on lots of photosynthesis, and this makes for brilliant red," says Dr. Howard S. Neufeld, professor of biology at Appalachian State University and renowned leaf-guy. Neufeld has paired with the Asheville Convention and Tourism Bureau to deliver a fun microsite that showcases autumn's red splendor. Time-lapse videos show the progression of leaf colors in the mountains and a guide to the region's deciduous trees makes it easy to identify your favorites. The site even includes a section on autumn traditions and one videoclip I just adore. "I can remember the hay-stacking contest...My grandmother at age forty-something took on twelve men," recalls fifth-generation, Appalachian native Becky Anderson in the clip, "They did those old traditional hay stacks, and she stacked hers up, threw her pitchfork on it, and jumped back on her wagon while they were still struggling with theirs!" Everybody has special fall memories. Whether it's the final harvest or trick-or-treating, we'd love to hear about yours. What's your favorite tradition for this brilliant season? And what's the best color for the autumn leaves?
Man alive—this has been one grueling week. We're buying a house and the inspector delivered bad news; my car needed a bunch of repairs; writing projects were in overdrive; and to top it all off, I had to wear ugly, old shoes to work because my favorite ones were in the shop.
I know—we're not talking cancer or starvation here, but being ashamed of ones footwear is its own kind of Hell—all that contorting to hide my brogans, and the way those things cut into my heels, it felt like a cheese grater down there!
Add the shoes and everything else up, and I'll admit the week left me unenthused about pounding out this blog post. I had no idea what to cover and wasn't sure how I'd find time to write.
Enter Dave Tabler. This is the feller behind the popular site Appalachian History. Whenever I'm stumped for blog ideas, I check out Dave's Facebook page, because he somehow unearths every Appalachian story that runs anywhere, in any medium—print, video, online, offline—Dave finds it and shares it.
This week, he really came through. I spotted the below clip on Dave's page, and right off, I thought The perfect blog post-quick and easy!
And I was right—it's only taken me an hour or so to write this post—but that was just the start. When I clicked the link and watched this short film, tranquility rose around me like gentle river water. In just about three minutes, it washed away my tension and replaced it with an easy delight. Shimmering spider webs, the gait of a deer, a blur of hummingbird wings, one orange salamander scampering across green moss—just watching these natural sights left me feeling different, better, refreshed.
And because it was shot in West Virginia's Lost River State Park, an area I love, it brought back so many memories. I celebrated both my 30th and my 40th birthdays in Lost River. I spent an amazing Halloween there, partying in a roadside diner. I've had lovely hikes, laughter-filled dinners, and long rests beside roaring fireplaces in this wonderful, little valley, and the video made me want to go back again soon.
So while I start making travel plans, why don't you leave a comment? How did the Lost River Trails clip leave you feeling? And how was your week?
Go on. Tell us all about it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
West Virginia's Coal River Watershed has seen its share of abuse. Mining and logging operations combined with the vices of development—open sewer lines and plain old litter—once choked long stretches of these West Virginia waterways. For years, it was easier to find discarded tires in some spots than fish, but a ten-year restoration effort has given area rivers a second chance. Local volunteers, led by the Coal River Group, have removed tons of trash and sediment, allowing aquatic insects to repopulate local river bottoms. Insects, of course, have attracted fish. Fish have attracted birds and mammals, and nowadays, healthy ecosystems are returning to all of the rivers in the watershed. You can help celebrate the Coal River revival during the upcoming Tour de Coal, an eleven-mile float starting in Tornado, West Virginia on June 20 and 21, 2014. This family-friendly fundraiser will give you an up-close look at the rivers' progress along with paddling lessons and a commemorative T-shirt to show off your river pride. Hundreds of paddlers guarantee a good time, but rentable canoes and kayaks go fast. Reserve yours today! Already familiar with the Coal River Watershed? How are the rivers looking these days? And do you have a favorite spot for fishing, paddling, or swimming?
I have a strange relationship with Sperryville, Virginia. Years before I started this blog, when I was still searching for the right way to deepen my connection with my homeland, I nearly bought a bookstore there. Mind you, this wasn't just any bookstore. It was a charmer, housed in an historic church with soaring wooded ceilings and windows that reached so high you'd think they were runways to heaven. Among the stacks of books, browsers found old pews where they could relax and thumb through their purchases, and the elevated pulpit had been converted to the coolest kid's corner ever, complete with beanbag chairs and a four-foot high piggy bank. Can you tell I was smitten? My enchantment didn't end at the bookstore's door (albeit giant, gothic, and utterly enchanting). It extended clear across this Blue Ridge hamlet, from its glass-blowing shop on the west side to its local distillery on the east. [caption id="attachment_9222" align="alignright" width="241"] Hopkins Ordinary.[/caption] Unfortunately, my bank account didn't match my adoration. To sell me the bookstore, the owner would have had to self-finance, and she was prepared to do it, right up until a last minute offer materialized. A couple with real, green cash said they'd pay for the building and restore it top to bottom. There's no way I could compete or even feel bitter. That little church deserved the kind of care I could never give it. While I didn't own the Old Sperryville Bookshop, my crush on the town continues to this day. Just one and a half hours from Washington DC and pressed snug against Shenandoah National Park, it remains one of the most charming places I know, and it's past time for me to share the love with you. Below are a few of my favorite spots in Sperryville. Have you ever been? If so, what would you add to the list?
Hopkins Ordinary: To call Hopkins Ordinary a B&B would be a gross understatement. It is a two hundred year old refuge. Built as an inn and tavern, it was affectionately called an "ordinary," because it met travelers' ordinary needs as they made their way across the Blue Ridge Mountains. From its days as a stagecoach stop to a period as an apartment building to its careful restoration in the early 2000's, this unique building has brought comfort to countless people. Today, owners Sherry Fickel and Kevin Kraditor provide guests with a delicious breakfast and the inside scoop on local happenings. Each room has a working fireplace and the building's two story porch lends the perfect vantage point for watching locals, sipping a cocktail, or enjoying a slice of take-out from Rudy's Pizza across the street. [caption id="attachment_9200" align="alignleft" width="245"] The former Old Sperryville Bookshop as it appears today.[/caption] Copper Fox Distillery: Rick Wasmund doesn't make whiskey the usual way. After studying in some of Scotland's most notable distilleries, he has adapted age old processes to produce a signature liquor that you can't find anywhere else. It starts with barley grown specifically for Copper Fox. This exclusive grain is malted using a floor technique that is both centuries old and beautiful, creating lovely swirl patterns that, for me, are the highlight of the Copper Fox tour. Instead of drying the malt with peat, smoke from apple, cherry, and oak wood chips infuse a unique flavor. Rick rounds things out using the same woods in a secret aging process. The end result is Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky, a deep, rich drink that tastes like none other. Thornton River Grille: The Grille, as this Sperryville stalwart is affectionately known, is as local as they come. Relying on ingredients from nearby farms, it is the go-to stop for dinner or brunch, attracting area residents and tourists alike with delicious, thoughtfully crafted dishes, including a chorizo stuffed breakfast burrito that I love; hearty, handmade homefries; and thick, juicy cuts of meat. Copper Fox Antiques: Between hiking trips and dinners out, be sure to save a couple of hours to browse Copper Fox Antiques. Situated next door to the distillery sharing its name, this 30,000 square foot antique mall has it all. I've seen rustic hand hewn tables sitting one room away from modern classics like Marcel Breuer's Wassily Chair. Whether you're drawn to furniture, books, dishes, or peculiar knick-knacks, something in this former cold-storage building is bound to catch your eye. [caption id="attachment_9201" align="alignright" width="265"] Sperryville's main street.[/caption] Haley Fine Art: Before I write a word about this gallery, let me say that I am not an artist or a critic or even someone who has taken an art class since high school, just a guy who knows what he likes. And what I like about Haley Fine Arts is that it shows artists who innovate without becoming inaccessible. When you walk into this cozy two-story house come gallery, you'll see the kinds of paintings you expect to find in the country—landscapes, still lifes, lots of realism—but there's something fresh about each one. A painting of a hooded man sitting beside a pile of tires and a motorcycle. A bronze sculpture of lean, long dogs chasing a rabbit. A vintage travel trailer in miniture. Every time I go, I find a piece I adore and wish I had in my home. Glassworks Gallery: When you cross the tiny suspension bridge between this bright building and its parking area, you know you're stepping into a place apart. Nestled among a grove of trees, the gallery glistens. Inside, light refracts from handcrafted bowls and balls, vases and platters, many made right on site. Oldway Art Center shares the building, providing local glassmakers with studio space and visitors with unforgettable, one-day classes, where they actually make their own blown glass.
I can't lie. I've never gone to Pigeon Forge. I love me some Dolly, but the sprawling mess of fun centers, wax museums, and chain restaurants that sprung up near her park has always sounded like the third rung of Hell to me. [caption id="attachment_9115" align="alignright" width="168"] A feathered friend helps with an outdoor session.[/caption] Given that, you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Wilderness Wildlife Week, eight days of hikes and outdoorsy workshops smack dab in the middle of Pigeon Forge, and I found myself thinking, "Man, I wanna go!" I mean—outdoor owl prowls, a photo trek in Cades Cove, a strenuous 11-mile hike to Mt. Cammerer, and a four-mile walk through the Elkmont historic district—it has me second guessing my longstanding angst towards this town. Turns out, these excursions are just the start. Between January 25 and February 1, the city's LeConte Center, an event venue modeled after a Smoky Mountain lodge (that even I admit is pretty), will host indoor workshops that cover every imaginable topic for outdoor lovers—wildlife folklore, songs of the Carter Family, learning to use a map and compass, taking great cell phone photos. Fly fishing alone has anentire suite of sessions devoted to it. As if the event's 300+ workshops weren't enough, I stumbled upon this quote from Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism: [caption id="attachment_9118" align="alignleft" width="222"] Pigeon Forge's new LeConte Center.[/caption] “Wilderness Wildlife Weekis a time for people to learn about many aspects of the outdoor world, about the culture of the Southern Appalachians and about the people who make this area special." Leon, you wooer you. You had me at "culture of the Southern Appalachians." I swear, if I didn't already have plans to visit Roanoke next week, I'd be on a plane to Tennessee. While I can't make it this year, I would love to hear from anyone who has gone. How were the hikes? Which workshops did you attend? And do you think it's time for me to adjust my attitude about Pigeon Forge?