The North Carolina Aquarium

By Taylor Logeman, 2014

As they approach the North Carolina coast, those traipsing near the end of Highway 64 are likely to miss a certain point of interest, though this is a site definitely worth visiting.  Roanoke Island, adjacent to the beachy town of Nags Head, is home of the North Carolina Aquarium, a waterfront facility that houses a remarkable variety of aquatic wildlife, from local species (mostly various small fish and turtles) indigenous to the region to those of a more exotic nature (like the seahorse, angelfish, and starfish exhibits).  Guests are guided through displays of all kinds, from a playful, family-friendly otter house to rooms of a more sinister nature, most notably the dimly-lit space showcasing an impressive collection of five shark species in the facility’s largest tank.

North Carolina Aquarium

Livers & Gizzards: Our Time at the Golden Skillet

By Eliza Williams, 2014

We dropped our bags in the room and collapsed onto the bed. After a long day of driving and seeking out the best of the best in the three towns we visited along Highway 64 Taylor and I were tired, but most importantly – hungry. Knowing nothing about the town of Plymouth where we stopped for the night, the two of us slugged our way back to the front desk to consult our new friend, Matt, for any viable dining suggestions. With a small variety available to us, we hopped in the car and drove down the road to the Golden Skillet, a restaurant that caters to Southern cuisine, however strange it may be.

Inspired by a recent class in which we had watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, I decided I was putting my taste buds to the test. Slowly, we approached the cashier, a jovial high-school age girl with a Southern twang name Phyllis. Not having a clue what half of the dishes on the menu were, Phyllis gave us some advice on some of the locals’ favorites. A Maryland native, and lover of seafood of course, Taylor chose a “fish n’ chips” meal – far from the British version, I would venture to say. When I asked what “livers and gizzards” were, Phyllis was stunned that neither of us had never heard of livers and gizzards, one of the menu options. After a while of indecisive banter with Phyllis and Taylor, I threw the towel in and chose something that was as foreign to me as it’s name indicated – Livers and Gizzards.

Now, I would like to think I know a thing or two about cuisine; however, I really had no idea what had just come out of my mouth, let alone, what I had consciously decided to dine on that evening. From the title I gathered that livers would be appearing on my plate along with…gizzards? Whatever those are.

Phyllis kindly told us that she would bring us our food when it was ready, and so we went to a table with enough space for us to spread out and work on transcribing our notes for the day. Surely enough, Phyllis appeared not too long after with a tray of food. Taylor dug in without any hesitation. I, on the other hand, examined my food for a minute but then, realizing that I had chosen this path for myself, picked up one of the fried “chicken parts,” as I later learned they were, and took a bite. It had a soft and chewy texture and looked as though it was darker meat than the other pieces scattering my plate. The taste was somewhat bitter and I decided that it was not my favorite. Without being able to tell a true difference, I picked up another larger piece. By examining it it appeared to me that this was a lighter meat. Not only were my instincts on spot but this piece was so tough to eat that Taylor had about finished her meal when I was barely half way done!

The Golden Skillet

Our kind friend Phyllis came over to check on how we were liking our food and educated me on which were the livers and which were the gizzards. The gizzards, as it turned out, were the more tough pieces; I assumed that they were comprised mostly of some sort of muscle from the chicken. Apparently the gizzard is a part of the chicken that is found in its throat, hence all the muscle. The livers are, well, you can guess. I don’t know how they acquire these “parts” but all I can say is thank goodness they fry them because I don’t know how anyone would willingly put them in their mouth otherwise. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the livers, the gizzards were not terrible – despite the fact that it took me about 15 minutes to eat two full ones. This new food experience made my admiration for Anthony Bourdain much, much greater. Perhaps I was not a huge fan of livers and gizzards but, I’m still alive so, that says something. Right?

If you are in the area and looking for a great place to try some foods foreign to your taste buds, check out the Golden Skillet in Plymouth, NC. Ask for Phyllis – I’m sure she’ll remember us.

Finding Our Way to Jump Off Rock

By Dustin Swope -2014

Driving on public roads might be one of the ultimate ambiguous activities. For some people, driving means mind-numbing boredom and shifting around in the driver’s seat trying to figure out which butt cheek is more asleep. For others, driving isn’t just boring, is a stress-filled chore that took all the fun out of their sixteenth birthday. I don’t fall into either of these camps. To me, driving is something that I like to do. I volunteer to man the helm all the time for road trips because I find a strategy game in it. It’s a challenge to see which drivers can predict the ebb and flow of traffic best, stuffing one another in the slow lanes and surging ahead one car link at a time. On surface roads, I paint smooth lines and clip apexes through turns, take the longer way home for the high-speed S-curves, and I think any driver with a pulse likes to let their car clear its throat every now and again.

Road to Jump Off Rock

But alas, I do the heavy majority of my driving at home, in central Florida, where speedbumps pass for changes in elevation. Here in North Carolina, I don’t usually have an excuse to take my car much farther than the grocery store. Every once in a while I’ll get a taste of what real elevation feels like when I make the drive down I-40 to Raleigh-Durham International, but it’s all bittersweet to me. I know that this state has roads that dip, climb, and pivot with the best of them, but I’ve never had the opportunity to experience them first-hand. That is, of course, until my fellow travel writers and I scheduled a visit to Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Finding our way off of Highway 64 and through Hendersonville to the local inn that we’d booked for the night, I was already having a good time behind the wheel. In the part of Florida that I’m from, there just aren’t many reasons to not lay the roads out in a clean, systematic, boring fashion. Growing up in that driving climate for twenty years, I was having about as hard a time playing it cool in the foothills of North Carolina as my co-pilots were trying to understand why I was having such a good time with it. We arrived late at night, and at the tail-end of a four-hour haul, there was only so much enthusiasm I could muster for the roads that brought us off the highway and into town, but I was enjoying myself.


Our morning started at 6:30am, dead-set on making it up to the top of Laurel Park’s Jump Off Rock to see the morning sun wake the valley up. The crisp mountain air and a supreme home-cooked breakfast courtesy of the Cedarwood Inn had our travel writing team in high spirits, so we plugged in “Jump Off Rock” in the GPS and took off. The drive started out innocently enough. We make our way North towards Hendersonville, realize we’re going the wrong way, spin around, and now there’s a little excitement in the car. We needed to make it back into Hendersonville by 8:00am to stay on schedule, but we didn’t want to tag the precipice and immediately leave – That just isn’t what travel writing is about. To be honest though, this whole ‘Jump Off Rock for not-sunrise’ plan was my idea, and my teammates had been good sports waking up early enough to make it happen. Now I was feeling the pressure to see that it wasn’t for naught, and that meant making up for lost time.


Just a few minutes into our 20-minute drive, we get clear of traffic lights and it’s just us, the road, and the rare stop sign. We start climbing, slowly at first, but then the road does a few dips and lifts that cut our line of sight to less than a hundred yards. A few more minutes of driving and the road comes to hug the side of the mountain. A few lofty banked turns, and now I’m awake. Climbing and winding, I’m powering through hairpins and letting the back tires slide out just a little at the exit because I know the elevation will cause a compression effect that’ll bring the car back under control. I catch hear door handles being grabbed, bags shifting around in the back seat, and a hushed “Oh! Okay.” I check myself, remembering that I’m driving with two other students that’ve never been in the car with me before this trip. They’re nice girls and I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I apologize. I lie and say that that was all I wanted to do. But then, another happy surprise. The girls say that it was fun, just that they weren’t ready for it. With their blessing, I dropped back into a low gear and resumed my waltz with the road to Jump Off Rock.

Jump Off Rock Sign

Don’t get the wrong idea, this drive wasn’t about speed or fishtails, leaving smoky rubber scars on the mountainside, and it wasn’t a race. From Cedarwood Inn to the mountain top, I always left 10% of what the car could’ve done untouched. As far as I’m concerned, roads this pretty deserve only smoothness and composition to match. I wouldn’t take my dad’s birthday bourbon to a frat party, and I wouldn’t waste that trail pretending I was a stunt driver in the next installation of the Fast and the Furious series. No, a road like the one to Jump Off Rock can only really be appreciated by drivers offering grace and emphasis to match, and that’s exactly what I aimed to do.

Downtown Cruisers in Lenoir

By Dustin Swope -2014

The town of Lenoir is one of North Carolina’s best examples of a community that keeps up with the times without cleaving itself into an urban metropole and a suburban sprawl. Residents come off as bright and polite, but there’s no denying that Lenoir is by most accounts a quiet, reserved town. Once a month, however, Lenoir becomes a near-unrecognizable sea of activity as the downtown undergoes a remarkable transformation to host the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers Auto Show.

Normally when you hear crowds, you think of elbow-rubbing that turns into elbow-throwing, small children without the words they need to tell their parents that they want to go home, and of course, sweat stains. The type of crowd that the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers pull together is so far from that uncomfortable image, but I have to say that the October 2014 rally was exceptionally pleasant. The main streets in downtown Lenoir are shut down for the auto show, reserving all roadside parking to put the cars on display and leaving plenty of space for attendees to drift from one eye-catching ride to the next without bumping into one another or causing a traffic jam.

According to estimates from the friendly folks working the event and Lenoir Downtown Cruisers President, Steve Cardwell himself(!), this particularly rally had attracted between 400 and 600 registered drivers looking for some well-earned recognition. Add in the throngs of Lenoir locals, car enthusiasts, and people just looking for a light-hearted saturday among good company, and it’s no surprise that the total headcount for the auto show was approaching 5,000 during peak hour. What was surprising was that all of these people, complete with cars, booths, and the like, could pack this modest little town without it feeling, well, packed!

Downtown Lenoir Cruisers

The key here is the sprawl: Lenoir offers the auto show both sides of nine blocks and three parking lots. This spaces everything out so that each car gets its own stage and a cut of the spotlight, but it also makes for a pretty enjoyable stroll around the area as you make your way along. Not once in over three hours did I see one non-owner touch a show car, and this without one yard of electrified cattle fencing or a hyper-alert owner treating visitors as if they’d come with the explicit purpose of kicking a headlight in. With such a relaxed environment, it was hard not to strike up a conversation with owners about their cars; they can tell when people like their cars, and they always have a great story behind their ride.

Another great thing about the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers shows is that there is no shortage of diversity, in either cars or drivers. If you have your heart set on finding a ‘42 Chevy pickup truck like your grandfather used to drive and show your friends a 2014 Corvette ZR1 like the kind you’re going to buy as soon as you cash your next paycheck, you’re in luck – The two cars will probably be parked right next to each other.

Lenoir Car Show

Take a minute to talk to the drivers and you’ll encounter reason after another to keep believing that anything is possible. For instance, a seventy-year old man showcasing a convertible pink ‘74 Cadillac he won in a poker game and a mother of three running the family’s Pontiac Firebird in stock drag races on the weekends would be highlights in their own right at most other events. At the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers shows though, these two characters aren’t just real, and it’s not just that they’re at the same place at the same time. No, this auto show pulls together car enthusiasm that defines families and perforates entire communities, so it should be no surprise that pink Caddy-driving grandpa is drag-racing mother of three’s father in law – Each blazing their own trail in the four-wheeled world, but coming together to share with and celebrate each other here in Lenoir.

The Lenoir Cruisers are definitely one of the most eclectic, open, and mutually appreciative automotive communities I’ve ever encountered, but if you spend enough time at one like I did, you start to realize that people come here to celebrate more than cars; people are here to celebrate what living in a community of family and friends means to them. Once I’d explored every avenue of downtown Lenoir, asking how people came to own their cars and what their day-job was along the way, I sat down at the speaker’s square to enjoy the live music and take in the scene from afar. Even from my stationary viewpoint, there was no shortage of children holding their parents’ hands, couples old and young alike walking together, clusters of kids out for a night on the town with minimum parental supervision, business owners affirming their place in the community, out-of-town’ers visiting Lenoir for the day to spice up their weekend and see a new side of North Carolina, and so on. It was the kind of scene that makes you think about what matters most, and I think that the Lenoir Cruisers auto show makes it very clear what that answer should be.