A Changing Industry: Apple Growing in the Foothills


By Kate Flinn

The average traveler passing through Taylorsville, North Carolina might not stumble across Deal Orchards. The orchard was at least a twenty-minute drive from what we believed to be downtown Taylorsville, though it was hard to be sure. After some back and forth, we detoured off Highway 64 in pursuit of one of the Foothills’ most celebrated Apple houses. The industrial sprawl of Taylorsville quietly slipped into rolling hills dotted with small shops and quaint farms. Though the drive seemed to stretch on mu ch longer than twenty minutes, the faded “Deal Orchards” sign eventually slipped onto the dashboard horizon.

The packed down dirt parking lot was full of cars and a bus of visitors from outside of town who had traveled to buy Deals apples. They filed in noisily, a moving hungry horde. Inside the orchard’s storefront was a large, open space; its high ceilings and large windows flooded the room with natural light. Boxes and boxes of apples populated the middle of the room, tempting visitors to explore the unique varieties one might only find in this region of the country. Along the perimeter of the shop were yellow shelves of various homemade jams and butters, cheeses, and produce that were visibly fresh, based on light packaging alone.

Approaching the counter, the woman behind the cashier smiled sweetly: “How can I help y’all?”

In response to some questions about this orchard we had stumbled across–how old it was, who was in charge–she responded with a short chuckle and replied, “Y’all are going to want to talk to Lindsay.” After making a call on her walkie-talkie, we stepped to the side and waited for “Lindsay” to come find us.

After a few minutes, the large wooden door a few feet behind the counter swung open, and a tall man who appeared to be in his seventies entered the room. The woman gave him a nod in our direction. The man took a few steps in our gedsc_0513neral direction, and we were met face-to-face with Lindsay Deal:  the man behind every aspect of the growing, harvesting and marketing for one of the largest, and oldest, apple orchards in North Carolina. His face was colored initially skeptical, noticeably sizing us up as outsiders. Upon a brief explanation, however, he was more than compliant to talk about North Carolina culture across the Foothills. He opened that same wooden door he had come through just a few minutes age before, and invited us into his office.

Lindsay gestured for everyone to take a seat in one of the three chairs nested between the heavy wooden desks and stacks of papers. The wood paneled walls of Lindsay’s office boasted an expansive collection of family photos, most of which appeared to be taken at the orchard over its various stages of existence. The office felt like a time capsule for the growth of this man’s family business.

Lindsay needed no encouragement to start talking about his family’s experience as apple growers. Lindsay’s great-grandfather planted the first Deal orchard back in 1939. “There were once 200 independent apple growers in this area,” he began. “We all used to pick our apples and then pedal them over in Winston and Charlotte.” Suddenly pushing back his faded leather desk chair, Lindsay walked over to a particularly large faded photo hanging on the wall. Pulling the frame down, he gazed at the photo of a group of men–all dressed in suits but for two pairs of overalls. A small plaque below the photo read, “The First Brushy Mountain Apple Growing Co-Op.” Lindsay went on to explain that in 1957, the growers in this area formed the Brushy Mountain Apple Growing Co-Op. Each grower contributed one thousand dollars and would bring the month’s pick to adsc_0512 single seller who would then sell their apples to the major grocery chains.

“As time went on the way people bought apples began to change, so the way we sell them had to change as well,” Lindsay continued. Returning the frame to its rightful spot on the wall, his eyes lingered on the aged faces nostalgically–perhaps for the people in the photograph, or just for a simpler time. “People are more conscientious about their finances these days,” Lindsay said with a sigh. “They’re just buying enough apples to get them through the week, whereas they used to buy them in bulk.”

We learned that Deal Orchards was one of the first successful orchards established in Alexander County. With an aging population of apple growers in the region, much of Lindsaydsc_0529’s competition has tapered out over the years, leaving just three or four primary orchards to spearhead the Foothill markets. Lindsay and his team have their process down to an absolute science and are Good Agriculture Practices-Certified. If you find yourself traveling through Alexander County, be sure to stop by the Deal Apple House and get a taste of what this family’s combination of passion and expertise has produced.

Burgess Produce

By Kate Flinn

Burgess Produce is one of the Foothills’ hidden gems, nestled right off the shoulder of historic Highway 64, just outside of scenic Lake Lure. Like us, if you aren’t looking for it, you are likely to zip right past this charming little produce stand. Winding along the highway, our interests were piqued by the small structure’s hand painted sign and the display of fruits and vegetables out front, so we pulled a U-turn and headed back to see what we had stumbled upon.

Pulling onto the road’s dirt shoulder, which doubled as the parking lot, we hopped out and approached the small wooden structure that houses Burgess produce. The building’s exterior was eclectically decorated with wind chimes, dream catchers and various tin and copper pots and kettles. Though none of the items seemed to go together, each somehow belonging, and creating a visual backdrop for the spread of produce before us.  Bins of onions, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes with the varied color and shape, guaranteeing authentic freshness, piled in and around the wide, doorless entrance.

Stepping inside the building, pots and pans of various styles line the ceiling, sometimes substituted with the occasional woven basket. The right corner of the room is filled with busheldsc_0605s of apples, each labeled in the same cursive handwriting. Above them lies an entire wall of cowboy hats in every color you imaginable. To the left appears about every type of butter and jam known to man, each in the same gold-lidded mason jar. The place gave me that same feeling I get in my grandmother’s attic, cluttered yet somehow everything seems to hold some sort of memory or value.

A young girl, no more than 8 or 9 years old, stood behind the counter, soon joined by an older woman coming in through a back entrance. She gave the young girl an affectionate pat on the head and offered me a “let me know if I can help.” I approached the counter in the hopes of learning a bit more about the stand. All it took on my end was a “so how long have you been here?” and the woman was happy to oblige.

“This is has been the family business for over 100 years,” the woman replied. Looking down at the young girl, she continued,“my daughter right here is the 4th generation since we started the shop.”

A slender elderly man strolls in through the same back entrance, garbed in a worn-out hat and camo puffer jacket, and does not hesitate to jump into the conversation. Pointing at my own Cubs hat, he begins to search his pockets, eventually revealing a laminated postage stamp. He passes it to me, the tiny face of a baseball player, and leads with an abrupt, “You know who that is right?” I didn’t. “That’s my great-grandfather Smoky Burgess,” the man said matter-of-factly. He explained that Smoky Burgess, was one of the few ball players to ever play for both the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox–a genuinely surprise for a dsc_0606Chicago local.

The man who had just schooled me in Chicago sports history was Donald Burgess, patriarch of the Burgess family and current owner of Burgess Produce. His great-great-grandfather had founded the stand, and the business had been passed from generation to generation ever since.

Donald proceeded to whip out his smartphone and scan through photos of each of his four children. Pride glinted in his eye, a quiver sneaking into his voice as he described the different cities each of them had moved and what job they were working now. Once Donald moved to help another customer, it appeared time to untangle from the branches of the Burgess family tree and return to the road. Not wanting to leave empty handed, I purchased a large jar of “Homemade Amish Peanut Butter,” which turned out to be the best peanut butter I’ve ever tasted.

Mikes on Main

By Kate Flinn

Mike’s on Main, a small family-owned diner, operates like a perfectly preserved time capsule of quintessential Hendersonville at the height of the 1950s. At 9:00am, only a few people had begun to occupy the restaurant’s eclectic selection of mismatched wooden tables and booths. A long marble bar with metallic stools spans the right wall, accentuated by a large antique cash register fashioned from brass. While its shape and intricate design aligned with the vintage façade, the contraption still functioned as the restaurant’s main casdsc_0561h register. A young waiter dressed in a light blue bow tie and old-fashioned paper hat hurries past, his arms precariously balanced with food. He smiled and sent off a, “Sit where you like,” in passing.

The strong presence of antique Coca-Cola memorabilia is immediately noticeable. Somehow the knick-knacks and wall adornments give the place a sense of authenticity. A woman approaches the booth in full 1950s attire, poodle skirt and high ponytail included. With a warm greeting she says, “Now where are you girls from?” This has become a pattern throughout our journey in the Foothills; wherever we went, people quickly knew we were outsiders. We politely list off our respective hometdsc_0553owns and put in orders for some piping hot coffee.

Flipping through the extensive menu, it became clear that Mike’s offerings cover any desire that a breakfast-lover could think up. Pancakes, waffles, crepes, and a generous selection of home-style omelets–this place had the works. A feature of the menu was the “Southern Style Breakfast Bowl” section of the menu, the accompanying pictures worthy of a stomach grumble. Despite the waitress’ warning that the breakfast bowls were spilling, a side of pancakes are added for good measure.

The meals arrive adsc_0540fter a short wait, while no room for disappointment. The general concept of Mike’s breakfast bowls begins with your choice of a hash brown or grits base. Next comes two eggs prepared to your liking, fried comes highly recommended, and then finally a last layer of whatever toppings come with the bowl of your choosing. The Denver bowl is garnished with ham, tomatoes, green pepper, onions and a whole lot of cheddar cheese. The flavors of the dish are perfectly proportioned, neither too overpowering or understated, achieving a perfect point of content fullness–that is, pre-pancakes, browned to perfection and fluffy like you can only find at a diner. A return visit to Hendersonville Mike’s pancakes will definitely be at the top of Hendersonville’s to-eat list.dsc_0557

Aside from the excellent food, superb service and eccentric décor, part of what makes Mike’s so unique is its history. Mike’s is the most-photographed building in Hendersonville, and with good reason. Between the candy-striped awning and hand painted Coca Cola mural outside, this corner shop is an iconic spot for documenting your trip to the quaint little town. Originally built in 1900, what is now Mike’s on Main was once Justus Pharmacy. As was true back in 1900, this building still houses the only soda fountain in Hendersonville. Many of the trinkets and artifacts you see lying about date back over one hundred years to the original pharmacy. Filled with good food and people and history, Mike’s on Main is a must for any Hendersonville visitors.dsc_0575

Lake Lure and the Beginning of the Forest Fire

By Maggy McGloin – 2016

Moving from the Western part of the state, the drive to Lake Lure brings Highway 64 through a more natural, unchartered territory. After weaving around winding turns, dsc_0588across abandoned-looking towns, and several fruit stands, you will see the scen  e emerge from around the bend: the infamous Lake Lure, zig-zagging around rugged mountain ranges.

You can arrive to the lake through the entrance to Morse Park. The wide parking lot, just left of the lake, is speckled with few cars, so you can anticipate a quiet walk through the earthy landscape, uninterrupted by too many picnics or noisy frisbee-throwers. Get out of the car–leave your phone inside–and breathe in the crisp, autumn air. Take a walk throughdsc_0590 Lake Lure’s public garden, passing couples holding hands and babies in strollers–caught in the aura of simple contentedness. An aerial view of the lake exposes a quiet gazebo in the distance that looks out to one of the most beautiful views along Highway 64. The contrast between the mountains and lake may remind you of the changing North Carolina landscape along Highway 64, shifting between the coastal plains, foothills, and mountains.  

Begin a silent, meditative walk along the perimeter of tdsc_0596he lake. Rather than imagining yourself on the set of Dirty Dancing, a film inspired by this place, focus on the foliage around you, the memorial benches and species labeled along the path. It’s time to relax amongst the orange-browns and reds before you return back to work or school, the crisp air channeled through the leaves and your lungs, one of the same breath.   

After about thirty minutes, circle back from your meditation walk, headed back to the parking lot where you’d abandoned the car, technology, and the outside world. Returning to the road is sad, but you can be grateful for the time spent idsc_0602n nature. Perhaps take one last look back at the mountains, soon to return behind you. A pillow of smoke catches your eye, curling from the top of the mountain in a small patch. Must be a small forest fire, you think at the time; snap a few photos and go on your way. Weeks later, you may think back and realize that this small cloud of smoke could have grown to become one of the most destructive forest fires in North Carolina, spreading to Asheville and uncontainable until December 7, 2016.

Small-Town Sundays in the Foothills: What Not to Do

By Jordan Stanley – 2016

The Expectation:

Lenoir was the last stop of a two-day, six-town road trip through the North Carolina Foothills. To get a taste of the town, one might start by driving down the main street, scavenging for hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and investigating a few mom-and-pop joints. One stop in particular, famous to Lenoir, is the Bolick Family Pottery Shop, well-known throughout the state for a unique yet traditional craft now transcending generations. Of course, a visit to Lenoir would not be complete without a dutiful visit to the famous Fort Defiance, a plantation house home to Revolutionary War General William Lenoir, the town’s namesake.

These stops, planned and unplanned, would serve adsc_0608s a rich taste of North Carolina history and tradition. Yet the expectation of the town on a Sunday late afternoon–everyone would be leaving church, taking the dog for a walk, or going to lunch on their day off–was disrupted by a quite different reality.

The Reality:

On a clear-skied, sunny day–characteristic of the summer season-turn-Fall–Lenoir welcomes incoming drivers with the “Welcome to Historic Lenoir” sign.

With a population of 18,000+, Lenoir is one of the more peopled towns of the Foothills, yet as the car tires roll into the downtown area, there was a sense of solitude, a feeling that may take moments to explain.

The Lenoir downtown consisted of a strip of quaint and traditional buildings marked by understated elegance–brick facades, and character. The eclectic exteriors of the buildings ran along a wide cement and brick sidewalk, ideal for families and friends walking side-by-side, heading to lunch or one of the several shops and cafes available.

Yet perhaps it was this exact feature, installed for community, that seemed to source of the feeling of loneliness, of incompleteness: these pedestrian-friendly sidewalks were empty, the parking spots absent of cars. Storefront after storefront was branded by a resigned “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign, above store hours that run Mon-Fri, maybe Saturday in some cases. Still, a quick drive-by cannot fully capture the liveliness of a town thrumming beneath. Getting out of the car–even if there only four or five others in sight–walking along main street, and taking a closer look is necessary before resigning to a quiet Sunday.

In addition the absence of Lenoir residents in the streets, the eerie feeling of the downtown was supplemented by a track of instrumental music playing thrdsc_0622oughout the street from a series of unseen speakers. The music could be described as a marriage of jazz piano and elevator music, perhaps meant to be a nice backdrop to the sounds of engines and human voices. The bizarre ambience, one reminiscent of a post-disillusioned movie, would still not be the main source of disappointment in Lenoir. The greatest disappointment offered by a quiet Sunday in this town, is that a walk along the main street revealed Lenoir has a lot to offer. Amongst a few cafes, the town’s GOP headquarters, and small markets, it seemed every other storefront was an art gallery or antique shop–both retailers for town character, personality, history, and secrets. In an eclectic collection of castaway personal belongings and artistic expression, these are the shops that give define Lenoir local flavor. The storefront windows were decorated with autumnal displays, from puppets, to art easels made of birch branches, to leaves and twigs perched with fake birds. Yet each was closed. Not a single site was open. Walks around square blocks, the real estate turning to banks and insurance fronts the farther the sidewalk talks you the center of town, and a feeling of defeat sinks into the sunny day.

The Change of Plans:

Ultimately, hunger and defeat merge to form resignation–forcing a return to the one restaurant open, initially passed by due to lack of interest. It was a small bistro called Bella Torte Bistro, dawned with trendy iron outdoor dining furniture, and an updated, French-decorated interior. It was clear, that flannels, t-shirt, and leggings meant being underdressed, but an empty stomach and low self-consciousness of a foreign place equate to going in anyway. Passing beneath the turquoise Bella Torte Bistro sign, sticking from the corner of the building, a hostess/waitress opened the door with a warm welcome.

The inside was modern with wood floors, shapely chairs and multiple levels of seating. Each table was punctuated by pots of turquoise blue, silver, and white flowers in the color scheme of the restaurant and sign outside. An iron staircase winds up to a third-floor landing with extra seating, as well as downstairs to the basement where dsc_0613one finds Charlie’s Pub. It seemed the Pub shared the same menu as the Bistro, but with a different wood-panel and booth atmosphere.   A table at the back of the restaurant sat regally, occupied by a family of 10+ dressed up in what looked to be church gear as a long table. Off to the side sat a priest and two elderly women, dressed to the nines, sharing lunch and forkfuls of pie.

For Foothills-French cuisine, the food was wonderful, ranging from reimagined Ceasar salad, to three-cheese mac-n-cheese, to classic French onion soup and traditionally delicious French fries. Despite a satisfying meal, it was difficult to determine what inquiry was left in Lenoir–that is, beyond where is everybody? Was there an opportunity being missed here–that a schedule only allowing Saturday and Sunday travel would deprive towns like Lenoir of the opportunity to showcase their identities?

On the way out, the hostess/waitress rang up each receipt by the coffee pot and pastries and spoke about the bistro. The only reason it was open on a Sunday–of all the other real estate on the main strip–was because it was new to Lenoir and wanted to establish a following. She felt their opening is a small part of the town’s effort to revitalize the downtown, which had been a town goal for the past and upcoming years, potentially creating a college town experience for the local university. She said that town wasn’t empty due to church and post-church Sunday traditions; rather Sundays and Mondays were just Lenoir’s slow da ys– business always picked up on Tuesday and more so throughout the week. Her comments were simple and decided, prompting the questions: Was her acceptan ce of the slow Sunday business a sign of how things have always been–and was it actually related to Sunday culture of North Carolina? Was this empty downtown just how things had been for so long that people have forgotten why? Are these questions worth asking?
Suffice to say, the little luck in Lenoir painted a picture of North Carolina Foothills Sunday culture: laid back, not commercial, and perhaps not even capitalistic. Things shut down, the businesses, the food, the roads even. Ultimately, he deeper reasoning behind this scene could not be determined from an outsider–trying to work on the locals’ day of rest.

 

 

 

The Factory Coffee Shop

By Maggy McGloin – 2016

As any trip with anticipated adventure should begin, the exploration down Highway 64 began with clear eyes, caffeinated bodies, and an overall excitement to see what was ahead. The first stop on the highway was the town of Mocksville, just about an hour outside the Elon bubble.

The car rolled into a town seemingly barren of existence, pulling into the parking lot of the grand Town Hall, currently being cleaned with high-power hoses. It was 11 AM, late enough in the morning that shops should be open on a Saturday morning, yet every single one was closed. The streets, too, were relatively deserted–a sporadic passerby occasionally punctuating the quiet . After passing a darkened doll storefront, the town’s GOP office, a pub amongst few restaurants, the sidewalk lead to the one open business: The Factory Coffee Shop, an obviously-new addition tdsc_0430o the town. It turns out the shop had only been open for six months and was part of the new effort to revitalize downtown Mocksville.

Inside the store provided cappuccinos and a muffins, set with an ambience made by modern touches, such as acoustic music, seating areas for people who wanted to work, and an industrial-looking bar. There were also accents that kept the shop true to Mocksville’s heritage, however. By the cash register, there was a large bulletin board displaying flyers, business cards, and artwork provided by Mocksville locals–a physical manifestation of the town’s activity hub. There was also an out-of-place old-fashioned bike hung on the wall, one of the first visible decorations upon entering the store. It seemed the bike, though visually different, would provide insight as to what The Factory was all about.

As she whipped up another cappuccino,dsc_0428 the barista, Ayenna, explained a bit more about Factory, as well as what it means to be a Mocksville local. She confirmed that The Factory was the newest addition to downtown Mocksville, but the building itself was historically valuable, once a pharmacy from the early 1900’s. To pay homage to what the building once was, the owners hung up that bike–which once belonged to the pharmacist–on the wall. “He used to ride the bike up and down main street to make prescription deliveries to people’s homes,” Ayenna said. “The pharmacist knew where everyone lived and what each family’s’ prescriptions were.”

Ayenna was vibrant, compliant, and happy to answer questions about how long she’d lived in Mocksville and whether or not she enjoyed the familiarity of the town. She said that she grew up in Mocksville, surrounded by people who always said “that if you don’t get out of Mocksville by a certain point, you end up staying there your whole life.” Ayenna stated that when she was younger, she wanted nothing more than to move away from Mocksville. As she gets older, however, she admits to becoming more content with staying there. Knowing that the town could seem uneventful to outsiders, she continued to describe the different things there are to do in Mocksville: “There’s a movie theater fifteen minutes away,” she said. “And high school sports are a really big part of the community.”

The local high dsc_0431school homecoming game is one of the most exciting events in Mocksville during the fall. Ayenna pointed to the windows of the town’s favorite pub across the street, scrawled in orange paint: Beat the Mustangs!  Evidently the homecoming game was the night before and has been held in the same location for 65 years. “The whole community came out and they had all of the homecoming kings and queens from years’ past come out on the field,” said Ayenna.

When asked what her favorite Mocksville event was, Ayenna stated matter-of-factly, “the mattress car races.” For visitors who have no observed such an event, a mattress car race consists of Mocksville locals gathering on the main downtown strip to race their mattresses down the hill. “I can watch the races from the window of The Factory,” she said. Looking out the window, the image of those same mattresses plummeting down main street painted a stark contrast to the empty road, a quiet extension of Highway 64.

 

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.

jumpoff_view

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.

jump-off-rock

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.

A Bridge Made to Blossom

By Gina Apperson – 2014

There’s a certain beauty and mystery associated with bridges. When crossing them, we often don’t know what lies on the other side. As emblems of travel, bridges are quintessential parts of any journey, helping us reach our destination quicker and easier. But one bridge in the community of Lake Lure, North Carolina, encourages us to rest and realize that the joy is in the journey itself.

Crossing the Rocky Broad River that runs along Highway 64, the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, a community pedestrian bridge, brings to life the history, community and natural beauty of the Hickory Nut Gorge in western North Carolina.

Flowering Bridge Lake Lure North Carolina

When the historic 1925 bridge closed to traffic in 2011, it was a childhood memory of Lake Lure resident, Bill Miller, that inspired the idea to transform the bridge into a community garden. After traveling to the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, Miller continued to envision the Massachusetts trolley bridge garden, giving him the motivation to create a similar project in the southeast. When volunteers gathered to move earth and prepare plants in April 2013, Miller’s dream, now a vision held by the community, began to bloom.

As we traveled the scenic route of Highway 64, between Chimney Rock State Park and the town of Lake Lure, I remembered my family vacation to Lake Lure in 2010: the time we visited Chimney Rock, hiked to waterfalls and explored the Rocky Broad River, jumping into the stream and eating ice cream outside the Harley Davidson shop. After we drove past the town of Chimney Rock Village, this time, my travel partners, Dustin and Miranda, and I pulled into the west side of the Flowering Bridge around noon. Rainbow petals greeted us and small chair  wrapped in flower branches displayed hand-painted signs that invited us to “come and sit a while” in the gardens. We meandered the 155-foot stone path across the bridge slowly, giving us the chance to uncover the beauty rooted in the bridge.

Flowering Bridge Lake Lure North Carolina

We started off in the Rock and Succulent Garden, one of the twelve themed stone-faced garden beds along the bridge. The orange flowers reflecting sunshine from the cloudless sky attracted a Monarch butterfly, which made Miranda and I run over to snap photos.. Strolling further, we found the Whimsical Garden, full of uncommon plants like Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick with its twisting branches that look like a corkscrew, growing to heights around eight to ten feet. Gnomes and oversized mushrooms keep the other plants and flowers in the garden company: the Flying Dragon plant, Polka Dot plant and the festive Candy Corn plant.

Flowering Bridge Lake Lure North Carolina

Miranda and I paused in the center of the bridge, leaning on the railing to look where the river meets Lake Lure, the man-made lake created in 1927 with 21 miles of forested shoreline. Turning around, we realized we could also enjoy views of the Chimney Rock monolith in the mountains of the Hickory Nut Gorge upstream. The vistas echoed the wild beauty found on the Flowering Bridge, affirming the bridge’s recent nickname, “The Gateway to Somewhere Beautiful.”

Flowering Bridge Lake Lure North Carolina

Continuing through the gardens, we arrived to the east end of the bridge where a 1920s period iron gate welcomes visitors with the words, “Lake Lure Flowering Bridge” etched into its arch. Next to the welcome gate grows one of the bridge’s natural treasures: “the rarest of the rare native trees.” The Franklin Tree, with its changing red leaves, was discovered by the famed botanist, John Bartman, and his son, William, in 1765 along the banks of Georgia’s Altamaha River and named after their friend, Benjamin Franklin. The plant disappeared from the wild completely in 1803, but through the efforts of the Bartmans, this member of the tea family survives today. All Franklin Trees planted today trace back to the seeds originally collected by the father and son, making this a truly native plant. Other plants on the Flowering Bridge recognize and honor the past. Two Flight 93 roses, gifts to the Flowering Bridge, grow on the west end of the bridge. These hybrid tea roses were planted to recognize the courage of the men and women on board United’s Flight 93 during September 11.

Flowering Bridge Lake Lure North Carolina

In addition to the roses and the Franklin Tree, other unique plants of the Flowering Bridge include the North Carolina Wildflowers of the Year. For 2014, the Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. chose the purple-petaled Hoary Skullcap, a member of the mint family, as the Wildflower of the Year. The flowers’ aromatic leaves give the bridge a refreshing feel, and its long bloom period allows visitors to see its lavender sock-puppet-shaped petals for longer stretches of the year. The oasis of natural art comes together with the partnerships of nurseries, local artisans and construction companies through the nonprofit, Friends of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge. While the birds, butterflies and plants all converse along the bridge, the community behind it all is an essential element. The Flowering Bridge captured the imagination of Lee Armstrong, who currently serves as a member of the nonprofit’s Board of Directors. Lee and her husband, Mike, embraced Bill Miller’s vision to create the garden from the start. As visitors from more than 40 states and 21 countries have experienced the bridge, Lee notes the light and energy in their eyes as they learn about different plants and dream up new ideas for their own gardens. The bridge also gives a sense of purpose for the residents in Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. Lee calls it the “garden connection,” as the bridge becomes “a beautiful catalyst for collaboration and creativity, for unity and innovation.” The Flowering Bridge connects to Lake Lure’s Town Hall and the Town Center Walkways, making it the perfect center for other business to take root. Since the opening of the bridge, Carolina Moon Coffee Café opened on the east end of the bridge and plans for new developments in the area have taken place. At the same time, the future is blossoming for the bridge itself, with plans to extend the gardens another 200 feet on the west side.

Flowering Bridge Lake Lure North Carolina

After spending a half hour in the gardens, Dustin, Miranda and I walked back to the car, parked next to Boys Camp Road on the west end of the bridge. Here we noticed the open space for the gardens’ extension, perfect for nature’s artistic touch. Miranda and I turned to get final photos of the bridge and Dustin did handstands in the grassy area by the car. Getting back on the road, we realized the importance of traveling slowly, even if it means stopping on the side of the road, just to experience the land around us. The Flowering Bridge, our first taste of Lake Lure’s mountain air this October, proved to be the place where we could reflect on our memories and relish in our journey.

Back in the Mountains

By Miranda Allan – 2014

jumpoff_view

You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl.

Nothing sets me on edge like when people criticize rural living. I lived in southeast New Hampshire for eighteen years and I look forward to the day that I will settle there again. I can promise that a country lifestyle is the farthest thing from boring. My hometown (population 4,000) is situated within an hour or two from the mountains, the ocean, and the great city of Boston. Rural communities are plentiful with outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, swimming, boating, rock-climbing, biking, and snow and water skiing, to name only a few. I miss the variety of recreation in the suburbs, so when I found myself in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I felt like I had found a place where I belonged, though for only a short time.

I didn’t realize that I had been craving the mountain life until I was back in it. The mountains weren’t exactly new to me, but in the best way. I had the unique experience of adding new places to my travels while also feeling as if I was going home.

My sense of newfound nostalgia peaked as my group members and I drove up to Jump Off Rock in Hendersonville. Dustin, our driver, was enjoying the breakneck turns too enthusiastically for me to fully take in my surroundings, but what I did see was comparable to some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever experienced. I carry with me a vivid picture of the morning sunlight breaking over a ridge and spilling into the valley of an impeccably rustic golf course. From our vantage point on the road running serpentine along its rim, I could look down onto the oak trees punctuating the greens. Though it was a very brisk morning in the foothills, I could easily see the temptation that draws golfers back to the course time and again.

I also have a great fondness for mountain people. If I may impart a generalization, I think that those who perform good, honest labor tend to be good, honest people. The wonderful thing about the mountains is that usually people visit or live there out of genuine desire to do so. I did not come across anyone in Lake Lure or Lenoir suffering from cabin fever; everyone seemed genuinely pleased to be a local. I’m not pretending that this is always the case; certainly there are those who are stuck in a situation they can’t avoid, but generally speaking the mountains have a higher concentration of content inhabitants and tourists.

Mountaineers are rugged, warm, and utterly lacking in affect. You simply don’t see people putting on airs for each other in a town like Bat Cave. Maybe this is because smaller towns feel more familial. No one wishes to compete with or belittle their neighbor in such tight quarters; it is only logical to treat each other with respect and kindness. Perhaps I’m cheesy (one could make a very strong case that I am) but in my opinion there is a distinction between a municipality and a community. It was my heartfelt pleasure to visit these friendly communities along Highway 64.

Or perhaps it is the vitalizing quality of the mountain air that breeds goodness. I have a longstanding belief (founded on virtually no actual knowledge) that clean, chlorophyll-enriched air is good for the constitution. It’s possible that I’ve read too many Jane Austen novels where Victorian young ladies escape from stuffy sitting rooms to the countryside to improve their health, but the fact of the matter is that fresh air makes me feel cleansed. There is nothing more gratifying than taking pure, brisk air into your lungs when you have been breathing climate control for weeks. So yes, mountain air makes me feel good.

On that frigid morning atop Jump Off Rock, I felt a twinge of that sweet sadness that signals a small wave of homesickness. The tableau may be cliché: a displaced country girl waxing nostalgia as she gazes upon a distant mountain ridge. Still, I would be a negligent travel writer if I didn’t report on my Highway 64 experience in such detail. Honestly, nostalgia is a welcome feeling sometimes. I was happy to be reminded of a thousand childhood memories that could easily have taken place in the foothills of North Carolina, under different circumstances. Home is a plane ride away but I’ll never be more than a short car ride away from the mountains.