A few weeks every year there is a mountain off of Highway 64 in Cashiers, NC that casts the shadow of a bear onto the surrounding hills. Obviously, it is called Shadow of the Bear and found off of Bear Shadow drive.
After discovering the existence of such a shadow and learning that September is the time of the year the shadow hits correctly; we were on a mission.
Would we miss it? Would it be there? Would we see it? Is it on the right or the left? “A few miles” out—how far is that? But there’s no cell service out in the mountains so how can we find it…? Is it dangerous to stand on the side of highway?
Our endless questions were put to an end by the mass of 100-200 people standing on the edge of a highway all looking into the valley. We were quick to join in and do the same.
Professional tripod photographers and children alike enjoyed the view of the Shadow of the Bear. The shadow stood starkly against the foliage. Unfortunately, if you miss the shadow or do not see it at precisely the right time, the shape begins to stretch. The shadow is only in its best bear form for around 5 minutes.
To us, it resembled a mouse. But a highway called Mouse Shadow drive doesn’t sound nearly as impressive. Once the shadow began to stretch, the crowd dispersed in minutes and the highway became a mish mosh of people dodging cars in the dark.
The moment was fleeting but the feeling of being crowded along others to see a rare natural occurrence was so special. It was beary to say the least.
Silver Run Falls is a small waterfall found in Cashiers, NC. The path to Silver Run Falls was difficult to find and took our group a few tries to finally pinpoint the sign that led to the trail. The sign, tough to detect between all the trees and winding roads, pointed toward a downward slope which was our trail. The trail was short and provided and few nice photo spots, including a bridge over a little watering hole. After walking for about five minutes, we arrived at the falls, which were hidden beneath all the trees and mountains.
Silver Run Falls had many rock formations that made it easy to navigate for picture taking or seeing the falls from a different perspective. With the water freezing cold, the rocks were our life preservers keeping us out of the water as we moved around the falls. The falls weren’t particularly massive since there had not been a significant rain for awhile in the area. But the sights and sounds of the area were still incredible.
Our group spent around 30 minutes at the falls, relaxing and taking pictures. It was a great time to climb on the rocks to see how close you could get to actually touching the falls. The falls also allowed us to pause momentarily during our busy day and just enjoy cool mountain air and the sound of the falls. It was a welcome escape to all the town visits we packed into the day and brought us up close to the scenery we had been driving through all day.
Once we left the falls, we made our way back, except instead of walking on the bridge we crossed the watering hole on a fallen tree. This conclusion to our short visit was a quick, fun experience for an overall wonderful experience at Silver Run Falls.
There’s something in the aroma of fresh roasted coffee that calms the soul and opens up conversation. Sure, the caffeine helps too. But the atmosphere of coffee shops with the smell percolating through the air has an energy all of its own. As the barista expertly creates the perfect consistency of foam on top of a cappuccino and swirls a leaf or heart into the top, everything seems to move at the perfect pace. Frantic, calm, organized chaos. Along with the chatter and commotion, the serenity and the relaxation, comes an air of friendliness (most of the time, at least).
In coffee shops in the mountains of North Carolina, all of this positive energy and friendliness is heightened. When we entered coffee shops for our daily coffee fix and conversation opportunity, we were always greeted with a warm smile. From the ritzier atmosphere in Highlands to the more small-town, mountainous setting of Cashiers, we experienced a wealth of opportunity embedded within the local coffee shops.
Immediately after finding a parking spot along the two-lane, shop-lined main road in Highlands, we headed to Bucks Coffee Cafe. I was determined to get advice from the locals about what not to miss. The cozy rustic atmosphere, heightened with the white walls, comfy leather chairs, and faux taxonomy throughout, provided what I was sure to be the perfect place to get the “insider scoop”. We made our way up to order, apparently already giving off our “outsiderness.” The man behind the counter was in his early 30’s, born and raised in the mountains. Before we had a chance to order our drinks, paying our way into a position where we could pester the employees with questions, he asked us what we were doing in Highlands.
Our explanation of the project proved amusing to him, soliciting a response of Oh, and you expected to find a lot to do here? Well, I guess we should have realized that we would probably not be given the extent of advice we might have been hoping for. Using his sassy comment to segue into asking for things to do, we prodded him for a bit more information. He talked about the shops along the street and the bars in the area. And that was it. The woman who entered in behind us, donning worn combat boots, jeans, and a t-shirt from local bar “The Lost Hiker” reiterated the suggestion of where to go.
In many situations, this would have been enough. But, between the coffee and the mountains, the conversation kept going. The barista called over his friend, who gave almost the same answer, but went into more detail of what to expect drink-wise and clientele-wise in the various bars. Okay, I began to think, we seem to have an accurate picture of the area now. Their eagerness to actually help us find something we were excited to do, coupled with their amusement at our probably unsatisfied expressions, continued the conversation for a few minutes more.
When our cups were empty and our insides warmed, we thanked everyone for their advice and headed out in search of dinner. As we were leaving, the barista hollered towards the door, “We’ll see you all tonight at The Lost Hiker around 11:00!” With a smile and a wave, we all exited, sharing looks insinuating our agreement that we would not, in fact, see them at the bar. We knew that all of our travels would lead us to our beds before then, but we were grateful for the wealth of time and advice.
The next morning we woke up and drove to Cashiers, with even less of an idea of what to do in the three hours we had allotted ourselves. As we entered the town on our beloved Highway 64, we saw antique shop after antique shop lining the road. Unfortunately, they all seemed to be closed since it was a Sunday. Unsure of what to do, we arrived at an intersection in what seemed like the center of the town, and saw it—another Bucks Coffee Cafe.
Hoping we could get the same eagerness to provide information on activities in the town (and get a nice steaming cup of coffee), we decided to go in. This coffee shop boasted the same art from an artist local to North Carolina mountains and had the same white walls and the fake taxidermy, but it was even larger and cozier than the one in Highlands.
Immediately intrigued by both the commotion of people within and the eclectic mix of items scattered around, I paused and surveyed the place. The rustic feel with the wooden tables and central blazing fireplace was enough to warm anyone’s heart and brighten their day. The taxonomy and art added to the cabin-esque atmosphere.
When it was my turn to order, I asked the barista, who seemed to be just a bit older than me, if she had any suggestions of things to do with only a couple hours. Similar to the experience in Highlands, she did not think we would be entertained as tourists, explaining that there’s really not that much going on. The man making my chai latte added in that it would be a shame if we missed the High Hampton Inn Apple Festival. I thanked him for his suggestion, and once again banked on the coffee atmosphere to allow for my continued badgering.
“We actually went to a Bucks Coffee Cafe in Highlands yesterday, I didn’t realize it was a chain,” I shared, hoping for clarification on how many exist. He informed me that these were the only two and that we just happened to get them both back to back, a happy accident. People pass through frequently, but the coffee shop is constantly populated with locals gathering with friends to chat or working on their laptops. Finally, we were directed to the flyer with the details of the apple festival just up the road, and we were off. Once again, we were grateful for the advice and satisfied that our experience in the town would not be lacking of anything that we absolutely needed to see.
So thank you, Bucks Coffee Cafe, for both being an activity and a piece of insight into these mountain towns and a hotbed for ideas of the best activities to do in the area.
The Apple Festival that took place in Cashiers, NC was one of those events that was not on our initial itinerary. We had no prior knowledge of the festival, no set plans. Upon arrival to this upscale mountain town, the four of us walked out of Katie’s car, stepped into the parking lot, and looked around at each other. The decision about where to head to first was unanimous – the nearest coffee shop. Throughout our travels we had learned that a coffee shop was great for three reasons: a warm drink, a dose of the local culture, and advice on where we should head next to see something unique the town had to offer.
Buck’s Coffee Café catered to all three of our needs. Drinks in hand, we observed the mix of southern locals in camouflage jackets and out-of-towners in expensive designer coats. We then asked the barista: “So what’s going on here today?” “It would be a shame if you missed the Apple Festival about two miles from here,” he responded. “It should be nice.”
We then found ourselves at the High Hampton Inn. The Inn itself is a beautiful sight – a completely wooded structure nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains. It serves as both a resort and country club and is surrounded by tall hemlocks and a privately owned lake. While the Inn is normally the perfect spot for an early autumn wedding, that particular Sunday the outside space was reserved for the Apple Festival – or what I now think of as the Apple & Burnese Mountain Dog Festival. Why? Because apples and Burnese Mountain Dogs were the co-spectacles of the festival. In a tented area, shaded under the strong October sun, around ten vendors were selling their apple products. Whole apples, apple cider, apple pastries, apple jam… the possibilities were both endless and absolutely mouth-watering. In the open field, giant, gorgeous Burnese Mountain Dogs were scattered throughout, wagging their tails in a friendly welcome to all people they encountered. It turns out that there was a small competition occurring for these furry creatures. An obstacle course was designed for the dogs to navigate around, with or without carts attached to their backs. Historically, they are trained to haul heavy supplies, which has resulted in a proclivity for strength and loyalty. The astounding size of the dogs (about 25-28 inches in height) would lead to a specific assumption – that they must be dangerous, powerful creatures. This could not be farther from the truth. Though they may be powerful, they are one of the friendliest species known to man.
After taking in the sun on the grass beside my new furry companions, I decided to explore the inside of the Inn. What I found was a luxurious indoor restaurant with an adjoining lounge area. The lounge had two fireplaces, numerous comfy couches, and – what immediately drew my attention – a freestanding bar. Here the bartender was making the most tempting looking Bloody Marys I had ever seen… I’m talking that red, spicy mixture topped with limes, lemons, celery, olives and even bacon. I scurried outside to find my group members, lounging in the sun with apples in hand. “You guys have never tried Bloody Marys, right? Now’s the time.” All looked eager and screeched with excitement, then proceeded to follow me inside to the bar.
Unfortunately, the $8.00 Bloody Marys were just too spicy for us to finish. I spent most of my time chomping down on celery, masking the peppery taste of the blood-red drink I was attempting to enjoy. Despite the disappointing taste of the drinks, sipping on them in front of a fire, while sitting cross-legged on the velvet-colored carpet was an ideal reflection time for the four of us. We had only one more city to tackle on the HWY 64 Mountain route – Brevard. I truly do not remember ever feeling so exhausted, exhilarated, and straight up sad after a four day trip. I didn’t want to leave – none of us did. Returning back to Elon University after Brevard would be like prodding someone awake from a perfect dream. The fact that I had just spent two hours surrounded by fluffy, happy dogs and more apples than I could ever dream of was a harsh reminder of the pseudo-reality we were experiencing at the time. Truthfully, the mountain life was someone’s life. But it was not ours, as desperately as we wanted it to be. I remember borrowing Katie’s keys to walk out to her car to grab some gum (the Bloody Mary aftertaste was really starting to affect my taste buds), and I sat on the hood of her car alone for a few minutes. I looked both up and around me; all I could see were trees, mountains, and blue sky. I breathed a small sigh, and thanked the universe for this trip, and this moment. College students rarely get that time alone in nature to truly appreciate what surrounds them, whether or not they can see it on a daily basis.
The atmosphere at Buck’s Coffee Cafe is eclectic, rustic, and sophisticated in a homey kind of way. It’s nestled right on the corner between Highways 64 and 107 and draws a crowd of locals and visitors. White wooden paneled siding and hardwood floors give the cafe a chic, clean and unassuming look. Scattered around the shop there are antiques, jewelry, furniture, and gift items for sale. Towards the back of the cafe, there are more unique finds including everything from cuff links made out of World Series-winning baseballs to bottle openers made from golf clubs used by professional golfers. The Odds and Ends Shop, which serves as a gift shop within Buck’s Coffee Cafe is a unique aspect that you would not find at your neighborhood coffee shop. Other items for sale included soaps, chairs made from animal hide, tables carved from stumps, jewelry, pottery, wine, coffee and tea.
A coffee shop review isn’t official without an in-depth analysis of the ‘joe served at the counter, and Buck’s coffee was a nice break from the Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks that college students know so well. The mochas at Buck’s Coffee were slightly sweet, but still held the bitterness that coffee should promise. There’s a definite distinction between mochas and hot chocolate, and when coffee drinkers can’t distinguish between the two, the purpose of the beverage becomes blurred. Buck’s Coffee pulled off both the bitterness and sweet, creamy feel that mocha should embody. And, the extra foam swirled artistically at the top of my cup didn’t hurt either. A lemon poppy seed loaf with a cream cheese swirl filling complimented the coffee nicely and rounded off a pleasant coffee experience. Whether you are on the go or planning to sink into one of the leather armchairs that practically swallow you whole, Buck’s Coffee Cafe thoughtfully attends to all its customers.
When driving East from Murphy, small towns lead to winding roads protected on each side by Nantahala National Forest. Tunnels of leaves and trickling waterfalls opened up to large lake views, and finally dumped our caravan into Cashier, N.C. By this time, we were searching for our next adventure, and we stumbled into the Cashiers Farmers Market after being drawn in by a large pumpkin display out front. We were four girls road tripping in mid-October; it would have been impossible to ignore that festive display.
With just a quick glance, the market could be passed off as a typical roadside market, but the Cashiers Farmers Market has much more to offer than pickled eggs and homemade jams. The sweet, tart smell of fresh apples accompanies the sound of cars passing outside along Highway 64. The store mascot, 2-year-old golden retriever named Riley, walks up, licks your hand, and then immediately rolls on his back for a belly-rub. Robin, who co-owns and operates the market with her husband, laughs and explains how they have been in business for 19 seasons.
The Cashiers Farmers Market sells specifically local food, including beef from nearby Brasstown. Robin explains that in Cashiers, everyone “tries to do business and not step on others’ toes.” It is a quaint village of about 1,000 locals, whose population spikes during the summer months. And, sitting on the porch of the Cashiers Farmers Market with the smell of apple cider wafting through the air and the faint thud of a content Riley’s wagging tail hitting the floor, I can definitely tell why this is a vacation destination.