Take a Ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railway

On April 9, I boarded the Great Smoky Mountains Railway in Bryson City, North Carolina, for an excursion through the Nantahala River Gorge. I was the guest of my Florida friends, Terry and Ken, and we had a vintage dining car as our home base.

Smoky Mountains Railway Train

During the five hour roundtrip journey, we had full beverage services, and were served a full hot lunch, dessert and all. The staff was very friendly, and we even had live Bluegrass musicians along the way.

Smoky Mountains Railway lunch

Railroad Excursion Friends

The track ran along the famous Nantahala River with its rafters and kayakers, eventually entering the Nantahala Gorge. At one point, the train crossed the TVA’s Fontana Lake over a half mile long trussel.

Fontana Lake on Smoky Min Train

The following 7 1/2 minute video will take you along for a ride. The line has an open air car for easier viewing and these viseos were made from that car. Click on the headline above to go directly to the blog if you don’t see the link below, then move down to find the link.

Springtime Sunset in Montford Cove

If you’re driving to Lake Lure or Chimney Rock from I-40, you’ll pass through this tiny hamlet along your way. There’s no town, just a Baptist church, but the valley raises Black Angus cattle and high protein hay. There’s a 1,900 foot mountain with a wonderful southern view toward Charlotte and South Carolina. Sunset seems to be the best time of day for color and texture.

Montford Cove Pasture

That’s Long Mountain on the left, with a very distant King’s Mountain to the far right horizon. Charlotte is just near the center, and is visible at night.

Tryon Mountain Ridges

The distant ridge is Tryon Mountain along the South Carolina line. Next comes Bill’s Mountain just east of Lake Lure.

Montford Cove Derelict

This decaying 19th century farmhouse stands guard over expansive hay fields.

Long Mountain Sunset

Long Mountain hides in the shadows as the last rays stream across the fields.

Cove Creek Valley

A panoramic view of the valley shows the first greens of spring spreading up the slopes.

Historic Charlotte in Springtime

Charlotte, North Carolina, has been known as the “Queen City of the South” for decades, but the dowager metropolis is at her best during the explosion of color in the spring.

Charlotte Myers Park Mansion

The mansions of Myers Park offer the best combination of architecture and landscaping in this historic Colonial town.

Charlotte Myers Park dogwood

Charlotte Myers Park Maple

Charlotte Myers Park Brick

Charlotte Myers Park Moravian

Charlotte Myers Park tulips

Charlotte Myers Park Pink Dogwood

Charlotte Myers Park cottage

Charlotte Fourth Ward Victorian
The northwest quadrant of Uptown Charlotte is known as the Fourth Ward. Many preserved and restored 19th century Victorian and vernacular houses sit on the narrow, tree lined streets.

Charlotte Fourth Ward American House

Charlotte Fourth Ward Dogwood

Charlotte Fourth Ward Townhouses
Colorful town homes face many of the divided streets.

Covenant Presbyterian Charlotte

Covenant Presbyterian Church makes the perfect place to step inside and rest, with walls of stained glass, and three pipe organs.

Charlotte Tryon Street Garden

Nestled among the towering skyscrapers along Tryon Street are gardens and shopping areas. Known as “Uptown”, this is a walking city of many historic churches and newly added museums and galleries.

Carolina Foundation Gallery

Charlotte Fourth Ward APartment

Charlotte Myers Park White Dogwood

The Grove Park Inn Welcomes Spring…

One of the most historic places in all the mountains is the 100 year old Grove Park Inn, perched on the side of Sunset Mountain, overlooking the delightful small city of Asheville, North Carolina. Built of native granite boulders collected from the surrounding mountains, this Craftsman era treasure has been the destination of Presidents and celebrities since it opened.

Grove Park Inn in Spring

Grove Park Inn Gardens

Japanese Magnolia

Asheville Skyline from Grove Park

The Asheville skyline and Blue Ridge seen from the hotel…

Grove Park Inn Rear View

Grove Park Inn Roof

New Grove Park Inn lobby


Grove Park Inn South Fireplace

Two matching giant fireplaces flank the north and south walls of the large lobby.

Grove Park Inn Elevator
A dramatic elevator is hidden inside these massive stones.

Grove Park Inn Lobby in Spring

Grove Park Inn Stained Glass

Grove Park Inn Front
Like a sleeping relic of the past, this historic hotel enters its second century with dignity and awe.

A Sunday Ride Around the Mountains

Remember the days when we would all pile in car on Sunday afternoon and just ride somewhere? It was always an adventure. I’ve been feeling nostalgic these last few days, so I figured, why not? It was snowing this morning up toward Boone, and the wind has been whipping through the passes and valleys all through the mountains. There was a wind chill in the low 40′s this afternoon, but the Sun was out. Apple Trees are beginning to blossom, and even some green leaves are bursting out. All of these photos were made within 15 minutes of the house.

Mt Mitchell Snow

Mt. Mitchell and the surrounding peaks were covered with snow. This view is from atop Young’s Mountain north of Lake Lure.

Granite Mountain

View Toward Charlotte

That’s King’s Mountain on the right. Charlotte is out there in the middle somewhere.

Spring Arrives in Apple Valley

Kwansan Cherry

Kwansan Cherry Blossoms

Apple Blossom Time

Apple Blossom Canopy

Apple Tree Trunks

Apple Orchard

Apple Blossom Pool

Apple Tree Moss

Click on any photo to get the full effect of the larger image. There is alot of detail here.

Under the Apple Trees

Last Run of the Season at Sugar Mountain

After receiving 8″ of fresh powder snow on Tuesday, Sugar Mountain was the place to be on Wednesday. Even though it was late March, skiing conditions were the best I’ve seen at this North Carolina high country resort. Temps were in the high 20′s, there was little wind, the snow making guns had long since been silenced, and the sky was a deep blue. Being so late in the season and being a weekday, there were no lift lines. This was ideal skiing for any ski or snowboard aficionado.

Sugar Mountain Chairlift

Sugar Mountain Family

Sugar Mountain Vista

Sugar Mountain Highrise
This was the first and last multistory building to be built atop a North Carolina mountain. The uproar was so strong from natives and tourists alike that laws were passed to prevent anything like this from happening again. Especially affected by this eyesore on the horizon was the venerable Grandfather Mountain attraction just to the east. Sometimes people do the right thing.

Sugar Mountain condos

Sugar Mountain Main Run

This three minute video shows my entire last run. Such a shame that this heavy snowfall came so late in the season. Sugar closes on Sunday.

Visiting a North Carolina Barrier Island

About fifteen miles east of Wilmington is a ten mile long barrier island that sits between the Atlantic and the Cape Fear River. Two tourist towns have been here since the 1920′s, and the North Carolina Aquarium was located here about twenty years ago. Fort Fisher, an earthworks Confederate fortification, is also here. It guarded the entrance to the Cape Fear during the Civil War.

The first ten years of my life found me at the smaller southernmost town of Kure Beach (pronounced as two syllables with long “U” and “E”), where my grandmother ran a rooming house and three tourist cottages. Much has changed in the past fifty years since Grandma passed, but this past weekend found me back on the expansive beach behind where her house used to stand. I was transported to a place of long ago.

Kure Dune North
Looking over the dune, new cottages lined the formerly deserted strip between Kure and the larger town of Carolina Beach, just three miles north.

Kure Beach Pier Dune

The original fishing pier at Kure Beach was built in 1923, and was the first such ocean pier constructed along the entire Atlantic coast.

Kure Beach Dune Cliffs

The only place in the entire US that was attacked by German submarines during the second World War was a Dow Chemical bromine extraction plant that stood atop this stretch of beach. The shells went long, and harmlessly fell into the Cape Fear River.

Kure Beach Surf

Kure Beach Pier

Many hurricanes have devastated this narrow island over the years. The pier has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, but the fishermen still return.

Kure Pier Railings

The current incarnation has lasted for decades as the weathered railings can attest.

Kure Beach Pier Entrance

By building the pier higher than before, it seems to escape the destructive power of the giant waves.

Kure Beach Pier Benches

When schools of Mackerel and Bluefish are running, it’s difficult to find an open spot to drop your hook. Definitely not the case on this day.

Kure Beach Pier Parking

The small collection of shops and restaurants west of the pier are the only such places along this entire beach.

Kure Beach Walkways

New dunes with Sea Oats have been constructed along the entire barrier island to protect the shoreline from erosion. Wooden walkways connect the roadway with the sand.

Vann on Kure Beach

That’s yours truly standing atop the dune, and the photo below was made in the same area sixty years ago. I’m the kid on the left, with my mom and little sister.

Vann and Nancy on Kure Beach


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