Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Land of Blue Smoke

There is no substitute for hearing a rippling stream in the mountains, watching a sunset, the music of the winds, the grandeur of tall green trees, the beauty of a wildflower and the smell of a deep forest.  It was time for us to take a break and head to the mountains for a few days.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, here we come! It was going to be a long road trip (about 8 hours one way), but we were also going to use this as a pre-anniversary celebration (our 40th!) that is September 15.  We rented a cabin outside of Bryson City, and it was located up a narrow, winding, gravel road.  And it was very nice!  Great views of the mountains!
The view from our front porch on the cabin!

Check how our view changed when the "blue smoke" rolled in!

We have visited Smoky Mountain National Park before, but not on the North Carolina side.  It’s just beautiful!  The Road to Nowhere made for a good, long hike which we really needed after sitting in the jeep the day before.  This is a scenic mountain highway that takes you six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel, from the edge of Bryson City.  On the map this road is called Lakeview Drive, but to the locals it is The Road to Nowhere – A Broken Promise.  You see, in the 1930s and 1940s many people in Swain County gave up the majority of its private land to the US government for the creation of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Hundreds of families lost their homes but also the roads leading to those communities. The government promised to create a new road. It was to have stretched 30 miles along the north shore of Fontana Lake, providing access to old family cemeteries.  But the road fell victim to an environmental issue and construction was stopped at the tunnel. 
Fontana Lake in the distance

The tunnel, which unfortunately has a lot of graffitti

The captain is always waiting on me.

The Mountain Farm Museum, located at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Oconaluftee River, and a tree that someone felt the need to leave their mark on.

The chickens liked roosting in the kitchen!

I did read that in 2010, Swain County agreed to a $52 million settlement, paid over time, from the US government in lieu of completing the road. And on weekends throughout the summer, the Park Service still ferries groups of Swain County residents across Fontana Lake to visit their old family cemeteries for Decoration Days and family reunions.

I always think of the Smokies as being a great place to come and experience how our ancestors lived, with log cabins in many of the areas.  But there is also a lot of Oconaluftee Cherokee Indian culture to explore as well. It’s a very diverse area! We also hiked up to Clingman’s Dome (pretty challenging) and I was a little disappointed that cloud cover moved in right as we neared the top. Oh well……

The next day we decided to go see the waterfalls!  Again, it’s a short drive from Bryson City to Deep Creek.  Did you know that North Carolina encompasses more than half of the Smoky Mountains National Park?  There are 3 waterfalls to go see here and are accessible from a loop trail.  If you ever wonder how small this world is with all the humanity in it, let me share an example.  Back in 2016 we volunteered with a seasonal ranger named Rhonda.  I believe it was last year she got hired on as a permanent.  Well, guess who we happened to meet on the trail?!  She was taking a group of 8th grade students on a hike, studying about water sources.  What are the odds?

Pondering the waterfall.

Me and Ranger Rhonda! Wow!
All in the day of the job of being a National Park Ranger!

What do you know about the Blue Ridge Parkway?  Well we must say it's a beautiful drive, although we only did a small portion of it.  It's a historic road that traverses through Virginia and North Carolina, with many pull outs to look at the scenery.  Construction began in 1935 at Cumberland Knob.  It is 469 miles long - and no, we didn't travel that far!  It will need to be done in segments. And by the way, some of the tunnels are only 12' high, so don't bring a big rig!
Always important to remember the Native Americans.
Lot of beauty!

As I end my souvenirs from this blog entry, I must say that we do have our eyes on Hurricane Dorian. With that path inching to start climbing up the east coast, we may just be making an early exit to our volunteer jobs here.  We’re in very low country in Hyde County. Our scheduled leave date was September 15.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ocracoke, Cape Lookout and Beaufort

It’s been a little bit of a heat wave out here, which is to be expected. We figured we would be dealing with mosquitos and bugs, but luckily that hasn’t been the case!  One of the outer banks islands we wanted to go visit was Ocracoke.  It is accessible by ferry from either Hatteras or Swanquarter. We chose Swanquarter since it’s just down the road from us.  We decided to make it a full day.  The ferry ride is 2 ½ hours each way, but it was very nice and relaxing and allowed us to travel in the Pamlico Sound.
Nice ferry!  Just looks a little tight in the harbor to navigate!
Ocracoke is small and pretty laid back.  It’s easy just to navigate by foot.  There is a lighthouse here, built in 1823.  Set in an early 1900s house, the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum traces the island’s history.  Nearby is a tiny British Cemetery containing the graves of WWII sailors.  We found it to be a quiet little island and quite enjoyable!
Beautiful beaches!

Pretty harbor

We did go looking for the wild horses, but this is all we found. LOL!
This family was out walking their pig and goats. Notice the diapers on the goats!  I wonder if they were staying at a pet friendly B&B?
Another place we wanted to go see was Cape Lookout.  We decided to spend the night at a B&B in Beaufort.  Beaufort is a cool little town, quite enjoyable.  We had a balcony room and we really enjoyed it and looking for that black moon (an additional new moon that appears in a month). Beaufort is the third oldest town in North Carolina. It was originally inhabited by the Coree Indians, then French Huguenots, and was eventually settled by the British in 1709. In 1713, Robert Turner, who held the original land grant for 200 acres, laid out the town and named the streets just as they are today.  It was incorporated in 1722.  The isolation of Beaufort, I think, has helped the town retain its historic appearance. There are over 100 homes over a century old and several that are over 200.
Beautiful homes

 It was fascinating to walk through the Old Burying Ground which was established in 1709 and is located by the beautiful Methodist Church.  The cemetery was deeded to Beaufort in 1731.  Most of the graves are facing east as those buried had wanted to be facing the sun when they arose on “Judgement Morn”.  You can pick up a brochure that lets you know about some of the most interesting people and stories.  One such is “Girl in Barrel of Rum”. In the 1700s an English family came to town.  Their little girl wanted to travel back to her homeland.  On the way back to America she died. Her father, not wanting to break a promise to his wife that he would safely return her, instead of burying her at sea, buried her in a casket of rum to preserve her. Visitors have left many trinkets in her memory.

Girl in Barrel of Rum

There are two National Park Service Visitor Centers – a small one in Beaufort and their larger one down on Harker’s Island.  The Harkers Island area looks fun and worth a trip back to spend some time.  From prehistoric times on, folks have been drawn to these barrier islands here.  American Indians hunted and fished along these banks and in 1753 a planned community, Portsmouth Village, was laid out and was the busiest seaport in North Carolina for the next 100 years.  You can take ferries to more of the smaller islands.  We didn’t make it to Shackleford Banks, a nine mile long island, home to a herd of wild horses that is monitored by the NPS.  Cape Lookout National Seashore is still wild, beautiful and remote.  The beach was beautiful and we enjoyed hanging out there.

We also drove over to check out Fort Macon State Park, a civil war era fort.  It is nearly surrounded by shore water at the eastern tip of Bogue Banks.  It was a great beach to walk.  The fort was once a project of Robert E. Lee as a young army engineer.  We missed the live demonstration of cannons and muskeets.  They are generally offered at 4 in the afternoon.

Our beautiful flag!

The following week on our days off we took the Motorhome back to Oregon Inlet Campground, a national park service campground at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  We’ve become fans of the Guy Fieri show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, and he has done several segments on places around Nags Head.  So we decided to head to one of them, Tortugas Lie.  Ron had an excellent whiskey hamburger while I had a terrific salmon steak sandwich. 
Salmon steak sandwich was very good!

One of the other good things we did was explore a little of Manteo, a town on Roanoke Island.  We visited the National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center here and the ElizabethanGardens, but by far the most interesting was Fort Raleigh National HistoricSite.  Again, the cobwebs were shuffled around a little as we remembered about The Lost Colony and Virginia Dare. 

Queen Elizabeth I

Virginia Dare Statue

Monarch butterfly larvae

Such a beautiful garden!

Roanoke Island has had a lot of history over the last three centuries.  Algonquians, European settlers, Civil War soldiers, and African Americans have all had a part in it.  Between 1584 and 1587 England took it’s first step at colonizing North America, making 3 exploration voyages over and attempting settlements.  During the Civil War, American troops occupied Roanoke Island, which hosted a colony where the formerly enslaved prepared for life after the war.  Lastly, did you know that radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden transmitted the human voice using wireless technology on the island in 1902? 
National Underground Railroad monument
In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh was the force behind the exploration voyages, although he never stepped foot on the land.  Backed by Queen Elizabeth, he was to find a suitable place for settlement and to counter Spanish domination in the New World.  The explorers landed here, spent about 3 weeks with friendly relations with the Indians, learning about the land.  When they left, they actually took 2 Indians back with them, Manteo and Wanchese (the two towns on the island are named after them).  In 1585 seven ships and 600 people came to the Island, which Raleigh had named Virginia. Relations with the Indians started deteriorating after the colonists depended on them for food, and the Indians started getting sick from the white men.  This ended in the colonists killing Chief Wingina.  Another voyage was sent in 1587, a true colony with women and children.  The situation with the Indians was not good, the colonists ran low on food.  John White, their leader, had a daughter that was married to Ananias Dare, who delivered a daughter in Roanoke. She was the first Christian born in Virginia, hence the name Virginia Dare.  The colonists were running out of provisions and sent White back to England for supplies.  It was three years before he made it back.  The colonists had promised him that if they moved locations, they would carve the location in a tree.  When John White finally returned in 1590, he did not find anyone on the island, but did find the letters CROATOAN carved into a post and CRO carved into a tree.  Croatoan Island is now known as Hatteras. White attempted to go there but a hurricane prevented him, and he returned to England.  The fate of the colonists remains a mystery to this day.

We sure found some good historical souvenirs these past few weeks!