North Carolina the state where the mountains are blue

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Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains

After a rocky start to my journey, involving various flight delays at London and Atlanta, I finally found myself on North Carolinian soil on a thundery May evening, spending a night in Charlotte before heading off to explore the state’s pristine national parks, rural charms and mountain towns. Although Raleigh is the state capital, Charlotte is by far the bigger city and from what I could discern from my taxi window, it would have been well worth a peek, (click here to read Lyn’s story about Charlotte,) had I only possessed the energy after a long day travelling. Alas, needs must and I opted for instant snoozing to regain my strength before any outdoorsy pursuits ensued.

North Carolina in May proved a pleasant change from the UK, temperature-wise. This was a couple of weeks before the real heat sets in and I was happily donning shorts and sandals on my first morning, enjoying the balmy 25 degrees as I set off for the tiny town of Blowing Rock, in the Blue Ridge Mountains – thus named after the “blue haze” that often shrouds them. In my ignorance (and thanks to a few old country & western songs) I had always assumed the Blue Ridge Mountains to be located in West Virginia, but this blatantly wasn’t the case. The range runs all the way from Georgia in the south, to Pennsylvania in the north and forms part of two national parks, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina that I would be visiting later in the week. The U.S. national park service is incidentally turning 100 next year and there are a number of events taking place to celebrate the anniversary.

this is black bear country © Duncan McCubbin

this is black bear country ©
Duncan McCubbin

The above-mentioned national parks are connected by the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway stretching some 470 miles through North Carolina and Virginia, with beautiful mountain views. In spring the parkway is often lined with a colourful array of wild flowers, adding to the natural beauty of the area. Driving out of Charlotte, following the Yadkin Valley, famous for its wines, I was mightily surprised when my guide Scott told me there are 145 wineries in the state and North Carolinian wines are increasingly popular. There was clearly more to this state than met the eye… A few reminders that I was actually “down south”, despite the state’s “northern name” were also cropping up. I’ve always had a strange fascination with road signs – they can tell you so much about a place. Here there were a few gems straight away, including the fishing shop selling “worms and guns” (you know, in case you didn’t want to bother with fishing and shoot them fish straight away).

We arrived in Blowing Rock, a few hours northwest of Charlotte near the Tennessee border, and immediately headed up to the main attraction, which gives the town its named. Blowing Rock is also North Carolina’s oldest attraction, opened in 1933, although you could argue that the rock itself is rather older than that. This unusual rock formation, set high above the Johns River Gorge, overlooks the vast, undulating landscape of every shade of green and blue and some of the highest mountains in the range, including nearby Grandfather Mountain, my next stop after lunch.

Blowing Rock is a prosperous little town and in summer the population swells from under 1500 to 10,000. A lot of the so-called “Blowing Rockefellers”, rich folk from out of town, and even out of state, have second homes here and their high standards are reflected in the food scene. Lunch was heartily enjoyed at Bistro Roca, a traditional, but quirky eatery, situated on Wonderland Trail. My lobster cheese ‘n’ mac was out-of-this-world tasty and my aperitif, the Barry White sangria, almost brought tears of joy to the eye. I swear old Barry had never looked or tasted quite so good before. As Tracy, the local expert, joked “Blowing Rock is a drinking town with a weather problem”, and there were tall tales in abundance, about Blowing Rock during prohibition. Let’s just say they knew how to work their way around it…

Blowing Rock gives its name to the town as well © nps

Blowing Rock gives its name to the town as well © nps

From Blowing Rock we travelled west, stopping briefly at Moses H Cone Manor and memorial park, for more vistas and a look at the Parkway Craft Center, displaying the work of over 300 craftspeople from the area. Having successfully controlled my shopping urges, despite the beautiful handicrafts, it was time to hit the Blue Ridge Parkway itself, on our way to Grandfather Mountain, one of the highest in the state. The visitor centre here is home to an animal sanctuary well worth a visit for the roaming chipmunks, slightly more elusive deer, the convalescing bald eagle, frisky sea otters and very cute black bears. The mountain would have to be extra pretty to beat that, especially after the homemade fudge we munched before heading up there.

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Phew, it was very pretty. Crossing the precarious-looking Mile High Swinging Bridge, helplessly giggling at the name, the sweeping vistas across the endless, undulating, blue-tinted mountains with Grandfather towering right above them, swiftly sobered up my mood. Truly majestic and the perfect way to end the day’s explorations. The evening was spent enjoying some high-quality food and a truly vicious brew, supplied by locals that shall remain nameless. If Florida is the sunshine state, I was starting to suspect North Carolina might be the moonshine equivalent and my nightcap was suitably strong. Would I survive the local tipple and manage to explore further? Find out in part 2 of my adventures, here on Just About Travel.

For more information about North Carolina, click here. See also –

Story and images © Anna Maria Espsäter

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