After the threat of winter weather passes, and the pressures of life hit hard, one place lures me like a fly to a spider web – the North Carolina mountains. I can stop whatever I’m doing and head for the hills in a heartbeat. And with no regrets.
Nothing relaxes me more than the tranquility and freshness of the hills of the High Country, especially the area around Boone. Home to Appalachian State University, it offers the cultural and athletic opportunities of a college setting. But it offers so, so much more.
To escape to a secluded mountain chalet is worth more than a king’s ransom to me. In the summer, I love sleeping under a blanket with the windows open and the cool, fresh mountain air permeating the room. I look forward to sitting on the balcony and watching the morning fog retreat through the trees and disappear until the following morning. Add to that pristine scene the aroma of mountain laurel and rhododendron blossoms, and I have reached heaven on earth!
A number of trails blazed in this land near the Blue Ridge Parkway pass fragrant wildflowers and lead toward majestic waterfalls, several of which offer swimming holes beneath them.
The New River, considered one of the oldest rivers in the world, meanders through the area and offers all sorts of water recreation. I love to float aimlessly on it in an inner tube or canoe for several miles, passing very few other people. But whenever I see someone, we’re sure to greet each other as if we know one another. It’s just that type of atmosphere.
A few small rapids offer a fun challenge; I have gotten stuck on unexpected rocks several times. The only problem occurs when I step onto the slimy surface of the rocks and must do a careful balancing act to avoid falling into the chilly water! But viewing the peaceful farmlands and the rugged mountain terrain along the river’s path make any challenges well worth the effort.
Several parks offer excellent walking/jogging paths. I especially like the one that crosses underneath one of the main roads in Boone and offers several miles of paved paths.
The other park area I love is in the small village of Valley Crucis. Tucked back off the road, this lovely park is frequented mainly by full-time residents.. Several miles from Boone, it is a secluded area with fields for baseball and soccer. The main path is a giant oval around the greens and borders along a stream in the back. From the waterhole, which is concealed behind a glade of trees, joyful shouts of swimmers are just slightly louder than the water that cascades over the rocky bed.
In front of the Valley Crucis park is the famous Mast General Store, an old, wooden structure that has withstood the trials of time. Stepping inside is a journey into history. Original post office boxes fill one corner. But the major attraction to this quaint building are the barrels and barrels of candy, which take the candy lover into a bygone era. Here I purchase Mary Janes, root beer barrels, candy buttons, and jawbreakers.
While I retreat to the high country to enjoy its serenity, I also enjoy dining in the many restaurants in both Boone and neighboring Blowing Rock, where unique cuisine is served in small, local restaurants. And both small towns provide hours of shopping for both tourists and antique collectors.
Although I have seen the outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, many times, I still enjoy the evening performances in the outdoor amphitheater. The rustic setting adds to the ambiance of the play, which takes place during the days of the American Revolution. Before and after the performance, attendees are free to roam the grounds, where a small 1700s village has been reconstructed and demonstrations of pioneer cooking and crafts are presented.
I don’t consider a trip to the mountains complete until I’ve walked across the swinging bridge atop Grandfather Mountain. This state park includes a small zoo and a museum of North Carolina flora and wildlife. Hiking trails cut through the mountain and border the steep road that ribbons its way up the steep hill. I could easily spend the better part of a day with the old grandfather, whose name comes from the silhouette of an old man’s face that the Almighty carved into the hills.
For those who need an amusement park, Tweetsie Railroad offers rides and shows. The main attraction, of course, is the railroad ride itself.
For those who love winter sports, the ski slope at Beech Mountain will not disappoint.
I anticipate my next retreat into the High country with absolutely no regrets. The mountains belong to me and I to them!
About the Author: Swanee Ballman is a resident of Georgia but who calls the East Coast of the U.S. home. She has written and published eight novels and is working on her 4th screenplay. She is a former high school English teacher who turned author when the writing bug bit her.
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