Monday, October 09, 2006

The super-colossal vacation mega-recap.

3500 words about not much.....Now you can accompany me on vacation! Yay!!


Day 1 - 30 September - vacation BEGINS!

Leave home around 10. Get to rental place by 2:50, pick up keys, head to house - it’s on a great big hill! Incredibly good view from the front porch, and the house has all the modern conveniences, including a dishwasher, 3 teevees, wifi internet, etc etc. By 4:30 we’re on the front porch taking photos of the mountains and the cows across the street and sipping cocktails. Dinner, then movies, then bed.

Day 2 - 01 Oct

Up at about 8, Ponce takes some photos of the early sun on the fields and coming through and clouds (he IS a photographer, after all, and the opportunity is too good NOT to take advantage of). After listing out the stuff there is to do and checking the weather channel for the forecast, we decide to head way south to the Altapass Orchard, because I’ve got a jones to go pick apples. We take the Blue Ridge Parkway south, stopping at numerous overlooks to get a geek at the views and take photos. The day turns from partly cloudy to absolutely sunny and gorgeous. On the way we’re diverted off the parkway due to a closure, stop at a local shop for coffee and fruit ciders, and meander back to the parkway. We pass over the Linville Viaduct (like being suspended over the valley!) and stop at the visitor’s center to find out where Grandfather Mountain is. On learning that the viaduct is ON Grandfather Mountain (woot! Score!), we retrace our path and do another turn on the viaduct to get a good look while ignoring the plunge of death that is entirely possible if one should happen to go a touch too fast through the S-curves of the viaduct. More photos. And some more. We travel then to Linville Falls and hike into take a look a what’s there - the first stop is about 0.4 miles one way, and by the return trip Thing 2 had had enough of walking and lugging photo equipment (LOTS of photo equipment - see earlier comment about the pro photog in the family), so while and Ponce ans Thing 1 took a trip up to the top overlook, Thing 2 and I hang out on a bench and talk about Zatoffian things (a note:Zatoff is an alien world from which our family came many years ago. Thing 2’s shadow and reflection still attend school there, and they tell him of many and wondrous things that happen there). At last we head down the road to our final destination - Altapass Orchard, a 100-year-old orchard right on the side of the mountain. The promise of lunch (at 2!) took us to the lunch wagon and some hawt dogs, chili, brats, and yellowjackets (GD effing yellowjackets, I was going to say). After a nosh and a quick study of the people clogging to the live music being offered, we bought empty bags and ambled around the orchard, tasting and picking and avoiding more bees. After picking we head out in the car using must have once been “the road” before the parkway came to be, and then decided to opt out of a return trip on the parkway and head down 226 to Little Switzerland instead. It becomes abundantly clear to me very early on that Route 226A might actually want to kill me, with switchbacks and yawning chasms and sudden turns and no respect for the vertigo of the person in the passenger’s seat with a CLEAR-with-a-capital-K view of the sudden and horrific death that awaits should, say, brakes fail or the driver lose consciousness or the accelerator get stuck or the driver go suddenly psycho killer. This road, this horrible horrible killer road about drives me insane as I fear for my life, but Ponce is having a ball doing the driving. He actually wants to stop at an inn that looks like it’s got one foot on solid ground and three other feet about to jump off the side of the mountain. I have to voice my opinion on this matter in a MOST strenuous and fear-charged manner, and I’m sure much to his disappointment we continue on down the road of death.....for what seems like far far too long to be sustained by my wildly beathing heart. However, once we reach route 221 things start to perk right along, until we get to the part where someone has had an accident and we need to double back to route 105 because apparently that “someone” was having to be extricated from their vehicle, thus bringing the “road of doom” scenenario full circle in my fear-addled brain. We then utilize truck 221, which is marginally less twisty than 226A was, but only just. By this time I’m getting used to all the winding and the dangerous and the sheer dropoffs, and can look around me without fearing for my life. Amazing what the brain can do when faced with such danger!. After all, I was the one who wanted a mountain vacation and I therefore needed to start enjoying myself before I began to doubt my own sanity. We go through some very pretty areas on Shull’s Mill Road, and find our way back to Blowing Rock and the Food Lion for dinner stuff. Burgers and salad for dinner and it’s off to bed. I have officially had enough.

Day 3 - 02 Oct

Coffee and breakfast before heading out to Boone to get a gas cannister at Lowe’s and some videos and Playstation games, because, what’s a week in the moutains without movies and Playstation, right? Come back to the house, pack up a snack bag, drop off the gas and vids, and it’s off to Grandfather Mountain as the big adventure of the day. We take 221 south all the way down, a 19-mile trip that takes an hour, and which I suspect was more like 30 miles than 19 but who’s counting when you actually arrive alive after conquering yet ANOTHER stretch of the twist and climb, right? Once at the mountain (at about 1), we pay the hefty fee (seriously, like $40!) and start our climb up the mountain in our little car, at which point we decide that there are reasons for 8-cylinder 4-WD vehicles to exist, and this road is one of them. Our little rice-burner is doing hard duty up the switchbacks, and yet pulls us up in fair fashion. We make a stop at the nature center for lunch and a look around. The building is impressive, high ceilings and a cook-to-order eatery (with pagers to tell you when your food is ready! How Mountain-y!) and a gift shop and nature museum with samples of gems and minerals and birds and mushrooms. We take some time to also visit the animal habitats near the nature center. There are bald eagles, goldern eagles, river otter, cougars, bears that LOVE to be fed (50 cents a cup for bear food!), and bear cubs that apparently like to hide. The habitats are perched on the side of the mountain, and are pretty impressive, particularly the bear enclosure. Back into the car, and we make our way up the mountain to the tippity top, a climb along numerous switchbacks that are almost as scary as the infamous Route 226A. It’s quite a trip up, and the road does NOT have generous shoulders. Those with concerns for their safety need not apply. Out of the car, we hoof it a few paces to “the mile-high bridge,” a steel bridge suspended between peaks of the mountain that is indeed a mile above sea level (though only a few hundred feet above the shoulders of the mountain, which is really and honestly just about enough to scare the living CRAP out of any sane person) and does happen to maybe shake a little when you walk along it. Thing 2, the dear boy, is not a huge fan of this bridge or the height, while Thing 1 is practically bouncing for joy. After making the trip out to the other end, we take a break for photos, and then head back, pausing for more photos, because a feat of daring such as this deserves to be memorialized, particularly because it’s not likely to be repeated in this lifetime, at least by me. The boys and I take some time to browse the gift shop while Ponce takes a walk out the bridge path for more pictures, and at about 3:15 we’re done with the mountain and start to head back. We pause at an overlook to use one of those big silver viewy thingies and the kids get a good gander at what’s around them. The sumac are heavy with berries, which makes a wonderful backdrop for the starkness of the mountain. The parkway is a quick trip back to the detour to 221 (apparently a new bridge is being built, presumably because the old one became too much of a deathtrap or something), where we stop to buy sourwood honey from a roadside stand. One more quick trip to the Blowing Rock Food Lion for some dinner stuff (ribs tonight!), and it’s home by 4:30 to figure out how to run the grill, do a load of laundry, play PS2 games, and relax. Thing 2 read us a spooky story, then I did, and we all watched “Health Inspector” after a great rib dinner. Because, yes, we took care to make our entertainment choices mimic the serene and beautiful surroundings. Not.

Day 4 -

Today we’re determined not to travel too far afield! Thing 2 and I are up first and enjoy a gorgeous sunrise (it comes up late here - 7:20 or so). He tries some sourwood honey on canteloupe and declares it good. Once Thing 1 is roused at 9 and fed we’re out the door to go to Moses Cone State park, which is only a couple of miles away from our rental house. The mansion is huge, with a spectacular view of a large lake and far hills. The whole first floor is taken up by local craftpeople selling their things - some really cool stuff that’ll set you back a cool several dozen/hundred dollars! While there are miles of carriage and riding trails at the park, anything of interest is several miles by foot, and so we decide to go to Price Park, a few miles south, to enjoy the up-close fishing lake and hiking. While Ponce fishes, the kids and I take a hike around the lake, some 2.7 miles though autumn woods in warm temps and a nice cool breeze. The kids soon lose themselves in a long converstaion about Zatoffian monsters and their special powers and which of the element-bending skills each of us family members has and which monsters can be captured by releasing clouds of mosquitoes, etc. etc. It was an amazing 2 hours or so listening to them go on and on. By the time we return it’s after noon, and so we decide to go into Blowing Rock for lunch and a gander around. Little did we know that finding parking was going to be such a major issue! Even in this off-peak season there are still a number of touristas, many of whom are very elderly ladies with little to no regard for traffic-crossing rules or vehicular traffic in general, and indeed several of them seemed to have a distinct death wish! Found a spot way down on Sunset, and hoofed it up to the Mellow Mushroom for some pizza. After being abandoned in a booth for 5 minutes or more with no offer to take a drink or order or even to give us menus, we scooted out of there in search for something else. Wound up at the Speckled Trout, and, while the food wasn’t spectacular at least the service was attentive and we were fed. Plus, the beers were cold, which is a good thing! We spent some time buying books at the library sale, then hung out at the town park while the kids played. By about 3:15, after visiting the dulcimer store and the coffee shop we were on our way back to the house with a quick stop at the Food Lion for more dinner fixins. We had burgers for dinner Mmmm, burgers!) and then hung out and the kids played playstation. I, being the ultimate party monstress, went to bed at about 9:30, not long after the kiddies - the vacation letdown hits!

Day 5? Yup - day 5.

Ah - sunrise - a little cloudy and overcast, but by 7:30 the sun is breaking through the overcast and the bright sun blasts in through the front windows. A little more color is on the mountains today. After a little online research we decide to go to Grandfather gem mines and trout farm (or, maybe, trout farm and gem mine?), which is not too far out of Boone. By 10:45 or so we’re at the troutfarmgemmine/ gemminetroutfarm, a small operation on the side of route 105. Gem mining first - 2 $15 buckets of stones that can be sluiced and picked over, and which turns out to be quite a lot of stones! Some huge finds, some small glints of color in the bottom of the screens, some not quite gems so we keep them in the baggies for now. Kevin from the gem shop is generous with his cold beer (yay Kevin!), and with his impressions of what we’ve found. Emeralds and amethysts and calcite and tourmaline and many many others, including garnets and sapphires and pyrite, all tantalizing and possibly valuable! After a picnic lunch in the car, fishing is next, with worms and corn and poles and net from the trout farm stock, along with bucket and towel! A complete kit, and all we need to do is pay $4.25 per pound for whatever we catch. They do all the clean up, sweet! Ponce catches a big fish on a lure with his tackle, and Thing 1 soon follows suit with a smaller fish caught with a worm. I’m playing net woman and photographer all at once on this warm autumn day at the gem mine/trout farm behind the mini stor-it off Route 105, and am perfectly happy in this role and with this day. Thing 2 and I are next to catch our fish; I catch a nice-sized fish (side, hooked, but whatever) while Thing 2 simultaneously hooks a lovely one on a worm. Beautiful fish, and once we return our tackle and bait, the young guy in the filetting shed (who is shirtless, and thank you God very much for that) has started to clean and skin them for 50 cents a fish. Again, sweet!! All in all, once we’re done with gems and fishing it’s been 4 hours of pretty darn good fun. So, we returned to the house after purchasing makings for dinner, and I took a nap while the boys all read on the front porch. While the boys watched “Star Wars 2” Ponce and I talked on the porch watching the sun go down shining on the newly-bright hills to the east as a giant moon rose above the horizon. A very pretty place indeed, and just the place to eat fresh-caught trout while counting our gems.

Day 6

For sure the moutains have more color now that they did when we first arrived. Also, the moon is now almost full - tomorrow maybe! Today was a “nothing” day, in which I read almost an entire novel (“Lost Nation” by Jeffrey Lent - a recommended selection), no trips out were made by me except to the dump (which was closed). Ponce and Thing 2 went to town for a while to poke around and people-watch while Thing 1 and I stayed here and were total wastes of space. The boys played Monopoly in the late afternoon, and after dinner we watched “Van Helsing” as an exciting finish to an ordinary day.

Day something - Friday

A lazy start to this last full day of vacation, with only minimal plans. We only got up at about 8:30, which is pretty late when the sun’s coming right in through the front windows and bouncing all over the house. We pick and choose for breakfast, trying to finish up what we have in the fridge and pantry so we don’t have to lug a bunch of stuff home. The cabin feels so much like home that I try to do a quick redesign of our terrible kitchen at our real home, using the open feel and eat-in feature of this kitchen as an example. If only we had the view! We putter around for a couple of hours, watching teevee or reading or playing GameCube. Ponce briefly brings up leaving early, because it didn’t look like the weather was going to be that great, but I think my expression told all the tale the needed to be told. :> So, we decide that a trip to Mystery Hill will fulfill the entire list of touristy things we wanted to do. Well, we bypassed the place and decided to stop in at the toy store up the road first. Then because it seemed like the thing to do, we decided to do Mystery Hill on the way back from a trip out to Valle Crucis to see the Mast General store. Too bad that in Boone there was traffic of epic proportion, making us think that our trip was ill-fated! However, once free of Boone and whatever happenings were bringing in people by the thousands, we made it out to Valle Crucis though gorgeous little valleys tucked up under the shoulder of the hills. When the sun breaks through and illuminates the floor of a broad green valley floor while the brilliant trees shine with their own colors on the slopes all around, there’s almost no prettier sight. At the Mast Geenral Store (“at the same location since 1883, and boy howdy don’t the tilt of the floors just SHOW it!”), potato guns were purchased for each child, and we poked around for a bit, examining the old timey wares and the new-timey outerwear and shoes. Ponce took some photos of a herd of horses in the widest part of the Valle Crucis valley, and then we were off down the road again, following south 194 to Broadcreek (?) to 105 to Shull’s Mill to 221 to Blowing Rock - a safe trip down reasonably unbusy roads. One there we decided that the original point of this trip, Mystery Hill (remember?), was not going to be on the the menu for the day due to lack of time. We deferred it to Saturday, stopped at the Food Lion for dinner and headed home to shoot potato pellets at the trees and steel back in for one last night in the mountains. After dinner we wound up watching “The Three Amigos” as a family fun night thing, which of course the boys loved loved loved. Especially the unfortunate 3 Amigos “sah-loot” of arm cross, arm cross, head turn, pelvic THRUST accompanied by a guttural “huh!” Such wonderful memories we’re building, brings a tear to my eye, it does.

Day the last - Oct 6th, maybe?

Yep, the last day. Normally I wouldn’t write anything of the last day because it’s usually only packing and packing and grumbling about vacation being over, but in this case we did some vacation-y things that need to be captured if only for their sheer cheesiness. After the packing and the last big breakfast and the dishwasher running and the clothes washing and the dump visiting and the key dropping off of this morning, at the reasonable hour of 10:30 a.m. we were at the fabulous and never-to-be-duplicated “Mystery Hill” in gorgeous Blowing Rock, right off of Route 321, up the street from the Riverside Rental Cabins, and next door to the Appalachian Heritage Museum. Yes, THAT Mystery Hill! Sweet heavenly days, you know when you enter THROUGH the gift shop that it’s going to be something very special indeed. Something that might even require a purchase of the proffered dream catchers or pop guns or authentic plastic Indian artifacts to endure! Who knows what terrible secrets lie within Mystery Hill? For the low low price of $8 for adults and $6 for children, we found out......and oooooh, spooky optical illusions! Spooky! Eeek! Watch out as the Mystery platform makes you look larger at one end than at the other if you stand in just the right spot to observe the creepy phenomenon! Ooooh, scary animatronic feet of the “Revenooer” who had the misfortune to die right on the entryway to the Mystery House! Ooooh, spine-tingling the weirdo freaky daggone Mystery House itself, that upon entering makes you lose all sense of balance and equilibirum! Mind blowing! Seriously, though, I don’t care HOW much I paid to get in, the Mystery House was well worth the price of admission. It was fine fine fun. It looks like you’re standing at something like a 45 degree angle to the ground, and water apparently runs uphill and balls roll up an incline and if you hold a broom by 2 fingers from the very tip it will swing OUT from you, and walking up hill is a challenge and manohman the wee bit of your brain responsible for balance and making sure all is right with the world are definitely NOT all right with the world and those of us with maybe motion sickness issues have a tougher time with the adjustment than others but hooBOY what a hoot. What a hoot, a hoot, a hoot!. The rest of Mystery Hill? Meh. Optical illusions we’ve seen before, and the Incrdible Bubble Room af Amazement, in which you can be encased in a GIANT bubble if the bubble is made just.exactly.right. Yeah, meh. I’d go back to the Mystery House of equilibrial befuddlement any time. After that it was a quick split out of Boone to home, which, depsite a McD’s stop was made in under 4 hours. And now, home. Also good; it’s just too bad there aren’t mountains out the windows.

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