Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Saturday: Blowing Rock, Sim's Pond, and What Did Tennessee?

After all the trouble we had getting our fire going, we had an equally hard time putting it out. After we'd read until we could read no more, we doused the charcoal with three pitchers of water (which we only did as a last resort because, really, dousing fires with water makes it difficult for the next fire to start in the pit if it doesn't get a chance to adequately dry out) and when we couldn't see any smoldering or red coals we went to bed.

I was surprised when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to look out the tent and see flames in our fire pit! Benjamin was sleeping on top of me and I didn't want to move him but I couldn't wake Andrew up either so I just kind of drifted in and out of dreamland while Smokey the Bear alternatively laughed at us for not being able to start a fire and then nagged us about putting our fire out. All was still well when we woke up in the morning and Rachel had fun seeing how bright the flames got when she threw various things into the fire (leaves, paper plates, sticks). We managed to get it completely out (for real this time) before we left for the day.

We went first to The Blowing Rock, which claims to be North Carolina's "oldest tourist attraction...since 1933." Like, before 1933 tourism in North Carolina didn't exist? I'm not exactly sure what they mean. But least we got there during the 80th anniversary year (we're good at hitting even dates with our visits) of the site's exploitation opening.

According to the pamphlet we received, "The Blowing Rock is an immense cliff 4000 feet above seal level, overhanging Johns River Gorge 3000 feet below," so its topographic prominence is pretty impressive. We also learned that "the rocky walls of the gorge form a flume through which the northwest wind sweeps with such force that it returns light objects," such as leafs or snow (but not small pebbles or anything like that). In fact, there's a Ripley's "Believe-It-Or-Not" cartoon about The Blowing Rock because it's "the only place in the world where snow falls upside down."

According to legend, however, this phenomenon was not caused by millions of years of pressure/erosion. Instead, a Chickasaw cheiftan brought his lovely daughter up to The Blowing Rock to keep her from being courted by unsavoury suitors. While she was sitting atop the cliff one day she saw a "Cherokee brave wandering in the wilderness far below and playfully shot an arrow in his direction." This young man recognized cupid's the maiden's arrow as flirtation and found his way up to "her wigwam, courted her with songs of his land and they became lovers, wandering the pathless woodlands and along the crystal streams."

"One day a strange reddening of the sky brought the brave and the maiden to The Blowing Rock. To him it was a sign of trouble commanding his return to his tribe in the plains." The maiden begged him not to leave her, but he felt it was his duty to go. Torn with this conflict, the brave leaped from the cliff, causing that fair maiden much distress. I mean, it is a 3000 foot cliff.

The maiden prayed daily to the Great Spirit until one evening the sky went red once again and "a gust of wind blew her lover back onto [the cliff] and into her arms. From that day a perpetual wind has blown up onto The [Blowing] Rock from the valley below" (quotes from the pamphlet...which is the same information on the website, go figure).

The girls enjoyed that story, but they always enjoy a good story so that's to be expected. Besides, they know that they have an itty-bitty bit of Cherokee blood coursing through their veins (even if they don't look it). Rachel was also excited that she knew why the metal sign had turned green (because we discussed it at the museum at Grandfather Mountain (because she wanted to know why rocks were certain colours and we just happened upon a chart detailing the chemical compounds found in (and giving colour to) different rocks found in the area))).

We had fun climbing on The Blowing Rock. Cue...a million picures:

At the lookout path below The Blowing Rock we had even more fun climbing on the rocks:

Even Benjamin joined in the fun. He had a blast at this place. The paths were completely fenced in and full of pebbles so I could let him run free without having to worry too much about him plummeting to his death and he was so distracted by all the rocks laying around that he wasn't interested in running off cliffs, anyway.

I love his little face so much!

Eventually we got the bright idea to toss leaves off the cliff and they indeed blew right back into our faces. We spent several minutes tossing (and retossing) leaves over the cliff.

Even Benjamin tried to do some tossing, though he wasn't quite tall enough to make anything fly.

I thought his fascination with this gate was funny. The girls both knew the signs meant to stay away but he was just drawn to it for some reason (I think he was shoving leaves and pebbles through the chain link).

Here is Benjamin, finally on top of a rock (he was trying to climb after the girls all morning but needed a little boost).

We had fun just hanging around the nice gneiss rocks. Get it? I'm so funny.

They had an observation deck built out over the cliff and it was pretty cool up there, though I do wonder if their railings were to code. I didn't stay up there for long because Benjamin wanted to get down to do some more exploring but there is no way those railings were close enough together! He could have slipped right through!

"Mom! You have to come see this!"

I don't know why Rachel looks so grumpy in this picture; she was quite cheerful that day.

I took Benjamin and Miriam down to a lower observation deck that seemed much safer (if you're wondering if all I do is worry about my children being blown off cliffs the answer is yes; I worry about that and so much more).

We learned that when tree branches favour growing on one side of the tree (due to prevailing wind patterns) it's called "bannering." We saw a lot of bannering both at Grandfather Mountain and The Blowing Rock.

This picture doesn't show any bannering...I just thought it was pretty.

Benjamin left dusty handprints (and shoe prints) all over my pants.

I have to admit that sometimes I feel a little frumpy. For example when we stopped (later in the day) at Sim's pond and another little family stopped and this young mother (who was probably about my age) stepped out of the car wearing cute jeans, a frilly top, a matching necklace, and had her hair nicely curled to show her little baby the colourful leaves...and I was wearing a snot-covered shirt and had grubby baby prints all over me and was barely fixing the girls' hair for the first time since Thursday morning because we'd just found the hairbrush (finally—I thought I forgot it at home or something!) but still hadn't gotten around to brushing my hair.

And then I remembered that I'm a mom to three. And we're camping. 

"I have put-together days sometimes, right?" I asked Andrew.

"You're always beautiful," he assured me.

Sometimes I believe him when he tells me that.

And sometimes...I don't.

But really I know that beauty is more than managing to curl your hair (or even remember a hairbrush) so I know he's telling me the truth when he tells me I'm always beautiful because I rarely manage to curl my hair (and sometimes I even forget the hairbrush (or at least where I packed it)). 

Anyway, Miriam sat on this bench and Andrew told her to do a "pretty ballet pose."

Evidently it's been far too long since we've been to ballet.

With The Blowing Rock behind us, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of more fun things to discover.

On our way to Cone Manor, a mansion turned museum that Andrew insisted was state-run (but which I was pretty sure would be federally run, mostly because of the National Parks Service signs we kept seeing posted on the side of the road) I successfully navigated us to Trout Lake, which is to say that I got us completely lost. I think we may have actually passed Cone Manor on our way to Trout Lake and saw that it was closed (but still hopping with tourists) and so passed that on our way to Price Park and that's when we got lost. I don't know. I'm not very good with directions and things.

But we got out at Trout Lake and hiked down to the lake to see if we could find any picnic area. We didn't, but it was still a lovely hike.

Benjamin smiled at me the entire way.

At least until Miriam and I fell too far behind everyone else...

We got back in the car and I successfully got us lost again but that was okay because the middle of nowhere is very pretty at lunchtime when you know you're only three or four minutes and one U-turn away from the main road.

On our way (for real) to Price Park, we passed Sim's Pond, which looked pretty enough, but we kept going.

Price Park was, however, closed due to the government shutdown, though it was still getting plenty of traffic.

We felt funny about going into the park, even though, as our friend Jenny (who is currently backpacking through a national forest in spite of the shutdown) said, "You can't close nature!" so we headed back to Sim's Pond for a picnic. It turned out lovely.

We fixed up some peanut butter sandwiches and bagels with cream cheese and headed down to enjoy the pond. It was beyond beautiful.

Sim's Pond, it turns out, was a rather popular "destination" on Saturday afternoon, though technically it's only an overlook (with a two-mile trail). I think people were just looking for something—anything—to do along the Blue Ridge Parkway and this was something. That's why we stopped. It turned out to be a lovely something.

Most people explored a little manmade waterway by the bridge; we found a good rock-throwing spot by the pond and made ourselves right at home.

We did a little bit of the hike but we didn't know how long the hike was (or whether it was even a loop) so we turned back before too long. The trail was flanked by wild magnolia and lots of poison ivy.

We had to stop at the pond one last time to do a little more rock throwing before continuing.

Miriam made some leaf boats and sent little rocks on a long and perilous journey across the pond.

We explored around the waterway a little before we left; you can see it was far more popular than the actual trail but we managed a few minutes of solitude.

We decided that since everything along the Blue Ridge Parkway seemed to be nationally run (and even if we did decide to climb over the fence we'd have to park on the side of the road and walk along it forever to get there...just to look at the outside of the museum) that we'd do something else. But what?

One of our family goals this year was to have two out-of-state adventures. We've only left the state once, however, so we decided that since we were so close to the border, we'd head over to Tennessee. Both Miriam and Benjamin were sleeping when we hit the border but both woke up when we stopped to take a picture by the sign. Benjamin was like, "What? Whoa. What? We're getting out of the car? Take me with you!" Miriam groaned and said, "I just wanna go back to sleep!"

So Miriam stayed in the car (and went back to sleep) while everyone else piled out to have their picture taken by Tennessee.

We asked the Ginny Potter System (our GPS) to take us to a little campground by Watauga Lake and before we knew it we'd left highway 321 and were cruising along tiny backroads into the Middle-of-Nowhere, Tennessee.

We still seemed to be going the right direction for a while but then all of a sudden our GPS "dot" jumped off into the middle of nowhere on the screen and we started to get a bit worried. Our GPS isn't quite sure what to do in the backroads of Appalachia. We retraced our steps the best we could (we me in the role of navigator it was kind of hit and miss).

I suppose we would have felt braver being lost out in the backwoods had time and elements not been against us. Nighttime was soon approaching and it was beginning to rain and the roads were unlighted and full of surprising twists and turns. Not only that, but the efforts that have been made to dispel the stereotypical idea of these hills being filled with moonshining crazies have only been that: efforts.

I could see us breaking down somewhere along the road and walking to find help at a country house only to enter some Murder, He Says kind of (humorous) horror show (because that show technically takes place in the Ozarks (not the Appalachians) and was filmed in Hollywood (not on location), I could totally see it taking place right wherever it was we were driving). I have expected the Fleagle brothers to stumble out of a dilapidated house at any minute, kidnap us, and lock us in a cellar somewhere.

I'm sure the people who live in this area are, in reality, very kind and normal. I'm also very glad that we were able to find our way back to familiar territory before it got dark, even if we were a little disappointed that we didn't ever "reach" our destination.

Rachel found the drive fascinating and (after singing "What did Delaware?" a billion times) kept pretending that we'd gone back in time.

"How far back do you think we've gone? Maybe we went all the way back to The Great Depression!" she conjectured. She's been reading the Kit books from the American Girl Doll series (Kit is a girl from the 1930s).

Sometimes it really looked like we had stumbled upon The Great Depression, but that's because the Appalachian region has been notoriously poor for many generations. The Great Depression hit them hard and then with the decline in employment due to machinery taking over the livelihood of many locals (coal mining and logging were big employers before much of that work was mechanized) and "although there have been drastic improvements in the region's economic conditions since" the Appalachian Regional Commission was founded (in the 1960s), "the ARC still listed 82 counties as 'distressed' in 2010." Fortunately, none of those counties are in North Carolina and only a few are in Tennessee (though, unfortunately, nearly half of them are in Kentucky).

Andrew told Rachel about The Great Recession and told me about some research one of his cohorts at school is doing on school districts in North Carolina, who has found that the No Child Left Behind Act has negatively impacted rural Appalachian schools, many of which are facing decreased support due to inability to perform up to the standards given them, which in turn has caused them to perform less well.

It's a poverty-stricken area, that's for sure. Many parts seemed almost ghost-towny and the parts that were inhabited didn't look much more inviting.

Back in Boone we fulfilled Miriam's deepest desire by dining in the second storey of the local Wendy's. She thought that was just so cool! Obviously she has no recollection of Egypt, where it's not uncommon for a restaurants to be split into multiple floors, with the upper floor giving you a view of the pyramids or ancient temples (or, for that matter to have a restaurant on the bottom floor and a hospital on the second floor (she was born right above a McDonald's)).

There are two pictures here because of Rachel's face in the first picture and Miriam's face in the second picture:

And there are two pictures of Miriam here ("as high as this sign!") because of her face in the first picture and her face in the second picture:

There must have been a football game (or something) that day because we saw a ton of people decked out in school colours, tailgating, and walking toward campus. Even Wendy's was getting into the school spirit, cheering, "GO APPSTATE!" The first time I saw the sign I thought it said, "GO APOSTATE!" I had to do a double-take because I couldn't figure out why that would be a pertinent thing to have Wendy's be declaring.

Once back at the campsite we let the kids play around at the playground for a while before herding them to the showers. Benjamin and Miriam enjoyed this little house—it was so tiny that even Benjamin had to duck to get through the doorway. Rachel preferred to play on the roof of it.

And that was Saturday.


  1. She saw what Arkansas, boy, she saw what Arkansas, boy...

  2. So many wonderful pictures and stories! Ha...I love those from your TN adventure! This summer when Andrew I went from Valle Crucis to Damascus, Virginia, the GPS took us through Tennessee, and we really enjoyed the views. It was a lot more highway-y than what you've pictured, and I saw no Confederate flags. :)

    I'm happy your girls got to eat in the two-story Wendy's!

    Although we've been to Blowing Rock a few times (and walked their downtown area - nice park across from the ice cream shop), I've never been to THE Blowing Rock so that was interesting to me. I enjoyed reading the history and seeing the pictures and reading your commentary, of course.

    Near the barricaded picnic spot is a nice hike you may like in the future as you can throw rocks in the water in many places, and if you go far enough see Hebron falls. We met an English guy there a few weeks back, and a young girl adopted us on the hike back as her family was too slow (so I have good memories of it.)

    Sim's Pond looks great!

    Speaking of looking, I smiled when I read about the lady with curled hair. Really? Along the parkway! Ha!

    I'm enjoying your vacation! :)

  3. Nancy,
    I'm one of the Fleagle brothers. Not one of those you referenced in this post, I think, but that's my name and I do have a brother, who stumbled on this and sent me the link. We've always known about the bank robbers Ralph and Jake Fleagle, distant relations we wish we hadn't found in our family tree so to speak. But I'm curious where YOU heard of them, and I'm amazed that someone would reference them as an example of the people you'd be least eager to see stepping out of a house when you knock on a door after an automotive breakdown. It doesn't seem likely, for example, that anyone would really know whom you were talking about, unless your audience was octogenarians from Kansas. Was the Fleagle Gang still talked about where you grew up? - M. Fleagle

    1. Interesting—I didn't know that there were actual Fleagle brothers who were bank robbers. My Fleagle brothers come from an old film, 'Murder, He Says,' with twin thug-brothers, Bert and Mert. It's also an old film (1945) that not many people from my generation are likely to be familiar with but it's a family favourite and since most of my regular readers are family members I didn't think it was too dated of a reference.

      If you haven't watched the movie, I highly recommend it. Now I'm wondering if the Fleagle family in the movie was based on the actual Fleagles (loosely, if at all). There's a Bonnie Fleagle in the movie as well--we've wondered before if the name Bonnie wasn't borrowed from Bonnie and Clyde (more famous robbers from the early 1900s).

      And don't worry about finding bank robbers in your history. Last year we found out we're related to Wild Bill Longly--a deadly gunfighter. :)