Banner’s Elk: Ever wonder how the town of Banner Elk got its name?

The Banner House Museum is a charming spot. Hundreds of visitors to this idyllic mountain town pass by and never give it a second look.  But, they should.

Built in 1865, by Samuel Henry Banner the home stayed in the Banner family for about 100 years. Once purchased by the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, the home was restored to its original condition and today contains many family heirlooms, period furnishings and curated exhibits explaining the local area, founders, and history. It opened as a museum in 2007. 

Samuel Banner was a descendant of the first Banners to settle in the area. The first Banner was 40-year-old Martin Banner who settled in the area in 1848, after passing through in 1830. Banner brothers Lewis, Anthony, Edward, and John soon joined him in the valley at the headwaters of the Elk River. They pooled their talents of wood working, tanning, metal working and farming and a thriving community was born. 

The spot Samuel selected for his homestead on the Elk River is now known as the Mill Pond, just off Highway 184. The area was known as Banner’s Ford or Banner’s Elk and when the town was incorporated in 1911, was shortened to the Banner Elk name we know today.

The museum also features exhibits on other local pioneer families, along with interesting information about the area.

One of the most interesting things I learned during the tour, was a bit of the area’s complicated history during the Civil War. Although nearby Boone was sympathetic to the Confederacy, most Banners were Unionists, with sons fighting in the war and family members hiding and transporting escaped Union prisoners.

 

Plan a Visit:

For a modest $5 contribution to the Foundation, you can experience a tour given by one of the volunteer docents at the Museum.  Mid-June through early-October hours are generally 11-3 Wednesday – Saturday, but call and verify they are open and giving tours. Check online for their event calendar.

Banner House Museum     7990 Hickory Nut Gap Road, just off NC 184   

828.898.3634       http://www.BannerHouseMuseum.org

 

The ‘Ole Swim’n Hole

A fearless diver hits the water from a high perch.

For years I’d heard mention of a nearby spot where kids loved to swim and dive – this is it.  Locally known as Trash Can Falls, it’s officially Laurel Creek Falls. The falls aren’t the star of the show here, it’s the hidden setting and opportunity to jump and play.  We just enjoyed watching.

Students from nearby Appalachian State University mingle with local kids to scramble around the boulders and test the waters with jumps ranging from heights of 10-30 feet.  The unmarked setting gives the spot a hidden waterhole atmosphere and you can just imagine Huck Finn stopping off for a swim. The river is a beautiful spot and we thought one smart couple had a great idea to hang their hammock between the trees along the shady bank.

Carefully navigating the handy metal grate.

Someone, likely unofficial, has placed a metal grate between the rocks to facilitate movement over a chasm.

One local student told me it was called Trash Can Falls because of its cylindrical shape, but further research explains that in years past a former recycle/dumpster site (called a “Convenience Center” in North Carolina), used to be the landmark for the trailhead. Today it’s hard to find.

Directions:

From Boone, NC, head towards Tennessee on Hwy 421 and hang a left on Highway 321. After a few miles, just past a concrete bridge, you will see a small gravel parking area on your right (a sign for Laurel Creek Road is on your left). Park here, cross the street and enter the woods. In just minutes you’re there.

Enjoying a natural shower.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

You can have a pet fish in your room at the Monaco; but maybe not if you bring your cat to this pet-friendly hotel.

Portland was nice – people friendly, a very walkable city.  Clearly, marijuana is very ingrained in the culture here, as there seem to be references everywhere. In places, it had a tiny bit of an Asheville vibe (but I like much Asheville better).

We loved our quirky hotel (the Kimpton Hotel Monaco is a re-purposed department store building built over 100 years ago). We even tried a beer flight to get in the Portland brewery spirit.

 

 

A must for me was a visit to Powell’s, the largest independent book store in the U.S.  Covering one block and three floors, at first glance it is overwhelming.  But the friendly staff and tips along the shelves made it a very comfortable experience. Tips on best sellers, special awards and staff favorites with detailed descriptions give the stacks an almost wine-shop ambiance.  I needed much more time. Powell’s is located in the Pearl District, and it is jam-packed with all sorts of restaurants, taverns, and micro-breweries.  While sampling local beers, we eavesdropped on a trivia contest being held on the patio below us and were very glad we were not competing, the music/”name a thing” category was a killer.  For my trivia buddies: I only knew one – Wild (as in “Wild Thing”).

We enjoyed walking on the beautiful Willamette River-front and downtown area.  What we didn’t enjoy was the number of homeless people who seemed to be living on the streets. Portland is known for many things, and one is the birthplace of the food truck craze, and it was fun to see the incredible array of food trucks scattered in clusters throughout town. Even the airport continues the laid-back vibe with live music to entertain, and a movie theater featuring short films by local film-makers (take note Miami).

In the lobby of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco.

A final word about our hotel. Every night from 5-6 they host a reception with local wine and some really excellent entertainment. We really enjoyed the musicians and singers during our two visits. The exceptional staff was also very pleasant and helpful. Combined with the ambiance and a few other special treats, it made the perfect place to stay.

Note: Although Powell’s is open till 11 PM, the Rare Book Room closes at 7 PM.

  

 

A Toast to Oregon

Anne Amie Vineyards.

 

 

It’s wine country time as we wind down and prep to head home. Oregon is famous for Pinot Noirs, one of our favorites, and we didn’t miss the chance to check out a few wineries.

Leaving the coast, we headed to the interior towards Eugene, driving along the beautiful Siuslaw River and then north towards the wine country and eventually, Portland.  We took off on one tangent* (in honor of our good friend Jim) to go through Corvallis, the home of Jim and the Oregon State Beavers. From there it was farmlands of golden, and occasionally russet, fields of grain, stacks of baled hay and the occasional flock of sheep.  We learned this area is the grass seed capital of the U.S., and we saw endless fields planted with rye, as well as some with radish and pea seeds.  Since I can only identify field crops of corn or tobacco you might wonder how I knew this . . . . well, there were a few small signs.

As we started seeing vineyards, we also passed groves of hazelnut trees, another huge crop in Oregon; they vie with turkey as the world’s leading producers.

A painting at Rex Hill really captures the look of the area.

The area surrounding the small towns of McMinnville, Dundee, Carlton, Yamhill and Newberg is home to hundreds of vineyards and wineries.  After studying brochures about dozens of wineries, we selected a couple to visit.  First stop, Anne Amie Vineyards.  A beautiful setting that turned out to be our favorite Pinot Noir of the day.  We also did tastings at Willakenzie Estate and Rex Hill before turning the car towards the imposing Mt. Hood and Portland.

* Only a local will know that, ironically, the town we turned off the I-5 to Corvallis, is Tangent.

Keep on Moving Down the Coast.

Last night the stars were brilliant.  It looked like the Big Dipper was being projected right in front of me.  Sadly, we had to move on from the stunning Whale Cove Inn today, but not before one more whale came by to say farewell, along with the harbor seals and bald eagle watching it all.  Fortunately, the gorgeous vistas didn’t end.

We headed south down Highway 101 to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and drove two miles up to an elevation of 800’ –  the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast.  We enjoyed the incredible views from the Whispering Spruce Trail and seeing the shelter built in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. During World War II, the site was used to watch for enemy submarines.  This park is under the control of the USDA’s Forest Service and rangers were on-hand to explain local wildlife, as well as information about invasive species growing in the area.

We moved on down the coast to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most photographed Oregon lighthouse. Dating from 1892, it is still working, flashing every 10 seconds, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The former keeper’s house is now a six-bedroom B&B run by a concessionaire of the U.S. Forest Service (we did not stay there, but it would be interesting).

Nearby are the Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned concession that takes you down an elevator 208’ inside a 125’ high cave that is a hangout for Stellar Sea Lions.  During the summer months, the Sea Lions also spend a lot of time sunning on the rock ledges just outside the cave. The bulls are loud, the pups are boisterous and they all smell.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area was a completely new coastal look; massive dunes, sea grasses and wind, lots of wind.  We walked up to the top of some of the dunes.  I cannot say it was fun.  Trudging up through ankle-deep sand, getting stuck with the sharp grasses, wind practically knocking me over . . . the folks on the ATVs have the right idea. That would be a much better way to see the dunes, and obviously a very popular activity in this area.

We are staying in Florence for the night.  Mostly this is a jumping off point for the dunes; there is a cute Old Town with restaurants and shops.  As long as we can keep eating seafood and there is ice cream, we are good.

 

Oregon Beaches as Far as You Can See

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

The thing that strikes me about these Oregon beaches is how vast they are.  One after another, they line the coast.  All with deep, soft sand and tides that have huge tidal variances of about eight feet. They also seem so pristine to me.  There are no shells or debris; just occasional driftwood. And even though this is the busy season, it’s relatively uncrowded. There is plenty of time to interact with the knowledgeable park rangers.

The small town of Depoe Bay bills itself as the world’s smallest navigable port, and it is an active fishing village and jumping off point for many whale-watching excursions. Normally, I’m a fanatic for the whale-watching trips, but since we’d recently been on one in California and have seen so many whales from our hotel, we opted for other activities. We enjoyed the views and chatting with a local fisherman.  The port may be small but it was certainly very active on this day.

“Mother-in-Law” fish.

We headed back down the coast to see a few more of those amazing beaches.  First stop was Cape Foulweather, named by Captain James Cook in 1778.  The whales were out and we spent some time just watching from the lookout house/ranger outpost at the summit.

At the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area we visited Yaquina Head Lighthouse, at 93’ the tallest lighthouse in Oregon, and spent some time hunting for sea life in the beautiful tidepools at Cobble Beach.

Creatures in the tidepool.

With seals lounging on nearby rocky outcroppings and bird colonies nearby, we found large numbers of anemone and urchins, as well as a few ochre sea stars and a bright yellow sea slug.

After another great seafood lunch, this time at Nye Beach in Newport.  Newport is a really nice town with several areas to walk around.  They have a lot of activities to offer including an aquarium and marine science center, but we chose to visit another lighthouse, this one the only wooden lighthouse in Oregon, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which was only in service from 1871-1874 and actually sits on top of the lightkeeper’s home.

Another observation – everyone we have met here is so nice.  Helpful, calm, happy to answer questions; it’s a pleasure to be in Oregon.

Newport.

Cape Foulweather.

 

Can’t Beat Luxury & Wildlife Combo in Depoe Bay

This has been a lovely day. We’ve journeyed down the coast to Depoe Bay, and are staying in an absolutely wonderful B&B on Whale Cove (Whale Cove Inn). In addition to more wonderful views, we had a terrific lunch in Pacific City at the Pelican Pub & Brewery in a perfect place by the dunes at Cape Kiwanda. Cars can be driven on the beach, and the dory fleet of small boats also land on the beach; there is a lot of traffic on this beach.  We did see a couple of beached dory boats but, regrettably, I did not get pictures.

I did, however, get a picture of the rock formation known as the “other Haystack Rock.”

We stopped in Otter Rock and saw the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  The tide was high and the wind was howling, it was beautiful.  Pictures do not do it justice; the golden rock formations are so solidly massive and in stark contrast to the swirling sea.

We continued on to (the west coast) Newport and its quaint Nye Beach and Historic Newport Bayfront on Yaquina Bay.  The Bayfront area is home to a busy working fishing fleet, in addition to a U.S. Coast Guard Station, NOAA’s Pacific research fleet and all sorts of shops, galleries, and restaurants. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner of Dungeness Crab soup and fresh tuna at Local Ocean as we watched the last boats come in for the day. This is known as the Dungeness Crab capital, and our timing was good since crab season ends in mid-August and they are already in short supply.

The icing on the cake was returning to our room and seeing a Gray Whale hanging out in the cove outside our window. As it rolled to feed, it kept showing one side of its tail fluke, known as “sharking.” Perfect.

Touring the Oregon Coast

Vista along Oswald West State Park.

We are following our friends’ recommendations while on the North Coast, so our first destination today was Ecola State Park for the dramatic views of Crescent Beach and a long-range view of Haystack Rock.

We enjoyed the lofty vistas in the Oswald West State Park and the cute Cape Meares Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is near Tillamook (of cheese fame) and off a road called the Three Capes Loop.  In reality, it’s a series of roads and, at least for now, is not a loop; so it was back out the way we came. 

The town of Cannon Beach is clearly the most upscale in the area and very nice.  The streets are lined with cute shops and restaurants.  The colorful flowers are all so vibrant against the gray wood buildings and seem much larger than normal – it’s like they are all on steroids. Why can’t I get my hydrangeas to grow in these amazing purple and fuchsia colors?

Indian Beach.

It’s no surprise, we’ve had some great seafood in the area. Wonderful salmon, clam chowder, and cheese bread to name a few. Tonight, after dinner, we bundled up, which in my case meant five layers of clothes, and headed to the beach.  Our hotel builds a great community bonfire nightly and brings out all the fixings for S’mores. It was cold, but the conversation was interesting, kids were cute, wood fire smelled great, the sound of the waves was relaxing, and I even got my husband to take his first (and only) bite of a S’more.

Did you spot the “Fake news” comment on the Shark sign?

View from Ecola State Park.

 

Haystack!

We have close friends who have a get-a-way place in Cannon Beach, and they have shared many wonderful stories about the Oregon Coast. I’ve wanted to visit the area for a long time and I am just very sorry our friends could not be with us.

We headed about an hour and a half from Portland to the Oregon coast. It is strikingly beautiful. Raw, windswept, vast, and COLD.  I still have trouble with the concept of being on a beach with a blanket and windbreaks in July (we saw no swimsuits)! We drove north on Highway 101 along the coast to the historic town of Astoria (1792) and enjoyed seeing the Victorian homes as well as the locations used in the movie Kindergarten Cop. This is Lewis and Clark territory, and the imposing Astoria Column was built in 1925 to commemorate their expedition as well as other westward expansion. You don’t need to climb the 164 steps, the views from the top of the 30-acre site are impressive.

Heading back to Cannon Beach we also saw the cute resort town of Seaside.  I loved the starfish lights decorating the town’s light poles.

Walking on the beach here is pure pleasure.  The beaches are huge and not crowded (by our Florida standards), and at low tide, you can walk right up to the famous Haystack Rock, the visual most often associated with the Oregon Coast.  Haystack is 235’ high and part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and looks much larger in person and dominates the landscape for miles.  Impressive.

Amtrak Cascades Route

What a great way to travel from Vancouver BC to Portland Oregon. The only downside is it does leave at 6:30 AM, but it gets you into Portland at about 3 PM, rested, fed and entertained.  It’s an absolutely beautiful route through Washington, the water views are so pretty it’s not even hard to stay awake.

Business Class seats are worth the extra fee, and taking two single seats (one behind the other) on the right side of the train car is really the best for maximizing your viewing pleasure. It’s comfortable and on par with any first-class European train. This train did not have a dining car, but the Bistro service and quality was not bad once the train got underway.  Prior to departure, there was quite a line.

It was hard to get an answer about what time we needed to be at the station (since we would also be going through customs). At one point, we were told by an Amtrak representative the station did not even open til 6 AM; that is not true, staff is there from about 5 AM.  Business Class and Global Entry have a separate line for check-in with no wait.  Customs officers board the train at the border, but it a quick walk-through and a quick glance at passenger passports.

All Aboard!

Portland’s Station.

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