Category Archives: Western North Carolina

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.

Laugh, Learn & Laugh Some More.

 

Our friend in Asheville thought we would enjoy the LaZoom City Comedy Tour and she was right on point.

The 90-minute open-air bus tour winds its way through charming Asheville and manages to impart quite a bit of local flavor and history between the funny, corny, and sometimes bawdy, commentary.

Tour guide Cookie flips out.

This is a great city – chock full of unique locally owned shops and restaurants (over 90%) and more craft breweries than anywhere else in the country. You can bet the breweries are mentioned during this tour, which allows consumption of wine and/or beer while on board, and includes a rest stop at the Green Man Brewery.

Two facts that made an impression:

  1. despite the ghost stories, no one died during the Civil War’s Battle of Asheville, and
  2. last month Asheville’s nationally renowned Wicked Weed Brewing company sold out to Anheuser-Busch. We hope it’s not the start of a trend.

Check out their website for times, fees and other tour options: http://www.lazoomtours.com/

Incredible Day for a Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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It’s Fall Festival Time in the NC Mountains

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Fall is a lot more than beautiful colors and cooler temps when you are in the mountains of western NC. It’s time for some unique and interesting festivals. There is something for everybody.

There is the Woolly Worm Festival for racing fans – that is if you like to race fuzzy caterpillars. woolly-wormThe black and brown “worms” are really the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth. The Banner Elk, 2-day event draws thousands to the cute town center to race their “worms” up long, taut strings. Winners compete for the $1,000 grand cash prize and the honor of predicting the weather for the upcoming winter. This year’s winner predicated slightly warmer temps and a bit less-than-average snow.  Catch the races in 2017, the 40th anniversary of the event: www.woollyworm.com

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Making Apple Butter.

One of my favorite events in the area is the Valle County Fair in Valle Crucis.  Sponsored by the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, it is a wonderful local event featured homemade baked goods, entertainment (including clogging), and decent quality crafts, in a perfect pastoral setting. I try not to miss it.  It’s always the third Saturday in October, the same mid-October weekend as Woolly Worm.

The Fair has become wildly popular, so go early; you will not only beatimg_7727 the traffic, but you will have the best selection of items to buy (and eat).  We always arrive just before the 9 AM opening.  All proceeds raised support the needs of local families in Avery and Watauga counties; last year $50,000 was raised and donated towards much-needed assistance.  Planning for next year?  Check out: www.holycrossvallecrucis.net

 

by Linda Altschuler

by Linda Altschuler

It’s a great time of year to take a leisurely Sunday drive into Asheville for the annual HardLox Festival to celebrate Asheville’s Jewish Food & Heritage. This year the single-day Festival coincided with the start of Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. Under a brilliant blue sky, in Asheville’s Pack Square, we listened to traditional Jewish music, meandered among the booths featuring information as well as crafts and Judaica.  Kids had a big play area, and parking and bathrooms were plentiful.

We learned about this festival first-hand from friends who img_7740have a home in Asheville.  Linda Altshuler is an accomplished artist who specializes in Judaica.  As expected, her booth was swamped with buyers snapping up her colorful prints, cards, glass cheese boards and other gift items.

Linda showing her Judaica art.

Linda showing her Judaica art.

But what Jewish festival would be complete without food, and boy did they have food.  It’s all very organized, a brochure explains what’s available and the prices, tickets are sold at a special booth, so it keeps the food lines moving quickly. There was pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, bagels, Matzo Ball soup, Kosher hot dogs, whitefish, babka, mandelbrot, etc, etc. Even Dr. Brown’s sodas.  It was wonderful to have some of the delicious food we have dearly missed this summer.

 

For next year’s info, visit: www.hardloxjewishfestival.org and for more about Linda’s art: www.lindaaltshuler.com

 

 

Today’s Cute Little Visitor! Where’s Mama?

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Crab Orchard Falls in Valle Crucis

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A short, but rigorous hike will reward you with views of the lovely Crab Orchard Falls. Even in this very dry summer, the sound of the water rushing over the rocks is powerful. The falls are extensive and have many levels, but from what I have read, have never been officially measured. Visitors park at the Valle Crucis Episcopal Church, in the upper parking lot.  It is well-marked where you should and shouldn’t park and signs will direct you to the trail leading to the Falls. dscn5296

The 1/2 mile hike takes you up 500′ to an elevation of 3,110′.  Benches are conventionality placed every 1/10 of a mile to take any needed breaks.  After reaching the top elevation, you will head down towards a network of boardwalks leading to the falls.  The boardwalks are not in the best condition and it seems some restoration work may be underway. In general, use caution due to lose rocks, prolific tree roots and the potentially slippery wood walkway.  It’s worth the trip.

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Paint the Town – Art in Asheville

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The August issue of Pinecrest Lifestyle Magazine is hot off the presses and I’m pleased to share my article about the thriving Rivers Arts District in Asheville, NC.

Click this link for the full article.  Pinecrest Mag.Paint the Town.August2016

Wandering in Western NC

NC Botanical Secret Revealed

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Each little “pup” is ready to plant.

Who knew that Appalachian State University (ASU) has some amazing greenhouses and conservatory tucked away a couple of miles from campus, behind a commercial area in Bonne, NC.

I had the opportunity to tour this wonderful ASU facility and see plants from, literally, every country in the world. There were so many unusual and amazing varieties.  We had a crash course in plant adaptation and got up close and personal with plants that mimic rocks, house ant farms, emit unpleasant odors, and produce mini-me offspring all by themselves. We had botany and world geography lessons rolled into one.

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They have two plant sales a year (usually May and September) and also offer some public classes; volunteers are needed and welcome. 

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Can you find the plant?

For more information contact Greenhouse Manager Jerry Meyer at meyerja@appstate.edu

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