Saturday, March 28, 2009

Uwharrie NF and Asheville NC

As you can see I've been hard at work on the BLOG, but 3 or 4 days without internet access have put us a bit behind.We're in the Uwharrie National Forest. Another of North Carolina's beautiful National Forests, this one is situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on Lake Badin. Unfortunately we arrived about 2 weeks too early to fully appreciate the flora of the area. Most of the trees are just starting to bud. Being the intrepid hikers that we are we did a 5.5 mile loop hike along the shore of the lake. This would be our last non-rainy day in this area.

Cardinal in Uwharrie NF
Our Campsite. As you can see the trees are still pretty bare.

One of the unique things in this area is the prevalence of quartz. Chunks of it are just laying around. Not sure where they came from, probably some glacier.
We also found a strange tree here. We later found that it is called a "Winged Elm". As you can see, strange growths form along the branches. The growth is actually part of the bark of the tree. Very weird.

Penland School of Crafts
We left the forest for a visit with friends just north of Asheville and spent a day touring the Penland School of Crafts. Penland is a nationally recognized school for fine artisans in many media. Started in 1923 by "Miss Lucy" Morgan, the school provides studio space and advanced instruction in woodworking, metal, pottery, jewelry, glass blowing, and many other crafts. There are several resident instructors, on 3 year residencies, who have studio and exhibit space as well as living quarters on the premises. We visited several artisans in their studios and one class and were warmly welcomed to watch and have our many questions answered thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Penland is located deep in a hollow forged out of this ancient land by the North Toe River. The canyon walls are covered with wild rhododendrons and I'm sure June will bring a spectacular bloom.

The campus is an exquisite showcase of work usually seen only in the finest galleries in major cities.

There is more information on Penland School here. Penland School

Biltmore Mansion

George Vanderbilt must have had a lot of money, because he spent a ton of it building his mansion "Biltmore" in Asheville. This is opulence at it's acme, but it is the supreme attention to detail and the wonderful craftsmanship of the house and gardens that brings many thousands of people to see this magnificent estate. The 175,000 square foot, 250 room, palatial home is nestled comfortably in 8,000 acres (Originally 125,000) of gorgeous forests and fields in the North Carolina foothills. Among the features we found especially interesting are the Main Dining Hall blessed with a 1916 Skinner Pipe Organ which is played frequently throughout the day; The beautiful craftsmanship of the mouldings, mantels, and cornices in every room, but especially in the first floor public rooms.; The winter garden with it's glass roof; and the kitchen and food preparation areas which, though large and "state of the art" for it's day, are primitive compared to the well appointed home kitchen of today. It takes about 2-3 hours to complete the self-guided tour and personal audio devices are available to give visitors more detailed information about the house.
They do not allow photography inside the house, but you can see more on the link below.

The persistent spring rains prevented us from enjoying the acres of gardens but we will come back on some blue sky spring day in the future.
More info at "Biltmore"

We also had the extreme privilege of attending a concert at the Madison County Arts Council. North Carolina is known for it's music and we received a rousing dose of it. The Harris Brothers, 2 local brothers who play blues, bluegrass and old timey country were the headliners, but they were joined by Bobby Hicks, a local Grammy award winning fiddler, Laura Boosinger a Grammy award winning singer and banjo player, and Steve Davidowski a Charlotte based Soprano Saxophone player. Davidowski showed a remarkable ability to keep up with the key changes of the string players and his soaring solos thrilled us all. Hicks "lit it up" a couple of times but mostly played a soft fill in voice to the featured performers. Boosinger's marvelous country voice filled the small venue. The concert featured Blues, Bluegrass, a soupcon of Jazz, a little country and some wonderful upbeat Western Swing that had every toe in the place tapping. When was the last time you went to a concert that started at 7:30 and went on until after 11:00. When you get to North Carolina, find some music...You will be glad you did.

NEXT: We leave North Carolina for "Cedars of Lebanon" State Park in Tennesee.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Croatan National Forest - North Carolina

The Croatan National Forest is the only true coastal forest on the east coast. The campground is nestled in a grove of Loblolly Pines mixed in with Live Oak, Holly, and various other hardwoods. For a more detailed description of this marvelous National Forest go to

Among the features of this National Forest is a unique 1.6 mile walk through the tidemarsh. Gravel pathways and boardwalks make for easy travel through an environment not usually accessible. Cardinals, Bluebirds, Nesting Ospreys, Great and Blue Herons, Fiddler Crabs, and Anoles are found in abundance in the tidal areas.

We found this little fellow (an Anole) sunning himself on one of the boardwalks.

Only a mile or so away are the magnificent barrier Island beaches of the Outer Banks. There are miles and miles of gorgeous light brown sand beaches for swimming, surfing, fishing, or just walking. All the usual shore birds, pelicans and other diving birds, and pods of bottlenose dolphins feed behind the breakers only a few feet off shore.

On the island you can choose your house by your favorite color and many are for sale in this difficult economy. But, better bring a lot of cash $$$.

Fort Macon, probably the best preserved civil war fort in the country, is in the town of Atlantic Beach on the Barrier Island. Fort Macon saw service in the Civil war, the Spanish American War, and World War II. It is now a North Carolina State Park with many interesting exibits depicting the life of the soldiers who served there, and the history of the fort.

Even if you're not a fort or museum buff we recommend this park. It's just a fun place to walk around, it's free, and the beach is magnificent.

We booked the campground for 3 days and ultimately ended up staying for 8 there was just so much to do here. We will definitely return some day.

Next: The Uwharrie National Forest in Central North Carolina.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague National Seashore in March is your own Private oceanside campground. We camped in the Oceanside Campground for 6 nights in Weather ranging from warm, sunny and windy to cold, rainy, and windy. Windy seems to be a given at Assateague in the Spring.

Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland is on a barrier Island off the Maryland and Virginian coast. The beach is about 37 Miles long.

Sunrise at Assateague National Seashore

I'm sure the campground is a bit busier during the summer, but come in early spring and you will have it to yourself. There are several very interesting nature trails revealing the beauty of the Dunes, the Marsh, and the Forest. We found the Loblolly Pine forest to be especially nice.

Of course the high point of any visit to Assateague is the Horses.

The Assateague Horses, while small in stature (about the size of a pony) are true horses, descendants of domestic horses brought to the island over 300 years ago. They are beautiful to watch and wander freely through the park and campground. They are, however, wild horses, and their behavior is not that of domestic horses. "Look, but don't touch" is the rule.

There is a handout about the horses in PDF format available from the park at

Wild Horses

NEXT: Croatan National Forest - North Carolina