Sunday, August 29, 2010

Waynesville To Hickory

Sunday, July 4, 2010 - Independence Day

The plan for this day was to travel from the high mountains of the Blue Ridge in western North Carolina down to Hickory, in the eastern foothills of the mountains. It's a distance of about one hundred miles taking the direct route via US 74 and Interstate Highway 40 through Asheville. I had another route in mind, though, a big dog-leg via US 276 south to the Blue Ridge Parkway, then north along the Parkway back towards Asheville to Interstate Highway 40, and from there down to Hickory. I had come up this same route two years before, with my sister and brother-in-law, from Hickory to Waynesville, and knew that it was a beautiful, pleasant drive. I wanted to show it to Ok Hwa today, and let her get some good pictures along the way.

Our second family reunion in as many days was being held in Hickory. My mom's side of the family, the Kirkpatricks, are from Haywood County (Waynesville), and my dad's side, the Hares, are from Catawba County (Hickory). And, as the Kirkpatrick affair is a lunchtime potluck, with iced tea and live gospel and mountain music, the Hare shindig gets underway in the afternoon, and goes on 'til the wee hours of the morning. There is lots of food, beer, swimming, volleyball, fishing in the pond, a DJ and live electric music, and a great big fireworks show after the sun goes down. It's held at the beautiful home of my cousin Judy and her husband Fred, the Medlins.

We left the hotel and went over to downtown Waynesville to pick up US 276. I had never been in downtown Waynesville before, and was pleasantly surprised to find a quaint little town with a busy street scene full of cafes, boutiques and antique shops. There were a great many people out on the streets, as it was a holiday weekend. Waynesville sits in a broad valley, surrounded by mountains. Just a few miles outside of town, US 276 crosses a small river and begins climbing in earnest. There is a sign there warning truckers of the steep 9% grade, and the tight curves. On vacation, that's the kind of sign I like to see! It's twenty-two miles from downtown Waynesville up to the pass over the Blue Ridge, where the highway intersects with the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there, US 276 continues downhill another eighteen miles of similar steep twisties, down to the town of Brevard, NC.

So, off we go up the highway, enjoying the day and the scenery. About ten or twelve miles out of town, just before the really steep, switch-back final section up to the top, we came upon the Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground. Because of all the curves, this is a favorite drive for motorcyclists, and as the name implies, this campground is for motorcycles only. I had seen it two years before, on the trip down this road into Waynesville, so I was on the look-out for it. We pulled in and parked in the small parking lot reserved for autos and trailers. Of course there is a swift moving creek paralleling the road, and there's a nice concrete bridge over the creek into the campground itself. There is a sign by the bridge saying "Motorcycles Only Across The Bridge". We walked on across the bridge and into the campground. Ok Hwa immediately went into nature photographer mode. The place was absolutely lush and beautiful, with little cabins tucked into the trees along the creek, and more cabins surrounding a great beautiful lawn with a pond in the middle, and flowers and shrubs everywhere. There was a section along one side of the lawn near the creek for tent campers, and off to the other side was the main office building with a large lounge on the second floor. There is a building near the center of the lawn with a communal kitchen, and the restroom and shower facilities. By the pond there is a gazebo gathering area with lots of seating. From the look of the place, I figure it must have been a motor-court vacation spot back in the forties and fifties, back before the Interstate Highways, when US 276 was one of the main routes up here from the flat lands to the east. Whoever owns it now has done a wonderful job of restoring and maintaining it, and the re-purposing as a motorcycle only campground was a stroke of marketing genius. I spoke with the guy in the office, and he informed me that the cabins rent for forty-five dollars a night. That's very reasonable, and around half of what a hotel room in town would cost. All we have to do next year is trailer one of my motorcycles up here, and we're in! We stayed here about forty-five minutes, strolling around taking pictures and relaxing.

Back on the road, we drove the final few steep and curvy miles up to the top of the pass, and the junction with the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped there and made a few pictures, then turned onto the Parkway, heading north. It's about thirty miles from this point on the Parkway up to the junction with Interstate 40, near Asheville. We took it easy, stopping at several of the many scenic overlooks to enjoy the view and take pictures. About half way up to the Interstate, we came upon the Mount Pisgah Inn, and pulled in to have a look around. This is a really nice hotel, which sits on the ridge top, with breathtaking views off to the east, and tall Mount Pisgah overlooking from the west. Being a holiday, the place was packed with tourists, many of whom were there just to have lunch in the dining room with that beautiful view off to the east. We inquired at the front desk as to rates and availability for this time next year. It's expensive, and you have to book well in advance. We decided to pass.

We headed on up the Parkway towards Asheville, enjoying the beautiful day and scenery. We stopped whenever we felt like it to take pictures and take in the views. We passed through many tunnels on this leg of the trip. I didn't count them, but it seems like there are somewhere between fifteen and twenty tunnels on this stretch of the Parkway.

We hit the Interstate, and headed on down out of the mountains and into Hickory. We made it to Fred and Judy's place by about 4:00. They have about a twenty acre lawn between the house and the little country road they live off of. Everyone parks on the lawn and walks down to the house. It's a great place to have a party, as you will see when you look at the pictures. Fred and Judy were actually out of town on vacation during the party this year. After hosting this event for many years, and seeing it grow to a huge annual party, they were ready to sit one out for a change. The party was ably hosted this year by their son and daughter, Ward and Paige.

There were not as many of the old Hares here this year. None of my dad's sisters or brothers made it - there is only one sister and one brother left. Also, none of the many Hare cousins were there, either, except one - Judy's sister Ann and her husband Lamar. Besides them, I didn't see anyone else I know except Ward and Paige. The guests this year were mostly their young friends. Still, a great time was had by all. There was lots of volleyball, swimming, fishing, all that food and drink, live music and a DJ, and after everyone got well lubricated, karaoke! After dark they put on that excellent fireworks show.

Judy had left word with Paige that Ok Hwa and I could have one of the bedrooms in her house for the night. It was a kind and generous offer, saving us from having to drive back into town and get a hotel room. We turned in relatively early, around 11:00, while the party outside carried on onto the wee hours.

Here is the link to this day's photo album. It's the same as the one above, except here you can view it in full screen. Click on the "Slideshow" button, on the top left, just above the pictures:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cataloochee Valley

Saturday, July 3, 2010

After a wonderful mid-day at Camp New Hope and the Kirkpatrick Homecoming, we headed back up to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cataloochee Valley.

The first time you travel up Cove Creek Road to Cataloochee Valley, it's absolutely fascinating and wonderful. It gets less wonderful the more times you travel it, until eventually you understand what an ordeal it must have been for the residents of Cataloochee to get to town and back. The road sure keeps the faint of heart at bay, though.

As we came into the floor of the valley on the paved portion of the road, we came upon a little paved side road cutting off to the right. I'd seen it every other time I'd been here, but never paid it any mind. Looking for something new, we decided to turn onto it. Glad we did now. It's another wonderful section of the valley that we'd never seen before. There are a couple well preserved houses with out buildings, and a beautiful old two level barn there. We went on by these, looking for the end of the road.

The road had turned to gravel along about here, and we followed it for about a half mile as it paralleled the creek on the right. We came upon an iron bridge over the creek and stopped there for some pictures. The road continued on the other side, and we followed it for a few more miles. It began to climb and switch back, and after a little while we came to a T intersection. We took a left there, and continued on for about one more mile. It looked like there was no end in sight, and nothing around except deep woods. We turned around here and headed back down across the bridge to the old houses and barn. Consulting a park map a little while later, we discovered that if we'd taken a right turn at the T intersection that would be the Old Cataloochee Road. It would take us, via a big dog leg, back to the unpaved switch-back road we take over Cataloochee Divide, which turns into Cove Creek Road. Following the road we took to the left at the T intersection, you would travel twenty miles through the deep woods, and eventually come out at a little town in Tennessee. Glad we turned around.

Back at the old house and barn, we picked up a park brochure that explained that this was the Palmer House. This old homestead has been very well preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. Here we met a uniformed Park Volunteer, Shirley Ray, who had her "Elk 1" Smart Car parked there. There were a couple other cars and a small group of people gathered, taking pictures of the two elk which had come down to the lawn for some late afternoon grazing. We visited with Shirley for a while. She was very friendly and informative. We learned a lot from her about the park, the volunteer program, and the elk. She was also nice enough to pose by her Smart Car and let me get a picture of her. We fell in alongside everyone else there, and got some great pictures of the two grazing elk.

After this, we drove on over to the other part of the valley that we'd seen before. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, taking pictures of the elk, the old buildings, and the beautiful valley. We stopped by the Beech Grove School, which we'd never seen before, then went on over to the Caldwell House and Barn. We stayed 'til it got too dark to take pictures, then headed back up that long, curvy gravel road back to town.
Here is the link to the slide show:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kirkpatrick Homecoming


I've been looking forward to this day for the last year. We had such a good time up here at this event last year, and I was excited to get over there. It's held at Camp Shaub, a former summer camp. The place is has been re-named Camp New Hope. It sits at the head of a small valley, or cove, as they're called around here, and is one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. On the way in you pass by the Test Farm run by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. There are a few houses dotting the surrounding hillsides, but not much else. There is a baseball diamond, a pool, and some other sports facilities in the valley floor, and the large dining hall sits half way up a steep hill, with the camper's cabins up the slope in the woods behind. The dining hall is where our event is held. It is a large rectangular room, wood floored, and wood paneled, with large windows on three sides, a large stone fireplace at either end, and a large covered deck off the long side, overlooking the valley. On the back side, there is a large kitchen, utility rooms, and the restrooms.

We arrived a little before ten to find a few folks already there, loading in equipment and supplies. Uncle French Kirkpatrick and his wife Judy were there. His band, The Unexpected, were there bringing in instruments and sound equipment. Aunt Ruth and her husband Jerry Henson were there, also. Jerry and his gospel group were also loading in equipment. All the ladies had covered dishes, which were being set out on a couple of long tables in the dining room, and also on the counter in the kitchen. More people were arriving by the minute, and before long the place was abuzz with activity and chatter.

Not having any way to cook, we had not brought anything to eat. It wouldn't be a problem, though. There was more than enough food to go around. I brought up my camera case, the guitar and the ukulele, and settled in.

The turn-out was about half what it was last year. This was rather disappointing, but, we made the best of it. None of my immediate family was here, nor any of my first cousins, aunts or uncles. I was the only one representing my branch of the family. I am related to these folks through my mom, Ruby Dean Kirkpatrick. Her father was Riley Dee Kirkpatrick. His father, my great grandfather Will Kirkpatrick, had about thirteen or more children over the course of two marriages. There are a lot of Kirkpatrick descendants scattered among the hills around Haywood County, and a good many of them show up for this event.
Grandpa Will and several of his children had a band back in the 1940s and 1950s called The Kirkpatrick Family Band. Uncle French Kirkpatrick, pictured above, is the only one of them still around and playing music today. I met him up here two years ago, when we were too late arriving, and missed the family reunion. He and a few others were cleaning up and putting away chairs and things when we arrived. He took the time to sit down with me, though, and played and sang a few songs for me on his banjo. What a treat!
This year, as everyone was getting settled in and things put into place, I was sitting off to the side with my guitar. Uncle French came over to join me for a bit, and asked if he could play my guitar. I'd never seen him play anything except the banjo, so I thought this ought to be interesting. It turns out that he is an excellent finger-style guitarist, and had no trouble navigating around that wide necked classical guitar of mine. I was amazed! He sat there and sang & played, just for me, about four or five classic Jimmy Rogers songs. Again, what a treat! I wish I'd thought to pull out the video cam. At least I got a couple pictures of him posing with my old cedar topped classical. I sure wish I could spend a lot more time around this wonderful man. Not only is he a fine musician who I could learn a lot from, but, mainly, he is just a warm hearted, intelligent, fun loving, god fearing man, and I took and immediate liking to him the first time I met him.
By this time the food was all set out and ready, and we were called to eat. Everyone lined up with a plate, and we made our way slowly along the servings. What a spread! These mountain folks sure know how to cook. There were so many great choices, and no way to sample everything. We sure tried, though. Somehow we also found room for dessert later, after the music started.
After everyone had a chance to get a plateful or two down, The Unexpected started the music. They are: Harry Robbins on vocal and guitar, French Kirkpatrick on vocal and banjo, Jerry Stamey on harmonica, and Ray McElroy on bass. Scotty Rollins did an excellent job running the mixing board, keeping everything balanced. They played nine songs, opening up with "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound", and closing with "Waiting On The Far Side Bank Of Jordan". Somewhere in the middle they played this instrumental, "Cripple Creek", with French Kirkpatrick's daughter Alison Bumgarner doing a great barefoot clogging dance. Now, that's fun!

After The Unexpected finished their set, Jerry Henson and his gospel group came up to sing and play eight or ten great gospel songs. This is the real deal, folks. These people sing from the heart, they sing from the soul. I am still working on editing the videos I made of them, and will include the links to their videos with the others below when they're done.
The party started trying to end around two o'clock, but it took us untill after three to get everything cleaned up, packed up, and loaded into the cars. It was hard to leave, and there were many long good-byes. We had several invites to come back home to spend the afternoon with several of the uncles and aunts, but politely declined. We had plans to head back up to Cataloochee Valley for some more exploring and elk sightings before it got too dark.
Here are links to the music videos I made this day:
"I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound"
"This Land Is Your Land"
"A Minute Of Your Time"
"Greenville Trestle Line"
"Watermelon Time In Georgia"
"Cripple Creek"
"Nothing Brings You Down Like Your Hometown"
"It's Raining Here This Morning"
"Waiting On The Far Side Bank Of Jordan"