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:

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