Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dispatches from the Blue Ridge: Part VI

Looking back on our recent trip to North Carolina, I want to supplement some of the things I already wrote about it.

In my January 6th post, I casually mentioned that downtown West Jefferson “serves up good views of Mount Jefferson and Paddy Mountain” -- and left it at that. I have since learned that sheltered spaces on Mount Jefferson’s rocky upper reaches are believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, that series of secret hide-outs used by escaped slaves fleeing to the North in the 1800’s. Though the mountain’s connection to that part of American history can not be proved definitively, it certainly should be mentioned.

And since I just brought up West Jefferson, I want to say that the town is home to a well-regarded cheese factory that has a shop on East Main Street. We did not visit the factory or the shop during our visit, but will put it in on our to-do list for next time. We will also return to the place below, which I already wrote about:

I feel compelled to rebut some of the criticisms I read on tripadvisor about Hawksnest, the place we went snow tubing on January 7th. Most of the comments suggested that Hawksnest is unsafe or that its employees are inattentive, but based on my experiences, I think it’s safe to say those criticisms probably come from the kind of people who complain about everything.

Regarding danger, a certain amount of it is inherent to tubing. Regarding employees, Hawksnest has very attentive personnel stationed at the top and bottom of their hills. I saw them shepherd youngsters away from the hill-bottom “danger zones,” and I saw them counsel people on when and how to brake, and I heard them give useful advice about the hardest-to-access lanes.

It’s not like I am a national expert on tubing, but I have done it in Tahoe as well as here, and I have also skied, so I think my opinion is well-founded when I tell you that I felt safer at Hawksnest than I have at any other place where you pay to engage in wintry pursuits. And by the way, here is a picture we purchased the day we were there, of Sarah and me on one of their hills:

Because my January 7th post mentioned our visit to The Banner Elk Winery but said very little about their wine, I want to revisit the topic. Being a bit of a wine lover, I think it’s important to let it be known that Banner Elk, unlike many Southern vintners, does not churn out insipid crap made from easily grown muscadine grapes. Instead, they use traditional French grapes along with some French-American hybrids.

Banner Elk’s Chardonnay has an especially buttery taste and their Cabernet Sauvignon is extremely well-balanced, subordinating its tannins to its fruit flavors without sacrificing that full-bodied feel that is essential to a Cab. Meanwhile, the blends I mentioned in my earlier post are easy-drinkers that, simply by being blends, are reminiscent of the Old World’s winemaking styles. Here we are in Banner Elk’s tasting room:

I spent the entire fourth post in this series raving about Doc’s Rocks in Blowing Rock. I said that our mining turned up a garnet and sapphire which we were having cut, and that I would post before-and-after photos after we received the finished product. Here they are, though unfortunately, the colors are nowhere near as vivid in the photos as they are in real life:

I want to let you know that in addition to running his storefront business, Doc offers field trips on which he takes you to some of his favorite spots in the mountains and shows you how to search for gems in the wild. And if you find rose quartz at his establishment and pay him to facet and set it, he donates the revenue to various breast cancer causes. This is one merchant who absolutely earns his money.

Lastly, a correction. On January 6th I described the New River as emptying into the Monongahela. Let this be a lesson to not assume that your memories of something you read one time in middle school are accurate a quarter-century later. It turns out that the New River converges with the Gauley to create the Kanawha River, which then empties directly into the Ohio, not the Monongahela. But either way, water that flows through the New River in North Carolina winds up coursing some 2,000 counter-clockwise miles and flowing into the Gulf of Mexico through Louisiana. And that is friggin’ cool.

I will end this series with a collage of Sarah enjoying what she called her "snow restaurant" -- which in reality was a bowl of fresh snow with fruit on top.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,
    My friends Pat and Becky sent me your information. I am interested in renting your cabin Feb 12-14. We have other friends that live on the same Mtn that we would like to hang with for the weekend. Pat and Becky have already rented their cabin out so they are helping me find a place to rent.