Experience an Abundance of Adventures
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Plethora an abundance or excess of something. Yep, Western North Carolina boasts an abundance of eclectic activities. “What to do?” is asked not for lack of things to do but deciding from an array of adventures. The world’s oldest mountains easily brag on its diverse outdoor activities, inviting towns, historic attractions, cultural venues, and its own uniqueness. In the past we’ve roamed the Biltmore, relaxed in a salt cave, wined and dined at the 100 year old Grove Park Inn, seen Asheville on traditional to wacky bus tours, hiked to tops of mountains, sipped local microbrews on beer tours, and sampled culinary delights on food excursions. Now we’re off to seek new and different, plus tried and true exploits in the Western North Carolina Mountains.
Wild Food Adventures has us ready to go WILD. Is there truly a Garden of Eden in our backyard? At the Stony Fork Picnic area in Candler, NC we begin the No Taste Like Home Food Tour. Alan Muskat, founder of the first wild foods public education program in the world, leads us “off the eaten path” as we stroll the woodlands seeking wild foods. Within a few feet of the shelter, Alan finds several edible plants. Some items are easily recognized of wild strawberries and honeysuckle flowers, yet others are new. By a large tree, we spot the colorful Reishi Mushroom. Alan is a wealth of knowledge, giving details on how to prepare each plant and its medicinal uses. Promising to show 12 different edible plants, we are thrilled as we roam the area and actually find 19. Fun to find Turkey Tail mushrooms on a log by a creek, a dollar plant with a peppery taste, tangy, wild black cherry tree, stinging nettles, and more. It’s like a shopping spree as we fill plastic bags with nettles. Lighting up a single burner camp stove, Alan cooks up a batch. Wow! Nettles have a nutty flavor. Anyone seeking to learn more about food in your own backyard and healthy eating will really enjoy this tour. Be sure to follow the instructions of what to wear. We had sunny and rainy weather on our tour. Glad to have the rain gear! www.notastelikehome.org
The Asheville by Foot Tour guarantees you won’t miss a word on the walking tour of this 200 year old town. Kevan, founder and guide, passes out convenient listening devices so everyone easily hears the great tales about local and national figures who shaped Asheville. Through Kevan’s informative tales Asheville’s extensive history, rich architectural legacy, and unique culture comes to life as we stroll through town. We get the scoop on the name change to Asheville, how long it took the city to pay off its bond debt, famous writers who called Asheville home, and the impact of the Vanderbilt family on the town, and so much more. Plus, Kevan gives the latest and most popular destinations of Asheville’s thriving downtown. Whether it is the Drum Circle on Friday nights, to long lines at the Chocolate Lounge, culinary cuisine of restaurants, and the miniature buildings suddenly showing up along a side street The two hour walking tour is packed with insight and information on this truly unique American city. Be sure to wear comfy shoes and sunglasses. www.ashevillebyfoottours.com
The Playhouse Downtown Hendersonville is featuring “Over the River and Through the Woods.” The name recalls “to Grandmother’s house we go” from the childhood song. In an intimate theatre in-the-round and a mere few feet away from the action, we feel involved in the play. “Over the River and Through the Woods” is a family comedy about going to grandmother’s (or rather grandparents). Nick, a single Italian-American young man, visits both sets of his grandparents every Sunday for dinner in Hoboken, NJ. The dynamics of Nick and his grandparents are hilarious and touching. When he considers moving out of state, his grandparents attempt to find ways to keep him from leaving. Watching the play, we recall similar circumstances from our own parents or grandparents as they are challenged to let go. A truly humorous, heartwarming, and touching tale. Seeking culture on a mountain get-a-way, we highly recommend the Downtown Playhouse (Hendersonville, NC) and Flat Rock Playhouse (Flat Rock, NC). Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina is considered one of the “Top Ten Theaters in the Country.” www.flatrockplayhouse.org
The North Carolina Arboretum invites visitors to get intimate with nature. This massive 434-acre public garden features 65 acres of cultivated gardens and 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Driving through the entrance the serenity and splendor of the land and gardens is welcoming. A handy map shows the wealth of activities the garden offers to visitors of all ages. We focus on strolling through the botanical gardens with an array of flowering plants and shrubs. Unique gates, garden artwork and scenic mountain vistas add to the beauty. Stepping up to a platform, we see the patchwork of the quilt garden all made from blooming plants. Taking the winding paths we reach the Arboretums major attraction – the most renowned bonsai collection in the country. The Bonsai Garden is superb with story boards giving in-depth explanation on creating bonsai. In late May many plants are in bloom. The gift shop offers unique gifts, too. The Arboretum has miles of trails that we look forward to exploring on a future visit. www.ncarboretum.org
Craggy Gardens boasting “exposed rock surfaces and high peaks with breathtaking views of distant Appalachian ridges.” Only 18 miles east of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Craggy Mountains has a Visitor Center, a Picnic Area, and easy to moderate hiking trails. Craggy Gardens is a great stop to enjoy crisp mountain air, cooler temperatures with an elevation of 3,500 feet, summer rhododendron and fantastic mountain visitas. Hiking the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, a .8 mile hike, it gently ascends through a tunnel of rhododendrons, gnarled birch trees and wildflowers. Climbing the twisting trail, we arrive at the pinnacle’s stone walled viewing area. Fantastic! North, South, East and West– spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiking down to Lower pinnacle more vistas open up of mountainous landscape. Catawba Rhododendrons cover the summit, a few are blooming today but in a few weeks the mountain will burst with beautiful purplish blooms. The Craggy Picnic area is close and great stop for our picnic lunch. Many visitors take the longer hike from the picnic area to the Craggy Summit. www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=112
Western North Carolina Nature Center lets grandchildren, Louis & Lucy, go wild and explore. See the bear! Look for the wolf! Where’s the fox? Find the snake! There’s the mountain lion! Otters are silly! As five and three year olds, Louis and Lucy are so excited to locate the many animals at the Nature Center. With over sixty species of wild and domestic animals, there are plenty to see and seek. Of course, an alert eye and patience is helpful in finding animals that are naturally camouflaged. Spreading along a hillside with animals in their natural habitat, it’s an up and down walk on rolling terrain. Wow! A huge spider web! Louis and Lucy delight in climbing at the Spider Web Playground. Each has their own comfort level for balancing on a rope of the web, crawling to the next level, or bravely going to the top. The Spider Web Playground is the highlight. The Nature Center is a good for children to see and learn about animals and their habitat. www.wildwnc.org
Catawba Valley Wine Trail has a delightful variety of wines to sniff, swirl, and taste. Look out California, Western North Carolina is ready to compete with a variety of wines. Ranked ninth in the country for wine and grape production, North Carolina claims a long history of wine making. With wineries in close proximity to Nebo & Morgantown, NC (about 40 minutes from Asheville, NC), we select the Catawba Valley Wine Trail for an afternoon tasting. Sipping five wines, a mix of red and whites, at South Creek Vineyards and Winery, my favorite is the 2013 Chardonnay Reserve. The owner graciously describes each wines’ depth, complexity and finish. Her “tale” of how she and her husband put their roots down to become vintners is intriguing. Outside is a cozy area for enjoying a glass or bottle of wine. Belle Nicho Winery has a small but welcoming tasting room. While the owner shares the ups and downs of starting a winery, we sample six different wines from a Chambourein to the Sweet Dog Red. The wines are sweeter and I prefer the Seyval Blane, a dry white wine. Perched on a hilltop with breathtaking views vineyards and the majestic South Mountains, is the Silver Fork Winery tasting room and grounds. A rustic yet stylish tasting room opens to a large outdoor patio with ample areas for relaxing. Panoramic views, sunny skies, cool temperatures, and cozy seating create a wonderful respite. Selecting the 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, with it creamy and buttery aromas, we relax in this beautiful setting. The Chardonnay and Silver Fork Winery are the perfect finish for our wine tasting.
The Western North Carolina continues to amaze us with its plethora of activities for all ages. Each visit we truly delight in finding new, unique and fun adventures in the world’s oldest mountains. Be sure to visit Asheville Visitor Center to get some great brochures and recommendations from their hospitable staff. The website has a “plethora” of suggestions! www.exploreasheville.com