Return to the Smoky Mountains- Bat Cave & Chimney Rock

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I really do believe in the Law of Attraction, as I recently expressed an intense desire for a road trip- away from Florida, and my newly finished 3’x5′ painting of a cabin in the Smokey Mountains complete with trout stream and waterfall takes up most of the kitchen-I knew we would be headed up to North Carolina, I just had not expected it to be so soon, but a day after my son’s birthday party found us on the road to Asheville, North Carolina.

Our 10 hour road trip began at 4am- my husband hoped the kids would sleep most of the trip (they didn’t!), but an in car DVD player- courtesy an xmas present two years past from my aunt for the kids (thank you, Gail!) took care of some boredom- I am happy to report my 4 year old only half watched TV and spent the entire trip either coloring with crayons or sketching with colored pencils in the sketch book I had given each of thee kids for the trip. (you go girl! She has become quite the artist!)

Somewhere south of Landrum, South Carolina, we decided to exit the interstate at the sign that said Cherokee scenic highway. There was a sign that drew us: peaches! We found a woman and her daughter selling baskets full of peaches from a little stand set up in front of their orchard, and man were those peaches juicy! The woman directed us into Landrum to the best BBQ joint in town. Southside Smokehouse and Grill was a quiet little place (across from the sawmill)- until we pulled in- then the whole town seemed to follow in our wake. The BBQ pulled pork sandwiches were tasty with their vinegar based BBQ sauce. With a refill of sweet tea, we hit the road (176) towards Asheville, driving through small towns and alongside swift flowing creeks. Historic wooden house had been built right alongside the creeks, each with their own tended vegetable garden- and blue hydrangeas to brighten the front gardens. Orange lilies grew alongside the road that hugged the mountains- it was paradise. Pearson’s waterfall near Saluda was shut, but I did get a couple of good photos further down the road of a cabin by a creek…

We checked into the Biltmore Doubletree Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina at 4 that afternoon. After unpacking, we took a walk to the Biltmore Village- an impossible road to cross from the hotel, as the light turns red on you halfway across- we had to run to avoid becoming a Henderson Road Pancakes. The lady at the hotel had recommended the Country Kitchen- the menu looked was more upmarket bistro than down home cooking, as the hotel desk clerk had implied. With three kids- rowdy after a long confined car ride, we had to steer away from their white table cloths and wine glasses- an accident waiting to happen! And we continued down the road through the village to the Wayside, a diner set in the historic train station. The food was greasy and took a long time. My daughter curled up on the bench seat and fell asleep. The interior of the building was original, and a train did rumble past, shaking the building, but I would not rush back. We carried my little one and took a longer route back to the hotel, retiring for the evening.

The next day we set out early for Chimney Rock, stopping at a supermarket to grab breakfast en route. The road took us to the town(village?) of Bat Cave- known for it’s well, Bat Cave (now closed to visitors due to a spreading bat disease that’s killing the population). We stopped at a roadside shack stocked with local honey (sourwood honey) and a variety of preserves and pickles. Pickled Okra anyone? The woman there told us that they are a dying breed. The older folk who used to building the wood crafts *(little wooden chests, chairs, bird feeders) and make the preserves, are dying or already dead and the younger generation are too wrapped up in their computers and MP3 players to care. Those roadside stands may be but historic memories soon. This one had a creek behind it, with picnic tables you could rent by the hour. We met a boy back there who told us about the hike to the Bat Cave- a two hour jaunt on Mondays and Wednesdays through a protected preserve owned by an environmentalist who only allowed so much intrusion on the property to protect the area. Unfortunately for us, it was Tuesday! We took photos, said our farewells and continued up to Chimney Rock.

The drive up to Chimney Rock is a dizzy spiral. My four year old proclaimed she was going to be “sky-sick.” $14 for adults and $6 for kids, it was another mile up from the ticket booth. And then 20 minutes to climb the wooden steps up around the mountain to get to the top of the rock itself- word to the wise- if you have young children- take the elevator up and walk down- we did it the wrong way and tired our youngest out to the point of temper tantrum state- not cool on a mountain top! However, we were rewarded with a view of Lake Lure and the valley below- hazy with summer mist. My youngest broke down as we attempted to begin the hike to the waterfall, so we descended to the visitors center for some cooling off time and did manage to squeeze in the little woodland trail- views were not fantastic, but the outdoor artwork along the trail- all touchable! was  worth it- iron butterflies, huge tortoise shell, bears scaling a tree… and helped my babe recover her cool.

Lunchtime found us at Ginny’s Country Cooking restaurant, drinking sweet tea on their back porch over the creek. Food was okay, my husband was not impressed by their pot pie, and the philly sandwich was limp- and what is it with those greasy french fries? It must be a Carolina thing- limp and greasy-ugh- the views, however, were spectacular. After lunch we took a stroll along the river walk- a park alongside the creek in Chimney Rock. We got to clamber over the rocks, and even though I would have placed my bet on the youngest, my boy fell into the creek-luckily he didn’t get swept into the current- which would have been great for tubing. I had brought changes of clothes for all the kids (I really do expect things like this to happen- and am rarely disappointed.) My boy was upset with himself, but I told him it made a good story- I have certainly told it a few times- falling into a creek at Chimney Rock- wasn’t like going down the waterfall, thank goodness. Anyhow, loaded back into the car, we headed back to Asheville.

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