Monday, October 31, 2011

Tell me a story!

Tell me a story of the mountains,
tell me who I am.
Don't tell me one of them stories
like they tell to the tourists in Jonesboro.
Tell me about my people,
tell me who I am!
How do you know who you are if you don't know where you came from? My family, like others, had its stories and legends. But they told only part of the story of who we are. The rest we glean from histories and the stories of other families. Some of what we know comes from story tellers and novelists who have done their homework, who have studied the Appalachian experience and can synthesize it into new narratives. They, too, tell us who we are.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Road Food

Sometimes the only place to eat turns out to be where you would choose if you had a dozen choices. Such was the 'Simply Southern Cafe' in Pelham, Tennessee. Pelham is a tiny cross-roads community that got by-passed when the interstate highway was built. There doesn't seem to be much reason to go there unless you want to travel from Manchester to Monteagle and stay off the interstate. That's how we found it.
The cafe is a "meat and three" place, meaning you get your choice of three vegetable side dishes with your meat selection. I had catfish and my wife chose chicken. The menu is a large chalkboard at the front that gets updated as pots get emptied in the kitchen. The diners appeared to all be local and to pretty much know everybody else. New arrivals received a greeting and a hug from the lone server. We didn't get the hug, but we were treated well by both diners and server.  Folks were eager to know where we were from and where we were going, and were quick to point out places of interest in the area, shortcuts, and scenic routes. Oh, did I say the food was excellent? I expect we'll time our next trip in that direction to be in Pelham at meal time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Tacky Roadside Attention-getter

Driving near the Snowshoe ski resort in West Virginia last week we came across this attention-getter. Obviously we had to stop. (Please excuse the lens flare; I really needed a lens hood for the shot.) I think I had seen a photo of this before, but it still got my attention. The barn is next to this business,
which has its own share of attention-getters. I'm not sure if it is still open; we were there after business hours anyway. There's a lot of old stuff around, including the old-fashioned gasoline pumps. But it was the car with the (you-gotta-love-it-tacky) added wind-up key that really got my attention.
A local photographer told me it was a 1941 Bantam automobile. I don't think I had ever heard of that brand, so it was off to Google to learn about it. The car and the company that built it had its roots in the American Austin, which was manufactured from 1929 until 1935. The American Austin was a domestic version of the Austin 7, which was sold in Britain at the time. When American Austin production ended, the plant was sold to the Bantam manufacturer, which built cars based on the Austin from 1937 through 1941. Only about 6,000 of these cars were ever built, which makes me think that the little car in the picture might actually be valuable.

Again, the tacky roadside displays got me to stop and take pictures. I might even have bought something if the store had been open.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin Carving

The air is crisp, the moon is full, and leaves are falling from the trees. Halloween is near! It's time to carve the jack-o-lanterns!
First cut an opening in the top,
and remove the seeds.
This is the fun part!
Trace your pattern on the pumpkin.

Read the instructions, if you must.
And start to cut out the features.
Careful! Concentrate!
All finished!
Don't be scared!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blue Ridge Music Center (Blue Ridge Parkway 5)

The Blue Ridge Music Center is near Galax, VA, home of the long-running Old-Time Fiddlers Convention. It's one of the newer attractions on the Parkway, and has an interpretive area and a venue for live music. The first display in the interpretive area began with the history of Blue Ridge music in a most-fitting way.
Ah, yes. I'm home now.
From this introduction, the display proceeds with a description of how uniquely American music evolved.
Prominently displayed is the African influence on American folk music. The banjo (pronounced "ban'-jer") originated in Africa and evolved in America into a sort of glue that holds bluegrass music together, especially after Earl Scruggs introduced the 3-finger roll.
From here the story goes to technology, how the introduction of radio and recording brought this regional music form to first a national and then an international audience. Now I often listen to a bluegrass program on the internet that originates in The Netherlands!
The first modern recordings of country music were made in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, when Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company set up a makeshift recording studio in a hotel room. Here he recorded first Jimmy Rogers and then the Carter Family from nearby Maces Springs, VA. A.P., Sarah, and Maybelle Carter went on the become the "first family" of country music and to found a musical dynasty. Maybelle, above, is shown in a 1961 appearance on the Flatt and Scruggs television show. This is only one of many video recordings available at the music center of early performers.
I also enjoyed one of Doc Watson with Clint Howard and Fred Price singing "Daniel Prayed." Watson, a folk music legend, is from Deep Gap, NC, some 60 miles south of the Music Center.  I'll have more on him at some time in the future.
As we were preparing to leave, people began gathering for a live music performance that was scheduled to begin in about an hour. But this day we had hotel reservations and had to get on up the road. Rats!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct (Blue Ridge Parkway 4)

We had seen enough of Grandfather mountain and its color before we got to the overlook that this time the crowd didn't deter us. The parking area was full and cars overflowed into every available off road space.
Color is what we came for and here we found it at its peak.
Our first look at the Linn Cove Viaduct. This was the last part of the Parkway built, opening in 1987, 52 years after the road was begun. The viaduct was built to protect a particularly fragile area on the side of Grandfather Mountain.

Apparently even the birds were awed by the view.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little Switzerland and Linnville Falls (Blue Ridge Parkway 3)

Never having driven the Blue Ridge Parkway before, we had no idea how many miles we would cover in a day. We didn't want to make a hotel reservation and then have to hurry past interesting places, or end up at the hotel long before we were ready to end our day. So we took our chances. The first day, time to find dinner and a bed found us at a place called Little Switzerland. All I will say is the next day we guessed how far we'd drive and phoned ahead for reservations.
But the morning rewarded us. Rising and getting out for breakfast before the sun came up allowed me to get this shot. The dawn colors combined with the valley fog to produce a shot I will print and keep.
Plus, I got sun dogs a few minutes later! This was the first time I had photographed sun dogs, although not the first time I'd seen them.
The hotel thoughtfully provided old towels for guests to wipe the dew off their car windows before they left. That was appreciated.
Linville Falls are a short hike from the parking lot and visitor center. They begin as two small water falls,
which empty into a chute carved in the rocks
to emerge in a two-stage falls below. The trail to view the upper falls is rated easy, the trail to view the lower falls is rated moderate, and a trail that takes you into the gorge to view the falls from below is rated difficult. We skipped the trail into the gorge.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Richland Balsam and Craggy Gardens (Blue Ridge Parkway 2)

Yesterday I began telling about our recent trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile (755 km) scenic byway in North Carolina and Virginia. At Richland Balsam's overlook, the highest point on the Parkway, we encountered five fellows from Florida on motorcycles.
In case you don't know, they don't have much in the way of mountains and crooked roads in Florida, and this was a special experience for the bikers. They were having a ball! There was adrenaline flowing out of every pore. If we hadn't before, we surely understood now why so many people from Florida move to the mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina.
We by-passed one overlook because there were so many people and cars there. A short way down the road we saw why. The waterfall, I believe, is the one called Yellowstone Falls, so-called because of a yellowish tint to the rocks from moss covering them. At least it looks like there's a yellowish tint.
 The dead trees amongst the color have been killed by the balsam wooly adelgid, a tiny insect introduced from Europe. 
Craggy Gardens supposedly is covered with Rhododendron blossoms in June. The peak, above, was covered this day with fall colors and hikers. There is a visitor center here and lots of scenery.
I put the wide-angle lens on for this one because it made me think of the panoramas jennyfreckles posts from Yorkshire. I also made sure I caught a little of the Mountain Ash berries in the lower left corner.
I included this shot of the Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel in part because it illustrates one of the short "underpass" tunnels, but mostly because I was struck by the fact it was cut through what we call a "rockhouse," or natural overhang. These rockhouses have provided temporary shelter for as long as there have been people in North America. They are now protected because they frequently turn out to be valuable archaeological sites.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Blue Ridge Parkway

My wife and I last week spent time on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic road along the spine of the eastern Appalachians in the states of North Carolina and Virginia. We did not set out to drive the whole parkway, especially wanting to avoid the congestion of the approach to the southern terminus at Cherokee, NC. So we spent our first night in Waynesville, NC, and started our parkway ride near there.
The trip got off to a good start when we walked out of our hotel room to the view above. How can you be in a bad mood when your day starts like that?
We had hoped for good color, and we got it! This large maple was absolutely on fire! You can judge the size of the tree by our car in the picture. (By the way, these pictures ARE NOT enhanced in any manner!)

The Blue Ridge Parkway was begun in 1935, another of the New Deal's projects to put Americans back to work during the depression. Construction long outlasted the depression, however. The last section was opened in 1987 with the completion of the Linn Cove Viaduct. There will be more about the viaduct later.

There are 25 tunnels in North Carolina and one in Virginia. Some are short, more like an underpass than an honest tunnel. Others are longer and require turning on headlights and taking off sunglasses to successfully make your way through them. Since I wear prescription sunglasses, one stretch was particularly annoying since I had to change glasses every few minutes. (That's a terribly trivial thing to complain about, isn't it!)

But the rewards were always waiting just beyond the tunnel.

I haven't found any data on what it cost to build the parkway, but I'm sure it was very expensive. During the 3 days we spent on the parkway we saw thousands of people, riding in cars or on motorcycles; buying food, souvenirs and gasoline along the way; and staying in resorts, cabins, campgrounds, and hotels. The Parkway is a 469-mile-long economic engine that supports both private businesses and, through taxes, local governments. The American people are getting a great return on their investment!

Please come back tomorrow; there will be more.