We took a week off while the girls were “tracked out” of school, and we went to the mountains.

Saturday 2009-07-18

We eased into our vacation by driving half-way to the mountains, stopping in Winston-Salem to visit my parents. We spent some time with my two grandmothers. And then we came went for a walk around the neighborhood, pointing at all of the houses where my childhood friends used to live, and we caught up on what we had heard from everyone.

Sunday 2009-07-19

We packed up the Family Truckster and headed to the mountains by way of Hiddenite, NC. This town is famous for the minerals found there, and was named after an associate of Thomas Edison, who was sent there to find a particular type of mineral. Instead, he found a completely unknown type of stone, which ended up bearing his name. The town later changed its name as well.

The gem mine in Hiddenite is a lot of fun for smaller kids. But older and more cynical kids might wonder why such large stones can be found in such soft and freshly ground up dirt. One older and more cynical friend took his kids to see a geologist at NC State University, who told them that the rocks they had brought back from the Hiddenite mine were not native to North America. Hmm.

From the mine, we headed up through Lenoir and into Blowing Rock, which would be our home for the next week.

Monday 2009-07-20

Our plan for the day was to head over to Grandfather Mountain, but we were in no hurry to get started. So instead, we explored the local park in Blowing Rock, and we found a couple of geocaches. It had been a long time since we had done that as a family, and the two we found did not disappoint (one “virtual” and one multi-stage cache).

We finally headed out to Grandfather Mountain, where low cloud occasionally obscured the peaks. The swinging bridge seemed even higher than it is because of the visible cloud moisture blowing up one side of the mountain and through the gap between the peaks. Sydney showed no restraint as she ran on the rocks, while the rest of us imagined the impending disaster. We took plenty of pictures, and finally made our way down to the museum, where we saw such attractions as: lunch, bears, a bald eagle, and fudge.

While we were there, we ran into a guy from my office… hey, isn’t that against the rules?

Tuesday 2009-07-21

On Tuesday, we went into Boone to see Mystery Hill, which can best be described as a tacky little tourist trap that aspires to be something bigger than it is. The main attraction is the room that is built at a 45-degree angle, which is a much more compelling optical illusion that you might expect. The rest of it was like a very small science museum, with some funny mirror tricks and a large hula-hoop bubble station. Next door is a museum that houses items from the first half of the 20th century… a good chance to explain things like a record player to my two digital-age children.

The main attraction of the day was Tweetsie Railroad. They had a lot of little shows and shops and carnival-style rides and even a petting zoo. But at center stage was the steam locomotive, which takes a short trip around the park, with a cowboys-and-indians adventure thrown in.

We wrapped up the day with a couple of geocaches, a good way to discover some of the local parks.

Wednesday 2009-07-22

On Wednesday, we decided to get out of town and into the woods, with a day hike at Linville Falls. Our trip the Blue Ridge Parkway was slow because of very thick fog. And when we reached the Linn Cove Viaduct, it seemed like the road just ended at a cliff.

There is a very nice National Park at the Falls, with very wide and comfortable trails that take you to several vantage points to see the falls. This was the perfect setting for a family hike… a fairly high climb, but an easy grade and lots of rewards along the way. We took a lot of pictures at the peak, and then returned back for a picnic lunch.

On the trail back out, I noticed that there was a geocache hidden near one of the overlooks (I did not expect this, since geocaches are usually not allowed on National Park land). So I had to find it. I was rewarded with a geocoin whose last stop had been in the United Arab Emirates.

We had our picnic lunch, and then headed down into the valley to Linville Caverns (Foong asked me when we stopped what that smell was, and then we realized that it was our burning brake pads). The cavern was cool, in more ways than one.

And as we left, it started raining. Good timing. We took an extremely scenic route back to Blowing Rock. Part of that was due to our GPS being stuck in “shortest distance” mode — it did not seem to matter that part of that route was really some hillbilly’s driveway.

Thursday 2009-07-23

On our last full day in the mountains, we decided not to do any one big thing, but instead to see a bunch of smaller things. So we drove to the small town of Valle Crucis. The big attraction there is an old general store with an entire room devoted to candy (our girls each got one handful of whatever they wanted).

We drove to Fosco, NC, where we found an “Earth cache” — a geocache that is educational, and somehow related to some natural earth formation. This one required us to take a picture of a mountain that looked like it had a face on it.

We went back to Blowing Rock, where we explored the old manor house at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. Finally, we saw The Blowing Rock, which is a rock outcropping on the windy side of the mountain. This was the last of many, many gift shops that we visited during the week.

Friday 2009-07-24

We woke up on Friday and packed up to leave. We headed back a different way than we came, a route that seemed to be one long ramp that goes straight down the mountain. On the way back, we stopped in Wilkesboro at Moravian Falls, a slide-type waterfall with a small campground next door (and, of course, a geocache).

When we got back to Winston-Salem, we were reunited with our dog, Maggie, and we got to spend another night with Mimi and Pops.

Saturday 2009-07-25

Saturday was “tech support” day, helping Mimi and Pops with digital photos, backups, and how to post to Craigslist. Eventually, we tore ourselves away from the fun and returned home.

When we got home, we gave the girls a rock tumbler, which we used to polish the stones that we had found in the Hiddenite mine.