Mr. McB and I drove up to an Asheville to see the gardens at Biltmore. Here are some snaps from the day.
We also made a quick stop at the NC Arboretum. Here are a few pictures from this stop.
We made our way to Waycross, Georgia just in time for dinner. After checking into our hotel, we visited Hog N Bones for some grub. The food and service were very good. I was happy with our choice.
We woke early the next morning to start our drive to Folkston, and the eastern entrance of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Preserve. The Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross is not part of the wildlife preserve. To see the “real” swamp, you need to visit the eastern or western entrances.
There is a $5 charge to access the swamp for seven days. This is a preserve, not a park. It is run by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It might seem minor but there is something about it that feels different from a national or state park.
Knowing that rain was coming, we sat off on the eight-mile driving loop. We soon encountered a small pond and our first gators.
Visitors are asked to keep at least 20 feet away from the alligators. There are no fences.
This juvenile gator was chirping as he enjoyed his morning swim. Between the sprinkles and his frenzied swimming, it was a bit difficult to get a good photo. This was one of those experiences that makes for better memories than photos.
We got back in the car and continued along the path. The rain was chucking down by time we reached the Chesser Island Homestead. This traditional home illustrates the swamper’s way of life. Constructed of yellow pine, the house was built in 1927 for about $200. Tom and Iva Chesser raised their seven children in this house. They left and moved to Folkston in 1958.
There is no vegetation in the yard. This helped the Chesser family spot any snakes that slithered through their property. It also helped prevent a fire that could have been caused by lightening striking a large tree.
A rocking chair and porch swing welcome visitors to the home.
The home was simple, airy, and somehow larger than you would expect. The house grew as the family did so there are windows in between rooms and half walls.
The family made syrup from sugar cane.
This is for making syrup, not hot-tubbing.
After we toured the homestead, we made the mistake of starting out along the woodland path to the boardwalk. This was my idea and I felt horrible because Mr. McB was devoured by bugs. He was wearing DEET but they still launched an aggressive attack. We hauled butt back to the car and took off toward the boardwalk. By this point, the rain was steady but not too heavy.
With the rain, we had the boardwalk to ourselves. For a long time, we just saw vegetation and upended trees. After a bit, I heard what I thought was the distant rumbling of a boat motor but we soon realized that this was the call-and-answer grumbling of two gators. While we were waiting out a particularly heavy shower, I spotted this.
Holy Moses! It was a growling, grumbling gator on the move.
We stayed in the shelter for quite some time as we tried to find him. For a while, we were sure that a log floating under the boardwalk was his snout but finally, I spotted him on the other side.
Squee!!! He was just there beside the boardwalk. After a few tentative sorties out of the shelter to snap his picture, we realized he wanted to sleep and wasn’t interested in us. We were soon on our way down the boardwalk again.
The boardwalk ends at the tall observation tower. You get a great view of the swamp at the top. It is so peaceful there.
This is a happy man who is too high in the air to be eaten by swamp bugs.
By time we walked back, the gator had moved back to the other side of the boardwalk to continue his napping.
We eventually made our way back to the car. We saw a heron eating a small fish and an alligator watching the whole affair. I was driving but Mr. McB has some great photos of this.
Before hitting the road, we stopped by the small pond again and found the gators in slightly different positions.
The little fella decided to stop swimming for an afternoon nap.
We decided to visit the train platform at the Folkston Funnel before making our way back to Waycross. Most of the rail traffic going to and from Florida passes through Folkston. With a train zipping by every 15-20 minutes, some people might complain but the people of Folkston built a nice viewing platform, with fans and WiFi, and made it a social gathering place. The train traffic was slower than normal during our visit. After about 35 minutes, we spotted this beauty.
If you go to Folkston, try the small German cafe beside the tracks. Their funnel frankfurter and hot German potato salad are delicious. The owners are very nice too.
After the train, we were directed to Whistling Dixie for an ice cream shop. Miss Dixie also owns railside lodging in the Folkston area. She asked about our day and we enjoyed a few laughs before getting back in the car again.
Before making it back to Waycross, we took a little detour to see the Laura Walker State Park. It was buggy and we were tired but there were some good photos to be had. Look at this Carolina anole enjoying an afternoon snack.
We saw some interesting sites along the woodland trail.
There was also a pygmy rattlesnake but he quickly moved out of our way.
Thankfully, we didn’t know he was a pygmy rattlesnake until we got home.
That night, we grabbed some topical Benedryl and other soothing medications for Michael’s many bites. I discovered the seasonal carrot cake M&M’s. We fell asleep watching a 48 Hours murder mystery about a woman’s suspicious death which was originally blamed on her husband. New evidence suggests that an owl might have played a role in her death.
The next morning we were back at the swamp for a boat tour. With time to kill, we made a quick trip around the driving path.
Good morning gators…
We boarded the boat and headed down the narrow canal behind these kayakers.
The captain answered questions and pointed out interesting plants and animals. He took us close to gators but also carefully pulled the boat way when they really started to hiss.
It seemed that most of the gators were not on my side of the boat.
This gator, who didn’t feel the need to hiss, was on my side.
We saw a red shouldered hawk’s nest. Later we would see both a young hawk and a frighteningly fast adult hawk.
We made our way to the grand prairie where there is plenty of plant life. These are golden clubs. The plant is also called “never wet” because the stalks do not get wet. You can dunk them under the water but it simply wicks away. The makers of high-end rain gear are studying the plant in hopes of improving their product.
As we entered the canal again, a curtain of Spanish moss blew open to reveal a majestic barn owl. I was just about to mention this to the guide when I remembered the 48 Hours episode and my ornithophobia kicked into high gear. I kept my mouth closed and we kept moving back toward the dock.
This little turtle is the last bit of wildlife that we encountered.
We were soon back in the car and taking the back roads home. Since it was after noon before we started, we did not have the luxury of making many stops on the way home. By time we reached the house, both Mr. McB and I were very thankful to stretch our legs and move around.
It was a great trip. I was very impressed by the way the preserve was laid out. The driving loop made it easy to see the natural areas. The boardwalk is great and very accessible for those with disabilities. They would not be able to use the observation tower but you can see quite a bit before reaching the tower.
I would definitely recommend Okefenokee to anyone with an interest in wildlife. I would also recommend a mix of planned and spontaneous activities like we enjoyed.
Last weekend Mr. McB and I hopped in the car and headed toward Waycross, Georgia and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Preserve.
The drive takes somewhere between six and seven hours. The interstate features unremarkable scenery, limited dining options, and infrequent exits but you can legally zoom along at 70 MPH for most of the trip. We left just after 8 a.m. and made a lunch stop about 40 minutes after crossing the Georgia state line. Shortly after lunch, we decided to make a detour and visit St. Simons Island and Fort Frederica.
When Fort Frederica was established in 1736, the Spanish controlled nearby Florida. The fort was build in what was known as debatable land with the goal of keeping the new colony of Georgia and its port of Savannah under English control.
Georgia’s founder James Oglethorpe, decided to take things a step further in 1739 by conducting small raids on the Spanish forts west of St. Augustine. Oglethorpe had success in these conquests but failed to take the heavily fortified St. Augustine in 1740. He and his men returned to Fort Frederica.
In time, the Spanish decided it was time to return the favor and came north to visit St. Simons and the fort. The English won the battles of Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh in 1742. These battles were small but significant because the Spanish never again mounted an offensive campaign against British colonies in the east.
There is a charge of $3 per person to visit the national monument. Visitors can see exhibits and view a film in the welcome center before exploring the ruins of the old fort.
Spanish moss clings to the trees surrounding the fort. This air plant is generally full of chiggers so resist the urge to touch.
Street signs help visitors understand what the fort’s layout would have been in its heyday.
The structure also served as a prison. One inmate, Charles Priber, urged the colonists to seek independence from Britain. He was a man ahead of his time.
I don’t believe these date back to the 1700’s. With two turkey vultures circling the area, I’m not sure the remains date back 17 days.
A cannon provides defense against traffic along the river.
This monument stands away from the water on a shady path.
A cascade of dogwood blossoms surrounded by Spanish moss
After exploring the fort, we took the short walk to Christ Church. This structure was built in the 1880s to replace the house of worship that was destroyed by Union soldiers. There has been active worship on the island since 1736. John and Charles Wesley helped shape the ministry efforts here.
Visitors can see the inside of the church Tuesday-Sunday from 2-5 p.m. The church and its grounds are not open to visitors on Mondays, Easter, or Christmas. There is no charge but donations are accepted. The inside of this church features a number of beautiful stained glass windows.
This window details the history of the church.
Tomochichi and Oglethorpe
Tomochichi was a Yamacraw chief who is credited for his mediation skills and facilitating peaceful interactions between the native people and the settlers. Without Tomochichi’s efforts, Georgia might not have been a successful colony.
This is the church’s largest window.
Confederate soldiers are buried in the church cemetery.
After leaving the church, we took the woodland walk to the park that honors the Wesley brothers.
Fragrant azalea bushes lined the path.
I did not think about applying bug spray during this excursion. There are a number of hungry gnats on the island and this is a mistake I would not make again. We returned to the car and decided to visit the St. Simons lighthouse before getting back on the road. The route includes a couple of odd traffic circles which made both the GPS and me cranky. When we finally made it, we realized that the lighthouse was closed to visitors due to an event at the historical center. It was a bit of a bust but still nice to see the shore.
The park was full of boisterous grackles. I wish filmed a little of their loud chirping.
We were soon back to the car and off toward Waycross. There is a lot to cover in the swamp and surrounding area so I’ll save that for another post.
Located just outside Hendersonville in Laurel Park, Jump Off Rock is touted as a place to enjoy views of western North Carolina’s sweeping mountain vistas.
Legend states that a mourning Native American maiden jumped from the rock to her death after her true love was killed in battle. Some believe that her ghost is visible on moonlit evenings.
Mr. McB and I took a side trip to Laurel Park during the summer. The drive from Hendersonville to Jump Off Rock is a curvy one. Mr. McB is prone to motion sickness and had close his eyes to ward off nausea.
There is ample, easily-accessible parking at the site. We walked toward the rock and were expecting to be blown away by the view. As you can see from the photo below, it is a nice view but not quite what we were expecting. The leafy trees near the rock obstructed the view. The photo below is one of the better shots I got that day.
We wanted to take a walk around the park but found that the trails were not clearly marked. They also involved uneven, rocky stairs that just seemed like an accident waiting to happen.
It wasn’t a total bust. The park did have crisp, fresh mountain air. This little fellow was enjoying the afternoon on the rocks and provided some entertainment.
I can’t give Jump Off Rock rave reviews but it’s free and has some positive points. If you want to visit, learn more here.
For more than a year, Hendersonville was just an exit off the interstate for us. We zoomed by on our way to Asheville without even considering a stop. I’m glad someone tipped me off to the wonders that await in this adorable little town.
Yes, I used the word “adorable” but don’t let that turn you off. Hendersonville is sweet but still manages to be genuine. It’s not the fake preciousness you get in some more touristy spots. The town went through a major revitalization in the 1990s so all this cuteness is the result of hard work. It’s also magnified by the friendly people you’ll find working and visiting here.
The 1902-1916 train station located in the Seventh Avenue Depot District.
The depot is definitely a fun stop for train enthusiasts but the real fun lies on Hendersonville’s Main Street. You’ll find a wide variety of shops and restaurants. This is a fantastic place to do window shopping or pickup unique gifts. Many stores have an international flair while others specialize in handmade items.
A scene from the window of the train shop
A catamount lurks in the flowers on Main Street.
The dome of the Hendersonville County Courthouse is also visible.
This is one of the many themed bears that reside on Main Street. He’s cool and casual like most things we encountered in Hendersonville.
Hendersonville is very popular with retirees. As you might guess from this photo, it is also hippie-friendly.
This sign was outside a shop on Main Street.
Given the name, we had to go with Mike’s on Main for our lunch. This is an authentic soda fountain with lots of retro appeal.
We both had sandwiches and found them to be enjoyable. Unlike Rocky’s in Brevard, Mike’s might depend a little too much on the kitsch and not quite enough on the cuisine. It was a good solid meal but nothing exceptional.
On the other hand, Kilwin’s is amazing. We first went to Kilwin’s in Boone, NC several years ago. They have handmade confections and a wonderful ice cream parlor. As soon as you enter the door, the sweet smell of chocolates and goodies fill your nose. It’s difficult to describe this pleasant aroma. It is equally difficult to stop one’s tummy from rumbling inside Kilwin’s.
Mr. McB’s root beer float
His other favorite is the black-cherry ice cream soda.
My coconut fudge cone. Ohhhh my goodness! This makes a belly happy!!
White chocolate popcorn is made fresh in the store. It’s cooling on the marble slab. The employees are always sharing free samples of some sort of delicious treat.
We’re looking forward to many more trips to this little mountain town. I’m looking forward to visiting the Team ECCO aquarium and finally making a selection from McFarlan’s Bakery. This from-scratch bakery has so many options that I couldn’t make up my mind and walked out empty-handed. I look forward to telling you all about my victory over analysis-paralysis.
If you’re in Western North Carolina, make some time to check out Hendersonville. It’s also a quick, and enjoyable, trip from South Carolina’s Upstate.
Our summer was frustratingly wet. It rained for weeks on end. We broke all sorts of records. I refused to give into the weather and wore knee-high rain boots and carried an umbrella whilst grilling Mr. McB’s birthday dinner on July 4.
Something happened on the first weekend of August. The sun broke through the clouds and there was nary a drop of precipitation. We jumped in the car and drove toward Brevard, North Carolina and Pisgah National Forest.
The drive was leisurely and scenic with just some minor curves.
Our first stop in the park was Looking Glass Falls. There were many cars parked along the road. For the most part, people were considerate. Those driving by went slowly and were mindful of people trying to reenter the road and pedestrians.
This was our first look at the falls from the roadway. You then start the steep staircase down to the water.
As I mentioned, this was the first sunny weekend in a month. The park was a bit crowded.
There were a number of swimmers and waders making their way into the crisp, clear water. On a return trip, I will come prepared with a towel and sandals.
After our time at the falls, we explored the park a bit more. This creek widened out and lead to a calmer swimming hole.
This picnic area was very popular. There were hammocks, grills, and lots of family togetherness. The smells from the grills set our tummies to rumbling but we did a little more exploring before heading out of the park.
Mr. McB and I were the only ones around on this path.
We were famished when we left the park. Knowing my preference for local eats, we headed toward Brevard to find lunch. Finding lunch late on a Sunday afternoon is not an easy feat. Many restaurants were closing just as we arrived. Just when we were ready to declare defeat and drive back toward the chain restaurants, we spotted Rocky’s Grill and Soda. Rocky’s began its life as Varner’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain in 1942.
Stepping in, it’s easy to image that not much has changed in the last 70 years. The menu is very retro but the sandwiches have modern touches that really make this more than just a novelty restaurant.
Mr. McB’s grilled cheese was stuffed with smoky strips of real bacon.
My chicken salad sandwich was delicious thanks to a hint of tarragon. The sandwiches also came with delicious green tomato pickles. There is a bit of a tomato-ey flavor and somehow it works with the bread and butter style spices.
If you want to recreate our trip, I recommend coming prepared to get in the water. I would also advise you to pack a picnic or at least some substantial snacks, especially if you plan to swim. MOST IMPORTANTLY, bring your own toilet paper. The park provides bathrooms but does not offer TP.
Mr. McB and I spent Christmas at Myrtle Beach. It was the first time I have ever visited the beach in the winter but I definitely plan to do so again.
Despite many visits to the Myrtle Beach area, this trip marked my first visit to Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet. The gardens occupy land that once made up several rice plantations. The land was purchased by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1930. The southern location was good for Anna’s health and the makeup of the gardens was the perfect place to display her sculptures. As time went on the Huntington’s broadened their vision to include pieces from other artists and now the garden is the largest collection of American sculpture in the world and the largest outdoor sculpture collection in the U.S.
The pieces are varied just like the land that comprises the gardens. It’s clear that the Huntington’s put a great deal of thought into the best way to integrate the art into the landscape.
I highly recommend seeing the gardens if you get the chance. The tickets are reasonable and are good for several days. If you are visiting the area in the heat of the summer, multiple visits may be your best choice for seeing everything. As it was, we walked for at least eight miles and still didn’t see every single piece.
See the photos below to get a taste of what you could see during a visit to Brookgreen.
The wall divides the more manicured gardens from the natural area near the tidal river that runs through the gardens.
The children’s garden is full of whimsy and color.
A great example of how the sculptures fit into the landscape.
Candles left from the Night of 1,000 Candles holiday display
Don Quixote – Anna Hyatt Huntington
Fall of France – One of my favorites
This piece depicts France’s fate in WWII.
Frog Baby in the children’s garden
Cardinal Seahorse (reminds me of Mooseal from the Wuzzles)
Song of Myself – one of many quotes and verses in the gardens
This fox lives in the zoo that is on the property.
It’s a great place and again, one that I highly recommend.
On our way to spend Christmas at the beach, we made a side trip to Bishopville, SC where we toured the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. This destination has been on my list since seeing the documentary “A Man Named Pearl” several years ago.
The film tells the story about how Pearl’s quest to win the local gardening club’s “yard of the month” award turned into the stunning garden that attracts about 20,000 visitors each year.
More importantly, the film tells the story of a determined and patient man who has a way of coaxing the potential out of the plants he encounters. Many of the plants in Pearl’s garden were rescued from the compost pile of local nurseries. Not having formal horticultural training, Pearl wasn’t afraid to take a chance on these specimens. He studies them to determine their strengths and then patiently molds them into stunning creations, often using innovative techniques that defy what should work in gardening.
Pearl’s ability to see potential and nurture new creations applies to the people he encounters too. In addition to giving young people the opportunity to work in the garden, Pearl also has a scholarship fund that offers opportunities to average students who might fall through the cracks without a little help. Just like his plants, these students blossom with a little attention and encouragement.
Visiting Pearl’s garden was a wonderful and uplifting experience. While walking through this lovely garden I could feel the love and care that Pearl showers on the garden. Since Pearl does not try to make specific shapes, visitors can use their own creativity when looking at the garden. It’s a bit like finding characters in the clouds. There is such sense of joy and whimsy.
The highlight of the visit was meeting Pearl and listening to him talk about the garden, his techniques and life in general. If he ever decides to hang up the trimmers, Pearl could make his living as a career counselor of philosopher. He said if you want to get noticed, you have to do something that no one else is doing. He also advised that if you are the smartest person in your group of friends, it’s time to make some new friends. While the garden was gorgeous (see more images below), it was Pearl’s words that were the highlight of the trip for me.
If you have the opportunity to visit Pearl’s little garden in Bishopville, you really should. There is something magical and inspiring there.
This makes the second year that we have visited the Grove Park Inn in Asheville to see the National Gingerbread House Competition. I’m so glad this has become part of our holiday tradition. I love seeing the creativity and craftsmanship that is involved with the competition.
This year I made to visits to the competition. One was with Mr. McB on December 17. We arrived pretty early on a rather mild day. Other than some school groups, we did not encounter a lot of people during our visit.
12 Days of Christmas in gingerbread
Elf on the Shelf and advent calendar
Gorgeous details on this gingerbread tree
Relaxing after walking around and looking at the displays.
My goodness these chairs are so comfortable. I could have enjoyed a nap.
One of the many decorated trees. This one was a bit much for me with the full-sized peacock roosting in the branches. There is something for everyone and while this tree didn’t strike my fancy, there were many that did. It’s all fun to see.
My second visit was on December 27 when I met my aunt and grandmother. While the winners were traveling to New York for a segment on Good Morning America during my first visit, I was delighted to see them back in Asheville last week.
Every inch of this is created with gingerbread. Even the parts that look like fondant are made with an innovative “gingergel” created by the winner.
We also opted for lunch on the Sunset Terrace. It was a lovely experience. I was smart enough to plan ahead and make reservations and I think that is how we wound up with this wonderful table by the window.
Instead of having a heavy lunch, we opted for the wedge salads. I enjoyed the original version with bleu cheese dressing and crumbles. My aunt and grandmother opted for different dressing and they were happy to oblige. The lemon vinaigrette, selected by my aunt, provided a light, zesty flavor.
After our delicious salads, we got down to the serious business of selecting a dessert. It was a difficult choice but we wound up with the key lime pie and panna cotta.
Isn’t this an adorable presentation for the key lime pie? It had a nice creamy consistency and perfect tart flavor.
The panna cotta was so very delicious. I loved the crispy praline pieces and slight tartness from the raspberries. Yum!
I enjoyed our meal at the Sunset Terrace and thought it added something special to the visit.If you are looking for a less expensive treat during your visit, there are holiday drinks and treats available for purchase in the Great Hall. If you can find a table or rocker, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the roaring fire in one of the two 14-foot fireplaces on either side of the massive room.
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend adding this outing to your holiday schedule. Visitors do have to pay to park ($10-$15 depending on where you park) but it is well worth the price to see the displays and the hotel itself.
Back in August, I had the chance to meet my parents in Asheville for a visit to the WNC Farmers’ Market and lunch. While we enjoy the Moose Cafe located at the market, we wanted something different. Enter Sunny Point Cafe located at 626 Haywood Rd in West Asheville.
Sunny Point has the tiniest of parking lots. Thanks to my dad’s eagle-eyes we were able to nab a parking space but be prepared to park and walk to the restaurant. Actually, there can be a bit of a line so be prepared to let you party out of the car so they can get your name on the list while you find on-street parking.
That tiny parking lot is the only thing that separates the cafe from the lush garden where Sunny Point grows much of the produce used in their dishes. Lettuce, greens, tomatoes, and herbs were just some of the tasty items growing the day we visited.
After a brief wait, we were seated at a table under the partially enclosed patio. We ordered the fried green tomato and goat cheese appetizer. It was delicious, maybe too delicious for its own good since there are no pictures of it.
Dad ordered the burger. From this picture you can see how big and thick it is. You can also seed that gorgeous slice of heirloom tomato from the garden. The beef is free-range, hormone-and-antibiotic-free. It comes on a toasted English-muffin bun.
Mom got the grilled chicken sandwich with cheddar and maple-and-black-pepper bacon. Her bacon wound up on Dad’s burger. He said it was very good. She enjoyed the sandwich and the delicious fries.
I ordered the black bean tostadas. I can’t adequately describe this pile of delicious without going to the menu description. “Two crisp corn tortillas topped with grilled chipotle cheese grit cakes, roasted tomatillo salsa, and baby greens. Garnished with black bean corn salsa, cilantro crema, feta cheese, and fresh cilantro.”
I loved everything about the dish. The contrast between the creamy elements and the tangy tomatillo salsa and the crispy tostadas and the moist grit cakes…my taste buds couldn’t ask for more. It was so delicious. I must admit to waking up craving this dish. It’s so unique and flavorful, I can’t imagine anything that would make a good substitute.
I would highly recommend Sunny Point. Other than the parking lot and the fact that they do not have Sweet’N Low for your coffee, it’s almost perfect.