Tuesday, September 30, 2014

#72 In and about the Asheville area..

We stopped by Pisgah Brewing one afternoon and enjoyed their crafted beer.

Ronnie really liked their IPA.  I selected the Pisgah Pale and found it a little bitter for my taste.

On one of the clearer days we hiked the Craggy Pinnacle Hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It's a great view up there!

The hike goes through a rhododendron thicket and up a complicated set of rocky stepping stones.

We also drove up to Mount Mitchell State Park.  We have been to the summit overlook so many times that on this trip we decided to do something different.  We chose to walk the short and easy Balsam Trail located right off the main parking lot.  It was an easy hike that wove in between scented firs and spruce, green ferns and moss-covered trees and rocks.  It was cool, quiet and gave us a nice opportunity to enjoy the forest.

 Predictions say the fall foliage should reach it's peak color, at this elevation, sometime next week.
 More later..

Thursday, September 25, 2014

#71 Asheville, NC

 Just one more photo from Jessie Lea RV Park in Big Stone Gap.  We found the hospitality here second to none.  Thank you Johnny and Kate for a memorable stay.

We are now camped in Asheville, staying at Taps RV Park on Tunnel Road.  It's convenient to the downtown breweries, two miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, very close to the NC Arboretum, WNC Nature Center and lots of other attractions.  Our plans are to say a month and enjoy the fall foliage.  As long as we have lived in NC we have never been on the Blue Ridge Parkway during "peak" leaf season.  This is a special treat for us and we are looking forward to it!

We enjoyed an afternoon poking around the downtown area and the Grove Arcade.

Of course while we are here we want to check out the microbrewery scene.  The Oysterhouse Brewery was first on our list and we found it as good as the reviews.

We tried their Happy Hour oyster special.  The oysters were cold and salty.

Ronnie enjoyed the Galaxy IPA and I had the Ole Dirty Blonde. They were very good.

The leaves are just beginning to turn color on the parkway.  We are hoping for some bright blue skies  the next few weeks to make the color really shine.  
More later..

Saturday, September 20, 2014

#70 Coal Portal 31, Lynch KY

This was one of those tours/roadside attractions that made an impression on us.  Maybe it's because it was our first time in a coal mine or it might be because as we were leaving a gentleman pulled up in his car to speak to Ronnie.  This older gentleman was a retired coal miner who worked in Coal Portal 31 for 42 years.  He handed us some photocopies of photographs taken in Lynch many, many years ago.  We didn't ask for them, he just handed them to us out his car window.  We chatted with him for about 15 minutes.  He told us about his job in the coal mine and shared some of his experiences.  It was a strange coincidence as we were leaving, feeling appreciative of what a coal miners' job involves, that we would suddenly meet someone who worked in that environment for all those years.  Click on the link below to learn more about the historical significance of this mine.  We thought the tour was great and for us, enlightening.
Coal Mine Portal 31, Lynch, Kentucky
Coal Mine Portal 31 opened in 1917 and the last coal mined here was in 1963.  The mine continued to produce coal until 1968 but through a bore hole process.  Tours of the mine began in 2009.  At one time, this was the largest coal mine in the world.
The mine entrance and exit, notice the safety slogan: "Safety The First Consideration".
Only the smoke stack from that time stands today.
A photo from when the mine was the largest tipple in the world.

Click on the photo to get a quick glimpse into the town's history.  At one time there were 10,000 residents in Lynch.  Now there are only 726.

This high school was built in 1924.  It was sad to see such a stately building abandoned.

The hospital is still standing, built around 1921 too.  The building appeared to be in use as a retreat for a nonprofit group.

The town had to relocate a section of Looney Creek.  Stone carvers used locally mined sandstone to accomplish this feat.  Again, all completed around 1917-1921 for the benefit of the mine and the town.

 The miners got their hardhat lights from this lamp house.

The mine office and shower house were located in this sandstone block building.  The block was mined from the surrounding area.

Ninety-three years ago this was a 30 seat restaurant for the miners, but now it's a coffee house. 

At a glance info board.

This is just inside the mine entrance and where one boards the tour cars.  Notice the animatronic man wearing the hard hat.  There were several of these in the mine for reenactment exhibits.

As were were entering the mine, I took this photo.  We were the only ones on this tour, we are getting used to this one-on-one attention.  There was a live human to drive the coal car.
Animatronic mannequins exhibit the use of a longwall shearer.

The past and present health/safety hazards for coal miners are numerous.  The memorial in front of the mine entrance is sobering. 
I learned about the number of horses that were used in the mines before electric cars, rail and conveyors were used.  I think I saw on a map, displaying the maze of mine tunnels, three horse stable locations..all underground. 
 Ronnie and I left Lynch with a new insight for the job and history of coal mining. 

Driving on Hwy 160 East, you leave Lynch and travel up Black Mountain, which is the highest point in Kentucky at 4,415 feet above sea level.  It is a scenic, curvy road and as you can see in the photo, the sun was finally shining.
More later.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

#69 Cumberland Gap and The Carter Family Fold

Did I mention we have had several rainy and cloudy days here in Big Stone Gap?  Looking at the weather forecast, we tried to pick the clearest day to visit Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.  To learn more about the history of this park and Cumberland Gap's importance to our country's westward settlement, click on the link.  When we arrived, our first stop was the visitor center for a map and then on to Pinnacle Overlook.

Skies managed to clear a bit for some good views at the Pinnacle Overlook.
The temperatures up here were cooler and we enjoyed lower humidity too.
We could see 3 states: Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.

The Pinnacles Overlook was the only area we visited in the park other than the Visitor Center.  There is more to see here but we didn't take the time to explore all of what this interesting place has to offer.
On our way back to BSG, we did make a quick stop at Wilderness Road State Park.  Unfortunately the reconstructed fort was closed on this day but the park ranger said it was ok to walk around it.  You can also walk down parts of the actual wilderness trail blazed by Daniel Boone and Dr. Thomas Walker.

A view of the reconstructed fort.
Part of the actual wilderness trail.

On our way to Cumberland Gap we stopped at The Dutch Treat for lunch.  Their specialities are fresh made sandwiches, pastries, breads, cookies and cheeses.  It's located a few miles east of the Wilderness Road State Park.

Another item on our list of places to visit before we ease on down the road (to Asheville) is The Carter Family Fold.  After checking their schedule of upcoming events we decided to attend the September "Friday Footstompin at the Fold".  We were fortunate to hear the groups Big Country Bluegrass  and Wayne Henderson and Friends.  We really enjoyed the 2 bands, they were excellent.
This is the emblem on the front of their barn-like amphitheater. the groups

Big Country Bluegrass....fantastic!

The dancing was interesting to watch.  No, we did not participate.

 Wayne Henderson and Friends.  Mr. Henderson is the one wearing the blue cap.  He also builds custom made guitars.   I read his guitars are in the collections of Eric Clapton and the late Doc Watson.

Now, let me back up a bit.  I wanted to find a place to for us to eat dinner before we enjoyed our night at the Carter Fold.  Researching the limited restaurants in the area, I found Gasthaus Edelweiss.  With excellent reviews posted, I called the owner, Ingrid Carter and made reservations for 5:00pm.  When we arrived, we knew we might be in store for something special.
The building, constructed by her husband, looks like one you might see in Bavaria, not southwestern Virginia.

Everything in Ingrid's restaurant is authentic from Germany.  She even had on display some pieces of the Berlin wall.
I choose Zigeunerschnitzel.
Ron choose Jagerschnitzel.

Ingrid's homemade Apple Streusel.  I was not leaving without tasting a traditional German dessert.
Our dinners also came with fresh garden salads, homemade dressings and German rolls.  Ron and I  agreed, it was the best German food we have ever tasted..well actually it is the ONLY German food we have ever tasted.  It just happened we were her only patrons that night due to the popularity of the Friday night HS football games...she's booked Saturday night.  She shared with us some interesting stories about how she and her husband came to the area and of course how she prepares her traditional German food.
Yes, it was a memorable day.  We found some of the best bluegrass music in southwestern Virginia and a real taste of Germany.
More later..

Monday, September 8, 2014

#68 Guest River Gorge Trail, Coeburn, VA

We thought the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail was beautiful.  In our humble opinion, the Guest River Gorge Trail is even more scenic.  The Guest River Gorge Bike Trail is another one of the several rail-to-trail parks in southwestern Virginia.  This abandoned track is part the old Norfolk Southern Railway that was used to bring coal up from the mines near the Clinch River.  Our chosen bike day began cloudy with some sprinkles and I had my doubts about the weather but after we arrived to the trail head, the sprinkles stopped and the sky got a bit brighter.

Riding our bikes through the old 1922 Swede Tunnel was kind of creepy.  There was lots of dripping water, it was dark and it had a loud echo.  Ron estimated it to be approximately 50 yards long.

We knew that the downhill grade would be fast.  We hardly peddled as we enjoyed the ride.  In the back of our minds we knew..what goes down, must come back up.

The trail rides past immense sandstone cliffs that rise as high as 400 feet.  The Guest River borders the opposite side of the trail.  With all of the rain this area has had in the past 3 weeks, the river level was up and we constantly heard loud white water.  However, due to the thick vegetation, getting photos of some of the rapids was difficult.
It was very interesting to see and touch the various colored layers of soil, rock and clay.

There were several waterfalls along the trail. 

Once we reached the end of the trail, it was 5.8 miles back up.. a 2% uphill grade.

We took our time biking back, stopping and resting at several of the benches, trestles and overlooks.  We soon began to think how glad we were was it was cool and cloudy. It was about a 3 and a half hour round trip.  This was a very nice bike trip but with colorful fall leaves, it would be amazing. 

We have taken a few other day trips in the last couple of weeks.  We visited the delightful MountainRose Vineyards in Wise, Va.

And we enjoyed a day trip to The Breaks Interstate State Park in Breaks, Va. This state park is billed as "the Grand Canyon of the South" as it's gorge is 5 miles long and 1,600 feet deep. All of these places will be ablaze with fall color in the next few weeks. 

We have 2 more weeks to spend in Big Stone Gap.  We want to visit Cumberland Gap and maybe even visit the Carter Family Fold.  
More later..