Western North Carolina, Part 6 (County Counting Adventures)

On August 16, 2015 · 0 Comments

Each Twelve Mile Circle journey has its own specific objectives. The western North Carolina adventure focused heavily on the burgeoning craft brewing scene. Collectively they also share common objectives, principally the pursuit of geo-oddities along with opportunities to pad my county counting totals.


Welcome to Virginia

I thought I did well, adding eighteen new counties with fourteen of them found in North Carolina and four in Virginia. In North Carolina I captured Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Jackson, Mitchell, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin and Yancey. The Virginia counties were Grayson, Floyd, Franklin and Patrick. These visits happened in six separate efforts, some of them requiring significant forethought and others pleasantly simple. I’ve numbered the efforts in chronological order and noted them on the maps below to show how I added counties sequentially throughout the trip. This labeling exercise also summarized the journey rather nicely and served as a nice bookend for this final article in the series.

North Carolina was the primary focus so I’ll begin there.


North Carolina County Counting 2015

(1) Chapel Hill to Asheville

The logical path would have involved Interstate 85 from Chapel Hill and then Interstate 40 onward toward Asheville. That would have made perfect sense if I’d been trying to minimize driving time. It made no sense for this exercise. I’d already captured all of the interstate counties so it didn’t pay to repeat them.



Instead I devised several intermediary jogs that took my path through the towns of Winston-Salem, Wilksboro, Taylorsville and Lenoir. That slightly jagged track yielded new four counties: Yadkin; Wilkes; Alexander and Caldwell. I lost surprisingly little time on this track too, maybe less than an hour.

(2) Blue Ridge Parkway Loop

The wonderful Blue Ridge Parkway day-trip that included a a cave, a waterfall, the highest point of elevation in North Carolina, and a restaurant placed atop a county tripoint also netted three new counties. I captured Avery, Mitchell and Yancey that day.

(3) Oskar Blues

I mentioned before that Oskar Blues made my brewery visit list because it happened to be located in Transylvania County. I wondered if it had any connection to the Transylvania in Romania, the alleged home of vampires and other scary creatures. It didn’t. They both derived their names coincidentally from a couple of very common Latin words, trans ("across") and silva ("woods"). Thus, any place named Transylvania was merely something located beyond a forest. That certainly described western North Carolina a couple of centuries ago when the Transylvania Company tried to form a colony in that unforgiving part of the wilderness.

The Transylvania Company was organized as Louisa Company in 1774 to invest in vacant, nonpatented wild lands within the chartered limits of North Carolina and Virginia. In the fall of that year, Captain Nathaniel Hart visited the Overhill Cherokees at their Otari towns to negotiate for the lease or purchase of an immense tract of land between the Kentucky and Cumberland Rivers… Transylvania Company’s so-called purchase from the Indians was publicly denounced by the governors of Virginia and North Carolina, however, and the scheme was invalidated.

The Transylvania name lived-on when Transylvania County formed much later on some of the same land, in 1861.

(4) Cherokee Loop

We had another entertaining day on the Cherokee Loop that took us onto the lands of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, then onward to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the highest point of elevation in Tennessee. It also netted Jackson and Swain Counties.

(5) Lake Lure & Chimney Rock

I admitted a couple of days ago that I’d orchestrated a day trip to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock simply to capture Rutherford County, and fill a doughnut hole on my map. It was worth a stop regardless.


(6) Asheville, NC to Roanoke, VA



Returning home, once again the logical path would have involved the Interstate Highway System, specifically I-26 and I-81 here. However I had to capture a number of quite obscure rural counties and this became the most ambitious county counting adventure of the trip. It involved a complicated series of intermediary waypoints on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge including two short out-and-back detours designed to prevent doughnut holes.


Virginia County Counting 2015

Just as we left Mouth of Wilson, Virginia on a double-back to capture Alleghany County, North Carolina — the photo at the top of the page (map) — my younger son announced he needed to pee. Immediately. We were in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest facilities of any kind, and on a mission. Nonetheless, being the good father that I am, I pulled over to the side of the road and scouted a suitable tree to shield his act of desperation. That’s when I noticed I was standing within a patch of poison ivy. I grabbed a water bottle from the car and washed off furiously, then sped to the nearest gas station bathroom where I scrubbed my legs with soap and water repeatedly. I escaped mostly unharmed and chalked it up as another hazard of County Counting.

Don’t worry about the kid, he found a more suitable tree minus the poison ivy.

Those four new Virginia counties in an out-of-the-way corner left me within striking distance of finishing the Commonwealth. Virginia is notoriously difficult to complete because it has 95 counties plus 38 independent cities that are considered county-equivalents, for a total of 133 separate units that must be visited. I have five remaining in a fairly straight path. I figure I can knock-out the rest of Virginia in a weekend and I plan to do so within the next few months.


Western North Carolina articles:

Western North Carolina, Part 5 (Exclamation Point)

On August 12, 2015 · 0 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle faced a bit of a geographic dilemma in western North Carolina towards the end of the week. I began to notice that I might risk a doughnut hole county if I wasn’t careful. That condition would occur if I counted a bunch of contiguous counties and then left one in the middle uncovered. I’d hate to do that. I’m not getting any younger and I may not have an opportunity to come back again and clean it up.

That’s when I decided that I couldn’t leave Rutherford County unvisited even if its local seat of government had the unwieldy name of Rutherfordton. I understood the need to honor Griffith Rutherford, brigadier general in the American Revolutionary War, but couldn’t they have at least named to town simply Rutherford or even Griffith? Nonetheless I now needed to contrive a reason to stray into Rutherford with the family and avoid an unsightly doughnut hole on my county counting map. There appeared to be a nice park and a lake about 25 miles (40 kilometres) southeast of Asheville that would do the trick. It actually worked out quite nicely, both because it satisfied my ulterior motive and because it was a genuinely enjoyable spot.

Lake Lure


Lake Lure

The body of water turned out to be Lake Lure (map). A town of the same name hugged its shores. Lake Lure was an artificial creation of the Morse family. They dammed the Broad River within a particularly scenic Blue Ridge valley in the 1920’s, creating a roadside tourist attraction that still remains popular. The Town of Lake Lure purchased the lake in the 1960’s and turned it into a public park, including the attractive man-made beach. It was a great spot for the kids. They enjoyed the beach and playing at the adjacent water park. Later that morning we rented paddle boats and circled the lake a couple of times until the sun and humidity drove me back to a shaded shoreline. We finished the morning with lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake.


Chimney Rock


Chimney Rock

We devoted the afternoon to Chimney Rock (map), another attraction on the northwestern nub of Rutherford County. The Morse family must have had an entrepreneurial streak because they also turned Chimney Rock into a tourist destination at the turn of the last century. Otherwise the outcrop probably would have been just another granite pinnacle. They saw its appeal and went so far as to bore an elevator shaft through the cliff nearby so visitors could reach the promontory almost effortlessly. The state of North Carolina purchased the property in 2007 and Chimney Rock State Park became one of the state’s newest additions. Along with the 315 foot (96 metre) spire itself, the park offered miles of hiking trails and a magnificent waterfall.


Exclamation Point


Chimney Rock

The elevator was closed for repairs during our visit so we had to climb the switchback stairways up to Chimney Rock. That wasn’t as bad as it sounded. There were plenty of intermediary ledges that offered increasingly better views of the valley far below so it broke-up the climb into manageable chunks. My younger son and I decided to climb even higher while the rest of the family stopped at the snack bar for ice cream. I’d noticed a wonderfully-named promontory mentioned on the trail guide and I was drawn to it — Exclamation Point!

I was in pretty good shape, having completed the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle trail recently. I had no problem climbing several hundred steps. My son had abundant childhood energy so we practically flew up the mountain, leaving most of the other visitors in the dust as we climbed up to Exclamation Point at 2,480 ft. (756 m.). We overheard two sweaty and exhausted teenagers commiserating with their friend on the summit. They’d been passed by "an old man and a kid." That was us! Maybe their embarrassment will encourage them to put down the Cheetos and get off the couch every once and awhile. Yes, I felt smug. I admit it.


Another Exclamation Point



Exclamation Point was such an awesome name that I had to see if it had ever been used elsewhere. Actually, the U.S. Geological Survey listed only one Explanation Point in its Geographic Names Information System, and it wasn’t even the one in North Carolina. Apparently the Explanation Point near Chimney Rock was an unofficial designation. The only Explanation Point recognized by the USGS could be found in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose County, Colorado. Hikers can experience this outcrop by taking a moderate route on the North Rim of the park, three miles round trip on the North Vista Trail.

It looks like I found another spot to place on my list of things to visit someday.


Western North Carolina articles:

Western North Carolina, Part 2 (Blue Ridge Parkway Loop)

On August 2, 2015 · 0 Comments

I’m going to take a little bit of a departure from the usual Twelve Mile Circle travelogue format and actually suggest a couple of simple one-day itineraries. They mirror actual trips starting from our home base for the week in Asheville, North Carolina. Readers should feel free to customize them at their discretion because they reflect my peculiar interests and geo-geek desires. I’d love to hear if anyone actually follows the path.



The first loop involved a lovely jaunt on and near a segment of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville. The parkway included numerous mountaintop pull-offs where one could enjoy magnificent views in addition to the sites I’ve highlighted. Those went without saying so take a scenic break whenever it seems right. This was a route to be savored slowly. We chose to drive in a counterclockwise or anticlockwise direction although it could be adapted easily to a clockwise route or even a pure out-and-back depending on time constraints and sightseeing preferences.


Linville Caverns


Linville Caverns

I love caves and my kids love them too, maybe even more that I love them. We’ve taken tours of several caves during our wanderings to places like Idaho, Utah, Texas, Oregon, Kentucky and even Ireland. Naturally, Linville Caverns — which bills itself as North Carolina’s "Only Show Cavern" (and I have no way to verify that so I’ll take it at face value) — would have to be on our itinerary seeing how it fell directly along our desired path (map).

There were several interesting formations worth viewing although frankly I’ve seen more spectacular caverns elsewhere. The guides also went through the obligatory "turn out the lights and show everyone how dark it was" demonstration so it seemed to follow the usual script. The cave was a nice enough diversion and the tour took only about a half-hour so it didn’t gobble up too much of the day either. The passageways were also a cool, refreshing 53° Fahrenheit (12° C) on a day when the outdoor temperature was above 90° (32° C) with matching humidity. That almost made it worth the price of admission right there. I’d go back if I were driving through the area again.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Commission recently discovered several bats in Linville Caverns with White-Nose Syndrome. That meant that anything I brought into the cave will never be allowed within another cave. That’s why I used my mobile phone camera instead of my nice one, and the lower-quality photos reflected that decision.


Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant


Famous Louise's Rock House Restaurant

The 12MC audience would be right to wonder why I visited a restaurant that wasn’t a brewpub given my past history of articles. Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant deserved an exception because I featured it on these very pages in 2009. At the time I explained, "This is now included on my extensive list of places I need to visit someday." Well, someday finally arrived and I did indeed visit. Famous Louise’s was famous because it sat atop a county tripoint. One could walk between Avery, Burke and McDowell Counties, or stand in all three at the same time if one desired, all within the walls of a single restaurant (map).

Famous Louise’s got mixed reviews on various restaurant and travel rating websites. We arrived for lunch on the early end, around 11:30, and it was mostly empty. The opposite was the case when we left so perhaps that made the difference and for that reason I’d recommend arriving a little early for mealtime. We had great service and even got a wonderful tip about the homemade baked apples. The food was decent and a solid value. Plus we had the whole county tripoint thing going on in there, with each county line labeled on individual signs hanging from the ceiling. I love it when I can visit places in person that I’ve mentioned on 12MC beforehand.

There was some debate about whether the tripoint actually fell within the restaurant or not. Maps I consulted insinuated that the true tripoint might be found just outside along a gravel road. I got as close as I could get to take a photo and cover my bases, while respecting the no trespassing sign that had been placed there. Perhaps I wasn’t the first geo-geek trying to find the true magic spot. Who am I kidding? Nobody else has ever done that.


Linville Falls


Linville Falls

Linville Caverns, Famous Louise’s and Linville Falls were all located near each other in one convenient cluster. The falls were one of those iconic features along this stretch of the Blue Ridge that really shouldn’t be missed (map). Access required a fifteen minute hike from the visitor center although nothing too strenuous. There were various other hiking options available depending on whether one wished to view the falls from above or below. We didn’t have time to do both so we selected the first option. It was hard to tell if the view would have been better from ground level. That provided an excuse to come back again someday.


Mount Mitchell


Mount Mitchell

I’m not a traditional state highpointer. I don’t have a desire to highpoint all 50 states because, well, I’m lazy. I don’t ever expect to get to the top of Denali in Alaska and I hate to leave an open list, so I decided long ago to cherry-pick the easy ones and ignore the rest. The only highpoint where I expended any significant effort was Mount Frissell in Connecticticut, and that was only because Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest shamed me into it. Otherwise I like the kind where I drive all the way up to the top and claim the honor simply by walking a few feet, like New Jersey. Better yet, how about the little bump-out by the side of the road in Delaware? Or the subway ride to the District of Columbia highpoint even though it’s not actually a state? Those are more my style.

The North Carolina highpoint fit perfectly within that same low-effort mountaineering philosophy. It differed, however, because it was a "real" mountain. Mount Mitchell wasn’t a poseur, rather it was the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet (2,037 metres) (map). The good people of North Carolina had the courtesy to pave a road almost all the way to the top of the summit, bless their hearts. From the final base camp to the top, oh it was maybe a ten minute walk. There was one single hardship, and readers can sense it in the form of little black specs on the photograph — the huge swarms of insects at the summit. Your screen doesn’t need to be cleaned. Each of those dots was a bug.

Loyal 12MC reader and Twitter follower @thegreatzo diagnosed this as a particularly large outbreak of the Yellow Poplar Weevil. They were harmless to humans although nobody really likes the feeling of hundreds of insects crawling on them. Lots of people on the mountain thought they were ticks so it was pretty amusing to watch them freak out.

I’ll talk about a second day-trip loop in the next article.


Western North Carolina articles:

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